helpSmall business owners really are lousy at delegation – this one I can say with some passion in my most self incriminating voice.

You know, nobody can do it like you, it takes more time to explain it than to just do it. And, frankly, it’s the work you enjoy, it’s where you get the greatest satisfaction and you can’t really let go of it because what will happen then. And yet, something truly magical will happen in your business when you finally realize you must delegate most of what you do today.

Larry Ryan founded Ryan Lawn and Tree over twenty years ago on the back seat of a tractor. Today, he is the CEO of one of the largest lawn services in the Midwest with over 150 employees and he still admits, “the hardest job I have is getting out of the way of my people.”

Growth requires delegation, not to be confused with abdication, and delegation requires systems and processes. Getting all the successful ways you do what you do documented can seem like a monumental task if taken as a grand project one day. The key to delegation and systems thinking is to employ technology married with a checklist mentality.

What I’m really talking about is an operations manual and set of processes that anyone, perhaps several virtual anyones, can operate. Now, don’t freeze up at the suggestion of a manual. Think simple baby steps first.

There are two technologies that I would suggest you take a good hard look at employing staring tomorrow. Let these technologies follow you around for about a month as you note what you do and you may finally find yourself free to properly put a universe of employees or virtual associates to work in your business.

Wiki Intranet – think of a wiki like a high powered scratch pad with built in database, search and formatting. This is the online tool that will allow you to organize and document everything that you do. Here’s the cool thing though. Anyone in your organization can edit and update whatever you create using a wiki. As long as you can scratch out a few action steps, your team or virtual assistant may very well be able to finish and refine your processes. I’ve recently started using Central Desktop for this. This tool allows me to create workspaces, essentially intranets, that I can grant access to various groups for collaboration purposes. So now, when I explain something that I need done, I jot the steps down and capture them in sortable, searchable utopia for all of time. (Central Desktop does a lot more than this and that’s what makes it worth investigating over some of the simple wiki tools.)

Email Management – Email, while the enabling technology of the Internet, has caused some real issues in business. It’s hard to manage, track, sort, respond to and delegate. A new kind of technology is available to even the smallest of business that allows you to create mailboxes for everything you might get email for – sales, service, questions, joint venture offers, quotes, speaking requests, etc. and then set-up collaboration processes that can make it easy for you to build response routines that can be delegated to virtual assistants or anyone, anywhere in your organization. I use Email Center Pro from Palo Alto Software to help manage email follow-up and delegation. I can assign tasks, view responses and filter requests from a dashboard. The best part about this is that even with the flood of email we receive, I can see that nothing gets lost. This is far more powerful from a marketing standpoint than help desk software as it still allow us to delegate, but respond as humans to every type of request, even when some of the staff is on vacation. (Disclaimer: I have a partner relationship with Palo Alto Software for Marketing Plan Pro, which, by that way, also allows me to talk about the software and the incredible people behind it.)

So, you see, by employing technology, like Central Desktop and Email Center Pro, you can document your success systems and perhaps finally start getting effective assistance in a way that will allow you to grow your business beyond your current capacity to wrap your arms around.

Image source: Gruntzooki

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • John,

    I can’t agree more with the importance of creating methods and operations standards if you want to delegate and be able to scale and continue to grow.

    In the spirit of the Duct Tape methods, I wanted to mention a few of the affordable (some are even free) programs I use to help organize and delegate.

    ProjectPier ( is a free open source project manager that can be installed on your own server. I love it. It can be customized and manipulated with a little css and php knowledge or work out of the box pretty well.

    Batchbook ( is an original take on CRM systems, allowing you to sort and keep track of communications and manage your networking. – Simple but flexible task manager and Todo list app. There is a free version and at $15 per year the pro version is a steal, allowing you to delegate and assign tasks, create recurring tasks, all kinds of great uses.

    I will probably have to graduate to a more robust system like Central Desktop at some point, but to really be useful it starts at $99/month. A little much for little old me.

    I’d love to see your take on an Operations Manual. Or have you already written that somewhere? I’ll have to go look.

  • John Jantsch

    @Marty – thanks for the extra resources – I’m a big fan of Batchbook as well and using it in some clever ways.

    I’ve decided to give up on to do lists and really wish someone would create a not to do list software. Hmm, that sounds like a good blog post.

  • Andrew Benson

    Great stuff here. Another great leak-proof system of Delegation/Follow-up and organization in all areas of your life is David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.” I find his GTD Outlook “Add-In” is perfectly designed for delegating without abdicating.

    Thanks for this post. I am going to check out your two suggestions and compare.

  • John Jantsch

    @Andrew – I know lots of folks swear by GTD but I’ve always felt it was a little too robotic for me. I’m sure more creative folks than I have found great ways to make it work for them – actually, Email Center Pro would fit nicely into David’s system for someone wanting to use an online tool.

  • Delegation has always been the absolute hardest thing for me. I’m one of those classic “if I want it done right, I have to do it myself” people. Thanks for the links to the tools, we’ve been using a wiki called brain keeper for a while now and it’s been an invaluable tool for us.

    Once I learned to delegate, my whole world opened up because I was able to concentrate on the meaningful work in my business instead of the day today minutiae.

    It’s still a struggle, every day, to take a “hands-off” approach — as you say above, “getting out of the way of my people” is a daily challenge. Well worth it though!

    Thanks for posting —

  • John, you know as well as anyone that delegation is an emotional mind set, or not. We have all had bosses that said “go ahead and get er done”…who then came running in to take charge before the fire even had a smoke.

    Of course I have never did that.

  • John, had to comment on your not-todo-list idea. I need to keep track of things so they help me. But I spent SO much time finding a todo list, and tried so many it kind of made me wonder if it was really worth it or not. But I eventually found a system and since I stuck with it, it works pretty well.

    If you don’t use some kind of task list, how do you keep track of the day to day things you need to do? I still find a scrap of paper with a quick list is the best. But it goes back to the system idea this post was originally about for me. Find a system and use it, right?

    Thanks for the response. – Marty

  • John,

    I’d appreciate you expanding on the comment about Email Center Pro:

    “This is far more powerful from a marketing standpoint than help desk software as it still allow us to delegate, but respond as humans to every type of request, even when some of the staff is on vacation.”

    We’ve been using a help desk system for just over a year. Due to bad customer service we’re considering switching to a new (but similar) system. I definitely see value in Email Center Pro and am considering it as an alternative to a traditional help desk. But there are some things a help desk does that I don’t see here – online ticket submission, customer support center with ticket history, user groups so that customers in the same office can manage tickets together, etc.

    Why do you think Email Center Pro is better than a traditional help desk solution for marketing purposes?



  • It pays to read the comments on this blog! Thank you, Marty, for making me aware of, which seems a great replacement for the external service I’m using.

    I find wiki intranets to be an amazing tool for collaboration and boosting productivity.

    In my experience as a consultant, big companies put so much obstacles for establishing a good wiki platform that most initiatives have to start almost as a “clandestine” effort.

    Small businesses, on the other hand, can easily deploy and start taking advantage of the wiki many useful features right away.

  • Adriana,

    Just be aware, projectpier is definitely not perfect and can be a little buggy. I guess it is fairly slow as an open source project with not too many updates and not the greatest support community. But if you’re okay with hacking into some php, it is pretty easy to make your own.

    • Adriana B.


      Thank you for the heads up! I've been successfully using ProjectPier for a few weeks now at, and it is working wel for our needs (it does help that I am good with PHP and also have a great – if small – tech team that is now investigating why I don't receive comments by email when they are posted by clients – they receive all my comments but I, and admin user don't receive theirs, tsk).

  • thanks for the suggestions of these 2 management systems. I like the idea of expanding my growth of “Virtual Assistants” as you put it 😉

  • Great stuff here. I really believe collaboration is a key to engaging your employees. If you can get them to collaborate then you connect with them on a deeper level and then they feel you understand them and care about them. Nothing will improve your business like engaged employees. As you can probably guess, an engaged employee outperforms and increases customer service levels to nth degrees.

    Keep sharing. I have a post completely dedicated to engaging your audience internally & externally.

    Chad Rothschild

  • What I can say is very nice and helpful as well as informative post…really help me very much more!!


  • What I can say is very nice and helpful as well as informative post…really help me very much more!!