What do we mean by taking a DIY approach in business?
When you’re starting out in business, sometimes it feels as if you’re being pulled in about 100 different directions as you try to master multiple roles that you never expected to.
You go from being someone with an idea to having to become an accountant, act as the whole of an HR department, and marketing team, and you suddenly wish you had a time-turner like Hermione Granger just so you had enough time in the day to get it all done.
Sound about right?
And it’s important in business, especially when you’re starting out, to not be frivolous with money. We have to find ways to ensure that we’re getting the best value.
So it can be tempting to outsource tasks to save time. But, it can be equally tempting to DIY tasks to save money.
The question is: what tasks are best for a business to outsource, and which are best to DIY?
We took that question to the small business community...
The importance of research
But before we share what was said, it’s worth pointing out the importance of doing your research, as virtually everyone we spoke to during this process couldn’t speak more highly of doing so.
It’s all about knowing what’s best for your business.
And it’s about thoroughly researching and taking into consideration what either route involves… whether that means you or someone in the team taking on the task or whether that means outsourcing to someone else.
Many business owners strive to do everything themselves (or at least in house) to maintain a feeling of ownership… wanting to be responsible for every aspect, and therefore every success, of their business.
But remember: there should be no sense of failure if you outsource; you’re simply helping your business, saving yourself (and perhaps your team) time right away, and possibly even saving money in the long term, too. As Gareth Stephenson, co-founder of Top 3 Legal, told us in a tweet, “I know my limitations... get help!”... which is advice that we can fully get behind!
We thought the perfect people to ask about choosing between DIY and outsourcing would be the people in our community that have gone through it first hand! So we went to some of the best people around us and asked what areas have they DIY-ed in, how they found the experience… and they shared some useful tips too!
First, we interviewed Tim Grinsdale, director at TOAD – a wonderful brand that mixes classic and modern designs to create the beautiful diaries.
We first asked Tim whether he’d rather outsource or DIY within his business – and he tells us he’d generally rather DIY.
He explains that, if either himself or someone on his team has knowledge or interest in a topic, then it’s more cost-effective for them to take charge and go the extra mile with the task.
He also comments that you can’t always guarantee the level of commitment and level of understanding of your business when you outsource, as they’re not part of the business and may not have the same level of drive as someone who knows the businesses inside and out.
We then asked him more specifically about his experiences with business DIY, asking if he’d ever DIY-ed on a topic that we weren't really sure about in the past. And if so, what his experience of this was like. Tim told us that he did..., “Yes. SEO is a good example.”
Search engine optimization, otherwise known as SEO, essentially does what it says on the tin: it helps to ensure that your page can be found on search engines when the public search for the topic your content is related to.
SEO can be done through a number of ways – from scattering keywords throughout your blog to backlinking (adding links back to your content when posting on other websites). Essentially, SEO can help to boost you, your blog or your website (or all 3!) on search engines like Google.
When TOAD was first starting out, Tim describes how they knew there was something out there called SEO, but really they had no idea what it was or what it involved. They began to research the basics of keywords analysis and on-page optimisation and they started to implement some changes on the site.
Normally, the effects of these kinds of change take about 3 months to show up – and, after some time, the team started to find that the site was ranking really well. And it was all because of the key terms they had been using – phrases such as ‘customised diary’ and ‘design your own diary’, for example, which made such a massive difference.
Overall, they found the DIY SEO experience really great!
It helped them to grow the business and spark interest in customers, which was really great to see. It also helped with revenue early on to further grow the business.
And as well as people finding out about their products, many were loving their products too… which meant that their DIY SEO efforts started to make more money for TOAD, which proved the DIY approach to be rather lucrative!
In our chat with Tim, he further reinforced how wonderful the experience was, and highlighted the massive confidence boost that the whole DIY SEO experience gave the team.
Tim also highly recommended business owners to try DIY-ing anything like Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, social media advertising and (the basics) of SEO. He speaks about how there’s lots of jargon involved in these areas (meta titles, match types reach, engagement, for example) – but, once understood, all of this is quite easy to utilise in house at a much-reduced cost than that of outsourcing.
On the flip side of this, we also asked whether he had outsourced any tasks since he set up TOAD. And he had – in SEO, in fact! And from his reply, it seems that the whole experience was a little bit less rewarding than his DIY-SEO experience!
Tim told us that they worked with a 3rd-party SEO company, and it ended up being a rather expensive experience and the results were slow. But he added, “However, they agreed to do some additional content marketing to make up for the slow results, which was effective and helped improve our search engine results.”
So, based on this experience, Tim said he’d suggest that anyone planning to outsource do a lot of research to make sure they find a company that they can fully trust.
Another tip that Tim shared is that checking that their work ethic is in line with your business’ is just as important as checking their skill sets, so you can make sure they’re the right fit for your business and the job. “Finding someone to go the extra mile, as we did, made a big difference to the result we gained in the end.”
DIY web design
Next, we asked Claire Merritt, founder of The Crystal Cake Company, whether she prefers to DIY or outsource tasks in her business.
And she told us that, for her, the businesses are all about designs, cake making and decoration, which are all things that she does herself to ensure they’re perfect for each of her clients. So on that front, she’s sorted!
However, she shared that she does outsource in some other key areas of her business – for example, she outsourced her website, which gave her more time to concentrate on the ‘cake side’ of her business, rather than the business/admin side.
When asking about the option of DIY, she said that she knew at the time that she could have created her own website but it would have been a slow process – and she worried she wouldn’t be able to make it to as high of a standard if she did it herself rather than outsourced. She added, “If you can employ someone who is good at what they do and it saves you time, why not outsource? It makes sense to me.” And, we agree – it does!
Claire told us that she found the experience of outsourcing very straightforward, as all she had to do was send over the text she wanted alongside the pictures she wanted to use and it was all put onto the website for her. “I have also paid for hosting and updates to my website, therefore meaning I don’t really need to do anything more!”
We then asked what she’d recommend when doing DIY in business. She heavily stressed that as a business owner, you should always ensure you have the time spare before you DIY to ensure that it’s the right thing for you and your business. She said, “I would recommend DIY. If you have the time to do what you need to do for your business, then go for it.”
So, while Claire shared her experience of outsourcing when creating a website, we wanted to have a little look at the flip side of this and interview someone who has DIY-ed their website.
We luckily found Kathy Ennis who not only was an expert in DIY website building but also IT (two for the price of one!) Kathy is the founder of a lovely business Little Piggy, which helps businesses take from passion to profit.
Much like our other interviews, we first asked Kathy if she’d rather outsource or DIY in her business. She explained that when she was first starting her business, she did everything herself.
As a side hustle/micro business it was essential to DIY, as she didn’t have the money to pay anyone else to do it for her. “I don’t believe that has changed for the vast majority of micro business startups”, she says.
Nowadays, however, she outsources quite a lot – in fact, her clients often get fed up of her saying to them, “Do what you do best and outsource the rest!”
But, it does really depend on the work that needs to be done. Kathy says that she is fine with basic accounts, basic website updates, basic graphics etc. – but, as she highlights, it is all a basic knowledge.
So, if she wanted to an in-depth or professional standard, it has to be outsourced, she says. “My two biggest outsourced things at the moment are my social media content creation and posting.” She also loves the time that it frees up for her, even though it may only be about 5 hours a week! But she says it is well worth it – “and I love the ‘me time’.” Don’t we all!
Though Kathy has described her own knowledge of websites as base level, the first area in her business that she DIY-ed in was her website! “Well, the first one was my website – and this was many moons ago when it was a bit more complicated.”
She had to first find out how to build a website using WordPress. She did loads of research, talking to people who had already set up a WordPress website, used YouTube video guides and followed them step by step, read hundreds of blog posts to name but a few ways!
She says that all this research built the foundation for her wonderful website and now means that she can build a pretty decent one!
Overall, she really enjoyed the experience of DIY web design. In the past, she had worked with information and IT, so she wasn’t a technophobe by any stretch of the imagination. She understood data construction and how people search an interface online, so already had a wonderful foundation behind her to build upon.
But what she really enjoyed about the experience was tying together her knowledge as a “front-end website user with an understanding of what went on under the bonnet.”
“I would recommend DIY, but not at the expense of your business.” She goes on to explain that what she means by this is that it’s sometimes tempting, these days – with our access to so many brilliant, free (or nearly free) tools and resources both online and off – to try to do everything ourselves – but, if it’s going to take you ages, and you aren’t really sure what you are doing, and don’t understand fully how things work or how to get the best outcome for your business, then it’s probably not the best idea to DIY.
She then gave the perfect practical example. “I was hired to deliver a training course yesterday on how to create a successful Facebook business page.
There were some people on the course who didn’t use Facebook at all, some who couldn’t use a smartphone and others who had difficulty in logging on their laptop. There was a small group of people who struggled with the basics.
If Facebook is a mainstay in the marketing strategy (which it is!), the amount of time it would take them to learn all they need to know just to set up the page (let alone devise a marketing strategy that uses it) – my advice was, spend some money and get an expert to do it right.”
We then asked Kathy if she could tell us a little bit more about her experiences with outsourcing. She speaks of how some have been very good – and, on the flip side, some have not gone particularly well.
“The key is to do your homework. My bad experiences always occurred when I didn’t do my due diligence; didn’t double check – dot the Is and cross the Ts – or went with the first recommendation I received.”
Her advice would be to interview the people that you are looking to outsource to. Even though they’re not employees, you’re still paying them and you should, in a similar way, make sure that they’re the correct fit for the role and for your business.
Her final piece of advice was to be absolutely clear on the job that you’re outsourcing.
She speaks of how she often had clients (or people she meets while networking) saying that jobs they outsourced weren’t completed correctly or didn’t deliver.
On further investigation, it usually turns out that the brief given to the outsourcing was not good. “So, ‘do my social media marketing’ without any objectives or targets; ‘build me a website’ with no clear idea of key messages or client avatar – it will be a pretty bad experience on both sides.”
So it’s important to make sure that the person you’re outsourcing to is 100% clear on what you expect from them so that they’re able to give you the best and desired results.
DIY finance and payroll
This is also a topic that Farillio has been researching a lot recently… and here’s a sneak peak into an interview that we filmed with our financial expert, Dalila!
She first says, before you even get into looking at payroll, you must first work out if you can afford to take on a team member as an employee. Though this may seem rather obvious, you have to see if you can feasibly afford to employ someone full time and also factor in all the (sometimes hidden) costs that come with the process.
Dalila highlights that, alongside their salary, you must also consider: PAYE, NI, equipment, pension, to name but a few. So make sure you have fully thought through all aspects of employing before you do so!
And remember – there are other types of hire such as workers and contractors, that you can hire if you can’t quite commit to hiring employees yet – take a look at our guide to the difference between employees, workers and contractors for more info.
Once you’ve hired an employee, you’ll then need to look at payroll, and this is often done through an online scheme. For example, at Farillio we use Paycircle, who are a cloud-based payroll solution. It always provides quick and easy access for employees to check when they’re being paid, track how much will be going into their account, and even drops them a reminder email every month to let them know it’s payday. It also takes a lot of the worry, and pressure, away from you as a founder!
Be sure to check out the full interview with Dalila, which will be out over the next few months and available to all Farillio members! It's full of even more top tips and stories, so don’t miss it!
DIY social media and marketing
One of the main areas that Top 3 Legal have focused on was digital marketing and social media stuff. Gareth met quite a few marketing people and asked them for tips and advice, and that’s how he built up the confidence in the topic and learnt exactly what he needed to do.
But although it was frustrating at times, he found his company’s DIY marketing experience a very positive experience overall in terms of meeting lots of really helpful people.
Moving forward, Gareth said that the main tip he would give to others looking to DIY is to always speak to people who know about the relevant area before you, rather than going ahead and spending a load of money that you might then regret! And he’s right – it’s always important to do your research, as it can be a waste of not only money but also time that could be better spent working on another task.
Gareth describes how the decision of whether to DIY or not all depends on the business and what you’re are looking to achieve.
He gives the example of tech/development build, which is something that he and his team wouldn’t have the experience to do themselves. So, for something like that, it would be far more time and cost effective for them to outsource.
“Also, areas, where the team doesn't want to have to pay for a permanent resource, are better dealt with by outsourcing or using freelancers – for example, data-input tasks.”
But, when telling us about his experience with outsourcing for his business, he told us how he found the tech-build-outsourcing experience incredibly frustrating because he says he really had no idea whether he was being messed around or conned! “Getting freelancers to do data input was fantastic because you can more readily understand what's involved.”
His closing tip for us was, “Try to find out as much as you realistically can about the relevant area before instructing someone so that you have a chance of knowing whether you're being messed around or conned!”
DIY sourcing manufacturers
Lastly, we interviewed Suzanne and Louise from Tig-Tag. Tig-tag is a wonderfully bright toy for children and adults alike. It encourages children to run, chase and play which sounds like the perfect toy to us!
They first told us about their experience with outsourcing in the past. And their comments heavily reflected those of our other businesses, They stress how with limited funds at the start of your journey, it’s often hard to outsource.
They both speak of how they learnt a lot by getting stuck in and doing it themselves. One of the main areas that they had to DIY in when starting out was when they began sourcing overseas manufacturers.
“We found it difficult to find out specific information and actually found that there was too much information when searching online.” Overall they found this experience rather bewildering at first, and often time-consuming... which is not something that you want as a busy startup.
The main piece of advice that they give to those looking to DIY is that they must ensure they have enough time to read and research, and they must always be prepared for making errors along the way. It’s not something that many people get right the first time, so it’s important to have the time and resources to allow your business to get it wrong a little bit along the way.
We also asked the pair if they had outsourced in the past, and what their experience was like. “Yes, we have used specialist services for ensuring our manufacturing was ethical and arranged an independent safety test.” They then go on to describe how their website was also outsourced, as they weren’t sure how to ensure their home website had the capacity to handle their businesses growth when it happens.
They added, “Read, research, and then research some more. Find out as much as you can about the company, ask for testimonials. Negotiate breakdown of costs so you know exactly what you are getting for your money.”
We really hope you find all these wonderful tips and stories useful when you come to make the decision whether to DIY or outsource for your business. And thanks to everyone that chatted to us!
When you’re looking to outsource, you should really bare four major things in mind:
1) Research (have we said that enough times yet?!) :)
2) Make sure you’ve fully read the contract that they’ve sent over to you and that you’re happy with the terms you’re working with.!
3) Get as many testimonials as you can before you hire anyone. It’s all about seeing how other people have found working with them and see how well they fit into businesses like yours.
4) Make sure you create an in-depth brief. With all the passion and best will in the world, when you outsource they aren’t a member of the team and so might not fully get the core values, tone or intended impact of the piece. So make sure you give the clearest brief possible to save wasting the time of both you and the person you’re outsourcing to.
On that note! Thank you so much, again, to all the fab people that we interviewed for this blog post. It’s been so great getting to hear all of their fab tips and stories so that we can share them with the small business community who are weighing up whether to DIY or outsource in their own businesses!