DIY or DDIY? How running a business can be like a renovating a home

The question came out of nowhere as I was signing my credit-card slip and sounded as though it was intended for someone else. When nobody answered, I looked up and to my left only to find that I was standing there alone. I turned to the cashier, who repeated, “What did you do to your finger?” I looked down at the ring finger on my left hand. The fingernail, now mostly black and misshapen, looked a lot worse than it felt.

diy or ddiy“It was a DDIY project,” I explained.
She asked, “You mean DIY?”
“No, don’t do it yourself.”

Some background: For more than 30 years, my wife and I have enjoyed restoring and residing in historic properties. Early on it was done out of necessity, as turn-of-the-century houses in the Midwest were reasonably inexpensive and livable while work was being performed. We started in a Classic Revival house built in 1868 (top photo) and then moved on to a 1910 Colonial (middle photo). From there, we spent some time in an 1890s Queen Anne Victorian (bottom photo), of which we were only the fifth owners. There were others after those, mostly newer. (We now reside in our 10th home, a newer French Creole house made of a lot of reclaimed product and salvaged architectural elements.)

If you’ve completed some home improvement projects, you know that there are many challenges. It helps if you like the work, which we do. But for me, I’ve learned that the biggest challenge can be knowing what work to have done for you and what to do yourself. What are the criteria? Skill, availability, time, cost?

In many ways, running a business has the same challenge, and this is especially true where operations and logistics are concerned. Here at Motion Industries, we have a bright team of superstars who are replete with drive and ambition. So when a new opportunity (problem) arises, they are all-hands-on-deck. They dissect and disassemble the problem and then reassemble it with new technologies and parts. Generally, this works quite well. But is this the best approach for all issues? Are there times when it would be better to bring in someone to take a look?

Outsourcing (verb, to obtain [goods or a service] from an outside or foreign supplier, especially in place of an internal source) is not a new concept. Early on, it was necessary for filling a need for which there was no internal source or solution. By the '90s, it was a strategy to reduce cost and focus on core competencies. At first glance, this is contrary to my understanding of economics, as it has been my experience that you can do it yourself cheaper than having it done for you. However, it is hard to argue against the position that outsourcing can, in the long run, save money, as specialized industries have a broader view of their field. And because of this they can provide better solutions, which in time will reduce cost through increased efficiencies.

A soft approach to outsourcing is to benchmark your current activities against those of others who execute more efficiently. But don’t get hung up on benchmarking against a competitor or a like company. For instance, if you make pickles and are trying to improve your payables process, you don’t need to compare your business to another pickle company. You can find any noncompetitor that is proficient in,or provides services for payables. Attending trade shows to see the latest technologies is another way to peer outside of your box. Consider it for those areas that could have the greatest impact on production and output, as they hold the best opportunities for savings. It’s also a good tactic to aid in long-term strategic planning.

And remember, not every problem deserves external and/or expensive consideration. There are some (many) issues that you will have the expertise and resources to address.

There are those who will resist the idea of external help and guidance, but this doesn’t have to be an obstacle. As a DIYer, bringing in outside help challenges my own sense of pride, but I've adjusted. Years ago, my wife made the decision for me that I would not be installing any natural gas lines in any of our homes. Feeling offended, I resisted, telling her that there was little difference from installing plumbing for water. True, she countered. But if you make a mistake plumbing for water you’ll have a leak. If you make a mistake on a gas line, our roof could wind up in the neighbor’s yard. (Short-term cost savings, long-term disaster.)

Upon consideration, this has been easy logic to follow.