We caught up with this year’s Small Business Person of the Year to see how the Greater Philadelphia business community has contributed to their success. Check out what Emily Morgan, Founder & CEO, Delegate Solutions has to say as we highlight one of the excellent small businesses driving the Greater Philadelphia region. Join us as we honor this year’s winners at the 37th Annual Excellence Awards on Thursday, November 21.
Where did the idea for your business come from? Describe the moment that you decided to go into business for yourself.
Delegate Solutions was created to operate as a 100% remote and flex work company. Twelve years ago, when I started my company, I was about to have my son Nathan and I was looking to eliminate the traditional 9-5 commute to be present to raise him. At the same time, I knew that I had a honed skillset to offer professionally and wanted to continue my career. The answer had to include remote and flexible work from home.
While on an interview during that time, the woman running the interview shared with me that she worked with a “virtual assistant.” Having spent my career supporting others, the idea intrigued me as a possible work-from-home opportunity. I set to work to figure out what a virtual assistant was and how to become one. After Nathan was born, I started my company thinking that it would be a great way for me to earn income, maintain some professional work, and be available to my son.
Entrepreneurship was never part of what I envisioned for myself growing up. I was raised by a stay-at-home mom and most of my family had careers in education. By default, I always assumed that I would become a teacher because it’s really all I knew. My mother used to tell me that she thought I would go into business one day but no one in my family really knew what that meant, so I never really gave it much thought. As I started learning about the virtual assistant industry, I quickly learned that the need for our service was there; I chased after it, expanding and evolving our service into our unique model. I built my company as a single mom, a champion of flex work, and have spent my career in support of other small business owners, just like my mom predicted! Our entire team, now over 30 strong, is comprised of professionals like me who refused to make a trade-off on quality of life for meaningful professional work.
What is your business philosophy and how is it unique?
Plan well, remain flexible, evolve quickly, and be a lifelong learner.
I started my company without a business plan, without business training, without any capital, and without much else than an idea and a laptop. Throughout my career running and growing my company, I have always remained a committed learner. I went to the University of Pennsylvania, but my degree is in English, not business. I know that I don’t know it all when it comes to business, so I am ever-committed to learning and developing myself as a leader.
At Delegate, we have a deep commitment to planning, but remain focused on quarter-by-quarter evolutions. This philosophy allows us to have a unified vision of where we’re going, while remaining nimble to adjust priorities each quarter. I have always firmly believed that while things like AI may marginalize the basics of the assistant role, we will stay relevant through the value of our relationships with our clients. Through true collaboration and partnerships, our service provides a value that technology can never replace.
I think this philosophy is unique because most people who are big planners have a hard time course correcting and evolving away from that plan or vision. I pride myself on remaining flexible and finding energy in the evolution and we diligently track our wins. So many great ideas and iterations to our service have come from things you would have never found on our 1, 5, or 10-year plan, simply because we are living and breathing the business each day and modifications are required. As someone without a traditional business background, I rely on mentors, coaches, and my leadership team to help me navigate and prioritize these next steps, while remaining disciplined to our most important priorities at the same time. It’s a balancing act that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with if they are focused solely on following a plan or just chasing distracting and fun new ideas. I believe you need to balance both to keep the pace of growing a company responsibly.
What is the biggest challenge in owning/running a business in the region? How do you deal with the challenges?
Our clients and our team are located all across the country so we don’t face a lot of regional issues. Our biggest challenge is helping our potential client base understand that a service like ours exists. Because they don’t know that a service like ours is available to them, they are not actively looking for it. I spend a lot of my time educating the market about fractional, remote staff and how it can help them grow their companies without a lot of the traditional overhead.
How has the Greater Philadelphia business community impacted your success?
Even though we are remote, the Philadelphia business community is my community and one I am ever grateful for. I have utilized resources like the Small Business Center at The Wharton School and the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania as I have grown Delegate. One of the most impactful experiences I have had (as an adult and as a business person) was completing the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program at the Community College of Philadelphia. This incredible program changed my life in so many ways but most importantly it gave me a network of peers that are my inner circle to this day. These peers advise me and teach me as I watch them grow their companies and, as entrepreneurs, we rely on each other for so much more than business. I also recently was the first graduate of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) Accelerator Program here in Philadelphia and am now the Board Co-Chair for this transformational program within EO Philadelphia. We also are WBE-certified and work with the office here in Philadelphia to maintain our certification, and many of our clients are also located here in Philadelphia as well!
Others will be looking to you for advice about starting and/or operating a business here. What are your top 3 tips?
- Have a plan but always remain flexible. This philosophy allows us to have a unified vision of where we’re going, while remaining nimble to adjust priorities each quarter. If you lean to one side versus the other, you’ll find yourself either stuck in rigidity or chasing shiny objects, both of which can be debilitating to you and your team. Make sure you capture and celebrate your wins and progress each week! It’s amazing how far you come even in just a year.
- Be clear with yourself if you want a business or job. If you want a business, you are building always with a team in mind. You’ll need to create systems that can scale and run without you so that you are free to work on the business and not in the business each day, but will find yourself daily relying on others. If you want a job, you are capped by your own limitations (of time and skills).
- Delegation is the foundation for growth. As an entrepreneur, you cannot do it all and you will hit a ceiling with your time. Time is your most valuable asset, so master delegation early on and remember: progress, not perfection!
What does it mean to you personally and/or to your business to be named an Excellence Award winner?
They say it takes years to be an overnight success and that is definitely true for us at Delegate, but it’s now also true for the flex work movement. We are proud to be ambassadors for a changing workforce. We will use our win as a platform to validate flex work and will continue our commitment to help reshape the culture of the traditional workforce into one that values quality and contribution over time spent behind a desk.
Where do you see your business in 10 years?
Because we are so committed to having a plan to know where we are going, we know that in 10 years, we will have freed up 1.7 million hours of time for entrepreneurs and be at $30 million in revenue. We get there by aligning each quarter around our 1-year plan, our 3-year vision, our 10-year target, and the quarterly rocks we will need to accomplish to get there.
What I also know is that our service will likely look quite different than it does now as we continue to evolve to become the best in the industry to serve our clients. Our purpose is to create freedom for people to do what they love and have a big impact. As long as we remain responsible, true to that cause, and continue to flexibly but accountably work our plan, we will get there!
How has being a completely remote company influenced your business philosophy? What advice do you have for employers looking to incorporate remote work into their company?
To be honest, running a remote company is all I know. We didn’t decide to move to a remote model, we were built this way. What I can share as advice to those looking to run remotely are my own observations on my remote team:
- You have to be okay with autonomy. You will not be able to look into someone’s cube to ensure they are truly working and not surfing the web on your dime. This can feel terrifying to more traditional leaders. With my business, this has been somewhat easier because our team tracks their time by the minute. But beyond the software, I have to trust that they are delivering our service to our standards, being responsive to clients, and not showing up to video calls with screaming children in the background. We spend a ton of time in the screening process before team members ever work with clients. We “home grow” the team, meaning the whole team is involved in selecting who makes the cut and we vet for months before they ever touch our clients, learning our culture as we learn their workstyles. The great thing is, once you create a culture of autonomy, your team may just surprise you with their commitment and efforts. We rely heavily on metrics and scorecards to track productivity and contribution towards stated goals.
- You have to deeply commit to culture. Yes, culture is possible at a remote company! While my team is spread across the United States, they are deeply aligned on who we are and how we operate because of our constant integration of core values. They have deep, meaningful relationships with each other, even if they have never met in person. We go above and beyond to ensure the team is collaborative, supportive, and really cares about their work and their teammates. Anyone on my team would tell you they have never worked in a more supportive and caring workplace because they helped build it and they sustain it and protect it each day! With jobs aplenty, culture is what will keep your team in place over the long-term because they are looking to make a contribution in a meaningful way.
- Communication and clear expectations keep everyone on the same page. Without body language, or face-to-face interaction, everything is open to interpretation, especially with workplace tools like Instant Message. We rely heavily on video conference tools like Zoom (most of my day, I’m on video!) as a way to ensure more consistent and clear interactions. We host all of our meetings with our clients on video so that they are seeing our team each week and building rapport remotely. Our team meets as a full team weekly on video for a group huddle. They also meet in smaller accountability groups weekly on video and follow a proven agenda to talk through key issues and metrics. Accountability is a huge piece of remote work being successful. To be accountable, the team needs to know what the expectations are and how they are being measured. We use metrics to track contribution and success around the expectations. We set our expectations early around responsiveness with the team and with clients to ensure a cohesive experience for everyone.
Get your tickets to help celebrate Emily Morgan as this year’s Small Business Person of the Year.
Thursday, November 21
5:30 – 9:00 p.m.