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I recently read an article entitled “Why I don’t ‘do free’” in which the author, who is a prominent strategic sales leader, tells the story of him and a friend who tried cutting costs by deciding to do a simple tiling job themselves and how this turned into a disastrous and eventually costly exercise.

This article has made me think about a mistake that I have also made in business and in my personal life: going for a cheaper option at first rather than calling upon professional advice and service from the outset, and having to pay the price for it later. Our business once had to do a low-budget extension project which would have cost the client much more had we used a professional sub-contractor on a sub-project, but because of the client’s limited budget we were forced to use our own general teams to do the work. Because of the lack of specific trade skills, we eventually took three times as long as it would have taken a professional to complete the sub-project. Lesson learnt? The risks of going with the cheaper option far outweigh the perceived short-term benefits. What are these risks? Let me name a few:

·         Inferior product. With all the best intentions in the world, someone without the right skills may leave you with an inferior result. Have you ever tried fixing something as simple as a broken window at your house yourself? Can you remember how that turned out? The reason you had trouble getting that putty straight the first time or perhaps many more times after that is because this is not what you do every day; it is not part of your honed skills set. You will probably never get it as perfect as the professional installer would have, no matter how hard or how many times you try.

·         Time lost. Let’s talk renovation projects. Like all projects, these have a start date, a middle part and an end date. More often than not, the latter date is very important, if not only for practical reasons, then also for sanity ones. If you use someone whose trade it is, and who has the right tools for the job, then it all goes more quickly and your chances of attaining that targeted end date are that much bigger.

·         Ballooning cost. In renovations, time is money. Back to the example I used earlier of our sub-project: We did finish eventually, and the result was good, but because it had taken us so long, it cost us many more labour days, and the project came to a loss.

So when next you next consider a renovation project and someone convinces you to use his general worker or “someone he knows”, or you think about picking up someone from the street who advertises himself as skilled in the trade you are looking for, think again. Consider the following:

1.      Untested skills. Just because someone says he is a plumber, it does not necessarily make him one. Remember in our country people are hungry and unemployed, and many will do anything for a few Rand.

2.      Reliability. Because you don’t know the person, you also don’t know whether he is reliable and whether he can be trusted on your property.

3.      Lack of tools and equipment. A “tiler” who stands at the entrance of the tiling retailer may have a tile cutter, but what about a grinding machine or the extension cord to reach the bathroom? What about the ladder, or sponges, or tile spacers, or bucket to mix his tile cement in? The fact is, you will probably have to sacrifice some of your personal belongings or have no choice but to purchase some goods for him to use. Also remember all the trouble you could have in managing the project and the tradesman himself, like transport and other issues.

4.      Risk. If something goes wrong during or after the project, who is accountable? If you used the street tradesman, where will you ever find him again? The risk of not using professionals with a sense of accountability is great and can be very costly.