I was a college athlete, which meant I had a scholarship that covered my tuition, but basketball was my 40+ hour-a-week job. I was also broke. So I looked around for ways to make “passive income” and landed on the opportunity to start a small gumball business.
The idea came to me after having lunch at a delicious but spicy falafel place in town. I was breathing fire on my way to class. If this place had a gumball machine, I could use the spare change from my lunch to solve this problem. Scratch your own itch, right?
Paulie, the business owner, agreed to let me give the gumball machine a try. So I used the little money I had to buy one online and the gum from a bulk store. It was clear that the machine needed to be on a small box to elevate it above the top of the trash can. I could buy a nice one for $30, but instead, I spoke a phrase familiar to every entrepreneur, “I can do that,” and decided to build the box myself.
After buying the wood, the stain, the hardware and doing the work, I had a “nice” box that cost me $28 in materials and about fifteen hours of labor. I was proud of it; I had done it myself. But it took too much time, it wasn’t as nice as a new one, and, at the end of the day, people weren’t buying gum because the machine was mounted to a handmade box.
I could have used those fifteen hours to sell a few more machines and actually added to my bottom line.
As I have started other businesses since then, I’ve watched out for the phrase “I can do that.” As entrepreneurs, this can-do attitude helps us stay financially responsible and intimately connected to our businesses. If overused, however, it can be a tremendous drag, stunting growth, and causing us to miss opportunities. If you can’t give the pieces away, your business will only be as big as you are.
Do you find yourself saying “I can do that” a lot? Would your business be better served by hiring someone else to complete that task or project? Here are three questions you can ask yourself to figure out whether you’re falling into the “I can do that” trap.
Can I give it away?
As entrepreneurs, our businesses are our babies. We want to nurture them with our own hands. We often simply forget that we can outsource certain tasks and projects.
Next time you’re faced with a task that’s uncomfortably new, mind-numbingly repetitive, or if you’re making the task harder than it should be, ask yourself if it would be possible for someone else to do it. It’s the first step to curing your do-it-allitis. (I should’ve just bought the dumb box.)
Then ask yourself, how does it feel to consider giving away that task? If you are immediately nervous or protective, you might have fallen down the “I can do that” hole.
If you can’t get beyond “I”, your business won’t grow.
Do I have the skills required?
As scrappy entrepreneurs, we’re learning new skills all the time. So where do we draw the line between good learning and a waste of time?
If learning a new skill adds to your understanding of the business, then it might be worth the time and energy. If building a gumball machine stand had greatly enhanced my understanding of gumball machine aesthetics, maybe it would have been a good investment (it didn’t).
Consider the value of your time. If you want to build a website for your handcrafted jewelry company, you might be able to pick up some basic CSS and HTML in a couple of hours. But are you really going to learn to code? Heck no. There are plenty of talented wordpress designers who would happily build you a beautiful website in four hours--versus your forty.
Your time would be better served selling the products you have! My gumball business would have actually grown if I had just bought the box and used those fifteen hours to talk to five more restaurants in town about using my gumball machines too.
Will it grow my business?
If you do everything, then everything will be tied to you. Your company will be limited by your time, and you’ll have to squeeze your life into the margins.
If you’re running a lawncare business and you cut every lawn, you might make $30,000 a year. This might be okay, for now. But you won’t make money when you go on vacation, get hurt, or your equipment breaks down.
Would hiring or training another person create even more time for you to grow the business? How many new clients, customer, or products could you add in the time you would eventually save? Like I said before, at the end of the day, people weren’t buying gum because the machine was mounted to a handmade box.
The truth is, you’re not wrong. You probably can do it.
I built my gumball machine base, and that thing was a work of art.
The question is, at what cost?
I recently hired a personal assistant for one of my businesses. This spring, we ran a large promotional campaign to our former clients from which we saw a surge of contracts. I had had the idea years ago, but I had never had the time. I was missing opportunities for growth because I was trying to do every little thing. It turns out, my new assistant is more helpful than I ever expected at tasks I never thought I’d need someone to do.
If you’re serious about growing your business and learning when to give the “I can do that” mindset a check, entrepreneurial training courses like StartupCamp can help. One of the tenets of StartupCamp is that people should create time and money. Our program teaches people when and how to hire outside help and create business models that can be easily scaled.
I pulled myself out of the “I can do that” trap, and you can, too. You just might need a little help.