When Matthew Levey launched his all-natural beef-jerky company in 2010, he and his two co-founders rode their bikes to as many New York City grocery stores as they could to conduct in-store demos and sign up new accounts. After signing up 60 stores in the first month, the three realized that the strategy was neither sustainable nor scalable.
"We knew we needed to do demos to create awareness and promote our brand," says Levey, who runs Brooklyn-based Field Trip Beef Jerky with Tom Donigan and Scott Fiesinger. "But we also knew we couldn't spend five hours a day passing out samples and still grow our business."
The entrepreneurs hired a sampling team to market their products in stores, a move that has helped their business expand steadily. Today, Field Trip products are sold in more than 5,000 retail locations nationwide.
"Even though it was a very important part of our business, delegating that job to someone else freed up our time so we could focus on growth and building our bottom line," Levey says.
We've all heard startup founders describe themselves as "chief cook and bottle washer." But while multitasking may be necessary in the earliest days of a venture, it's important to know when to let go of nonessential tasks so you can focus on the areas that are necessary to build your business.
Here are eight types of tasks you should be delegating in order to propel your startup forward in the most efficient way.
1. Tasks that keep you from growing your business
When Levey and his team realized that the hours they spent on a bike en route to product samplings were not enabling them to scale to a nationwide platform, they hired a demo team. "Getting customers to trial something is important, but we also realized it wasn't a good use of our time, because it wasn't conducive to our long-term growth," he says.
Independent contractors were brought on to handle sampling and inform customers about the products' nutritional facts; that freed Field Trip's founders to pursue new accounts, which today include several major grocery chains, as well as JetBlue Airways, Vitamin World and Costco.
2. Activities that will help speed up cash flow
As a small company represented in huge grocery stores with more than 50,000 SKUs, Field Trip found that its relatively modest invoices often would get overlooked. "Checks for $100 get lost against the $10,000 checks pretty easily, so we were hounding the stores just to get paid," Levey explains.
The founders discovered that hiring distributors not only got them paid faster, it also enabled them to get paid with a few large checks rather than many small ones. The company now employs more than 25 distributors.
"By delegating that work to distributors, our accounts receivable have significantly improved, as has the timing of our working capital," he says. "We're getting our money faster, and we're also getting checks that were previously going unpaid because we didn't have time to follow up on them."
3. Areas that are out of your wheelhouse
Ryan Fleming, co-founder of Long Beach, Calif.-based RemindGrams.com, delegates tasks that would require too much time for him to learn and master. That is one of the factors to which he credits the success of his 24/7 concierge service, which keeps a virtual eye on the well-being of loved ones.
Fleming has turned to services such as Elance and Fiverr to outsource web design, creation of video and web content, SEO, social media activities and PR. "The SEO stuff is well over my head, but when you have someone who can help you understand how the Google algorithm works, it's a game-changer," Fleming says, adding that he attributes many of his company's 400-plus users to the success of the keyword "RemindGrams." "It would take me about five years to create [animation] online, so delegating out those types of digital assets is a no-brainer for me. It definitely pays for itself."
4. Tasks that are already streamlined
Hard work goes into developing processes that allow employees to increase their efficiency while still meeting in-house quality metrics. But once those processes are in place, there's no reason to be the person who implements them on a day-to-day basis. After launching Venice, Calif.-based online inventory and order-management software Lettuce in 2012, CEO Raad Mobrem saw his staff expand from two people who did everything to 13 within three months.
While exciting, the period was fraught with organizational headaches and growing pains. So he divided the company into sales, marketing, customer support and product. In each of those areas, processes were put in place so managers could easily delegate tasks when needed.
"When something needs to be done, we can walk an employee through our current processes and say, 'Here's what we like to do, and this is how we do it.' It's a clear path of where we're going and how we do things," Mobrem says, noting that Lettuce now has 15 employees and thousands of users. "As a result, we went from chaos to really well-delegated processes and tasks that everyone is able to complete in a timely manner."
5. Tasks in areas with often-changing regulations
Brian Fox, president and founder of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Confirmation.com, is a CPA who tries to stay up to date on the latest changes in the field. But he says he "wouldn't even think about" doing the accounting for his electronic audit confirmation services firm, even in the leanest of the startup days.
"The rules change so often that if you're not in it day to day, you'll miss something, from a tax standpoint or an accounting application standpoint," he says. "You need somebody who does that as their full-time job."
Fox outsources his legal, accounting and insurance needs to outside agencies that are current on specific regulations.
Waverly Deutsch, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, says delegating to a specialist is a good call when the cost of making a mistake might be high. "When you're dealing with a government agency like the IRS, EPA or immigration, you don't have any power, and the risk of doing it wrong--and facing stiff consequences--is enormous. Those are areas where you definitely should delegate to an expert," she says.
6. Projects that impede development
While Fox enjoys the product development side of his business, he has trouble presenting his thoughts in enough detail for a technology team to take over. Instead, he hands off that part of the process to avoid becoming a bottleneck within his own operation.
"I was holding up our development, so we brought in a product person that I could share the idea with, but then they could do all the legwork," he explains.
Today the company has a team that takes ideas for new products, enhancements and modifications and writes detailed specs so the technology team can create them.
7. Anything you want your team to learn
Bob Marsh--CEO of Detroit-based Level-Eleven, which creates motivational software for sales teams--says one of the best ways to get employees to internalize something he wants them to learn is to let them complete the task themselves. While he could simply tell his sales team how he'd like them to do a specific task, he finds that it's more effective to ask someone to take the lead on the activity so they can get the team together and come up with best practices.
"It helps people internalize it, because they've made their own thoughts and decisions on it," Marsh says.
8. The stuff you simply hate to do
Many 'treps agree that handing off the tasks they can't stand helps them maintain their drive and enthusiasm, which is critical to their company's success. After all, that's why they work for themselves.
"I really believe you should do the things you enjoy and have fun doing, and delegate the rest," says Fox of Confirmation.com. "That's what excites you when you wake in the morning, and what you're thinking about when you wake in the middle of the night with a brand-new idea. It's not: 'Oh my gosh, here's a new tax law I can apply.'
You're thinking about how to grow the business. That's what gets you excited, that's what gets you motivated, and that's what helps you succeed."