When does it pay you to pay someone else?

Have you ever tried to self-diagnose a medical ailment using Google? Well I am sad to say that I have made this very unfortunate mistake. I thought that I would save myself the inconvenience and cost of visiting the doctor by taking matters into my own hands. At the very least I would know as much as he would about the possible causes of my symptoms and I may even be able to offer some valuable insight as to what my diagnosis should be.

Before I began my research I generally felt ok (apart from my symptoms) but the more I researched the more concerned I became. Eventually I found myself in a state of panic as I learned I had only short time to live and I should go to the emergency room immediately as most of my symptoms lead to heart attacks, strokes and many other ailments that would require chronic medication for the rest of my life! I even began to experience new symptoms as a result of the panic that had now set in. I even found myself investigating new web sites about panic attacks!

My next few visits to the doctor involved me trying to convince him that I was about to die and him repeatedly reassuring me that I was completely healthy, which (after many months and tests) I finally came to accept.

I have since vowed to avoid self-treatment via the internet at all costs as I am clearly not equipped to interpret my symptoms correctly let alone prescribe treatment. The cost of the doctor really is worth it sometimes!

On the other hand I recall our company’s experience of rebranding a few years ago. We had a graphic designer on retainer who suggested we do a photo shoot in order to create some of our own images rather than purchasing stock images off the internet. We were a little shocked at the cost of  hiring the models, photographer and make-up artist for the day and I was sure we could do just as good a job if we took a couple of staff members down to the local photography studio ourselves at a fraction of the cost. Our designer’s response was “you will get what you pay for”.

When I showed him the pictures he was pleasantly surprised at what we had been able to achieve, however, he also began to point out the bags under our eyes, the way our collars turned up at the ends and many other fine details that made just about every shot unusable. There was only one shot that we could actually use – and we did! The entire job cost us a few hundred Rand instead of the twenty plus thousand we would have been in for.

After this we decided that we would hire professional models but use the same photographer in order to get a more professional result – and we did – at a fraction of the cost as a freelance photographer was very expensive. We therefore balanced the cost with the result and got a very good result at a reasonable price.

As South Africans we tend to have a reputation for taking matters into our own hands and making things happen, “ ‘ n boer maak ‘n plan” as they say! On what occasions then, if any, is it healthy to try and do things ourselves in order to save money and when should we be willing to pay the professionals?

Web Sites

For many people building a web site is a hobby, like mountain biking or playing guitar. This doesn’t qualify them to compete against Lance Armstrong or feature at the North Sea Jazz festival, they will be shown up for their lack of ability. Similarly having a keen interest in Web Design does not qualify you to build your own web site.

It is often very easy to spot when a web site has been built by an amateur. This is extremely undesirable as web sites are a critical part of your appearance and can shapes people’s perception very negatively. It would be like pitching up to work wearing an outfit you made yourself, that didn’t quite fit properly, looked tatty and was not very functional. Your client will judge you on this appearance, very negatively.

However, web designers can really take you for a ride. I was once quoted in excess of R50 000 for a web site which we had built by another designers (and were happy with) for R3500.

Do your homework with your web site. Find out what goes into them and don’t let web designers talk over your head with fancy terms like Search Engine Optimisation, ASP or Plug Ins. Talk to the best and most expensive designers you can find. Get them to tell you exactly why they would charge you so much. Then find a web designer you trust and can build a long term relationship with and get them to work towards achieving exactly the same result.

Salon Software

I often tell prospective clients that I would rather see them use a competitors system than write their own software. Whether I really mean this from the bottom of my heart is debatable but does not change the fact that they would be better off if they did.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the words “I have a friend who is a programmer and he is going to write something for me” and within two years we have sold them a system because their friend is either not their friend anymore or has moved overseas or no longer has the time to support the product.

Besides being a specialised skill, software development is a never ending process. Your needs today will not be the same in 6, 12 or 24 months, they will keep evolving and your software will need to do the same.

A system that is in the market place is being tested by many users with different needs and with different feedback, all in all making for a more stable and comprehensive system. It is also being financed by many people, which makes it more affordable and programmers are not cheap. If someone is going to do it for free then it will be another case of “you’ll get what you pay for”.


There are some jobs that professionals like accountants and lawyers should not do and in my opinion bookkeeping is a job that accountants should not do. In short an accountant is too expensive to be doing bookkeeping. Bookkeeping is something that should either be done internally or an admin person should be contracted to do it and then hand it over to the accountant to check it and prepare financial statements.

Talk to your accountant and learn what they need from you, then find the cheapest way to achieve this without comprising the quality of the end result.

Tax Returns

Monthly PAYE and bi-monthly VAT returns are other functions that, in my opinion, should be done internally or by and admin person. However, do the first few with your accountant so that they ensure that everything is set up correctly so that you get it right going forward.

Doing your PAYE reconciliations on a bi-annual basis, however, is a little more complicated and you should let your accountant do this. The same applies to your company’s annual tax return, which will require direct input from your annual financial statements.

Try to spend any possible opportunity with your accountant when they do work for you so that you can learn what they do. This knowledge is invaluable and will assist you in the future, especially if you ever need to change accountants.


When deciding whether to take on a task yourself work out what it would cost to pay a professional to do the job for you. Then work out how many hours of your own time you would need to give up in order to do the job yourself. If you can do the same job or better at less of a cost (by giving up your own billable hours) then it makes sense for you to have a go. However, if you can’t do a better job nor do it at less of a cost then it is a simple business decision to let the professionals do it.

Working with professionals and doing as much as you can before handing over to them is the best compromise as it saves you some money but ensures a best result.

If you have a brother, boyfriend, girlfriend, client or friend of a friend that says that can do the work for you be careful because it may end up costing you more in the long run and it is very difficult to hold personal acquaintances accountable the same you would a stranger. Try and avoid a trade exchange at all costs, i.e. you cut offer free treatments while they build your web site as the waters get muddied very quickly as to the value that is being exchanged  and more often than not it does not last.