When I tell people I run my own business I see their eyes light up. Like all of a sudden, I’m some hot-shot who constantly has a table reserved at the restaurant of the month and bathes in a bath of marble. As far as I can tell, a lot of people still go a little ‘Hollywood’ for the notion of ‘business’. Particularly when you tell them you have staff working for you. “Oh, you must live the dream!”… Yeah, most days I galavant across to the Amalfi Coast for a lunch of seafood platters and clinking glasses overflowing with Dom Perignon with Julia Roberts.
But the reality is, the closest I get to the Amalfi is the local ocean pool in Coledale – where the seaweed runs hot, the elderly are too comfortable rocking their budgie smugglers and the children in snorkels want to closely inspect your belly button.
The fact is, running a business is hard-bloody-work, and most of it, completely un-instagrammable. It’s gritty, it’s busy and it’s brain-draining – regardless of how many staff you have. If you’re a true entrepreneur, your work is never done. I assure people that being a business owner with a team behind me doesn’t leave me with spare time for five-hour brunches. No sir. I can safely say my hairdresser barely recognises me. Like all of us working in the age of tech, where the free-flow of emails outnumber the glasses of water, bathroom breaks, coffee runs and shoulder rolls combined and times by twenty, I too am busy.
In my years of running a business, I’ve learned that delegation is the key to avoid overwork, fluster and freakouts. After all, we are human, not machines. With what seems like a million different ideas to foster and a few hundred meetings to attend – the only way to get through it all with a pep in my step, is to delegate amongst my smarty-pant wearing team.
But I know, delegation is easier said than done, especially when you’re the go-getter, hard-working, caffeine-induced kind, so it doesn’t surprise me that I get asked all the time, “How do you, in fact, delegate?” I love this question. I live for this question. I eat this question for breakfast. With a schedule of around 80 client projects at any given time, it’s quite literally a matter of life and death that I delegate. And with an extremely capable team of 15, it’s a total joy.
But truth be told, it hasn’t always been a ‘joy’. In fact, some days it was quite the opposite. When you’re a young leader, learning on the fly, having a team can be as stressful as driving with your 98-year-old grandmother, and you’re the passenger. Some days I’d push my foot to the floor hoping a break would appear and put a stop to the chaos. But business doesn’t stop. It speeds up and of course, slows down at times, but never seems to fully reach a stop sign.
We’ve all been there, when your task list starts to pile up like pancakes in a Disney production and you need to tick those boxes but are just too darn busy to hand over. You don’t have time to take a breath, let alone stop to brief another team member on what to do. And so, like trying to take the first sip of your Wendy’s mega-choc thick shake, it stays put, clogging up your schedule. When I first started my business, I was like this, too. For one, I had imposter syndrome visiting who told me, “Who do you think you are, telling people what to do?”, and secondly I was furiously speeding down the entrepreneur highway with no time to stop and pick up someone to help me – not even the hitch-hiker trying to make their way to Byron.
But then it clicked. How much longer could I eat take out at my desk well after sun-down? I had to invest elsewhere to give this biz baby of mine longevity.
Enter stage left; the team of all teams.
I say it all the time, my team is both my greatest challenge and my greatest achievement. I can safely say that Smack Bang is a collective of smart-as-hell, hard-working, fun and talented peeps. They are all genuine and bloody genius’. I employ the “hire people better than you” mentality and work with incredibly capable, hungry and ambitious beings, which makes delegating a much smoother process.
Every leader knows the most successful businesses are the ones with the strongest teams.
So, how have I managed to build an incredible team and retain epic talent? Well, firstly, I have to say there is nothing extraordinary or ingenious about me (well, maybe aside from the fact that I was the apple bobbing champion 5 years running). For years I put my head down, made a bunch of mistakes, learned from said mistakes and put one foot in front of the other taking small steps, no matter how scary they felt. Including hiring staff. I listened, nurtured, cared. And devoted myself to growing my team and ensuring that they thrived – as individuals and as a collective. I’ve been present, attentive, and care for my team like family. I see delegation as my duty – these people need to feel trusted and empowered to do their job – It shows your team members that you value their continued growth.
It’s important to realise, though, that teaching and learning is not always a linear process. Learning to delegate isn’t always roses and rainbows. It doesn’t happen overnight, isn’t always comfortable and it doesn’t come with a big red bow tied around it.
Is delegating easy?
But does it give you more time in the day and more money in the bank?
Well, at least not immediately.
For me, the magic in delegating lies is the power to build a future bigger than myself. Which, let me tell you, is not an overnight process. Having a team allows you to play the long game, with more impact as you’re able to accomplish much more as a group with passion and purpose bouncing off the walls.
And because I can’t seem to keep anything I learn to myself – here are a few things that have helped me delegate like an (actual) boss and up my daily dose of productivity in the process;
- Hire the right people.
I hire like my life depends on it, because, well, it does. That might sound dramatic, but hiring the wrong person can throw your entire business off course. Do me a favour – don’t hire based on resumes – hire for cultural fit. I hire fast and like most good decisions within my life – with my gut. Give me people who’ve got grit and resilience, are hardworking, honest and willing to give it their all, and I will easily delegate to them. When you’ve got the right team in place delegation is a dream, you trust in their abilities and can feel confident that they can get the job done. Trust me, finding the right people can take your brand all the way to the big leagues.
- Set explicit expectations.
Be clear about the specific outcome you want. There’s nothing worse than staring blankly at your screen, unsure of the task at hand and confused beyond comprehension as to what exactly is expected of you. And let’s be real no-one likes a micromanager, which is why I don’t particularly care about how my team get tasks done. If you’re looking for an office who sit in complete silence or have to wear monochrome business attire – you are in the wrong place, my friend. This is a creative workplace gdamn. Pop those headphones in, crank up the volume and blast that Fleetwood Mac, or whatever your poison of the month is (even if it’s the Biebs). Want to work on the floor? Heck yeah. Are you comfiest when you’ve got your slippers on? Bring them in. As long as they get the final result, we are all for your unique, quirky – and at times concerning – working habits.
- Liberate your inner control freak.
When starting out, it’s easy to feel like every tiny task needs your two cents, every phone call is for you, and every single decision falls on you, no matter how insignificant, as if everything has to have your own personal stamp across it. In the early days, for me, this meant scrutinising ab-so-lute-ly everything. From running my eyes over final designs to every bit of copy that leaves our mouths, all the way down to the brand of bathroom cleaner. I’d make sure I was the one hand-delivering each box of prints to our clients so that I could ensure the client was passed their parcel, just the right way (not too forceful, not too softly). Plus, it was saving us the expense of paying someone else, right? Wrong. Ultimately, you’re just limiting other components of our business from thriving. You need to identify what’s dragging you down, and ultimately, where your genius zone lies. Your job as a leader is to stay in your own zone and help others thrive in theirs.
- Trust easily and let them take the wheel.
As a leader, you need to be willing to trust freely and easily. Our new employees are often surprised at how much reign they get at Smack Bang straight off the bat. For my General Manager and I, it’s important that once we’ve made our decision to bring someone onto the team, that we give them 100% trust right from the get-go. For your team members to grow individually, they must have opportunities to prove themselves. They need to feel empowered to do their job, without a single micromanager in sight. Our policy is to maintain availability, but not hover. I let my staff make their own mistakes. As long as they’re not deadly, I like to let the train go off the tracks for a nanosecond – it teaches them far more than if I were to never let the train derail.
- Be quick and effective in giving feedback.
Before I start this one I need to make a disclaimer: I love giving kudos to my team, in fact, I like to throw it around like confetti because they bloody deserve it and it’s important to let our team know their (inconceivable) value and worth. In saying that, there is only so much learning that can occur when you’re constantly given positive feedback so I often will take the time to assess whether or not we could have done better, and if there’s an expectation not met, a missed deadline or something isn’t quite up to scratch, we talk about it (shock horror). Same goes for when a delegated task fails. As leaders, we must remember that we are the teachers and we have the magical ability to turn that #fail into a positive, career-growing experience through careful mentoring. Constructive criticism helps to give us a fresh perspective and opens our eyes (and minds) to things we may have overlooked or never even thought to consider. When approached correctly this can be the greatest asset for your team to grow.
- Change your tone accordingly.
If someone tells me to do something in a cold tone and then follows it up with thanks in advance, I’ll literally dry roast my own eyeballs over hot coals before doing the said task. Why? This isn’t 1984 people – we aren’t running around in salmon pink suits with perms. Through becoming a ‘boss’ I’ve learnt how to ask people the right way (suited to their personality), to help me get things done. Your staff aren’t robots and you should have your own unique approach for all of them. When writing emails, especially when you are in a hurry, it’s quite easy to forget to check the tone and let me tell you, it’s not always easy to express patience, empathy, warmth or humor online. In order to create an open line of communication, as a boss, you need to be present, positive, attentive and caring so that each one of your staff feels seen and heard at all times.
- Give your team a good challenge.
You know how the saying goes – a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor. Inspired after reading a quote from Vanessa Van Edwards “sometimes, we need to get away to prove that people can do it on their own,” I decided to do just that. After hiring our lovely General Manager, Elodie, I booked a flight to Bali where the rice fields are green and the girls are pretty. Now, I think that in that moment she could have killed me with her fine tip pen, but I am 100% sure of one thing – that those two weeks without me made her a better, more effective staff member and the best-damn-GM I know. Recently, eight years down the track, I’ve really pushed this concept to limit when I went on maternity leave for 5 months and have spent the last 9 months juggling work and new mum-life. Delegate tasks that push your team members outside of their comfort zone and challenge them to reach a new level of creativity and leadership. It’s not just indicative to your mental health, but it allows your employees to grow in their leadership skills, self-worth, and confidence.
- Throw yourself in the ring
Here at Smackers, I am trying to lead from the front. Our business thrives because of the skills and hearts of the people within it. I can’t imagine where this biz and its people would be if I didn’t have so much faith in delegating to each and every one of them. As a leader, I’m forever aiming to be visible without being loud, enabling my staff to step out of their comfort zones and rise to every occasion with clarity and confidence. Knowing they always have someone to lean on when in need of support, but empowering them with the skills and attitude to get it done themselves. My number one tip: be a great role model, be vulnerable and don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve.