Several years ago (in the pre-social media days), I was the director of sales and marketing for a software company. My job was to promote our software and to make sure that people, organizations, and state governments bought it.
I was in charge of trade shows, the website, brochures, press releases, and so on, not to mention selling the product all over the United States, as well as other parts of the world. I was making sales calls, traveling, designing, and doing things the sole marketing person in a company does. These were my strengths, and they were the reason I was hired.
Which is why my boss said I should develop my customer support skills.
“Why would I do that?” I asked. “I don’t do customer support.”
“I just think it’s important that you strengthen your customer support skills, since you don’t do it very often.” He added, “I may even have you start learning some coding.”
“So will the customer support team learn how to work trade shows and create brochures?”
“No, why would they do that?” he said, completely seriously.
His rationale was that, since I didn’t have strong customer support skills and I didn’t know how to code, I needed to learn or improve these skills.
I asked him if it wouldn’t be smarter for me to just focus on getting better at marketing or graphic design, and he said he didn’t think that was as important. I needed to be well-rounded and well-versed in everything the company did. (I was also the only one in the entire company that he thought needed to be this well-rounded.)
Your Strengths Make You Money, Not Your Weaknesses
I see a lot of companies make this mistake, whether large or small. They think they and their employees should be jacks- and jills-of-all-trades. Everyone should be a generalist. Everyone should know how to do everything. As a result, no one is great anything, they’re all just mediocre at a lot of things.
(It’s no surprise that these companies are not leaders in their industry.)
The pressure to be a generalist is especially high for entrepreneurs. We often have to do everything because there is no one else.
That pressure wastes more time and kills more businesses because we spend all our time doing the things we’re not good at, which takes us away from our strengths, which is how we make our money.
The dentist who spends four hours a week handling her bookkeeping and staffing requirements is missing four hours of billable time. That’s four hours’ worth of patients she’s missing out on. And if she tries to do her administrative stuff in the evenings and on the weekends, that’s just cutting into personal time, which wrecks her work-life balance, which is the whole reason she started her practice in the first place: to have a fulfilling personal life.
The bookstore owner who spends an hour or two a day handling his inventory and fulfilling ecommerce orders is losing the time spent dealing with face-to-face customers. To solve the problem, he’ll end up hiring someone to help deal with customers when he should really hire someone to fill orders and count inventory.
The consultant who spends three hours each week researching possible new clients instead of actually dealing with client work is losing 156 hours of productivity per year (3 hours x 52 weeks/year = 156 hours). That’s nearly an entire month of time wasted on not creating products or writing reports that help him get paid. In effect, he only worked for 11 months in a year.
In all of these cases, the business owner is spending time doing the things they don’t really need to be doing. Instead, they’re doing things that take time away from the things they should be doing. Their weaknesses are sapping their strengths and they’re losing money.
And instead of trying to solve that problem, they’ll find ways to improve their skills in that weak area. The dentist will invest in bookkeeping software and watch videos on how to use it. The bookstore owner will get better ecommerce software (and learn how to program it), and work to streamline the shipping process. The consultant will invest in business databases or lead gen software and spend more time writing the content needed to bring in new clients.
This is a terrible waste of time, and we need to stop it. This is where it makes sense to hire someone else to do the things we’re not good at.
The dentist can hire a bookkeeper to manage the books for 4 hours a week. The money she spends will be a lot less than the money she makes in seeing patients for 4 hours.
The bookstore owner can hire a college kid to handle the shipping and inventory. Let them streamline the process for you and figure out a way to make it more efficient, then they can teach it to the bookstore owner.
The consultant can hire a virtual assistant to do all the client research for him, even setting his sales appointments.
Don’t spend time or money trying to develop your weak skills. Hire someone whose strengths fill your weak areas so you can focus on getting better at the things that make you money. Try to become one of the best at the thing you do. Get great at your strengths, not slightly better at your weaknesses.
If you’re a writer, take writing classes or read books on writing. If you’re a graphic designer, watch design videos and practice on pet projects. If you’re a dentist, go to conferences and take continuing education classes. If you own a bookstore, focus on your customers and finding new ways to bring people into your store.
For the things you’re weak at, hire a professional to get it done. Hire the graphic designer whose work is continually growing. Hire the writer who creates great work. Work with the consultant who produces great results for their clients.
Trying to strengthen your weaknesses, especially those so completely unrelated to the thing you actually do, is a colossal waste of time and can have a negative effect on the growth of your company. Get better at what you’re good at and you can charge more and work less.
Photo credit: Stocksnap (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)