The Money Pit of Doing It Yourself

Home Office - My Desk - Old 2005
Image by fensterbme via Flickr

I was helping Dave, one of my long time clients, with an email problem the other day.  He was complaining of email performance issues; things such as “it takes a long time to send messages,” and “email takes forever to show up when I check the Inbox.”  The first thing I do with this type of problem is check the Internet connection.  Diagnostics showed it to be working well, but there was a lot of traffic being sent out from his network.  So much, in fact, that it was crippling the ability of his office to operate.  After a bit of detective work we pinpointed the problem:  Dave’s in-house Exchange server is going berserk.  “It’s been a problem for a few days…I was hoping it would fix itself,” he explained.  He’s holding off on calling his server technician because an average visit costs over $600.  Many small businesses can’t afford a bill like that on a regular basis, yet problems seem to pop up on a regular basis when you’re running your own equipment.  It’s a bad situation that’s really affecting Dave’s bottom line.

In another case, I was speaking with my friend Sue.  She was in need of a new website and spent over $1500 to have a professional web designer create one for her.  They designed a very nice site: it had pop-out menus, interactive graphics, the ability to purchase products…it even had fancy graphics of horses strewn everywhere.  This struck me as odd as Sue’s business has nothing to do with horses, but ‘eh’, to each his own.

Sue was very pleased with the site, but soon discovered a couple of critical flaws:

  • The website turned out to be so complicated that she has no idea as to how to update it.  Sue called me asking if I had any suggestions on how to change the business hours , and all I could do was recommend consulting the person that created it.  She did, and found out that updates would cost her $100 each.  $100 anytime she wants to adjust her own website…it’s as if Somali pirates are holding the website for ransom.
  • The designer also hosted her site on his own private server, and it was located in his basement.  Yes, his basement.  Somehow this person came to the conclusion that a good place for a server would be underneath his house.  I would beg to differ, but that’s just my opinion.

Dave and Sue’s cases are not isolated.  In fact, from what I see, it is actually the norm in small business.  The Internet is an essential tool to sell any company.  It is the main way today’s customer locates you, contacts you, and becomes informed of your services.  Yet, many choose “do-it-yourself” methods for their web-presence that end up costing a lot of money with the least effectiveness.  It’s along the lines of going to a Wal-Mart and saying “That blender costs $40?  I’ll just get the parts and build my own!”  You could do this, but the $200 in parts you’d have to buy and the training you’d have to go through will still not create the quality of blender you get for $40.  On top of that, if something breaks you have to worry about fixing it yourself.  Nobody would actually do this, but it is exactly the approach many businesses take with their Internet services.

The solution is simple: instead of trying to do everything in-house, consider using service providers that can supply your company’s Internet needs.  They’re becoming more and more popular in the small business community because they make all the tools and resources that the “big guys” use accessible at a fraction of the cost.  Your thirty person office probably can’t afford a fully staffed IT department running multiple servers, but a service provider could take the place.  I’ll apply typical service packages to the above situations to demonstrate:

  • In the first example, Dave has an Exchange server that is problematic, complicated, and is something he can not afford to run.  If the Exchange server were to be replaced with Google Apps for Business, no on-site server would be needed.  He would still have all the same functionality, as well as 99.9% reliability and free technical support to cover any issues that may pop up—all for around $5/mailbox.  The yearly cost of a service like this could be less than one service call.  There are also some other hidden cost savings.  Google Apps mailboxes come with Docs– a replacement for MS Office.  This would mean that he will have to fork out the cash for Microsoft licenses, not to mention taking care of updates, program errors, etc.  Another savings is in utilities.  Since you won’t have a power-hungry server running 24/7, he’ll have lower electricity costs.  This makes Dave’s company more “green,” and finally gives him an excuse to stop driving that Prius that everyone keeps ridiculing him about.
  • In Sue’s case, she obtained the web presence she wanted for her company by having her site professionally developed.  However, if you purchase something, you should have the ability to do what you want with it when you want.  Complex and flashy websites might look nice, but all that glitz requires a lot of money to maintain.  A better solution could have been a site developed with built in editing tools.  We personally use a set of development tools called Concrete that does this job nicely.  If a change is needed, you simply log into your webpage, and you can edit content in much the same way you use a word processor.  Copy-paste-delete-insert…it takes minutes and there are no $100 “update fees.”  Also, make sure that the company hosting your website has a proper data center.  You don’t need your company’s Internet presence going down because your host had a broken sump pump or his cat chewed through a power cable.  A website created with built-in editing tools and hosting in a protected data center would have cost about half of what Sue paid, and she would have the freedom to post Fridays off on her site anytime she wants.

The most comforting thing with either solution is phone support is included with either pricing model.  You have your own IT staff to contact if something doesn’t work correctly.  Have a question?  Either myself or one of my colleagues are on hand to demonstrate features or fix cryptic error messages.  The worst part of my job is when a customer calls for help and I find that they have made a bad decision and backed themselves into an expensive wall.  Fortunately I have an arsenal of easy fixes to get your business back on track.  In the end, I’m happier providing something that I can actually help you with, and you’re happier because you feel in control of your business again…it’s a win/win situation.  All of it Prius, sump pump, and wire chewing cat free!