Where do you draw your digital DIY line?

It’s a topic this blog revisits all the time and one that won’t be resolved anytime soon: the computer and digital literacy of small business operators is as big a gulf as there is in small business.

The more literate can pick up new digital tools and developments easily and intuitively, reducing the cost of administration, while others’ use of computers stops at email, perhaps social media, and increasing the cost of having all else outsourced or hired in.

As this blog has pointed out, this gulf has led to a business version of the infamous ‘digital divide’, where some businesses power in and reap the benefits and others lag so much that all of their productivity, communications and marketing capabilities are so poor that they become uncompetitive and eventually die.

Improved digital literacy by stealth

The only good news that this situation brings is that these businesses are gradually dying out to leave a relatively digital literate small business community.

Like all business skills, there is a fine balance between being able to DIY non-core aspects of your business and outsourcing it to someone who can do it much faster and cheaper.

This makes services like Fiver and offshore agencies a real boon for Australian business as outsourcing becomes much more feasible than it was in the past — providing you can find the person with the right skills for your business.

Take website maintenance for example.

Two kinds of maintenance

There are two core website maintenance activities: technical maintenance and content maintenance.

Technical maintenance is the digital equivalent of having your car serviced. An expert gets ‘under the hood’ and repairs and maintains aspects of the website to ensure optimum technical performance.

On the other hand, content maintenance refers to the ability to alter the words, pictures, links and files your website contains.

DIY tools proliferate

Because this is now mostly performed using a website editor or content management system (CMS), content editing can now be done in-house — if not by the business operator then by an assistant, whether that be in-house or out of house.

Again like all non-core business activities, the business operator needs to ask themselves whether they should save money by performing this content maintenance themselves, or bear the cost of delegating it to an assistant, who may well be able to do it many times faster.

For early or struggling business, this DIY quandary is never ending as the number of non-core business activities seems to grow with every technological development.

And like DIY home improvements, there is also the risk of botching the job and spending even more on having someone else come and remedy your mess!

When to stop DIY

There’s no doubt that early in your business’ development, you will need to DIY as many business activities as possible, or alternatively, ensure your initial working capital is sufficient to pay someone to do it for you.

Ideally you will have planned your business in such a way that as soon as it reaches a certain capacity, you can ‘call in’ the help required to run aspects of your business so that you can get on with the prime revenue earning activities.

This approach requires that you not only establish and organise tasks so that someone else can easily come into the fold, but that you have providers waiting in the wings and ready to go — a dual-edged challenge that isn’t always easy to achieve.

It’s just another chapter in small business’ never ending story of survival and ideally, growth.

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