When to Delegate: The New Make or Buy Decision

By Matt Keener, President of Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC and Author of the book Executive in Sweatpants.

“I’ll just do it myself.”  Or so you thought.  After an hour of fruitless effort, you’re no closer to completing the task than when you started.  As time passes into the second hour, your mind races with all the other things you should be doing.  What a waste.  It’s too bad you didn’t delegate this, right?

For many business owners and managers, this is a common frustration.  Knowing when to delegate a task can certainly be challenging.  This is especially true for smaller companies with limited budgets and human resources.  The good news is that the booming virtual workforce allows businesses (both small and large) to efficiently delegate tasks.  In this article, we’ll consider some criteria for matching business needs to delegation feasibility in the virtual age.

Snapshot of the Virtual Workforce

virtual team management

In case you haven’t noticed, the United States has transitioned into an economy heavily reliant on services.  In fact, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, service industries account for 68% of U.S. GDP and four out of five U.S. jobs.  The virtual workforce (i.e. the sum of all “online” workers, including virtual freelancers, work-from-home consultants, offshore sourcing centers, etc.) continues to be an expanding part of the global services industry.  Millions of business owners have already benefited by building “blended teams” of in-house and online workers.  However, the question still remains:  when do I delegate?

Do vs. Delegate

Much like the “make or buy” decision we all studied in Economics 101, today’s business owner is faced with a similar decision point:  do versus delegate.  As we’ve established, it can be quite beneficial to delegate work to your virtual team.  However, when is it best to do so?  Below are a few questions I tend to ask myself when making this very decision.

  • Do I have the budget?  All things start and end with the bottom line.  If there is no budget, it might be better to consider in-house resources.
  • Could this be a repeat delegation?  Repetition lends itself nicely to delegation.  Delegate it once and then reap the benefits going forward.
  • Could I do this myself in less than 15 minutes?  Delegation, although efficient, does require some administrative follow up (training, project management, payment processing, evaluation).  In my experience, such follow up will take at least 15 minutes of your time per project.
  • Is this time-sensitive?  If a fire’s burning, you can’t let the building burn down.  Unless you have contractors perpetually on-call to assist you, the task may require your immediate attention.
  • Will this take me away from a more value-added activity?  Try to frame the decision through the lens of activity-based costing principles.  If you do it yourself, technically it’s not “free.”
  • Is this strategic (or not)?  Sometimes strategic tasks should remain in-house.  Intellectual property, corporate strategy, and risk are all factors that should be considered.
  • Do I already know a contractor who can do this?  Having a “go to” online worker is an important step.  The recruiting process can be tricky in the virtual world.  I find it beneficial to be continuously recruiting prospective team members.
  • If I decide to delegate, who will be the in-house accountability liaison?  Are you going to personally follow up with the online worker to ensure quality and timeliness?  If not, who within your blended team will?
  • Should this be an hourly or fixed-price delegation?  Some projects lend themselves better to a “fixed price”, one-time payment structure.  Others are more suited to an ongoing hourly arrangement.

Eventually You Just Know

It would be nice to have a simple decision tree that always tells you the correct answer.  However, in my experience, delegation has many variables that need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.  Considerations such as budget, staffing, and timelines all factor into the equation.  If you haven’t already tapped into the virtual workforce, I’d recommend you delegate a few projects to get your feet wet.  After a while, you begin to get a feel for the delegation rhythm.


The content shared in this blog post is the author’s opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of Xerox.  Matt Keener is President of Keener Marketing Solutions, LLC and is also the author of the book Executive in Sweatpants.  Visit his blog for helpful tips and tools for launching and growing a successful online consulting business.

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