During my college years, I spent a month living in Nigeria. My Nigerian host family consisted of a mom, dad, four daughters, one son and one son-in-law. That is a whole heck of a lot of people to share tasks with. For example, meals were a coordinated ballet and everyone played a role. Two of the daughters were tasked with going to the market to buy the meat, the son’s job was to escort his sisters to the market and help carry the packages. The eldest daughters would prepare most of the meal and mom would coordinate all of the these players and tasks. Dad was the provider. And son-in-law would bake desserts.
In my little family of three there are far too many tasks that need to be done and not enough people to do them (of course, one of us is only six weeks old so she doesn’t have too many chores yet). The same is true for my practice, there are far too many tasks for little ‘ol me. Especially since that six week old I mentioned, takes up a lot of my time.
Enter Delegation (or The Fear of Delegation)
If regular folks realize the need to farm out bits and pieces of their random household chores, why don’t more solos (especially new and young solos) realize their need to delegate business tasks? The reason is we’re scared. Sure, we’re scared of not having complete control and scared that they’ll do it wrong. But most of all we’re scared we can’t afford it and scared to increase our overhead.
Unfortunately, we usually need to start delegating just before we are financially comfortable doing so.
Thanks to the rise of virtual assistants and virtual paralegals, there are easy ways to start dabbling in delegation without taking the risk of hiring a full-time employee.
Dabbling in Delegation
Just before hitting the one year mark, I realized that I could not keep working like I was without making myself miserable. Plus, I had a baby on the way, and knew things would have to change once my daughter was born. (Did I mention, that said daughter arrived over 2 weeks early leaving many of my maternity leave plans not quite set just yet?). In addition, there are just some things I don’t like doing or that I’m not very good at. Sure, I can enter all of my business transactions into QuickBooks but do I want to? Hell no!
Of course, I also wasn’t making as much money as I had hoped I would before starting to hire people. There was a number in my head that I was supposed to reach before having the luxury of an assistant or paralegal. Due to my need to sleep and the fact that I have a finite amount of productive working hours in me each day, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to that number.
Burn out is very real. We’ve all heard horror stories of lawyers winding up in the ER or worse, due to the health complications that occur when you are stressed out and overworked. More likely though, being overworked will sap the joy out of running your practice and you’ll stop having the energy or desire to keep doing it. I didn’t want that to be me.
So here is how I started to dabble in delegating:
1. Get a referral! I had no idea what exactly I needed to delegate or who I needed to delegate to. So I asked my mastermind group for referrals. I got a list of highly recommended virtual assistants that friends of mine worked with and loved. I set up a consultation with each of them.
2. Choose one time consuming task to outsource. During the first consultation, I told the VA about my practice and asked what types of things I could potentially outsource. She gave me great ideas and helped me realize that there were quite a few administrative tasks that I took a really long time to do because they just weren’t my strengths or because I was learning as I went. One of which was management and set up of my mailing list. It took me a long time to set up and it was pretty poorly executed. So I decided that moving my mailing list over to an email marketing service and setting up well-designed newsletter templates would be the first task.
3. Purchase a super small block of time for the first task. I purchased a 5 hour block of time for a few hundred dollars with no strings attached. We both understood that she would handle the first set of tasks and then we would decide whether we were a good fit. If we did enjoy working together, we would work out terms for going forward. Don’t be afraid to ask for terms that will fit your business. If you only want to purchase a few hours per month for the first month or two, just ask.
4. Set up a collaboration system. That sounds more complicated than it is. I just set up a free Basecamp account and gave my VA access, however you can choose any secure collaboration service you like. This service made it really easy to set up to-do lists with deadlines, share documents and passwords and send each other messages.
5. Set clear expectations and provide honest feedback. Be sure to provide your VA with a deadline and clear instructions and expectations. I learned from my Nigerian host family that everyone is happier and things run smoothly when each person understands their role. The relationship only helps your business if everybody is clear on what the expectations are. After the first set of tasks is complete, schedule a quick call with your VA to determine how it went. Be clear on what went well and what could be better. Keep in mind that there is a learning curve in the first set of tasks because no one knows your business like you do.
6. Jump for joy! Then rinse and repeat. When you have been hustling hard for many moons, having someone knock out a task for you AND do it well (or better than you would have) will put a big cheesy grin on your face. You will be addicted and you will (eventually) hire someone else. After a few months of working with my stupendously awesome VA, a fellow lawyer referred a virtual paralegal to me. The first project she worked on was done quickly and efficiently and took a whole lotta work off my plate.
Just Do It!
Bottom line: I knew my practice could only grow so much if I didn’t start delegating. Having help is slowly but surely increasing my quality of life and growing my practice. I’ve experienced growth that is directly related to the tasks my team helped me with. Plus, like I learned from my Nigerian host family, working with others brings a sense of community and makes work so much more enjoyable.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.