Buy All the Help You Can Afford

Oddly, Sandra Scarr, author of both the seminal study on IQs of black children adopted into white homes and the book on child care, “Mother care/other care” gave this advice to working mothers. I quoted her years ago in a chapter I wrote for a book used in Freshman 101 courses. The title (of the chapter) was “Handling the triple threat: How to hold a job, raise a family and still be sane by graduation”

Or something like that. I wrote it a long time ago.

Anyway… it is odd that I found myself in this same over-scheduled situation lately and came to the same conclusion. We have recently added an administrative assistant, two graphic designers, a second developer and just this week a new intern (welcome, Chelsea!)

There is a tendency in small businesses, perhaps even more so with consulting, to try do to everything yourself to save money. I would say that is exactly wrong. Personally, I try to never do anything myself if I can pay someone less than my hourly rate to do it. Here are a few examples:

  • Expense reports
  • Editing
  • Payroll
  • Taxes
  • Cleaning the office
  • Typing
  • Data entry
  • Filing
  • Travel arrangements
  • Collecting data
  • Graphic Design
  • Animation

In addition, those last two are things I just suck at. I can hear you saying as a small business owner,

“But I don’t have that much typing, data entry, filing, etc. to keep someone busy. Maybe it is an hour each day.”

Fine. Pile it all up and ask someone to come in one day a week for five hours. In that extra time, you’ll probably generate enough work so it is six or eight hours before too long.

Another problem is training people. I suck at that, also. This is one reason, by the way, that employers, especially small businesses, don’t want to hire someone who is over-qualified. If you are so good that you should have my job – well, the company only has one president and I am not leaving, so eventually, you’ll probably leave for a better job and I’ll have to hire and train someone else. If you are lucky, you’ll have someone else in your office who can train people, too.  (Honest, Jenn, I was not deliberately out of the office on Marisol’s first day – I SWEAR!)

What if you have so many varied tasks that come up occasionally? You can do what Hollywood types sometimes do with their personal assistants – have them listen in on your calls. I don’t really recommend that for consulting, especially if you do anything confidential. What I am doing, though, with a person who is training for a management position is forward to her many of the emails and presentations that I do, so she can learn by example. I have to do these things anyway and the next time around, or the time after that, I hope she will do them for me.

Similarly, as you train someone new, have them proof-read your memos, contracts, presentations, articles – whatever it is you’re writing.

If you are bringing in a new person on a programming project, have them start at one end or the other, documenting the code, doing the first crack at the data cleaning. Remember Vygotsky and his whole scaffolding thing? (If not, click here to read something I wrote over 15 years ago when I was just as  much of a smart ass as I am now.)

The other way of buying all the help you can afford (programmers listen up here) is buying off-the-shelf solutions, everything from 3-D models to pop-down menus for website templates. There are people who have an almost religious aversion to paying for software. I am not one of those people.

I pay for a professional license for surveymonkey because it includes skip logic, customized re-direct pages for survey end and disqualification and download as an SPSS file. The amount of coding this saves me far exceeds the cost of the annual license.

I use Dreamweaver in part because I have used it for years and learning a new package would take time, which, when you bill by the hour, is money. If you are a consultant, repeat after me,

“My time has value.”

I feel bad for anyone trying to break into a new market because to take away customers, they are going to have to offer people like me enough to make learning a new package worthwhile.

On the flip side, whenever I am doing anything new, I look around for products I can use, whether free or for sale, that will cut out some of the work.

This brings me back to my rant about Codecademy that I have not gotten around to writing. One of my objections to it is that you write code from scratch. While I have several times recently started with a blank file in TextWrangler just for fun and to learn something new, that is almost never the way I do a project of any size for professional reasons.

I will look either on my computers or on the web for a program that does something similar to what I want and then modify it.

When I start a new project, whether it is a programming project or web design, my first thought was,

“What products exist – IDE, statistical software, content management system, etc. etc. — that will cut down the hours required to get this done?”

Recently, The Rocket Scientist, who has given up working for the Dark Side to work for The Julia Group (we have Chardonnay) asked about buying a piece of software. When he started to give me the “business case” for it, I stopped him and said,

“Please, just buy it. Your time has value.”

What if you don’t have any money, though, because you have no work? Well, in that case, I guess your time doesn’t have any value. That sounds like a personal problem to me.

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