Neil Patel

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How to Delegate Responsibilities When Launching Your First Startup

startup management delegate responsibilities

Delegating tasks to others sound easy, but it can be difficult in practice.

Sometimes it seems easier to do something yourself.

You think because you’re an expert at it, you should be the one to do it.

It could be writing a new landing page or preparing a proposal for a new client. It would be fast for you since you know everything about your product.

But it’s not really faster for you to do it because it’s not a good use of your time.

You may think it’s a waste of your time to train someone else to do the task, but this is exactly what will save you time in the long run.

Delegating just 20 minutes worth of tasks per day saves you 100 minutes per week!

And, if you delegate tasks you don’t need to be doing, like administration and marketing, you can free up to 40% of your time.

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Imagine what you could get done with an extra hour and 40 minutes each week.

Training your employees by delegating tasks that aren’t critical for you to do yourself is what will make your startup grow.

You’re the one who needs to steer the ship, not work in the engine room.

Read on to learn how to effectively delegate to your team, even if the thought of doing so sends you into a panic. 

Pick the right person

This is the most important part of delegating successfully.

Don’t choose the person on your team with the most available time. Choose the person who is best suited for the task.

It may be tempting to unload tasks on someone who needs something to do, but this isn’t a successful long-term strategy.

You will end up spending more time teaching this person how to do the task than it would take to do it yourself.

Normally, this is fine, as he or she would learn the way you want it done and be able to repeat that result without much involvement from you in the future.

But if this isn’t the person you want to do this task in the future, why spend all that time training him or her?

That would be like training an employee how to do something new on his last day working for you.

Investing time training the right person to do the task will pay off in the long run.

In fact, many employees consider training opportunities as a reason to stay with a company long-term.

57% of millennials surveyed said having training programs available would keep them around for 5 years or longer.

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Developing the right people means you can unload more of your tasks on them in the future, knowing it will be done right.

It also provides an incentive for those employees to stay with your startup as you grow.

But how do you identify who the right person is?

That comes from really knowing your employees. You need to know what they’re already good at, what their interests are, and what they hope to achieve with their career in the future.

For example, say you have to write a press release but you don’t have time.

Of course, the answer is, “Delegate it!”

But who should you give it to?

You look over at your marketing team and remember that Katie once told you she had experience as a copywriter and wanted to do more PR work.

You’re only going to remember details like that if you take the time to get to know your team.

It doesn’t always work out that there is someone interested in the particular task you want to delegate.

But if you can align tasks with your employees’ interests, you can have the added benefit of reducing turnover in your startup.

Engaged employees are 59% less likely to look for another job with a competitor.

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If you don’t have anyone on your team who can take on a specific task, you can still outsource it to a freelancer.

I have a video explaining where to find the best freelancers. The video focuses on marketing, but there are many other skills on these sites, too.

Explain why you’re delegating the task

This is another big one.

When you’re delegating a task, don’t just tell the person, “Hey, please do x, y, and z for me today.”

Tell this person why you’re giving him or her this task.

Be very clear in explaining what the task is, your expectations, and the desired end result.

Your employee is probably nervous taking on more responsibility for the first time. He or she wants to deliver the results you expect.

So clearly say what those results are.

You also have to say what’s in it for this person to do this.

Tell this person what he or she can expect to learn for him or herself and how it will help his or her future at your startup.

A recent survey discovered that while money still motivates a lot of people, it’s not the biggest factor.

89% of employees want meaningful, interesting work.

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Employees also valued a sense of accomplishment and being able to have work/life balance.

You could say, “Katie, writing this press release will get us more awareness for Product A, which will help us get to our goal of 100 users by the end of the quarter.”

Now she knows how meaningful it is for her to write the press release.

It also tells her how it fits in with your company’s goal, and how she’s contributing to achieving that.

Even better, follow that up with, “I know you’re interested in doing more PR, so if this goes well, there could be many more opportunities to take on work like this in the future.”

Also, don’t be shy about letting Katie know why you picked her in the first place.

Be transparent!

You could say, “Katie, I chose you to write this press release because I’ve seen some of the copy you wrote for our website and it was great. You really know our product and how to communicate that well to our ideal audience.”

Companies who value learning are 46% more likely to be the leader in their industry.

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Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your employees about their plans for the future and how they can grow with your startup.

Employees want to know there’s a future for them there.

Money can be tight right now when you’re starting out. Eventually, there will be opportunities for those first startup employees to move up into higher roles.

Identify the people who you want to make up your future leadership. Tell them you want to help them grow their careers.
Invest your time and energy into training them in the tasks you do now so that they’re ready to take on those leadership positions in the future.

Provide clear directions

Providing clear directions isn’t as easy as it sounds.

It’s not a matter of saying, “Katie, write this press release.”

It’s about saying precisely how you want the task done, by when, and providing the necessary resources for that person to do it.

According to Oracle, only 68% of employees know what’s expected of them.

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That means about 1 in 3 workers have no idea what your expectations are.

That’s crazy!

But I believe it.

Think back to some old jobs you had before founding your startup.

I bet you can think of at least a few times where you were given unclear instructions for how to do something.

I remember one time when I first started at Knott’s Berry Farm as a teenager. I started working there when I was 15 for the same reason most teens get a job: extra pocket money.

My job was less than glamorous. I picked up trash from the park and cleaned bathrooms.

Anyway, I remember one of my first days on the job. I was given a bucket with a bunch of spray bottles and a few cloths in it and told where the brooms and other supplies were kept.

Then it was, “Off you go!”

I remember being confused about what to do next.

I was pretty shy at the time and didn’t want to make waves, so I smiled and started walking around the park.

I figured the job couldn’t be that hard. I clean things. So, walk around and look for dirty things and then clean them.

No big deal, right?

It was actually a lot harder than it had to be. I didn’t have a plan. I was walking around aimlessly looking for things to do.

This is more common than you think in the corporate world, too.

57% of workers say they are missing clear direction at least some of the time in their roles.

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I guess I should finish my story…

I saw the bathrooms in the distance. I thought it would be a good place to start.

I went in and started cleaning. I sprayed and wiped the mirrors and restocked the soap and other supplies.

I was feeling pretty good about my work. But my supervisor pulled me aside later and told me I used the wrong cleaner on the mirrors.

They were all streaked and the product I used left residue all over them, so they looked worse than before.

I had used a bottle labeled, “multi-purpose cleaner” instead of the one marked, “glass cleaner.”


So, I learned two lessons that day.

First, that 15 year old boys aren’t the best cleaners.

And second, that I should have asked a few clarifying questions about what supplies I had before heading off to work for the day.

A few questions upfront to clarify the details can pay off big in the long run.

In this case, I had been given all the tools I needed to do my job, but not the directions to use them effectively.

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes and thinking I should have noticed the bottle marked, “glass cleaner.”

In my defense, I wasn’t cut out for that work anyway. A few months later I left to try sales, and then I built my first Internet business.

When you’re delegating tasks to your employees, don’t just hand it to them like my bucket of cleaning supplies.

Take the time to explain how you would do the task so they have somewhere to start from.

40% of employees who receive poor training will leave that job within a year.

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Explain the tools you’re giving them.

It could be introducing them to a new app to do keyword research like Spyfu.

Explain how you use Spyfu to research competitors and how that’s helpful to the project you’ve assigned them to.

Whatever your situation is, take a second to determine if you needx to explain anything in more detail before walking away.

Trust them to do it right

Once you’ve delegated a task, explained why you gave it to that person, and given them clear directions, it’s time to step away.

If you’re a control freak, the idea of this probably drives you crazy.

But you have to step back and let your employee do the work.

Don’t micromanage them by hovering over their shoulder and asking how it’s going every five minutes.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

I would hazard a guess you don’t like being micromanaged, right?

No one does! In fact, over half of employees say it’s the worst thing you could do to them.

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If you feel like you can’t back off, ask yourself why you’re having a hard time letting this task go.

Is it because you don’t think your employee will do a good job?

Or, because you’re nervous it won’t turn out as good as you could do it?

Here’s a newsflash: the world has a lot of talented people in it, and a lot of them are way more talented than you.

It sounds harsh but it’s a lesson every leader needs to learn at some point.

When you’ve found someone who can do a better job than you, you should celebrate. Your life just got easier!

If you can’t find it in yourself to trust your employees to do excellent work, you need to figure out what’s causing that and deal with it pronto.

Your employees can tell when you don’t trust them.

Can you imagine walking into a workplace every day knowing that your boss doesn’t trust you to do a good job, even though you’re trying your hardest?

It’s not a very productive or uplifting environment.

Employees work better when they know you trust them to get their jobs done. So much better, in fact, that they experience less burnout and stress and have 106% more energy.

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Being micromanaged can erode that feeling of trust.

But not micromanaging isn’t the same thing as ignoring your employee until he or she is done the task.

You don’t want your employee to think he or she can’t come to you with questions or to ask for feedback mid-way through a project.

Tell the employee at the beginning to come see you if he or she needs help.

Make it obvious that you’re willing to provide feedback and help throughout the process, not only after they turn in the final product.

Which leads me to my next point…

Make time for feedback

Providing regular feedback is critically important as a leader.

Feedback should always be part of your day. Pay special attention to supporting the people you’ve recently delegated new tasks to.

That doesn’t mean just saying, “Good job!” to a few people every day.

It means taking the time to point out areas for improvement, and then making suggestions to improve those skills for the future.

It also means delivering that constructive criticism in a kind and respectful way that lets your employee know you value them.

But feedback isn’t a one-way street.

It’s not only you getting to evaluate your employees.

Your employees should be free to ask you questions and make suggestions, too.

Millennials, who now make up about 40% of the overall workforce, crave regular and open communication much more than previous generations.

81% of them would rather have open communication than typical office perks like free food or comprehensive health plans.

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If you have to, block off time in your calendar to remember to check in with each of your employees for at least 15 minutes every week.

Be prepared for those meetings with notes about their work.

Don’t focus on only constructive items. Always make sure to point out the employee’s positive behaviors and great work when you notice that, too.

Employees do want to hear negative feedback, but imagine if that’s all you heard each week. No one would want that.

Make a big deal about their positive contributions and how they’re helping your startup grow.

Maybe it’s been a few weeks since Katie’s press release went out.

In your weekly chat with her, mention some great statistics you’ve seen. Maybe her release landed you an interview on a leading tech website or with a newspaper.

Thank her for her hard work in making that happen.

Good employees will always take pride in their work but it’s your job to recognize that and encourage that behavior.

Providing consistent feedback keeps them engaged, productive, and profitable.

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At first, delegating can feel like it’s not worth the time it takes.

You think of the time needed to explain the task to someone else and follow through with feedback to ensure it’s done right.

You think of even picking someone for the task in the first place.

It’s easy to convince yourself that you should still be the one to do it.

But that isn’t efficient or what your startup needs right now.

Your startup needs you to lead it, not to carry out busy work.

Focus on developing yourself as a leader and delegating to your team will get easier as you keep practicing.

Eventually, you won’t just delegate tasks, you’ll be delegating true responsibility in the form of watching over departments.

The employee who started out doing junior level marketing tasks for you may end up overseeing your entire marketing department a few years from now.

70% of your high-performing employees will stay with your startup as you grow if they’re challenged.

However, 63% of employers don’t ever tell those employees that they consider them future leaders of the company.

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It’s up to you as a leader to develop your employees into the roles you’ll need in the future at your startup.

Today’s delegation yields tomorrow’s results!

How do you delegate to your team to help them grow with your company?

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