When Tim Sahuri started his career as an architect, he soon found the administrative demands of running a business left him little time for the drawing board.
“Design work was only 20 per cent of my day – the rest of my time was spent writing, documenting, and co-ordinating with other architects and consultants. My core strengths in drafting and drawing were being seriously diluted,” recalls the principal of Calgary-based Sahuri +Partners Architecture Inc.
Out of frustration, he bought into a partnership at a company with specialists to handle the business details, allowing him to focus on design.
It’s a dilemma faced by many professionals whose trade has expanded into a successful small business. While business growth is essential to success, it comes with increasing demands to manage people and handle administrative details that can become major distractions from the work they really want to do.
Managing is a fact of business life that professionals should consider from the time they set up a practice, says Vancouver-based small-business consultant Rayhan Abdulmughnee.
“Many professionals believe setting up a business is simply the matter of registering the company and hanging the shingle. But to be successful as an entrepreneur requires a focus on sales and marketing and managing in addition to the ability to deliver quality work on time,” he explains.
Most owner-run professional businesses initially have limited budgets for hiring specialists to handle management and sales, so a do-it-yourselfer needs to set limits on the time being spent on administration. For instance, “without a strategy, entrepreneurs can spend too much time trying to figure out how to generate leads,” Mr. Abdulmughnee says.
“Online and social media marketing can be effective channels for professionals to generate leads. However, sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can also be very addictive, quickly sucking up time that should be spend in delivering projects.So a strategy should be to set up blocks of time in your daily agenda with clear time limits.”
At some point, though, it will be prudent to bring in management help, “and that’s ideally before your clients start complaining about delayed deliveries and deteriorating quality,” Mr. Abdulmughnee adds. “When you can’t answer the phone and complete the project at the same time, you need another pair of skilled hands.”
Many professionals find it difficult to learn to delegate their responsibilities, says management consultant Bonnie Elliot, a Calgary-based partner with BDC Consulting.
“I find there’s a common underlying assumption that they have to be involved in everything, because they fear that if they delegated management tasks, someone else wouldn’t be able to do them as well,” Ms. Elliot has found. “They wear it as a badge of honour that they have it all in their head, but I point out that’s one of the reasons they don’t have the time or attention to focus on their work.
“My litmus test is to ask entrepreneurs the last time they took a holiday. If they say they never take holidays, I know right away they’re trying to do everything themselves.”
To open clients up to the idea of delegating responsibilities, Ms. Elliot invites them to list their daily activities in one column and their goals for themselves and their company in another. “Invariably a top goal on one side is growth of the business and on the other side they want more time for their personal pursuits. And then it becomes a clearer choice: to achieve your personal goals, you have to learn to delegate.”
Ms. Elliot points out that even professionals who regret the time demands often get enjoyment from some aspects of running their business. “If that’s the case, they may just need to develop skills to run it more effectively.”
A good starting point can be to sit down and create a management plan, Ms. Elliot suggests. “An almost universal lack in small professional companies is they haven’t ever spelled out job descriptions.”
Developing documentation means people can move in and out of roles without affecting the operation and the entrepreneur can step back and the business will still run smoothly.
“Professional firms really need to work at building a sustainable culture that permeates all the people they hire. That way the clients can be confident, whether they are dealing with the founder or a junior partner.”
It also makes the business more valuable to a potential buyer, she adds.“Without instilling your expertise and credibility in others when you go to sell the business, what s there to sell?”
However, since you’re running a business, it’s never a good idea to divorce yourself too much from managing it, cautions Bridget Field, services co-ordinator for Small Business BC in Vancouver.
“If you are most comfortable at the drafting table, shutting out the whole world and focusing on the work in front of you, you have to recognize that may not work for a team that is counting on you to lead, communicate and delegate responsibility to them,” she says.
“Ideally, as founder and senior partner you should mentor junior staff as they are hired into the firm and encourage them to take on the smaller projects with your creative style and vision in mind.”
It frees the owner to focus on managing the larger clients and projects. “Pick and choose the projects that are most important to you and schedule time to work on them with the team so you won’t feel pulled away from what you love,” Ms. Field recommends.
Mr. Sahuri says he believes a team approach has created a good balance for him and his associates, even as the firm has expanded from 20 to 35 employees in the past three years and it has taken on a number of big new projects, including an administrative complex for Suncor in Ft. McMurray and a concert hall at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“We’ve created a studio that has a team of specialists who support each other. That allows the architects and designers to still be architects and designers,” he explains. “It comes back to the old philosophy of ‘surround yourself with people that are better than you at other things’ and make sure you are good at what you do and keep practising that.”
Rather than closing his door and working alone, he’s also developed a team approach to his design work. “I will call in other designers and we have a meeting to brainstorm and throw ideas around. It’s quite exciting, because the younger generation of architects have such phenomenal at graphic abilities. I’m an old line guy who just sketches and draw with markers and pens.”
And even though the designers may not have to do the management chores, it’s important for them to be aware of trends affecting the industry, Mr. Sahuri finds.
The company has a weekly in-house continued-learning program for staff on topics ranging from contract administration to risk management procedures to innovative designs from around the world.
“You can’t stay stagnant, you have to keep learning and growing.”
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