The first thing I have to do is tell you that you’ve been living a lie—my lie. For the past couple of months, I have been working for global analyst firm Ovum, but since my articles are written months in advance, my sign-offs didn’t reflect it. You do read those, right? I make up a new one every month, just to see if you’re paying attention.
One of the reasons I joined Ovum was that I was getting tired of doing everything myself. Being your own boss can be freeing, but it’s also tough. Setting your own hours and answering to nobody but yourself and your clients kicks ass; having to be my own marketing and sales team in addition to doing research and producing content kicks my ass. Becoming part of something bigger and greater is definitely the right move for me.
It might seem like I’m trying to justify my choice. Not at all; I’m using my choice to set up the point I’m trying to make, which is that nobody should be wearing all the hats unless they want to. Large companies tend not to have this problem. I believe smaller ones should try to avoid it as well.
This might seem to run contrary to the idea that good enterprise software lets you do more with fewer resources, and to some extent that’s true. There’s only so much you can do about specializing when you’re a sole proprietor or a small shop. If you’re down for doing all the work yourself, that’s great. More power to ya. If you desire growth and flexibility, however, you’re quickly going to reach a point where you simply don’t have enough hours in the day, or enough diversity of skills to keep going.
And this might seem contrary to the idea behind CRM and enterprise software in general; it lets you handle a larger volume of business than you otherwise could. This sort of efficiency allows sole proprietors to operate at a higher level than they otherwise could. Something as simple as contact management can make a big difference, and a more robust stack of technology makes a little shop look like a big deal.
The downside of being a hyper-efficient soloist is getting stuck in that operating mode. You’re doing it all yourself, and as time goes on, that all becomes bigger and bigger until you look like Atlas holding up the heavens. Everything rests on your shoulders, and you’re afraid or unable to get out from under it. (Side note: All the images of Atlas you’ve ever seen are wrong. His punishment was not to hold up the world, but the heavens. Picture a guy standing in the middle of a field with his hands up in the air, straining against nothing, and you have a more accurate picture. This thought never fails to amuse me.)
Sure, it can be tricky to bring new talent into a small business or sole proprietorship. You have to concede that you need help, or that there’s something in your domain of which you are not the master. You need to learn to let go, to trust others to take your stuff as seriously as you do. On the bright side, you get to give up the parts of your business that you hate, while still getting them done.
Specialization of skills is not an excuse, though. Situations arise where individuals have to stretch themselves to accomplish things that are outside their comfort zone, often for the good of their coworkers or customers. A worker who sees a task and says “That’s not in my job description” is somebody you need to lose. This is especially true of customer-facing roles. It’s bad enough for an agent to say he is unable to help a customer; it’s deadly for him to say he can’t because it’s not his job. If an employee says that, make it true by firing him on the spot.
Marshall Lager is a senior analyst for customer engagement and contact center technology for analyst firm Ovum, but he won’t let it go to his head. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.twitter.com/Lager.