Learn to delegate in order to grow your company

“Grow or die.” We have all heard that phrase at one time or another haven’t we? Our response is usually: “But I already have too much to do now; how can I expect to add anything else to my plate?”


Over the years, I have been through the “grow or die” phase numerous times in my landscape business, and I have learned a few things along the way. Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that in order to grow your business you must first get out of your own way. Let’s look at an example of how we get in our own way.

Joe runs a landscape business with sales of $750,000 and wants to grow it to $1 million. Joe has lots of responsibilities and really has no time to think about growing his business. In fact, Joe’s company has been stuck at $750,000 for three years and Joe is frustrated. After working all day in the field Joe comes home and does paperwork until 10 p.m., tries to return some emails and phone calls and falls into bed. The next morning he gets to the shop and only two out of three foremen show up, so Joe picks up the slack and fills in for the “sick” foreman. Joe had planned to call prospects, but that has to wait because once again Joe has to be in the field. This cycle repeats itself far too often.

Employee, manager or leader?

Joe is always saying that when he has more time he will be able to focus on growing the business, but the days, weeks and years go by and nothing changes. Joe eventually gets burned out and decides he either has to go out of business or go work for the competition. Joe’s not a happy camper.

If you’re a business owner, I’m sure Joe’s story is not unfamiliar. Neither is the grow or die phrase. So how do we grow without adding even more to our already full plate?

The answer is you have to learn how to delegate, and I know this is not always easy at first. But, if Joe’s story rings true to you and describes what you’re going through, then it’s time to face the facts. First of all, you can’t do everything yourself. Say it out loud: “I can’t do everything myself.”

Good, now what are you going to do about it? Start by looking at where you spend most of your time. Ask yourself if you are a leader, a manager or an employee? This is a really important question, and you really need to think about how you answer it.

Let’s go back to Joe. Joe spends a lot of time in the field working with the crews. He’s an employee at this point, and probably the highest paid guy on the crew. He’s not leading, he’s working, and there’s a huge difference.

Joe also makes all of the route schedules, hires and fires, deals with customer service issues and does all of the company’s paperwork; now Joe is a manager. Finally, Joe spends a little time mentoring his better employees and working on systems and procedures for his business. This is where Joe needs to be, because these are the responsibilities of a leader.

What can you delegate?

Unfortunately, if Joe was asked to rank the amount of time he spent in each of the above categories it would look like this: 70 percent as an employee, 20 percent as a manager and only 10 percent as a leader. Sound familiar?

I hope that helps illustrate the exercise of looking at where you spend your time. Make a list of what you do, and next to each task write down whether you’re an employee, manager or leader. Then take the three categories and assign a percentage of time you spend in each one.

If you’re an employee or manager most of the time, take a hard look at what you can take off your plate so you have time to grow your company and improve your lifestyle. “How do I do that,” you ask? It’s easy. Take your list and highlight the things you do best, and then highlight the things that you like to do. Next, take a different color highlighter and highlight what you’re not very good at and what you don’t like doing. Hopefully at least a few of the first set of highlighted items on your list are considered “leader” tasks. This is where you should start spending most of your time. The tasks you highlighted with the second marker are the ones you should consider delegating.

Let’s visit Joe one more time to prove this point. Joe really does like to mentor and teach people, he knows a lot about horticulture because it’s what he studied in school. On the other hand, Joe hates to do paperwork, and spending evenings on the computer doing invoicing has almost ended his marriage more than once. Joe knows he would be a much better leader if he didn’t have to deal with that part of the business. He would have more time to spend mentoring his employees and maybe working on some systems for the company. Joe is actually thinking about hiring an office manager. As a matter of fact, if Joe had someone who could take over all of the office work it wouldn’t be such a daunting task to put together an employee manual since he wouldn’t have to be the one who types it all.

Joe needs to look at his company finances and see if he has the resources to hire an office manager. He also needs to figure out what the cost would be to hire someone for that position. Joe is seeing a future vision of his company for the first time in a long time. He’s seeing that he can grow his company by taking some things off his plate and delegating them to an office manager. Too bad for the competition, Joe is staying put for now.

Steve Rak II is the owner of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and a partner with his brother, Jeff, in Rak Consulting. Contact Steve at