This is the first post in a series on “In-house or Outsource?”.

I am the consummate do-it-yourselfer. Given the option, I usually prefer to take care of things personally, and have an impressive collection of power tools, kitchen equipment, and crafting gear to help me. Sometimes it saves a little money, sometimes I learn a new skill, and I always get a sense of accomplishment and pride.

As an entrepreneur, I’m prone to approaching business tasks the same way. But I also know it’s a little more complicated with business. My time is best spent on the tasks to which I bring skillful expertise, and I’m often better off hiring an outside service for the rest, allowing me to focus on what I do best.

Although it looks a little different for solo entrepreneurs, small businesses, or enterprises, this same challenge impacts every size of business in its way: What do we manage in-house and what do we outsource to service vendors?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “in-house” is the cheaper option, or even equates to “free.” But we shouldn’t ignore the trade-offs. When we use internal resources for tasks outside our professional focus, we risk visible or hidden labor costs, distraction from other priorities, and lower-quality results.

On the other hand, there are times when it makes total sense to manage an activity entirely within your own team:

When it’s your core competency

Digital agencies build their own websites, illustrators design their own logos, and copywriters create their own content. Not only does it make sense to utilize your own professional skills, you are representing your work quality to potential clients.

When you want to build out a new capability

Maybe you’ve always used a creative agency for all of your marketing, but you’re growing big enough to need a marketing team. Or you now have enough visual design needs to justify building an internal design department. If you’re ready to make a long-term investment and recruit qualified talent and leadership, this is a natural phase of business growth.

When budget is locked up in payroll

If you’re in a temporary downturn, you may be cutting discretionary spending to the bone while doing all you can to keep employees on. This can be an opportunity to have your staff take on new responsibilities and perhaps learn new skills. Not only can it boost morale, it could help you be better prepared for when business turns around.

When you have no time

We don’t always get the lead time we would like. If you need something done yesterday, you might just not have the time to find a vendor or make arrangements for a new project. This may be the time to just jump in and take care of it yourself.

When your internal voice matters

Sometimes it’s hard for outsiders to authentically represent a brand or fully grasp a business model. Outsourced blogging, social media, and speechwriting can feel inauthentic. Product marketing and customer support are best kept in-house close to those who understand your business best.

When you have the expertise in-house

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have someone on the team with a needed skill, perhaps completely outside their day job. You need executive headshots, and you discover you have a portrait photographer in engineering. Or you are preparing for your first open house and realize you have a former event-planner on staff.

It can be serendipitous. But it can also be especially risky. Because just because someone has done something similar doesn’t mean they are the equivalent of hiring a pro.

In my next post in this series, I’ll dive deeper into what to look for when assessing your in-house team as an alternative to outsourcing.

This is the first post in the “In-house or Outsource?” series.

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