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When DIY is Just Wrong

When cash is tight, our tendency is to try to do everything ourselves. Even when we have no idea what we're doing.
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As an entrepreneur, it’s temping to do everything myself. Or to have my company do everything itself, even when hiring vendors might make more sense. Never has this been more true than when cash has been tight. But I dare say I’m learning – sometimes the hard way – when to let others take over the reins.

Our company is now in its second location since 2004.   The second move was very different from the first.

Rightly or wrongly, we have always been deathly afraid of debt.  In 2004, we were trying to do as much as possible ourselves.  None of us had ever done anything remotely like trying to move a fully-operating company into a new space, so it was a long, drawn-out process. The move wound up taking almost a full year. Mornings, the old facility was fully staffed. Afternoons were spent with a good portion of the employees working on setting up the new facility. 

With only a frustrated, frantic skeleton crew left behind to answer sales calls and process orders, you can guess what happened. Customers waited a long time for responses, shipments were late, and product development and marketing were neglected.

And it’s not as if the move was a smashing success. The new office ended up being too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer. We purchased an inexpensive used server and set up the entire computer network ourselves. We all knew just enough about computers to be dangerous. The network worked, but there were big tradeoffs – we spent a lot of time, over years, dealing with computers and servers that overheated and crashed, constantly applying patches and dealing with viruses.  Pipes froze.  Sewers backed up.  Did I mention that we found the facility all by ourselves?  At the end of the year, we had spent more than double our budget for the move. 

Thankfully, none of our employees complained.  They all took the changes in stride.  I don’t know what we would have done had that not been the case.

By 2010, the company had grown substantially.  This time, the search for a new building was much more deliberate, and we hired a commercial realtor. It was like 2004 in reverse. The search and lease negotiation lasted eleven months, but the buildout of the new facility lasted one month. Production was completely moved over the course of two weeks. The sales office moved over a weekend and never missed a beat.

In anticipation of the move, we had shifted our computer network to the cloud the year before. So the only technology we needed for our new space was an Internet connection.  The contractors we hired to renovate the space created an office that was more than just one step up from the old place.  This time, we focused on continuing doing the work of attending to and growing our business and left the work of the move to those who make it their profession.

Of course, circumstances were very different in 2004 than they would be six years later. In a number of ways, 2004 was a difficult year. In 2010, we had more money. If I were to do it over again, yes, I would have liked to have handed off some of the work.  But do I regret how it turned out? No. Despite the discomforts of the 2004 facility, it was entirely adequate. We lived within our means and came out of the experience without any debt. And with lots of ideas about how to do things better the next time around.

Last updated: Apr 3, 2012

HANS STEEGE | Columnist | CEO, Dero Bike Racks

Hans Steege is a co-owner and the CEO of Dero, a Minneapolis-based business that builds bicycle-friendly communities worldwide. Before landing at Dero, Hans worked as an engineer in the machine design and product development industries.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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