When You Should Own the Platform vs. Paying for a Service

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My favorite episode of Looney Toons is Baseball Bugs. Bugs Bunny is heckling the Gashouse Gorillas and when they hear him, they make him play every position against them. He makes the winning catch by taking a cab out of the ball part, all the way to the Statute of Liberty.

While this is a funny cartoon, it’s no way to run a business. Playing every position (owner, accountant, sales, customer service, etc) can take a lot out of you, and prevent you from properly growing your business. One role that should require heavy consideration is tech support: when it comes to using your own tool vs. paying for a service, what should you do?

Hiring More

A while back I started hiring more. I was strapped for time and had to keep the wheels on the truck. So I hired a video editor, a virtual assistant, and I outsource my graphic design work (to Design Pickle – more on them in a later post).

All of this came out of necessity. These people could do certain tasks better, and cheaper. Plus I needed to guard my time.

Saving Time with Services

With literal weeks worth of time back on my plate, I need to decide the best way to use it. This lead me to ask a question a few weeks ago:

See, I was faced with a problem: do I use bbPress/BuddyPress for my community, or do I give up some control and pay Circle $39/month to manage the community software for me. My friend Chris Lema had good insight, as usual:

Ask: What is the Opportunity Cost?

One of the economics lessons from high school that stuck with me was the idea of opportunity cost. What are you giving up to do X? If you go to that concert, you can’t also go to that party1.

So when it comes to owning the platform vs. paying for a service, you need to ask yourself: What could I be doing instead of rolling my own software that I also need to support?

Your Answer Could Differ Each Time

If you think that owning the platform provides more value than the hours you put into it (or the money you pay developers), then it’s worth owning the platform. But if your time can be better spent elsewhere, you should look into a service.

Using a Service

Ultimately, with the community software, I decided that Circle was the correct route. This has allowed me to focus on creating better content and spend time interacting with the community.

I was also able to launch faster and hedge my bets. If the community doesn’t work out, I might be out $100 instead of 25 dev hours (over $3,000 if billable) on a custom build.

The same goes for my accounting/invoicing software, mailing list software, and even services like Design Pickle. If I spent all of my time developing tools for the business, I’d have no time to do billable work. Plus, the tools I’m paying for do the job better than what I would make.

Owning the Platform

But let’s look at a different example: my online courses. With LearnDash, it makes the most sense for me to own the platform. I want to control the experience more, have better access to my users, and offer different memberships or course bundles that I wouldn’t be able to with something like Teachable.

The same goes for the Build Something Club. Building it on Restrict Content Pro made way more sense. I already have a website for my podcast, and adding the extra layer of access with RCP with a relatively easy task. And it’s much easier for me to add my own features in the future, without paying way too much in fees to Patreon or Memberful.

Those same carpenters aren’t going to hire a contractor to renovate their basement when they know they can do it better.

You Need to Consider Your Own Time Constraints

I often think about when I was a younger business owner and had more time. What if, instead of spending all of my time building my own plugins that ultimately went nowhere, I paid for services and spent more time working on my business.

It took two kids and a pandemic to get me to actually pull the trigger and hire more people to do thing I “felt” I could do myself. That change in thinking has also opened my eyes to the great services out that that save me tons of billable hours.

I think any serious business owner needs to make these considerations at some point. It’s less about being cheap and more about being smart with your time.

Work on your business, not in your business, as they say.

  1. Or as a parent, if I stay up late watching West Wing, I will get less sleep. ?

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