Communication: Be specific — “this is what I expect as an outcome and I need it by X”. Also, write this out in text after the briefing meeting and send in email/slack so that there can be no excuses for ‘miscommunication’. In the briefs, we often specify what the task is, why it’s important and how we expect them to undertake it.
Feedback: Give honest feedback so that they can improve or replicate the next task that they are delegated.
As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samuel Hurley, a 28-year-old founder of the London-based eCommerce startup, NOVOS. The company provides strategic SEO consultancy to eCommerce businesses and has worked with over 100 eCom companies across the world, helping their clients generate over £30 million in revenue. NOVOS has won awards for its company culture that emphasizes the importance of measuring employee happiness.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My entrepreneurial journey has followed an unexpected path. I started my career working as a strategist at digital agencies in London and soon moved to working in-house at brands. I launched a small eCommerce business as a side hustle which eventually led me to co-found my current eCommerce startup that now employs a team of 15 and is generating over a £1 million in annual revenue.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I was fed up with my job at a previous agency mainly due to poor company culture — it was having a horrific impact on my mental health and well being. I was interviewing aggressively with an element of desperation, applying to anything relevant and would have taken anything offered too. I remember having an interview and thinking I smashed it out of the park and would be offered the role so that I’d finally be able to leave the agency. The company rejected me because I was ‘too experienced’ and I wouldn’t be challenged in the role. I was so shocked that I even offered to take a large pay cut to join, but they were very strong on their company culture and would only hire for the right reasons. I felt deflated after this, condemned to seeing out the year in my current role. I went to Vegas for an event to forget about it and get mentally ready for the rest of the year. When I came back, I got an interview at Made.com, a popular eCom company, to lead their SEO (my dream job at the time). I passed the interview and worked at Made for two years, made them close to £20m via SEO and left to set up my startup. If it weren’t for that rejection, my career would have taken a very different turn, and I doubt I’d have my own company without my eCommerce experience at made.com.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Here’s a funny story, which seemed painful at the time, from my first job. I was a newly hired, fresh graduate working for a digital agency.
For one of the projects, I sourced a freelance journalist through a platform like Fiver. The brief was simple — the client had around 10 pages of content with various quotes and collections of important product information. My agency needed to take this content and build it out with a flow into a mixture of landing page and blog content for the client’s website. The client was a pushy one and wanted the content asap, and I was acting as a middleman between the client and the freelancer. The client would be chasing on skype to get it before the close of business, so I was pushing the freelancer. The freelancer didn’t get the content in time for close of business but did deliver in the evening, which I passed on straight to the client to hit the ‘deadline’ still.
I came in in the morning to a huge skype thread from the client who had been copying and pasting text from the content we delivered, highlighting aggressively how the content had literally been Google translated. The angry client wrote, “would you put this on your agency website?”. I went back to the freelancer and found out that he was a journalist but in Russia and could barely speak English! He had taken the initial quotes provided, Google translated it to Russian so that he could understand what needed to be done. He basically wrote the content in Russian and translated it to English before sending it to me. It was a very painfully embarrassing situation for me and made me realise that I wasn’t in university any more!
It also taught me the importance of fact-checking, asking for references, and interviewing any freelancers I used in the future. I also started to build up a bank of freelancers I could rely on or came recommended by my network moving forward so I wouldn’t need to rely on the platforms.
More importantly, I learned how to set deadlines with freelancers and my team members. Now, whenever I delegate work, I always give the person a deadline which is at least 2–3 days ahead of the actual deadline. This way, there is a buffer of 2–3 days for feedback.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We know what we’re good at and stick to that only. We’re very specialised, meaning no one can do what we do to the same level. We put a significant emphasis on employee happiness — tracking it 3 times a week and implementing any feedback we receive from our team monthly.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take time to assess your mood, work productivity and how you are reacting in day to day scenarios. Ask yourself, is a standard workload causing you stress and anxiety? I usually set aside a time slot of 8–9 am every Friday to check-in with myself. When you take time to reflect and assess yourself, you realise if you are approaching the state of burnout. And if you are, take a long weekend or more frequent breaks.
I had hit a burn out mid this year because like many people I wasn’t taking any holidays. I underrated the stresses of working from home. However, it wasn’t until I finally finished a big project we’d been working on for one and a half years that I eventually crashed and had to took two weeks off.
Now, I’m taking more frequent breaks, e.g. a Thursday afternoon and full Friday day which then gives me nearly 5 days off as opposed to needing to take two weeks due to the burnout.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes, I shall always be grateful to my first boss, Oren — the person who hired me straight from the Uni.
I had always lived with my parents deep in the Welsh valleys until I finished the Uni. Trying to get to London was a hard struggle for me, which wasn’t helped by how bad I was at interviewing. I initially took train journeys to London to do the interviews, but after the first two trips, I realised that this was way too expensive so I had switch to cheap but long bus coaches.
I made a few trips to London to meet recruiters and do interviews. Those days often saw me leaving my home at about 4 am to drive to Swansea to get on the 5 am bus — the journey was 5 hours long! Upon reaching London, I’d spend the day doing interviews and catch 9 pm — getting home at about 3 am.
During one of the last trips, I had my second interview with a large established digital agency as well as an interview with Oren, who had just started his agency.
At the time of meeting Oren, he had 1 freelancer and a part-time salesperson working for him, making me his first in-house, full-time employee.
Oren took me for a walk around a Shoreditch park to discuss the role. I don’t remember much about what we chatted about, but I do remember asking him how much the position would pay. He asked how much I would want. My response was “I’d like £20k, but I’d take £18k”. To that, Oren said, “That’s not a good way to negotiate, you should go in with £22k and expect me to knock you down to what you want. I can do £20k and will assume you didn’t say £18k.” This was the first of many life and business lessons I learned from him.
I also recall him saying that he didn’t want to be the fallback guy and asked me to for the other large agency to get back to me, so he gave me a day’s deadline.
On the bus journey home, I had some email exchanges with him and accepted the job.
He was my first exposure to an ‘entrepreneur and business owner’. I knew that I had made the right decision choosing to work for him than the other big company. I’d learn more from him than from an established business which had over 100 people already, and where I’d just be a 1 of many.
So, I arrived back to Wales at 3 am and told my parents, “I met this guy in a park, he offered me the job, and I’ve accepted it” — thinking about it now it must have sounded mad to them, especially considering he didn’t have a website at the time!
It’s by far the best decision I’ve made in life. I worked as Oren’s right-hand man, learning the ups and downs of running a business — it helped me immensely in eventually setting up my own company. Oren and I grew his company to a 6 person agency before selling it and going our separate ways, but we still keep in touch today.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
It’s simple, really. It’s impossible to scale and grow your business to the next level if you do not allow the people you’ve hired to do the work they were hired to do. Why hire them in the first place? Just use freelancers. If you don’t delegate, you’ll easily get too busy. And it’s not fair to the other people who are expecting results from you. You’ll soon start saying to people ‘yes I’ll do this for you by X’ and things will drop, or you won’t do them to the expected standards.
If the above doesn’t resonate with you, as a business owner or a senior manager, one of the best skills you can develop is your self-awareness — understanding what you are good at, bad at and how you are impacting others around you. When hiring, you should be looking to hire people that are better than you at the things you are bad at so you don’t need to do them any more. For example, if you don’t like handling the finances, then you need to hire someone good with numbers so that they can take that over from you
Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
There are numerous reasons which mainly come down to the personality type of the individual, their role and the company culture.
- They want to own things themselves; they love the responsibility of being the point of contact or overseeing everything. Typically would have more controlling elements of their personality.
- There would also be scenarios where if you are working in a middle management role you would want to be seen as doing it rather than passing on and just being the middle person between your boss and the people actually doing the work.
- Another personality type that has challenges delegating would be perfectionists. They have a picture in their mind about how a task should be and the level of detail needed to achieve this. If the person they delegate to doesn’t do the task EXACTLY as they would do it, then they won’t accept it. I’d say this personality trait has the hardest time delegating as the delegated individual will never be able to complete the task to the exact same level the person is expecting.
- Again, similar to the above, but it’s when expectations don’t align with output managers, or owners can struggle to delegate in the future. The delegee may produce something perfectly good, but as it doesn’t perfectly match the person delegating expectations, then it’ll get changed or rejected.
- Some often think that it’s time-consuming to delegate, e.g. you would need to spend 30 minutes briefing and training how to do a task whereas it would take you only 5 minutes to do it yourself.
- I’ve also found that if you have a lack of processes or standardisation in your work or deliverables, it can be a challenge for both parties.
In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
Start using standardised documents. Have your own set of documents and processes that you use to do your job. As you move between jobs, bring these standardised generic templates with you.
Ensure you explain tasks in text form as well as vocalisation to avoid miscommunication or a ‘you said X’ once the task is done.
If you have someone who it’s incredibly challenging to delegate tasks to, you need to figure out WHY and it usually comes down to these 3 things:
- Can’t do
- Won’t do
- Don’t know
I think 9/10 it comes down to ‘don’t know’ which can be solved with training and standard documentation or processes. The ‘can’t do’ maybe something with a limitation for resources, e.g. if there’s a blocker in another team to complete the task — this is where you’d need to support and break down this obstacle. If it’s ‘won’t do’ then it is more worrisome and maybe down to poor hiring.
Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Recruitment: The most important step in delegating is the recruiting process. So you need to know if this candidate can understand the work that you have delegated. How do you do this? Set them a task and have them present the completed task back to you. This way, you see how they interpret it and what they produce. When we are recruiting someone, as a part of the interview process, we ask them to audit a specific website focusing on certain aspects and outcomes.
- Turn your department into a mini-business: Treat yourself and your team as a business. Create your own standardised documents and processes and take them with you to each role.
- Deadlines: Set clear deadlines both for yourself and your team.
- Video: If the process is step-by-step, try making a video of you doing the task first as opposed to written text. It’s much more effective to follow.
- Communication: Be specific — “this is what I expect as an outcome and I need it by X”. Also, write this out in text after the briefing meeting and send in email/slack so that there can be no excuses for ‘miscommunication’. In the briefs, we often specify what the task is, why it’s important and how we expect them to undertake it.
- Feedback: Give honest feedback so that they can improve or replicate the next task that they are delegated.
One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
It is true but you need to define what ‘right’ is and communicate this to the person you are delegating. If this isn’t done, then the outcome of the task will always be skewed from your perspective, and they will put their spin on the task.
You need to decide if the outcome is actually ‘wrong’ or if it’s just ‘different’ — there is a big difference between these two.
It would be best if you also decided how important is the task vs other tasks you need to do. E.g. if you have 2 hours to work, is it worth you spending an hour on task A and an hour on task B or is task B so important that you should spend that extra 1 hour on it and delegate task A.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
How can our readers further follow you online?
I usually post actively on my Linkedin and available for a chat there.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!