Home Articles Running a small business? Here’s the greatest lesson you’ll ever learn.

Running a small business? Here’s the greatest lesson you’ll ever learn.


One of the pitfalls of being a small business owner is the strange belief that you’ve got to do everything, from scrubbing the floor to hooking up computers to the Internet. You also tend sometimes to wallow in the misperception that you can’t really afford to hire true professionals.

Perish that thought!

First of all, you don’t want to be the proverbial Jack of all trades and master of none. After all, you didn’t sign up for entrepreneurship to merely answer calls or make coffee. You signed up to build a business. Believe me, you can’t build your business if you choose to get buried in paperwork or other mundane tasks.

When I started out and my business was relatively small, I found myself doing a lot of the tasks necessary to run an office. Too many things, in fact. I also hated paperwork and would keep postponing the Business Activity Statement or tax filings, risking late fines. To summarise, like many small business owners, I was overworked and inefficient.

One day, a member of my “brains trust” heard me bitching about the bookkeeping and offered me the greatest small business lesson I I have ever learned.

Turning to me, he said: “I think you should hire someone to do that for you.” But that wasn’t the lesson. Far from it.

“I know a great person for the job!” he said.

Intrigued, I listened.

“She is friendly, eager to learn and would work really hard,” he said. “She doesn’t have formal training in accounting or bookkeeping, but you know what, she would absolutely give it her best!”

I was shocked by my friend’s advice. How dare he recommend somebody with no qualifications or experience. Worse, somebody no better than me!

That is when it struck me. He was actually describing me.

“Why on earth are you doing a job that you wouldn’t hire yourself to do?” he shrieked.

That’s when it hit me. It was one of the biggest “Aha!” moments in my life as an entrepreneur.

I stepped back and began to examine all the “small” jobs I was doing. I realised two things. One, I was horribly inefficient at most of the things I was doing because I was never trained for any of those; and two, even more importantly, each of those tasks was keeping my focus away from the things I loved to do and the things I needed to do in business to be successful.

Hire, outsource or whatever it takes!

I cast a new-found critical eye and pledge not to do any of the tasks for which I would not hire myself. First up, I hired a bookkeeper who, for a small hourly fee, saved my sanity, resulting in increased accuracy and a happier accountant. I then outsourced payroll processing and hired a virtual receptionist.

I then decided I wasn’t all that good at being a network administrator. So I moved all of my mail services and CRM (customer relationship management) systems to the cloud using a hosted provider. I no longer had to worry about keeping servers running, or preparing backups or installing security patches on computers. The move made my office more efficient because the cloud service was far superior, resulting in better reliability and higher uptime.

And here’s the kicker.

The people who I outsourced to were far cheaper by the hour than me. What do I mean by that? If I were to allocate, say, 10 hours a week chasing new clients and netted, say, $1,000 as a result, one hour of my time could, therefore, be valued at $100. What I found, in fact, was that an hour of my time was worth far more.

By outsourcing all the little tasks, for between $25 and $50 an hour, I was actually also saving me money — by giving me back the time to do what I should have been doing all along; building my business.

Anyway, my life and business has acquired a whole new shape since. I have more time to work on the core business and am far more effective in my job. Today, when I mentor startups, this is, by far, the most important piece of advice I hand out to entrepreneurs.

Just because you are in small business doesn’t mean you need to do every small task!

Catherine Eibner is Developer Evangelist (Startups) for Microsoft Australia’s Developer and Platform Evangelist team and also manages the Microsoft BizSpark program for Australia. She previously ran her own business, Cybner Consulting, for a number of years in the SQL and CRM consulting space. She is passionate about encouraging other women in IT and is involved with the GeekGirlBlogs.com site, the GeekGirlBlogs Podcasting series and the Sydney Girl Geek Dinners. She can be reached via e-mail to [email protected].