Stop DIY-ing Your Startup
DIY (do it yourself) startup building is an epidemic in startup culture that needs to stop. It is widely practiced by the majority of startup founders, resulting with immense financial and time losses, and often times with startups closing their doors in less than 5 years. One of the top reasons that startups fail is because they run out of the cash they need to continue operating their business. When you’re a DIY startup builder, achieving consistent revenue growth is an extreme challenge.
If you were to build a car from scratch without an official guide and random resources you found on the internet, chances are you’ll either spend 2-3x the time it would take an informed builder to build it, blow a lot of money or sanity on your mess-ups and do overs, or simply give up.
If the thought of building a car from scratch without a guide sounds difficult to you, then why doesn’t building a startup without a guide also sound difficult? It’s probably because there is an abundance of books, articles, videos, and other free resources on how to build a startup from scratch — this abundance of free information sends a false signal that building a startup is an easy step-by-step process, rather than sending the signal that there’s a lot of interest and demand for the knowledge.
Because of the accessibility of this information, the majority of startup founders start their entrepreneurial journey with DIY startup building. In my eyes, a DIY startup founder is someone who’s past the initial launch phase and commits any of the following actions on a weekly basis:
Spends a large chunk of his/her week on a lot of little administrative tasks (such as invoicing, answering emails, creating social media content, designing, updating the company’s website, and so much more) that do not directly contribute to their startup’s revenue or growth.
Wears multiple hats for their company by completing tasks in numerous departments. They’re the CFO, team cheerleader, marketing guru, sales lead, and customer service representative rolled in one.
They do not have a clearly defined long-term business plan or sales project/goal that they spend a solid portion of their week on.
If any of these bullet points resonate with you because they clearly call you out, you are DIY startup building right now. When you’re actively DIY startup building, it negatively impacts every single component of your business. Here are some of the key downsides of its presence:
Compounding Busy Work
When you’re DIY startup building, you are constantly busy! When you’ve self assigned yourself the role of multiple department heads, it’s no wonder that your day is constantly filled with busy work. Throw in the inevitable distraction, impromptu meeting, or last-minute client request and now you have a ton of busy work that continuously compounds and contributes to a never-ending list of to-do’s. Instead of spending your free time fostering a steady stream of sales leads, you now have a steady stream of busy work.
Solidifying Bad Habits
When you get into the habit of doing everything yourself, you adopt other bad habits such as using bandaids to close up gashes, repeating rather than systemizing, and ad-hoc execution. This perpetuates actions and behaviors that lead to your startup stagnating or seeing little progress after months have passed. You treat repeating scenarios and problems as if they warrant temporary solutions, and put your startup in a never-ending laundry cycle of solving the same problems over and over again.
Running low on financial runway for payroll? You beg your investors for more money or make budget cuts instead of investing in a sales system to prevent it from happening again. Have a batch of customers late on payment again? You breathe down their necks, hammering them with late payment emails rather than reassessing your client selection criteria and contract terms.
When you’re stuck in an endless cycle of busy work and bad habits, you end up treading water and prevent your startup from going anywhere new. When your time and energy is split in so many different directions, all of your efforts neglect to solidify into anything meaningful. If you desire to break through to new levels in your business, you simply won’t get there with minimal investment in growth and sales, and maximum investment in busy work and bad habits.
Stop DIY Startup Building
Navigating your business away from DIY startup building and towards a more polished, grown-up version of your startup requires proactive steps to lay new groundwork. Here are a few things you can do to get started:
Let Go Of How You Spend Your Time
When a startup founder builds his/her first company, they usually revolve their daily tasks and responsibilities around how they formed their workday at their past jobs. If a founder was a project manager in her past roles, she may structure her day around project management-related tasks, or a past social media manager may heavily structure his daily to-do list around marketing-related tasks.
For a lot of startup founders, these past job habits are the hardest to relinquish control of and to delegate to someone else. Or you may be role-agnostic and have the simple issue of wanting to do everything and anything that needs to be done. Whatever this hard-to-let-go activity is for you, whether it’s design, financial management, project management, or something else you love or are good at, if you always prioritize this activity over other revenue-generating activities like sales, you need to stop.
Although activities such as project management, social media, etc. are important, you have to remember that you were not hired to be your organization’s Social Media Manager or Project Manager. If you’re the founder of your company, your priority is getting money through the door first, and everything else on your to-do list should exist in descending order according to its direct impact to your company’s bottom line. If you’re not spending the majority of your day hitting your startup’s desired revenue or optimizing your startup’s ability to generate sales because you don’t want to, it’s time to find a new captain for your ship, or to abandon ship and to find the job you really want.
To put this step into action, open up a spreadsheet or word document and list every single task that you currently have to complete for the month and put a blank column next to each task.
Highlight the tasks that directly correlate to generating revenue for your business — a good rule of thumb when defining these tasks is to highlight all the tasks that are listed as a strategy in your marketing and sales plan. Once this is complete, put an “X” next to each task that only you can complete, like a sales call with a high-profile customer or the creation of a new product that houses your unique strategy.
Use this list as a reference document for your weekly to-dos, attack the tasks that have an “X” next to it first, and complete the “non-X” highlighted tasks only after the “X” tasks are done. If you have the budget for it, exporting your highlighted “non-X” tasks to a team of freelancers is ideal.
Streamline and Simplify
If you conduct the majority of your business’ activities online, it’s very likely that you can streamline and systematize a huge chunk of your daily, repetitive tasks.
Do you set up a lot of client meetings via e-mail? Sign up for a free online meeting scheduler like Calendly where you can send a link to clients and they can set a time to meet with you that’s best for both of your schedules.
Do you have invoices, emails, contracts, and questionnaires that you need sent to customers? Template all of these and upload them to a platform like Dubsado, where all of your repetitive documents are customized with your client’s name and contact information and sent directly to your clients for signatures, questionnaire answers, and more.
Do you have repetitive outreach tasks where you need to alert your copyeditor, designer, or assistant of a new assignment? Create an Asana board with columns named “Need Copyediting” or “Need Design Work” or “Need Assistance” and drop the project details into that column and your freelancer can be immediately alerted and quickly respond to your project inquiry without you having to draw up an email.
The importance of these seemingly small streamlines is that it simplifies small delegation tasks so that you actually do them, and so that it expends the least amount of your energy. With so many distractions on our computers and our daily lives, a simple diversion is no longer a short diversion — a UC Irvine study found that it takes 23 minutes for the average worker to refocus after an interruption, and that the average workers switches tasks at every 3 minutes.
If you’re a DIY startup builder, it’s likely that you’re switching tasks constantly because of your large to-do list. Use modern technology and systems to minimize task switching and time spent on small tasks so that you can focus on what matters most for your business.
Ask For Help
There are so many workshops, programs, and coaches that specialize in helping entrepreneurs reorganize their businesses for optimal efficiency. Find the help you need with the format and teacher that resonates for you and get serious about optimizing your startup — if you don’t address it, your DIY startup building habits will follow you and keep you in a never-ending cycle of stress, negative cash flow, and stagnancy regardless of if you’re a $10,000 or a $1 million dollar business.
Tired of DIY startup building? Summit, our 3-month incubator program helps you build a startup that doesn’t take you prisoner of your daily to-do list. Get a free sample of an exercise from Summit here.