The DIY Debate Part 1: Empowerment By Technology?

Everyone thinks they’re a … photographer, graphic designer, recruiter, marketer … and to a certain extent, this is true.

Gone are the days when we worked only within our given area of expertise, skill or talent. Now the lines are blurred; we’re all keen to dabble, to experiment and try our hand at different things in our business. And thanks to digital advances, we have the means.

Those of you that know me will already be aware; I’m a huge fan of tools – devices, programmes, applications – all the things that help to get the job done quicker, better, easier or cheaper.

In fact, whenever it is feasible I’ll opt for a tech-based method, rather than undertake a task manually, with a makeshift solution or by bringing in an outside resource.

I think this, ’empowerment by technology’ is one of the key enablers for the entrepreneur revolution we’re experiencing in our time.

Off-the-shelf tools with easy-to-use interfaces offer even novice users, professional-grade capabilities to automate social media activity, create amazing documents and presentations, design and enhance graphics, take artistic-looking photos, build websites and much more.

And all this is great, isn’t it?

Well… up to a point.

Yes, these tools are neat and efficient, and they’re more than effective when it comes to planning and running a lean business model.

But it can become a problem when you syphon off so much of your time to work as your company’s untrained, unofficial graphic designer, web developer, bookkeeper, photographer … that you neglect the things that move your business forward and allow it to grow.

So what is the tipping point?

In the beginning, these tech-orientated, DIY options provide a cost-effective way to fulfil many vital auxiliary tasks, personally. But as the business evolves and your role shifts within it from facilitator to manager, you reach a critical point at which it becomes less beneficial (and often more detrimental) to carry on like this.

Rather than continue and risk overstretching yourself, you could delegate and train up a member of your team to use these tools. Or, you could upgrade and outsource the job entirely so you can direct your energy and expertise to where it is needed most.

When then, should you make this strategic transition? There is no hard and fast rule, but these questions can help you to decide:

Do I have the skills? In the early days, spreadsheets, simple systems and apps may be enough to track invoices, record receipts and manage cash flow. But as the business grows and becomes more complex, do you still feel confident handling the books yourself? This is one example of many where it pays to assess both your skills and knowledge of the tools you are using and the area itself, and weigh it against the risk of making a mistake – and the consequences of doing so.

Can I maintain a sustainable level of quality? Few things are more off-putting than a slip in brand standards, be that sloppy copy on your website, shoddy design elements or a slump in social media posting.  Your clients want to see a consistent level of quality; it speaks volumes about your reliability and the pride you take in your business. So if any area falls below par, it could be time to set aside the tools you are using and enlist the assistance of a professional. It need not cost the earth; a freelancer is an affordable option you can up or downgrade as necessary.  

Does the task impact mission-critical areas? To gauge the effect these activities have on your business, take a look at the metrics you monitor. If off-topic tasks are impeding KPIs and the pursuit of your overarching goals, then you should make some changes.

Ultimately though, the key test is this: consider how much you stand to save doing the tasks yourself compared to the money you could earn in that time if you outsourced these tasks and switched your focus to the activities that generate big bucks. Is saving money still the right thing for your business?

Not likely.

Otherwise, we’d all be better off giving up what we’re doing to become discount graphic designers or web developers instead.

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