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You Can Leave Your Hat On, Baby

By: Deb O'Connor



Small business owners wear many hats. Owner. Salesperson. Bookkeeper. Cashier. Manager. Trainer. Janitor. Marketing. Computer repair. Web designer. Social media manager. Not to mention, of course, the specialty of the business, whether it’s tutoring kids in math, selling jewelry, running fitness classes, or buying and selling homes.

That’s too many hats. It reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem Mr. Smeds and Mr. Spats. Mr. Spats had 21 unique hats. He came across Mr. Smeds who had 21 heads but only 1 hat. When I think of the small business owner, I think of Mr. Spats with 21 hats balanced on his head. He’s always moving a little to the left, a little to the right, trying to keep everything balanced, trying not to let anything fall off.

When I talk to small business owners about how many hats they wear, they immediately identify with this. Some even get tears in their eyes because it’s such a stressful way to live. Yet asking them to give up a hat is like taking off one of Mr. Smeds’s heads! So how does a small business owner balance all the many hats that they have to wear? With wisdom. Here’s how:

1. Stop. Take the time to plan. Make a list of all the hats you wear. If you’re a visual thinker, write each role you manage on a separate piece of paper and spread them out on the floor. Think of these as your hats.

2. Get out your strategic planning documents. If you haven’t created these yet, take a moment to jot down your top-of-mind thoughts about why you’re in business and what you want to achieve. Think about your target market and the message you want them to receive about your business.

3. Keeping your strategy in mind, look at hats on the floor. Make three piles.

a. Which roles must YOU manage in order to be successful in your business? Which require your unique talents and strengths?
b. Which roles are you covering because you don’t feel you can afford to hire someone else to take them on?
c. Which ones can you let go of, allowing someone else to manage them NOW?

4. Before we move on, let’s consider something about small business owners. Many of us use glue when we put those hats on. It’s difficult to allow anyone else to take on even the smallest tasks. This business is our passion. We want it to succeed, and if we trust a task to someone else and they fail, our business suffers.

But think of this: If you’re distracted by the pile of bills next to your desk and the blog you’re trying to write, you’re not focusing on your customer. You may be making unwise decisions about spending your carefully budgeted money on marketing campaigns that don’t fit your strategy because you’re too stressed to take the time to stop and think. Your success depends on careful planning, on allowing others to take on tasks. Will they be perfect? No. But neither are you, especially when you’re distracted.

If you hire carefully and take the time to train wisely, mistakes will be minimal. And you can concentrate on those tasks that truly require YOU. Now go through that pile again and see if you can move more hats from PILE A to PILE B or C.

5. Now let’s take another look at PILE B. Small businesses often have tight budgets. But if you invest a little in some help, in having experts manage the tasks that take you longer, then you can invest more of your time in making your business a success. If you’re not tied up paying bills or creating social media posts, you can fit in one more fitness class on your schedule. If you’re not busy writing website content, you can see one more client. Investing money in resources will allow you to increase your revenues. Can you move more of PILE B to PILE C?

6. Move. Really. Now. Move the hats. Take your piles, and act! Start jotting down people you know, resources you have, to wear those hats. If you go through the exercise of making your piles but don’t make any changes, the weight of all those hats will not change. Write a few emails and make a few phone calls.

7. Ask for help. Many small business owners are on their own. They find it difficult to move through an exercise like this without having someone else to bounce ideas off of. Find a small business coach. She can help you talk it through.

8. Remember if you’re distracted by too many tasks, if you’re tired because you’re doing too much, if you’re feeling guilty because your business is taking you away from your family, there is no way you can succeed at any of your roles. Engaging resources allows you to be successful at the roles you choose to keep.

Now that you’ve reduced your hats, be careful not to add any new ones. You probably suspected, as wise business owners, that Mr. Spats, with his one head and 21 hats, would sell 20 hats to Mr. Smeds with his 21 heads and only one hat. That would balance so nicely. A nice 21 hats for the 21-head guy and 1 hat for the 1-head guy. No. Turns out, in true Shel Silverstein style, Mr. Spats bought Mr. Smeds’s hat!

Reducing the number of roles you manage allows you to focus on the passion of your business, which is the only way to succeed. So you can leave your hat on, baby. Just make sure it’s the right hat.

Published: May 2, 2013

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Deb O'Connor

Deb O'Connor has provided strategic direction to small companies since 1993. She has a passion for helping others find clarity in their business direction. Her educational background includes a Master’s in Business Administration with a self-created focus of entrepreneurship and a bachelor's degree in literature with a minor in psychology. This unique blend of business knowledge, writing expertise, and understanding of human nature create a distinct ability to help small business owners identify and clarify business direction.

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