This morning, my husband and I were discussing the fact that when you embark on a project, it almost invariably takes longer than you think it will, unless you have already done that particular type of project before. We were talking about it in the context of construction, but it applies to business projects too. There is no substitute for experience.
You can watch all the home improvement programs and read all the home improvement books you want, but until you get in there and do the project yourself, you won't know all the "gotchas" you will encounter.
A case in point would be my Endless Bathroom Refurbishment project. A few weeks ago, I decided that I couldn't stand to look at the paint peeling off the ceiling of our upstairs shower anymore. The peeling paint, mold and mildew were giving our bathroom that "tenement feel," as my father would say.
My plan was to scrape off the old paint and put on some new "bathroom paint" that would resist moisture and condensation better than the old cheapie paint. Plus, I planned to recaulk the bathtub, which was gross. It was supposed to be one of those "quick weekend projects" like you see on TV. Now, two weeks later, it is finally done. Here's how a "little project" metamorphosizes into a big project.
I read about the "right way" to paint a ceiling that needs to withstand a lot of moisture. You scrape and sand all the old stuff off, de-mold and de-mildew everything, put on a noxious super primer like Kilz, and then repaint with paint designed for bathrooms.
Setback 1: Wrong or Insufficient Supplies
I dutifully headed off to the gigantic home improvement store. Big box stores kind of make me brain dead anyway and there was a snafu with the paint mixer machines, which caused consternation among the paint department personnel. One machine was broken and I couldn't get the paint that matched our bathroom in just a quart size. I had to buy a gallon. If course, amid all the paint mixing excitement I forgot to buy a new tub grout.
After I got back, I scraped and sanded and de-caulked and de-mildewed the bathroom. I put joint compound in all the most awful holes, including a corner that had actually rusted through the metal support. I cut it all out, filled, and patched. I used a Dremel tool to chop and strip the metal and a stripping wheel that attaches to a drill to get the most egregious paint off the ceiling. (Holding a drill over my head for hours was unpleasant; my triceps got a workout and I got 7,000 paint chips in my hair.)
The next day, I read the instructions on the can of Kilz primer I bought. Because I got the "odorless" version, it turned out to be the wrong primer. It said that it shouldn't be used in mildew-prone places. (I thought the whole point of Kilz was that it killed stuff; but no, not THAT one!) Since I didn't want to drive back to the Big Box Store, I read my Kitchen and Bath paint and it said it is good for mildew prone areas, so I opted to do extra coats of that instead.
Setback 2: Unplanned Project Expansion
Because I had to buy a gallon of the Kitchen and Bath paint, I had extra. So instead of painting just the shower ceiling, I decided to clean the rest of bathroom and paint it too.
Many hours of painting later, I thought I was done.
I was wrong.
Setback 3: Unexpected Results
The next day, I removed all the tape and extraneous junk from the bathroom and came to the disturbing conclusion that the paint was not going to work on the ceiling. There were already some tiny cracks in the paint.
I took a day to pout and ponder really outrageous solutions like tiling the whole stupid shower. The good news was that the rest of the bathroom paint looked good (except the shower ceiling). The bad news is that we were faced with more time showering in our teeny weenie downstairs shower while I figured out what to do. In addition to being an infinitesimal shower stall, its low-flow showerhead is so low-flow that it's like trying to wash in a spring drizzle.
As it turned out, the old paint, which I could not get all off with any amount of scraping and sanding, formed some odd chemical bond with the new paint. After my pouting was complete, I spent some quality time peeling off great strips of paint from the ceiling. The bond acted like a paint stripper and took the ceiling down to the original horrible yellow primer. Every day at lunch for a week, I scraped and sanded.
Setback 4: More Research Time Required
Since I was effectively starting over, it was time for more research. I discovered that the Big Box Store is one of the distributors for these plastic panels:
The panels seemed like a good solution to the moisture problem.
Setback 5: More Supplies and Different Techniques Required
After deciding on the new approach, I went back to the Big Box Store with the truck and my spouse to get new supplies. We wandered all over the store looking for the right "FRP panel adhesive." I had NO idea there were so many types of adhesives. Pretty much every department has a rack of them and they are all different.
The spouse did the "measure twice; cut once" routine on the plastic and I did some caulking around the tub. As it turned out, I needed more caulk since now I also had to caulk around the ceiling. I did two layers of caulking because of the gigantic gaps between the shower surround and the bathtub. My first efforts were less than pretty.
Then we had the big glue episode, which included a few mildly disturbing moments when we thought we might drop the panel and/or royally goof it up (the shower ceiling and thus the panel is 70" wide and about 36" deep). As it turns out, a big piece of plastic covered with glue is heavy and unwieldy. But we got it up there and so far the plastic hasn't fallen off. Also in somewhat surprising news (dare I say it?!) it actually looks good.
So you might be wondering how does all this relate to business? As a veteran of many Web and book publishing projects, I've seen people make mistakes that cause setbacks for each of the five areas we experienced with the Endless Bathroom Remodel.
If you don't have experience with a project, you are likely to purchase the wrong tools. For example, people buy Front Page and then regret it, so they go back and buy Dreamweaver. You also will have many "learning experiences" when things don't work like they are "supposed to." Watch anyone using any Adobe product and you'll see what I mean. At some point, you may also need to go back to the drawing board and revisit your goals and plans. You undoubtedly also will incur unexpected costs.
However, if you are a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, at the end of the project, you will be rewarded with knowledge. And for financial reasons many bootstrapping entrepreneurs have no choice but to take the do-it-yourself approach. Sure my first Web sites and books have issues that I fixed in later iterations, but I've taken that experience and moved forward.
You really do learn from your mistakes. If you never do anything yourself, you never learn. Although outsourcing is great, I have found that it is good to have some knowledge about what you are outsourcing. You appreciate the person doing the work far more and you are better able to evaluate the finished product.
I'm also now really good at caulking.