DIY or Do-It-for-Me

For small businesses and solopreneurs, the default solution for a wide variety of problems is to find a DIY approach. Small businesses don't have tons of cash lying around; they need to be able to get the best value out of the resources they have available. There are some exceptions to finding your own solution, of course. When it comes to electrical problems, you don't mess with the building's wiring unless you're trained to handle the problem. Same with the plumbing. Leave it alone unless you absolutely know what you're doing.

Then there are those skill-sets where the line is a little blurrier. Yes, it would have been good to get a professional shop to design a flyer for your sale, but the flyer you designed in Microsoft Word worked well enough.

You have to decide which elements of your business are good enough and which elements require further investment, and this task is far from easy. There's an entire industry built up around small business consulting.

The good news is that there are varying degrees when it comes to the “Do-It-for-Me” category. The old saying of “spend money to make money” holds true to a certain point, but after a certain point you're just throwing money down the drain. When you have a very limited budget, you can't invest everything in one aspect of your business.

Just because you decide to do something like get a website or try out a marketing service, it doesn't mean that you have to get the most expensive version — especially if you're uncertain of what you're going to get out of the process. You need to be able to test the waters.

A Mini Experiment

Let me share a little experiment I ran with doing some outsourcing at a personal level. I have absolutely no experience at outsourcing personal projects, but it's something I've wanted to try ever since reading 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. He offered some great advice, and I've read a handful of blog posts on the subject. So I figured it was worth a shot.

I picked out a handful of freelancers from another part of the world who were able to work within my budget, and I proposed my small task to them. One person agreed to the terms, so we gave it a go.

This lady responded insanely quickly to my emails — even though it was the middle of the night in her part of the world. She was just as fast to complete the work I sent, but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

That's not her fault. I wasn't clear enough in my description.

The point of this little anecdote is that I was able to figure out this disappointing lesson quickly instead of after some sort of majorly involved campaign. I tried something small and learned what didn't work.

Your spending decisions will be bigger than the tiny experiment I ran, but the idea is the same.

When Scaling Up Works, and When It Doesn't

I would love it if life worked on a freemium model all the time. The freemium model (most effective in the software / online world) basically allows you to use the free version of a product with the hopes that you'll eventually end up purchasing the paid version. The free version might have a few restrictions on it so that you can get the basic functionality out of the program without getting all of the bells and whistles, or the free version might cap out your usage amount.

Wufoo is a great example of an online company that offers a service on a freemium model. If you only get a few form submissions through your website, then you get a solid set of forms for your website for free. And if even you get just enough to require a paid plan, the fees are still affordable.

If you get a ton of form submissions every month, then you may be better off going with another solution. You might even just want to get a designer or developer to just throw a form on your site that handles your needs on a more customized level.

An online form is an easy element of a site to scale up. An entire website is less easy to scale in the same manner. Once you've committed to a design, it takes some real time and work to switch over to another design. During that process is not a great time to become indecisive.

Need to tweak a few colors? Change the placement of an image within a page?

No problem.

Want to go with a whole new look?

Well, that one's gonna be a little tougher.

The important thing is to figure out which aspects of your business can scale up. You have a lot of options. Test them, and figure out which ones work for you.

Evaluating Whether You Should Spend the Money or DIY

Let's look at a few criteria that can help you make and / or justify your decisions.

  1. Will your decision help you make money? You can't always know the answer to this one, but you need to know if there is at least a possibility you could profit from it.
  2. Will your decision cost you a considerable amount of time if you decide to not make the purchase? After some basic expenses necessary to keep your business running, your time is one of your most valuable commodities.
  3. How can I get the most value of a paid solution? This isn't the same as just getting the cheapest OR the most expensive option. It's measuring exactly how much a paid solution could meet your needs. (Read this as "Do your homework.")

What about You?

What factors do you use in making DIY or Do-It-for-Me kinds of decisions?

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

BusinessMichael Roberts