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Stop asking what you can delegate as an agency owner

Agency owners ask Chip and Gini all the time how they can figure out what to delegate — and how to do it — to free up time in their days.

In this episode, they talk about why agency owners should change their mindset to assume they will delegate anything that comes across their desks — then only keep it for themselves if they can’t find any viable alternative.

It’s a subtle but important shift in thinking that can help you get more time to work on your business or even simply get some more rest.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “You need to default to getting it off your plate. So any task that comes to you, you should now as an agency owner, just say to yourself, Who am I delegating this to?”
  • Gini Dietrich: “You go straight from being in meetings to being in meetings the next day and then it’s this cycle that you can’t break so you don’t have time to delegate.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Get it out of your head that your clients care who is doing the work.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “If you’re doing administrative work, you’re an administrative assistant. So get those things off of your desk.”


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And Gini, I’ve got a bunch of assignments for you today, so stay tuned. Okay. Right after this.

Gini Dietrich: Is one of the assignments buying you a birthday gift for your birthday in six days?

Chip Griffin: It is not.

Gini Dietrich: It’s not?

Chip Griffin: I, I, I’m not a big fan of gifts, so. I’m sure, I’m sure we’ve talked about this before.

Gini Dietrich: I am a great fan of gifts, so you can send me a gift and send me Chip’s gifts as well.

Chip Griffin: Feel free. Send Gini my gifts. That, that, that, there we go. That’s, that’s my birthday present to myself.

Gini Dietrich: Especially if it’s wine, if you’re sending Chip wine, I will take it. I will, I will fall on my sword and take it for him.

Chip Griffin: You’d like some wine with your whine, huh? And you can interpret and spell that however you’d like.

Gini Dietrich: That’s right. Six more days.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll be in a whole different decade.

Gini Dietrich: Wow. The forties. That’s what it is. Forties are going to be rough. I’m telling you.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Okay. I wish. Anyway. All right. Well, people didn’t tune in for that. People, people tune in for our wisdom and our insight. And, and one of the questions that, or one of the complaints that I hear quite often from agency owners, and I suspect you do as well, is that they spend too much, they’re just too busy.

They’re spending too much time on low value stuff. They need to find a way to focus on business development and growing the agency and big picture stuff. And they just don’t have the time to do it. And, and so they sit there and they say, well, you know, how can I, how can I get some of this stuff off my plate?

And I, I tell you, I finally have, have reached the conclusion that it’s not how can you figure out what to get off your plate. It’s you need to default to it’s getting off my plate. So any task that comes to you, you should now as an agency owner, just say to yourself, Who am I delegating this to? Love that.

And just, just start that as your default instead of the current default, which is that it comes to you. You’re going to do it unless you can find someone else to do it.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I think I love that. That’s a brilliant idea. So it’s, you know, is there anything on this list that only I can do? Which I agree with. My biggest challenge as an agency owner is stuff will come in and I get, I’m, I get really busy, like with zoom calls and, you know, all of the stuff.

And then. I don’t have time to delegate it, and then suddenly the deadline is tomorrow, and so I can’t delegate it because I waited too long, because I was doing other stuff, and then I, so, then I’m like, I can’t delegate with somebody with the deadline tomorrow, so then I end up having to do it myself.

That’s my biggest trap, is, like, how do I get out of the… You know, you’re, you’re on, you’re in meetings all day long and you’re getting things, you have a list of things that need to get done and then you go straight from being in meetings to being in meetings the next day and then it’s this cycle that you can’t break so you don’t have time to delegate and it’s that I think that one’s a big challenge for agency owners as well.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely. I think part of that is you need to try to train the people who are sending you things to copy other people on your team or frankly just send them to other people on your team to begin with. And I think that that agency owners have this tendency to want to feel like we’re controlling this.

We’re we’re parceling this out. And I would rather have it go to someone else. And and even if it’s not done, you know quite exactly the way I want it to or quite as well Or you know, maybe they spend some time on something I would not have spent time on it’s still getting out of my purview and so that’s a win.

You need to remember that anything you get off of your plate to someone else on your team Is a win financially because you are or you should be being paid substantially more than anyone else on your team

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, one I know we’ve talked about this before but one of the things I like to do and I try to do this at least once a month is create three lists So the one list is what’s what’s currently on my task list that only I can do, nobody else can do this That will stay on my task list.

Then, what’s on my task list that really I should do but I don’t enjoy it, but if I train somebody, they could take it, that’s next. And then what’s on my task list that I absolutely should not be doing. So, I have a friend who always says, If you’re doing administrative work, you’re an administrative assistant.

So get those things off of your desk. You’re not an administrative assistant. You’re running an agency, you’re running a business. So those kinds of things are really easy to be on that list of what should I absolutely get off this list? So get it, get it off. And to your point, look at, look at your list every day and say what… how do I delegate as much of this as possible?

Chip Griffin: Yeah, I mean, and so I would say to you, you know, if you’re having this challenge, when you’ve got things coming at you and, and you know, you don’t get around to assigning them, you know, my suggestion is to focus on your inbox throughout the day and just get things out of your inbox.

And so just even if it’s just forwarding it without any comment to someone else on your team, hopefully they can figure out what to do with it. But you probably have time to put two or three words in there, like do this now, or, or tell them no, or whatever. But just You know, focus on getting it out of your inbox.

And so if you start thinking about things out and don’t just let the stuff build up in your inbox, you just sort of see it and you’re like, okay, you go here, you go there. So be a traffic cop for your inbox rather than saying, okay, you know, I need to come back. I need to spend a lot of time with this. And so me personally, what I do is if I can’t forward it right off out of my email, then I will just put a star on it and I will come back to it.

Usually once a day, I go back through my starred emails to see, you know, what needs to actually be. Dealt with but but your better bet is to just forward it off to somebody else if you can.

Gini Dietrich: The other thing is if you have a virtual assistant or an administrative assistant or an executive assistant give them access to your inbox. They can do that, too They can go through and be your traffic cop.

There’s no reason you have to do that. So they can go through and say, okay, it looks like this needs to go to so and so and this needs to go to so and so and so and so. The other thing I would say is my sister in law is a a psychiatrist. And one of the things that she spends most weekends on is notes that from all the conversations she’s had with patients throughout the week. And I, I, I was with her over the weekend and I was like, why aren’t you doing this like when it’s top of mind and you’ve just met with them? And she’s like, because I see patients back to back to back to back to back. And I was like, there has to be a better way.

Like, can’t you see patients from one to one 45 and then use those last 15 minutes to do your notes and she was like, actually, that’s a really good idea. But then it was the same thing for me. Why do I have to have hour long meetings? Why can’t I have 45 minute long meetings and then use that last 15 minutes to type up notes or delegate or do what I need to do from that meeting and then go to the next.

So I think there are some things that you can also learn from other industries and other practices that you can apply pretty well to your own business.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, another piece of this in terms of thinking about delegation is that you need to get it out of your head that your clients care who they’re having do the work, right?

Because I hear this all the time from small agencies. Well, yeah, they brought me in, they want to hear from me. Well, some things, a very, very small number of things they want to hear from you personally. Most of the time, they just want to get stuff done, right? And so they don’t care who’s doing it as long as it gets done and gets done well.

And so if you get it out of your head that you’re the person who needs to be in that meeting, responding to that email, taking on that particular task, you know, move it along. Frankly, you don’t probably don’t even need to spend as much time editing your team’s stuff as you do. I mean, I know a lot of PR agency owners feel like they need to edit everything that goes out the door.

You don’t. If you do, and it’s that vital, you’re probably hiring the wrong people to begin with. Because it shouldn’t need that much extra work to get it out the door.

Gini Dietrich: And I know we’ve had this conversation, but there is nothing more demoralizing than someone on your team producing something and you completely redoing it.

Just because it’s not written in your voice or it’s like, it’s, it’s good enough for the client, but it’s not written in your voice or it doesn’t quote, unquote, keep up to the standards that you have for your agency, whatever it happens to be, whatever your excuse is. And so what starts to happen is your team starts to submit a shitty first draft because they know you’re going to redo it anyway.

And so then you don’t, you’re not getting the best work out of them anyway. Stop doing that. That’s ridiculous. It’s demoralizing. Nobody wants to work with somebody like that.

Chip Griffin: Well, and that’s, I mean, that’s something that I have struggled with over the years because I love to write and I feel like I’m a pretty good writer and so if something comes across my desk, I feel compelled to make changes to it.

And you need to get out of that mindset. You need to just realize that changes that you make need to be essential. But the other thing I’ve started doing in the last couple of years is that when I’m given something to edit, I no longer make direct edits to it. I only add comments to the document. That’s what I did too.

That’s, and, and, and so by doing that, first of all, you are helping to educate whomever is writing that first draft about what it is that you are looking for, because they can’t just sit there and, and accept all changes and, and, you know, move them along with it and just mind mindless anything, right? Yep, yep.

Right. Which, I mean, frankly, when I’ve had people send me track changes, I’ll skim through and No objection. Okay, fine. I’ll, I’m just done with it. But I don’t necessarily internalize what’s there. Whereas if there’s a comment that says, you know, I need to rework this paragraph to give it more active voice or I need to stop being so repetitive or I need to get to the point faster or whatever, then I’m starting to learn at least what, you know, what I’m, the person who’s asking me for this and editing it is looking for.

So I now no longer make direct edits. And I think that that’s something that more agency owners should consider doing if they can’t refrain from really digging into the weeds and making a ton of edits to the document. So, that may be a way that you can control yourself, because most PR agency owners are spending a ton of time editing, and not necessarily in the most effective way.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I, actually, you know what cured me of this, is we had a client in 2020, that even though the content that we were producing was really good, he would rewrite it all. All of it. And it never changed the meaning, it never changed the outcome, it never changed the messaging, he just would rewrite it and use, he would write like Stephen King, where he used 16 words instead of one, and it like, so it didn’t change anything, it just made it longer and more verbose, is all he was doing, and it was so demoralizing to me and my team, because we were like, First of all, making it for more verbose doesn’t help.

And secondly, like, why do you have us? And that’s what changed it for me because I realized how awful it made me feel when he was doing that to my content. And I realized I was doing that to my team. So I was like, no more, I’m not doing, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was doing that. I’m not doing it anymore.

And I don’t.

Chip Griffin: And even if you take my approach of going to comments, still ask yourself, is it an actual necessary change? Right? Does it, does it actually make it substantially better or does it avoid some meaningful problem? And if it doesn’t you can probably just ignore it because all of us have things that we’d like to change. I mean heck I will see writing from two weeks ago and be like, oh, I’d actually like to say this way or something like that Yeah, my my my lawyer I Frequently had conversations with him because he would he would go ahead and he would re edit Documents that he had sent me years before and I’ve been using my contracts and that kind of stuff I’m not paying you to Edit your own stuff.

I sent it to you to look at what the client asked for to be changed in it, not to change your own stuff that you already wrote. Particularly when it doesn’t have any real effect other than, you know, it keeps some lawyer somewhere happy because, you know, it’s written more artfully for whatever doesn’t matter.

So, so focus on what is absolutely necessary. And this is true, not just whether it’s editing, but anything else if you’re being asked for feedback on a plan If you want to change something that plan make sure that it actually makes a difference. Don’t say well, you know Well, you should do that. Really? Does it mean does it make it substantially better?

If not embrace what your team is doing. If you’ve got a situation where you’re like, well, you know I’m the only other person who can review this document, you know, because this person reports to me. Well, maybe maybe they can have some a peer Edit it to, you know, to look for typos and things like that so that they got someone with fresh eyes taking a look at it.

You don’t need to be the one doing that. So really, you’ve just, you’ve got to find ways to default to delegation in all of these things. Because if you, the more that you get wrapped up in trying to figure out what you can delegate, You’re going to lose the plot and you’re not going to be able to get enough things off of your plate for it to be meaningful and to give you the time that you need and you want in order to be happy with what you’re doing and build something that you’re happy to own.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and it’s, you know, I mean we’ve talked about improving culture and morale and all of that and when you trust, when you do things like that, it demonstrates that you trust your team. And you’ve hired grown ups who are experts, who have an expertise in their field, otherwise they wouldn’t be working with you.

They know what they’re doing. Don’t push them down and put your thumb on top of them because you want to change, you have pet peeves, or you want to, you want something, everything written in your voice. That’s not the point. The point is to build an agency where people are thriving and happy to be there because you trust them to do their jobs.

Chip Griffin: Right. Right. And, and, and people will perform better once they realize that they are trusted. And, and, and for some, it’s going to take some effort because you will have employees. I’m sure you and I have both had them over the years who, you know, want to ask you lots of questions and they’re, you know, maybe they’re, they’re not as confident in their own work as they should be.

And so they’re asking for more feedback than they absolutely need to be asking for. Now there’s a balancing act here because you don’t want to just shut someone off and make them feel like they’re off on an island on their own. So you need to continue to provide that mentorship, that coaching, that feedback, and all of that kind of thing.

But you also need to help them understand that you trust them to get the job done. And that they need to do a better job of figuring out when they need to come to you and not just come to you on everything for feedback, approval, ask questions, et cetera. And so a good way to do that is if someone comes to you is to ask them, you know, if they say, Oh, well, you know, what do you think we should do about this?

Turn it around. What do you think we should do? And, and, and try to get them talking first. And hopefully what they come up with is a good idea. And you can say, yep, run with it. And that helps to build their confidence. And if it, if it’s not exactly the right idea and the right approach? Be gentle about it and say, well, yes, yes, but right?

Yes. But how if we, what if we just modified it slightly, even if that slightly is really 180 degrees opposite, make them feel like you’re building off of their idea. It will really help in giving you the ability to delegate more, get things off of your plate.

Gini Dietrich: I’m laughing because you said, what do you think?

Every single one of my team and our clients who are listening to this just groaned when you said that. Because that’s what I say all the time. What do you think? And at first people are like,

is this a trap? And then they realize that if they start coming to you with, okay, I have this challenge and here’s what I think I’m going to do. All of a sudden it turns things around. So we have a client right now. Where he will text me, the chief of corporate communications will text me and be like, Hey, I’m thinking about doing this.

What do you think? And I’ll say, well, what do you think? And he’s like, I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.

But I always walk him through and it, my team will, the team that’s working on this client with me will laugh because they’re like, yep, been there understand as they’re watching him. But that’s what I’m doing is I’m helping him understand that. Hey, he’s a chief of corporate communications. He knows what he’s doing.

He has an expertise, but he’s in his previous job was beat down pretty badly. So he’s lost his confidence. And so I’m helping to rebuild that confidence by just saying like, you know what you’re doing. You don’t need me to tell you what to do. You know exactly what you’re doing. So I just keep asking that over and over and over again.

And it takes some practice from your perspective. Because our automatic response is always to give the answer that we think, right? Or that we want them to have. So it takes some practice. You have to actually self talk and say, I’m not going to answer this. I’m going to ask them what they think. It’s, it takes a lot of dedication and motivation to do that.

Discipline to do that. So keep that in mind. And if there’s one, one of my clients specifically listening, she’s laughing right now because I say this to her all the time. She’s like, okay, I know you’re going to ask me what do I think? Yes, I am. Ha ha ha. Yes, I am

Chip Griffin: And see, then you say, and so what do you think?

And so what do you think? But the better that you get it at delegating and deflecting and all of these things that the less dependent people are on you personally. And you don’t want either your employees or your clients to truly be dependent upon you. You want them to depend on you but not be dependent upon you and it is a subtle difference But an important one. Because to the extent that either of those groups of people are dependent on you, you will not be able to control your own day.

You will not be able to figure out how to invest your time most wisely, because you will be taking so much incoming communication on things that are just not worth your time. Right. That it will bog you down. So you need to learn how to delegate, how to deflect, how to get other people involved and engaged and running with the ball so that you can provide that high level guidance, that strategic insight, the things that you as the agency owner are able to do above and beyond the rest of your team.

That’s where your value lies, not in doing the day to day.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and like I said, you know, maybe you start once a week and you create your three lists. Maybe you do it on Sunday night or Friday evening before you shut down for the weekend. If you shut down for the weekend. And say, okay, next week I need to do this, this, and this, which list does it belong on?

Does it belong on the list that only I can do? Does it belong on the list that someone else can do but needs training? Or does it belong on the list that I absolutely should not be doing this and has to be delegated by this minute? And then get it off your list before Monday.

Chip Griffin: And, and default to putting in that delegate column, right?

You have to find an argument for why you should move it out of that column. It needs to be a strong argument. So, so don’t, I would say don’t even sit there and try to figure out which bucket it goes in. Put it in the delegate bucket. And only when you realize there’s just, there’s no way I can do that.

Only then do you look at the other buckets to put it into. Because if you, if you don’t, I just really have become convinced that agency owners need to just change their default mindset. Because I think it’s, I think the problem is that they get bogged down in trying to figure out what they can delegate, as opposed to just saying, pretty much all of this can be delegated.

Right. I mean, most of what you do could be delegated. It may not be able to be done quite as well. And you just needed to figure out which of those it’s most important to keep on your plate versus sending out to someone else on your team. Yep. Or sending it to a circular file, frankly, because you probably get a bunch of things that don’t really need anybody to focus on them.

You can find a way to…

Gini Dietrich: I mean, I’m guilty of it, too. There are definitely things on my list that need to be delegated.

Chip Griffin: Well, there you go. Just don’t delegate them to me. I’ve got enough on my list already, so… Alright. In any case… On that note, I’m going to delegate the end of this show. No, I don’t have anything to delegate.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, geez.

Chip Griffin: But yeah, I thought I’d be able to come up with something. I’m going to delegate the editing of this to Jen, but I already do that. So I like it. So anyway, with that, I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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