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How to Delegate Work In Your Agency with Karl Sakas (Part 2 of 2)

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Delegation helps you focus on higher and higher value activities, but that doesn’t make it easy. My guest, Karl Sakas, has been called “The Agency Whisperer” and has advised hundreds of agency owners to delegate effectively to take control of their agencies.

Up next…

Check out the four sales fundamentals every top performer masters, how to use value-based selling to increase your leverage, and how to improve your remote selling skills as the world becomes more virtual. 

Mentioned in this episode:

Apply for a Strategy Call With Liston
15 Steps to Delegation by Karl Sakas
Building a Lifestyle v. Equity Business by Karl Sakas
Rev.com Transcription Service
Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It by Clearfield and Tilcsik

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.


How to Delegate Work In Your Agency with Karl Sakas (Part 2 of 2):

Full Transcript

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners and sales people looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. On your host, Liston Witherow. And I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Liston:
My name is Liston and I am here to help you build a better consulting business, a better agency, a better professional services business. I want to help you scale sales and grow and today I have part two of my conversation with Karl Sakas. Now, if you didn’t listen to it, go back and listen to yesterday’s episode. It’s part one and so if you haven’t just go back right now. We’ll wait for you. Come back right here and we will be ready.

Liston:
But today, Karl is going to be talking about how to delegate effectively as an agency owner. We’re going to get into that in one quick second, but I did want to let you know as usual, if you need help scaling growth, scaling sales at your agency, apply to talk to me. All you have to do is go to liston.io/strategy. That’s liston.io/strategy. Fill out the application form. It’s a few quick questions. If we might be a fit to work together, I’d love to chat with you and if not, I’ll give you some free stuff, I promise. So, that’s liston.io/strategy. Now, Karl Sakas, are you ready for round two here?

Karl Sakas:
I am. Great to be back.

Liston:
Excellent. So good to have you. So we talked in the first episode, a little bit about your background, a little bit about the keys that people need to think about whether they’re going to run a lifestyle or an equity style business. I think in both cases to reduce stress, you have to accept the fact that you can’t do it all. And so delegation really becomes a really important part of that. So you wrote this article about the steps to delegate and I was hoping you could just quickly kick the conversation off by recapping that.

Karl Sakas:
Absolutely. Think about at some point, I’m sure someone has told you or maybe you’ve seen an article or this and that, saying you should delegate more. And that’s the common idea. It often comes around new year’s time and your resolution might be as a business owner delegate more. That is easier said than done. And my belief as an agency consultant is that is reckless advice. It implies that it’s easy, it implies that, but it’s a point and click thing. Just do it. And it really misses how hard it is to delegate, especially if you’re not delegating a lot now or you’re not delegating well. I have found that there are actually at least 15 unique steps to delegating. You may not follow every single one every time, but if you think about the idea of delegation, it would be like, go do this.

Karl Sakas:
Well, you should also say, “please” don’t just command people to do things.

Liston:
That’s what my stepmom would tell me by the way.

Karl Sakas:
There you go. And say thank you as well.

Liston:
Yes, yes indeed.

Karl Sakas:
But beyond that, there are actually all of these other steps. So here’s a story that one of my clients experienced where he’s running into that gap. So he mentioned to me in our coaching, he said that one of his junior developers would take four hours to complete something that would take him as the agency owner, instead of four hours, the owner would get it done in 20 minutes. That’s a huge difference. Right?

Liston:
Right.

Karl Sakas:
And so when the question was like, what was going on? And I’m thinking, this is a task from what he described that he shouldn’t be doing as the owner, even if it took them 20 minutes. Not part of his, what I call thousand dollars an hour activities. The things that only you can do as the owner.

Karl Sakas:
And [inaudible 00:03:56] there are a lot of challenges of the people that he was working with who were taking four hours. They were recent graduates. He hadn’t had time to train them. He had been doing the thing for almost a decade. And he also hadn’t told them that four hours was too long. Think about it. They were new to the work. They didn’t know shortcuts. They didn’t know what the benchmark was. Well, I mean, no wonder he was frustrated with delegation. In his case, one of the things we worked through was how can he get them from say, four hours down to three, down to two. I mean, if one of your team members can get something, it’s still takes them an hour and it takes you 20 minutes, that’s still good because now you can use that 20 minutes on something only you could do as the owner.

Karl Sakas:
But getting there is tough. As the next step, I can dig into some of the steps that make it harder than you might think. How does that sound?

Liston:
Yeah, go for it.

Karl Sakas:
So if you look at it, if you want to delegate, there are at least 15 steps. So first you have to recognize that you can’t do the task yourself, or perhaps you shouldn’t do it. So there’s just that recognition. Second, you’re going to look at the components of what you want to delegate because you can’t just say, “Do all of this.” You need to figure out what are these specific pieces. Third, you’ll have to think ahead to how you’ll integrate whatever it is they do into what you’re working on. Then fourth, you need to figure out what are the skill sets required in order for you to define the role of the person doing it.

Karl Sakas:
Fifth, it’s time to find and hire the person or the people who can actually do it, which technically adds another six steps, right? You’re going out and you’re looking for people and you’re interviewing them and screening them. You get to negotiating, get them under contract, this and that, but let’s pretend that’s one step for the moment. Number six, decide how you’ll communicate tasks to the people who are helping. Do you have a project management system? Are you going to use email or are you going to use tax? Are you going to use something else? Seven, identify who is competent to handle a particular task. Eight, see if they’re available on your timeline and your budget and specifications. Nine, transfer knowledge to them about what they need to know about doing it, including making sure they have access to any relevant resources. 10, preschedule a check-in partway through to make sure they’re on track, especially if this is a new thing.

Karl Sakas:
11, do that check in. 12, share constructive guidance. 13, get the final deliverable. 14, do quality assurance on the deliverable and 15, remember, just delegate. Step 15 is to integrate the deliverable into what you’ve been working on as needed. Quick and easy, right?

Liston:
Quick and easy. No problem. You can definitely execute that in less than five minutes.

Karl Sakas:
Exactly. Yeah, I mean that took me 60 minutes to share the list. Here’s an example. It does get more straightforward as you go when you have team members you can delegate to. When you’ve got a system for doing the tasking, you don’t have to rehire someone once you already have a freelancer or an employee under contract. It’s just so-and-so, could you please do such and such? So here’s an example. It might look more like three touch points. You could ask someone, “Hey, could you please draft an updated version of such and such clients, such and such deliverable?”

Karl Sakas:
And you might mention where the earlier version is. They would confirm, ask clarifying questions. Okay, great. Then there might be something where you want to talk through by phone. You set up a call and talk through it. You share some followup questions and then finally in the final stage you’re like, “Hey, it looks good. Here’s one other change that you weren’t aware of from the client since we spoke last. If you could integrate that, then you’re good to go to send it off.” That is three steps, right? The, “Hey, could you do this? Let’s do a call to discuss these points.” And finally, “Here’s one last change to make”, but there’s some built in assumptions there. One, you already have someone under contract, you don’t have to renegotiate fees or hire them the first place. You also know that they’re competent to do the work.

Karl Sakas:
You’re choosing to give the work to someone who can do the work rather than, you know they’d be an over their head. You really just need to sort out are they available right now and can I meet your timeline? Beyond that, they’re generally familiar with the client’s history and goals. Sometimes you have to have some discussion about prioritization. They know where the client’s shared folder is and they have access to it. They don’t have to be like, “Oh, well I’m glad to, but I have no idea where that is.” You have a way to assign tasks and there’s enough time to sort this out before the client facing deadline.

Karl Sakas:
Those three touchpoints actually had a lot of hidden assumptions. It gets easier with time, but if you’re just telling someone,” Hey, I need you to do such and such”, if the first thing they come back with is not at all meeting your needs, that’s probably your fault or at least your fault [inaudible 00:08:47].

Liston:
Right. I’m glad you ended there because that’s what I wanted to really impart on anybody listening to this, which is that if you are delegating and what you get back doesn’t work, you screwed it up. It was your fault. So you have to go back and work with that person and you have to figure out, okay, where was it a miss? What did you think I expected and what sort of resources did you need or questions did you have? Why did you make these choices?

Liston:
I think one really interesting thing, and I’m getting better at delegation, I’m not the best at it right now. I’m going to put you in the hot seat in a second about that. But one thing that I think is really interesting is I find in my sales training and coaching, when I tell people there’s a process that you can follow when you sell and even the art of conversation has some science and some art to it.

Karl Sakas:
Yep.

Liston:
So there’s an approach that we’re going to take, but the individual creative choices we make along the way, may be slightly different. But we’re going to be taking a similar approach. And we can predict 90 to 95% of the circumstances that are going to come up. And I think that applies to delegation too. I don’t know if you get this, actually this is a great question. Do you get from your coaching clients, people saying, “Well, I could never really do what you’re saying because this is not repeatable”?

Karl Sakas:
I think the biggest thing, the biggest obstacle people run into is, well my team can’t do it or I can’t rely on them to do it, and one of the key questions with that is are they competent and you’re just choosing not to trust them when you should trust them? Or is it a case where they just don’t have the skill set or what have you to do at. I have a model I think of as new rope versus wet twine. New rope employees are the ones who are reliable, who are great, who are over performers. You can trust them to get things done. That’s new rope. And then there’s wet twine, wet twine is not reliable. It’s going to break. There’s often drama. You require way too much oversight of them for mediocre results, that kind of thing. So if most of your team is wet twine, yeah, I can see you not wanting to delegate much, but you need to fix that by replacing the wet twine with new rope.

Liston:
Yeah, completely. So now I’m wondering Karl, everybody may be assuming you’re perfect, now I’m not sure, but I want to put you on the spot.

Karl Sakas:
That would be a false assumption.

Liston:
I’m just giving you a hard time, of course. What do you struggle with when it comes to delegation? What are some of the things that really nag at you and you know you have to improve?

Karl Sakas:
There are some things that are challenging to delegate. So for instance, say if I’m developing a new talk. What I’ve found has been helpful is, I think about generally what I want to cover. I record talking through whatever the topic is. I might write down some points ahead of time, then I’ll talk through it. Rev.com is really handy for that. They now have a mobile app so you can record directly into the app. It does have a tendency to crash intermittently, which is annoying, but it does have a convenient click to, so rev.com, if you’re listening. Yeah, you need to work on that.

Karl Sakas:
But you can click to transcribe. It’s already logged into the account anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, to maybe a day later you get the transcript and so that’s really helpful. So what I’ll do is I’ll ship that recording to my colleague Diane. Diane will then take that and chunk that out into the slides. Maybe initially an outline, but sometimes she can go directly into slides and that’s a huge time saver. She has the template. At one point she estimated that she’s created something like over a thousand presentations in her career. It might be several thousand.

Liston:
Wow.

Karl Sakas:
Yeah, a great person to have you helping you. And actually she’s helped some of my clients create presentations because she’s just really good at it. My ideal though would be if I could just think of an idea for a new talk and then just magically Diane just builds the whole thing.

Liston:
Yeah.

Karl Sakas:
But that doesn’t work.

Liston:
Well then it’s Diane’s talk, it’s not Karl’s talk.

Karl Sakas:
Right. And you know what? Our team members cannot read our minds.

Liston:
Right.

Karl Sakas:
All that said, this works better than what I was doing before where I would try to sit down and write things up. But it’s sometimes just hard to get out of my head in written form. But the talking, perhaps, I enjoy speaking, it’s easier to speak the talk then to write it, at least at times and then Diane can take it from there. And we still go through revisions, right? It’s not like it’s 100% done, but I think that’s an important point. You need to find the right approach for you. Maybe the record the blog posts, get it transcribed, have your team member edit it. Maybe that’s the solution. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe they need to interview you live.

Liston:
Yeah. So this is great, right? Because one of the things I struggle with is, let’s say I wanted to go out and start striking up some new referral relationships. That’s a hard thing to outsource as well. Maybe I can have someone, back to the delegation talk, I can have someone say, I can go to them and say, “I’m looking for referral partners who look like this”, right? And I’ll give them an example. Here’s an example, here’s why they’re perfect. Here’s some ways you might go about doing some internet research. Come back with a list for me and tell me why you think these are all a good fit.

Liston:
And then I’ll look at them step-by-step. Right? But one thing I find is difficult is someone pretending to be me, which is what you were hitting at. And I think this is always a difficult part of a personal branded business.

Karl Sakas:
Right.

Liston:
And I also want to ask you about Sakas and Company in a second. But I sat next to the Head of Growth at Rameet Sethi’s company. What is his URL? Iwillteachyoutoberich.com or something? Which is horribly-

Karl Sakas:
And I think he shortened it. I will teach you or something like that. I had read that basically he had the initial, I will teach you to be rich, but his whole point was it’s not about making the money. The money is a side effect of things around making yourself more self sufficient and so on. So I guess it still is I will teach you to be rich, but the, “I will teach you” is the more primary piece.

Liston:
Well and so what I was curious about when I sat next to this guy who was running Growth for Rameet is, how does a guy, a personality brand, have a head of growth? Basically the answer would be similar to how does Tony Robbins have a chief marketing officer? I guess he has enough programs already, whereas Rameet has just not as much of a household name.

Karl Sakas:
It’s challenging to compare anyone to Tony Robbins, right? I mean he’s been doing this for years and has all the momentum.

Liston:
I think one of the ways that they’ve been able to reach, maybe not scale, but scale up more, is through repeated and systematic delegation. They keep laying the foundation where other people can eventually start to think and act as Rameet.

Karl Sakas:
Yeah, I mean, I see this with some of my clients where they’ll tell me about, we’ll have a coaching call or one of the consulting milestone calls and it’ll tell me about a situation and they describe it as a, and I thought, what would Karl do?

Karl Sakas:
But the interesting thing about that is there is not just one, what would Karl do? Because for each of my clients, I’m customizing my advice to their, what I call VGRs. Values, goals, and resources. So it’s not what would I do, it’s what would I do if I were in their situation with their values, their goals, their resources? So each of my clients might have a different, what would Karl do? But I mean, going back to what we talked about in the last episode, it’s about making the client the hero. They’re the hero. We’re the helper.

Liston:
So I am curious about delegation in your business, taking maybe more of a 30,000 foot view. So your business is named Sakas and Company, your name is Karl Sakas.

Karl Sakas:
Yes.

Liston:
Are you trying to build a lifestyle or an equity brand and how does that affect the way you think about delegation?

Karl Sakas:
That has evolved over time. So I had initially founded the business as Agency Firebox. Agency, because I was focusing on … Agencies and Firebox because I’m into trains and historically that’s what steam locomotive, that’s what you’d shovel the coal into. And if you think about the idea of turning fuel into other energy and turning it into forward motion, it made sense. Well two years in, I received a trademark infringement, cease and desist.

Liston:
Okay.

Karl Sakas:
When you get the overnight FedEx envelope, that does not always include good things. So I contacted my lawyer, he referred me to a trademark specialist. It turned out that someone has trademarked the word Firebox for all kinds of marketing related purposes. So I had thought of it is just a generic word and I had done some initial searches on the combo, but such as it is. So the trademark specialist was like, “Unless you want to spend a lot of time and money on fighting this, you should change your name.” And you figure if the guy who’s going to make lots of money from fighting it is advising that, probably a good idea. I was going through different options and one of the things that stood out at the time was that although yes, the business was a business name, the Agency Firebox people were hiring me because of me and my expertise.

Karl Sakas:
It was like we want to work with Karl and so amidst also the trademark infringement thing, I couldn’t think of something better and I decided to go with Sakas and Company, which was something that one of the suggestions from the branding agency I had been working with at the time. And also my lawyer confirmed that you generally, no one can come after you for using your own name. He did note that the one exception would be if you were starting a restaurant and your name was McDonald, McDonald’s would come after you. But that aside, Sakas and Company wouldn’t. And indeed the focus had been running a lifestyle business. So this happened two years in 2015.

Karl Sakas:
I would say though I had an experience last fall that shifted things somewhat. So it’s putting things somewhere in the middle, which is that I had fall of last year, I had appendicitis twice. So most people never get it or maybe it happens once. No, twice in six weeks in 2017 and they didn’t take out my appendix the first time. And then the second time they were like, we have to do emergency surgery. Thanks healthcare system there. Between the two, I spent a week in the hospital and I never expected that at 35 I would be spending four days and then three days in the hospital for the second time, unplanned surgery. It got me thinking. I had successfully built a remote business that as I work with almost all of my clients remotely, sometimes I’ll do on sites and if I’m traveling and I’m in town, I’ll say hello. But largely usually use by phone, emails, Zoom, Google docs, stuff like that.

Karl Sakas:
The challenge though was that when it came to that communication piece, I had to be there. Either there on the phone, there on video, it was not a totally hands off kind of thing and I realized, okay, I need to make some changes. It’s not going to be overnight, but I need to find ways to build the business so that I can make money without being there in person or on the phone live. So one shift was hiring Diane earlier this year in 2018. She’s been amazing. Background, leading operations for an independent agency. She was also at a holding company agency previously a great perspective. So everything from helping people build presentations to doing hiring screening. So when people are getting to the last stages of the hiring process, she’ll screen the finalist and share a report. Things that I’ve done in the past, but I don’t always have time to do now between commitments to ongoing coaching and projects and so on.

Karl Sakas:
So, that’s great in terms of getting residual income from her client billables. And then another one was around building the information products. So I’d had some recorded webinars in the past, that kind of thing that wasn’t really an active deal. And then now launching the agency resource library as a more solid information product and then realizing, hey, wait a minute, let’s actually build a product and services roadmap for the whole business. So now, as for looping back, part of my goal is to get revenue that isn’t just one on one with Karl. I guess the and Company part makes sense. The Sakas part, that’s not necessarily the, you’re ultimately getting my advice or the version of my advice. It’s not like Diane is out there recommending stuff that is totally contrary to what I advise.

Liston:
One would hope not. Yeah.

Karl Sakas:
No. That creates something and it’s like, do I rebrand another time to something that’s not Sakas and Company? I don’t know. That’s not a burning item now. But that said, I am planning to do some version of this for the next 20 to 30 years. I guess if I’m going to rebrand I should probably rebrand sooner than later in that 30 years.

Liston:
Well, one thing I thought was funny in your article and the reason I asked you this question in the lifestyle versus equity business article, your conclusion was most businesses, like this is a spectrum and lifestyle being far extreme in one direction and equity being a far extreme in the other. And most people fall somewhere in the middle or somewhere on the spectrum. Which I always joke that whenever someone asks me a question, the first answer is always, it depends. And so that’s what I was thinking of when I saw that. So I was curious about Sakas and Company.

Karl Sakas:
Leaning lifestyle, but with an interest in developing intellectual property to get some of that residual income.

Liston:
Excellent. So Karl, you’ve sent me your books and those are linked on your website, so we’re not going to recommend those. But my question is, what is one book you recommend to anyone listening to this, read?

Karl Sakas:
Here’s a book I’ve been recommending frequently. The book is called Meltdown. And the book Meltdown is looking at why the subtitle, it’s called Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and what we can do about it. You can find that on Amazon or wherever, and it’s fascinating. It looks at nuclear meltdowns and other disasters around systems failures as systems failures, not just one person made a mistake. And you can apply the lessons from the book in all kinds of settings, including running your agency or other business. And here’s a preview of one of the key things. One of the things that, if we look at factors to predict that something’s going to go wrong, one factor is the degree of system complexity. Well, simple system you can look at it and see, is it working or not? With a complex system, there’s all this stuff going on in the background that you can’t see for yourself.

Karl Sakas:
One example would be say a simple system. If you’re in a room and there’s a question of, is it hot or cold? And you might have some parameters around how you’d define hot or cold, but you could report back. In contrast, if you were trying to say, is a room that is thousands of miles away, currently hot or cold? Well now you’re dependent on all of these sensors or maybe other people to report back who might be interpreting things differently. You could have a data linkage problem, you could have a sensor problem, you could have, who knows what else. That’s now a complex system. And of course agencies are complex systems and we’re building complex things for our clients. Whether it’s a strategy, whether it’s building a website, whether it’s building an app or something else. They’re complex. So if you can simplify things, that’s good.

Karl Sakas:
But here’s the one that you have more control over, which is the concept of tight versus loose coupling. So tight coupling is things are closely linked together and one thing leads to another which leads to another and they’re really tightly coupled. Loose coupling would be something happens and then maybe someone takes a look at it and then they pass it along. But you could think if you’re flying somewhere, if you’ve got a 45 minute connection and you’re connecting in Atlanta or Dallas, you might not make the plane if just one thing goes wrong. Like there’s a little bit of a line for the people mover and whatever and you miss that. Or you’re waiting for people to c [inaudible 00:25:19] the plane in for the first connection and you miss it, that kind of thing. On the other hand, if you have a three hour connection, you’re probably fine.

Karl Sakas:
So agencies tend to have a lot of tight coupling. They’re like, oh, this is due tomorrow, or this is due today. Or one of my “favorite” clients sayings, “Oh, I need it yesterday.” Okay. My clients don’t say it, but I know that agencies, clients are saying, and I’ve certainly heard that before myself, if something’s due tomorrow, you’re more likely to have things go wrong than if it’s due next week. You’ve got a bit more of a buffer for someone to double check it. So read Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It and look for ways to loosen the coupling in your agency, you will be happier.

Liston:
I love that. Systems thinking is one of my pet obsessions. I don’t really talk about it publicly very much, but I try not to expose my inner nerd all the time. I have to reserve some of it, but I’ll just tell you that I have a Master’s degree in environmental science and I’d say the biggest thing that I took out of grad school was thinking about every ecosystem as a system, right? What are the factors and variables and how do the things work together? And that’s something that I’ve definitely brought to marketing and sales in the way I think about business. So I’m going to have to check that book. Thank you.

Karl Sakas:
Yeah. Which raises a future, well, I don’t know whether it’s a question or an episode or something, but how did people’s past jobs make them better in unexpected ways in their current job?

Liston:
Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the examples I always think of was when Steve Jobs gave his commencement speech and he was talking about how important his calligraphy class was at Reed College and how that was one of the reasons that Mac became the preferred computer for creative professionals because it had more design options and it was just more interesting to look at and it’s just like you never know how you’re going to apply what you learn.

Karl Sakas:
Exactly.

Liston:
So my friend, you have been absolutely wonderful with your advice. You’ve been hugely open. I have linked all of the articles that we’ve mentioned as well as your website and tell the people, Karl, if they want to get ahold of you or they want to follow up with you in some way, what should they do?

Karl Sakas:
Visit sakasandcompany.com that’s S-A-K-A-S-A-N-D the word company.com. Or follow me on Twitter @Karlsakas. That’s K-A-R-L-S-A-K-A-S. Share all kinds of free tips and advice. Something’s a fit, we’d love to help.

Liston:
Awesome. Well, Karl, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. It’s been a wonderful interview and I enjoyed this time with you.

Karl Sakas:
Likewise, great to be here.

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