Taxes & business banking for the self-employed


Freelancers in need - DIY? Ask a friend? Or pay for the professional?

Last updated on Feb 21, 2020

Kate Bailey

Freelance Editor

Mar 25, 2019


Call the experts, I can’t deal with this!

We have all been here: something broke or has to be installed and immediately there are two or three people who are excited about discussing who can repair or install it now. Common sense says: a craftsman should take care of it.

Person A says, however, that a craftsman would like to take 240 EUR and that the handyman, would definitely do that for 100 EUR. Person B replies that the handyman is away, so let’s wait a few days and then give him a call.

A little later, B returns (A did not call a craftsman at this time and did not do anything else) and explained that the handyman had an appointment in six days and yes, he would do it for 100 EUR, but he could not guarantee anything, because he is not a specialist, he is actually something a generalist. If that still is alright, B asks and A agrees. A would call handyman again. A reaches handyman but for two hours, because he is stuck in the suspension railway and has forgotten his phone. Two hours later, when A and B even go through a couple of alternatives you finally reach the handyman and give him an order, which should of course be remunerated in cash and without invoice. Finally, the handyman is a friend of As and Bs.

Now, A and B have spent some time, in about two hours, arguing about whether handyman should do it or not. They have done nothing productive in the time. Assuming 12 EUR hourly wage (they work as a warehouse workers) this means an effective loss of 48 EUR plus any possible damage caused by A and B driven delays. It is also worth noting that unfortunately handyman did not have the skills it needed: he did not complete his task without errors, which caused the problem to recur six weeks later. The expert has then addressed this bigger issue - for 295 EUR. Ouch. In addition, A and B have made a mistake (undeclared work) and have also acted negligently (after all, the unprofessional work, in the end, was a security risk). Good that the boss of A and B knew nothing about it ... Three things can be deduced from this story: First, if you could be A or B, you should ask at least one truly competent acquaintance to complete tasks. If you can not find one on your network, then hire the professional. Second, talking about planning the next steps is almost always an effective money-burning process when there is a quick and easy solution. And thirdly, if you are more of a handyman in this story, you should not work so much below your price level. There is no reason why your friends and acquaintances should pay far too little for a service on your part because money stops friendship.

What about the cases when you can try to fix something on your own?

We are going to apply the same principles in action here. Of course, it could come across as too broad or not applicable but the fact is - you will need services of others as you conduct business, or you can indeed really upon yourself if you are savvy. Just remember, that still has a cost. If you think you can do it yourself, then do it. But get good at making sure you can differentiate here. If you realize that something is neither going to be good nor done in a timely manner, then delegate it.

The calculation is very simple: your hypothetical hourly rate x time spent in minutes = hypothetical costs. The more these hypothetical costs approach the real costs of a professional, the sooner you should assign them. However, two factors mean that there is an uncertainty: One is the lack of opportunity to always be able to assess everything correctly (you will learn this over time). And the second is personal pride. Sometimes you just want to do something yourself. But, as usual, pride should take a back seat. And maybe you cannot afford the services, but regardless, you could make a plan to afford them in the future - just remember the above factors. It is also worth considering: if a non-professional attempted to do your type of work, and did a half-good job, would you be fine with that fact they did it themselves? Sometimes there is no accounting for the work of an expert.


A network helps, and you should always have it in mind when building a business

There are certain contacts that you should definitely have. These depend on the type of work you do - but what is being suggested is a reliable, broad network of people whom you can call when you need assistance. In many cases, you can be of assistance back and this is where a little bit of the barter economy can come into use.

You can actively build and maintain these contacts over time. For example, using the craftsman's example, this means that you keep contacting a craftsman you were satisfied with, if there is something that occurs again. A lengthy relationship with service providers is trust-enhancing and can also be beneficial. Recommend the people you think are good also helps the people you like working with to stay in their field and keep working! It’s another economy in and of itself.

Of course, it may be good to let the acquaintance and relatives go first to do them a (financial) favour. But if something needs to be done for you - whether practical, technical or logistical - you'll always have to ask yourself how the best result can be achieved. Something not prepared properly is an even bigger risk that you could have had in the first place. Of course, money and time can be a problem: so prepare for these problems and have plans in place so you can choose which option really works for you.

As you can see, the question of when to do something on your own, when a friend or acquaintance is sufficient and when to consult a professional is above all a question of cost. However, in most cases it is definitely advisable to leave the matter to a (known) professional. Layman services can be well-meant, but in many cases are simply risky cost drivers. And then there are just things that you can not and can never do yourself.

And it is precisely this system that relies on providing each other with products and services that we live by. When something needs to be done, there is always someone who can do it. Nobody is on their own, whether professionally or privately. Almost nobody has to grow potatoes themselves anymore.