The owner of small marketing agency in Oregon shared: “My biggest struggle is letting go of client work and delegating to others.” She was currently doing most of the client work herself, and she was having trouble keeping up.
She’s not the only one—the owner of a design agency in North Carolina asked: “How do I choose between being a creative technologist vs. being the business manager?”
Ultimately, the answer depends on what you want to do all day. For instance, if you don’t enjoy the business side, you can delegate much of that to others—but then you need to ensure someone does it. I call it making yourself “needed but not necessary.”
This problem primarily impacts small agencies (under 10 people) but delegation-avoidance doesn’t discriminate. It can easily apply at larger agencies, too, especially when the owners haven’t changed their approach to match their new headcount.
Imagine your time is worth $1,000/hour
Focus on doing what I call “$1,000 an hour work.” Likely, you’re not literally getting paid $1,000/hour (or €1,000/hour or £1,000/hour or…). Rather, this is shorthand for the high-value work that only you can (or should) do, as the agency owner. For example:
- Defining your positioning.
- Doing lunch with a prospective referral partner.
- Negotiating a deal.
- Public speaking on behalf of your agency.
- Choosing your long-term business strategy.
Then, you’d ideally delegate the rest, apart from low-value activities that you find especially rewarding in other ways. For instance, Jay Baer shared in 2016 that he chooses to send his own invoices at Convince & Convert:
“I’ve been self-employed for long enough that I’m much better at that than I used to be, but I still do a few tasks that I probably shouldn’t be doing. Sometimes it’s just faster for me to do it myself than teach someone how to do it, and other times there’s just an exception. I still send out all the invoices—I shouldn’t be [doing that], but it’s a process that forces me to think about where we are [financially] each month.”
Again, if you enjoy doing a low-value activity—or there’s another benefit, like Jay tracking revenues—you don’t need to delegate it. But be intentional about it.
It’s about Opportunity Cost
Your $1,000/hour work is all about opportunity cost—what you could have done instead with that time? It’s the agency strategy version of my PM advice—assign work to the “cheapest competent person.”
Your time is valuable; as the agency owner, you’re not cheap.
Does poor delegation literally cost you $1,000 an hour? Probably not. But it adds up. If you skip a partnership-building lunch—that could have produced $100,000 in business—to instead assemble your expense report, your poor delegation probably cost you $60,000 an hour, from an Opportunity Cost perspective.
I know, reality gets in the way of delegation—let’s look at how that happens.
What’s keeping you from delegating?
What keeps you from delegating? Typically, I hear some combo of the following:
- Time (too long to train others)
- Quality (others do a subpar job)
- Accountability overhead (easier to just do it yourself than to train and manage them)
- Staffing (you don’t have someone you can delegate to)
- Money (you can’t afford to delegate)
- Client expectations (your clients trust only you on their account)
- Personal preference (you just don’t like delegating)
Again, this is about Opportunity Cost. The more you do $25/hour and $50/hour work, the harder it’ll be to focus on the truly high-value “$1,000/hour” work that only you can do. Until you make that shift, you’re pumping the brakes for your agency—and yourself.
Question: What keeps you from delegating more?