Are you a sponge?

Many of the business owners I work with as a business coach are sponges – and I encourage you all to mop up less.

What are you going on about Julia?

What I find myself and other owners of small businesses doing is mopping up after everyone else.

Your employees do their thing and then go home at 5.30, whether they’ve finished their to-do list or not.

While you stay on or come in at the weekend to make sure that everything is finished off. The spongy business owner does all the things that it’s not clear whose job it is.

Mrs Sponge notices when we’re out of post-it notes, and picks some up in Sainsbury’s when she does her food shopping.

Mr Sponge will also do everyone else’s expenses, empty the bins and sweep the snow away in the car park.


Sound familiar?

Business owners are leaders

Now all of this is just you stepping up and taking responsibility for sorting things out. Getting into action is a sign of a leader; followers expect someone else (maybe a magic elf?) to take care of all of these things.

But is doing this stuff the best use of your time?

Might you be better concentrating on all the things you’re good at, such as sales, product development, looking after your top customers? You’ll notice that these are the things which will add value to your company.

Emptying the bins does not increase turnover. And of course what you’re probably doing is emptying the bins in the evening in addition to everything else, so you spend too much time at work doing the dull things and not enough time enjoying the fruits of your labours and relaxing.

How to stop being a sponge

Draw up a job description for yourself. What is your role in the company?

This is a very revealing exercise, as most of us have started from a position where we had to do everything, and we continue to do everything.

Decide who else should do all those little things which eat up your time

You can spread this around the team, e.g. everyone empties their bin, Sonia does the expenses, and Simon is in charge of stationery ordering. Or you can make one person office manager, on top of their usual role.

One successful business owner I worked with, had a no-touch policy. He was determined to concentrate on what he was good at (in his case, sales).

So, he gave absolutely everything he could to everyone else, even if it was just photocopying a sheet of paper. He loved to sell, so he just wanted to get out there and meet potential customers.


While this might seem extreme, and of course, needs a good team around you, there are some lessons for the rest of us.

Often we fail to delegate because it seems like too much trouble, or because we don’t like to boss people around. Or because we’re afraid to ask. Or we don’t want to be seen as the boss at the top of the hierarchy.

My advice here would be to ask people nicely, say thank you (possibly with the addition of some employee benefits) and remember that even if you have a very flat structure, and want to empower everyone around you, you are the boss and people will expect you to tell them what to do. That’s part of being a leader as well.

Some more articles to reflect on your business

Here are a couple of blogs to help you constructively think about your business and reflect on how it’s doing.

How to recognise if your business might be failing

The top business problems my client face

Why you might need a business coach


Photo credit – Tom Page, Gerben Jacobs on Flickr and  Rawpixel from Unsplash