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Show 'Em Who's Boss: 5 Small Business Delegation Mistakes to Avoid

Small business ownerSmall businesses are usually lean, which means there are a few people wearing many hats. Add to this the fact that founders see the company as their baby and therefore have a hard time letting go, and you often have a serious lack of delegation. This can be the death of the business.

"Trying to take on all tasks in a business is tough," says Patrick O'Keefe, marketing director at ClutchPrep.com. "So, it's important to prioritize the ones that guarantee the business will be open at the end of the day."

Everyone wants their business to thrive, and delegation is one of the keys to success. Here are five common errors small business owners should avoid:

1. Acting like an intern

You know the scenario: The head honcho is running errands, picking up mail, answering e-mail, talking to customers, and making minor changes to the website. An assistant could easily handle these sorts of tasks. "Pay someone else to do the small stuff, so that you can do the big stuff that makes you more money," writes Allen Walton, CEO of SpyGuySecurity.com in Dallas, in an e-mail. "Delegating these time consuming, $10-per-hour tasks frees up your time and mental capacity to do the things that are worth $1,000 per hour." You could even make use of virtual assistants or freelancers on an as-needed basis, says Ellen Huxtable, owner of Advantage Business Concepts in Batavia, Illinois.

2. Confusing activity for results

Somewhere along the line, people started to believe that being busy was a sign of success. It's not. Confusing activity for results is one of the biggest mistakes small businesses make, says Linda Galindo, co-author of Where Winners Live. Sell More, Earn More, Achieve More Through Personal Accountability. She suggests writing down the tasks that need to be done, assigning them to people, and then having everyone sign the document. It should include deadlines and who gets credit or commission for each assignment, so there are no questions. Worried you're no longer the busiest bee? Don't be. "Doling out work," adds Galindo, "can be one of the best developmental activities of small businesses if done right."

3. Not trusting your employees

Because entrepreneurs are so attached to their businesses, they can't imagine letting go of any of the tasks. The key to getting around this is surrounding yourself with a great team by making human resources a top priority. "Owners need to be able to trust other employees in the business," writes Vincent Crewe, sales vice president at ACInks.com in Rio Rancho, N.M., in an e-mail. "Only hire people who you're sure will get their jobs done." And then let them do their jobs.

4. Ignoring big picture work

While the people running small businesses are getting coffee, they fail to do the important work of building a long-term vision and strategizing. You have to figure out which tasks are appropriate for you. Start by being honest about your strengths, suggests Matt Boaman, SEO engineer and programmer for EZSolution. Also, there are certain areas where the leaders should maintain control, such as finances and human resources procedures, he adds. "Once the company has reached a certain capacity that those individual jobs are necessary, then those specific roles can be passed down through the ranks," writes Boaman. "Until that time, it's important for the owner to oversee that, due to unproductive employees who may stunt growth, or even worse an unscrupulous employee in charge of accounting who might bilk money from the company."

5. Not giving good instructions and following up

Trusting an employee does not mean giving him or her free reign to do whatever he wants. It's up to the supervisor to provide explicit instructions on what to do next. Then, you must ignore the temptation to take over the task. Once the job is in progress, follow up to make sure employees are meeting your standards and delivering exactly what it is you need.

Bosses earn their title. They need to take charge and tell everyone else what to do, rather than get wrapped up in all the work themselves. By passing on menial tasks and hiring employees with specializations that are different from their own, leaders can focus on growing the business. After all, isn't that the boss's job?