Lessons From a New Toilet

After months of annoyance and clueless plumbers, I bit the bullet yesterday.  I went down to the local home improvement mega-store and bought a new toilet.  And then I came home and helped my wife install it.  It took about 15 minutes (for this I would have paid $200 to a plumber?!), and the new one works like a charm.  (I’ll leave the details up to your imagination.)  And therein lies a crucial business lesson…

When to Outsource and When to Do It Yourself

I’m telling you the story of my new toilet because I’m extremely proud of myself, obviously. I come from a long line of men who couldn’t tell Phillips head from Philips Andover.

Also, because this story raises an issue critical to everyone’s success: what to outsource and what to do yourself.

I assumed that plumbing was going to be one of those things I was destined to outsource forever.  I mean, those big wrenches and the gunk in the pipes… Not to mention the acetylene torches and the solder.

The only thing in my favor – there was no vocabulary hurdle.  Usually when I go to the hardware store I have to say something like, “I need one of those metal curvy things with the little, you know, bumps on the smooth edge and four sharp protrudey, well, they look like nail files but they’re pointier, and…” And then the sixteen year old girl at the register says without looking up, “Aisle 7A, it’s called a multi-flange gyro-shearing control.”

At least I knew the word for “toilet.”

And when I looked at the economics and when I discovered what the job of replacing a toilet actually entailed, doing it myself (by this I mean watching my wife do it and handing her tools, of course) started to make sense.

All entrepreneurs, managers, and sales professionals have ample opportunity to do tasks they shouldn’t be doing.  Often we do them because we’re comfortable with them, or because we’re procrastinating the more different tasks.

There’s nothing wrong with doing it yourself, as long as you face facts and make a conscious decision.  I’m here not to judge, but to empower.  Here are three criteria for whether you should do the job yourself:

1. Economic

Is it worth your time to do it yourself?  Figure it out this way:

How much money do you want to make this year?  How many hours do you want to work?  How much do you need to earn per hour to reach your target?

How much would you pay someone else to do the task you’re considering doing?  If it’s less than your target hourly wage, outsource. (Thanks to Jonathan Mizel for explaining this gem to me.)

2. Enjoyment

Do you like doing it?  Does it give you pleasure?  Does it make you feel like a complete person, rather than a one-dimensional character? I clean my own home office, rather than hiring a cleaning service, not for any material cost-benefit reason, but because I enjoy the way it feels to dust and vacuum and find really big checks behind the file cabinet.

3. Responsibility

Some tasks are just your responsibility.  In business, two big ones that come to mind are control of finances and marketing.

If you don’t have oversight of the spending in your control, someone someday is going to make you sorry.  It may be by mistake or on purpose, but it’s going to happen.

You’ve got to be in charge of your marketing. You can get help from professionals, but you can’t let them dictate your message and tone. Huge impersonal corporations hire advertising firms who create irrelevant fiction (yeah, right, you care about me!).  You have to be real. It’s your business (whether owner or salesperson).  It’s your passion.  It’s your responsibility to tell your story the way only you can.

The Punch Line

I hope my toilet story inspires you to take a look at your work habits.  Make conscious decisions about what to do and what to outsource, and you too may be flushed with pride.


Delegating work works, provided the one delegating works, too.
– Robert Half

It’s not enough to be busy. The question is: What are we busy about?
– Henry David Thoreau

It is those who make the worst use of their time who most complain of its shortness.
– Jean de la Bruyere

Hard work is often the easy work you did not do at the proper time.
– Bernard Meltzer

Marketing Motivators on Outsourcing

1. Figure out the average hourly wage you need to hit your annual earning target.  Desired annual income divided by # of hours you want to work in a year = target hourly wage.  Find three tasks that regularly take up your time that fall below this threshold.  Whatcha gonna do?

2. Identify at least one business-related task that you do because it feeds your soul and not your pocketbook.  What does that tell you about yourself?  What helps you rejuvenate or relax?

3. Do one thing to increase your marketing or financial acumen.  Read a book, visit a web site, sign up for a seminar, or schedule lunch with a mentor.  It’s your business!  Own it!

Bonus Quotes

A child of five could understand this.  Somebody get me a child of five.
– Groucho Marx

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
– Steven Wright

Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.
– Douglas Adams

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