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Thread: Business of Woodworking sub forum?

  1. #1

    Business of Woodworking sub forum?

    I know that statistically most here are likely hobbyists and not woodworking for a living (smarter than me ) but certainly I’m not the only one here that’s thought there could be some value in a sub forum that focuses more on the in and outs of the business of professional woodworking, all its pitfalls and traps, and the potential rewards of such pursuits.

    I have done plenty of reading over the years at WoodWeb, which can be a great resource, but it’s not that active compared to this place.

    Has this come up before and been shot down for a good reason?
    Still waters run deep.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Location
    NH seacoast
    Posts
    270
    Good morning Phillip,
    As you know, I am a finish carpenter who has transitioned into cabinet making. Started banging nails and my left thumb in 1982. However, I could not sell bananas to a monkey. Align yourself with someone who can find and sell work to well heeled folks. Then stay in the shop and do what you are passionate about and listen to music.

  3. #3
    Dan,

    Good to hear from you. There are certainly many days that I feel that way and some others where I feel more successful selling bananas to monkeys, but it’s definitely the biggest hurdle for me personally. I’m introverted and love being in the shop, making sawdust, plugged into my music so I can completely relate. I also love interacting one on one with clients, getting to know them and what they want and being able to give them exactly what they want (or what I help guide them towards in some cases.) I really have a hard time selling and marketing in an aggressive way.

    I, like many woodworkers I’m sure, simply want the quality of the work to speak for itself and in turn bring in more work, which is does to a point, but often times this is not enough by itself. I have a website, I participate in social media to let folks know what I’m doing, and am always trying to make local connections with others I run into in the field, but I’ve yet to really find a consistent alliance with someone else in the field that sells something close to what I build. I think part of it is the local market I’m in having a dominant specific design aesthetic that I don’t typically align with, combined with a somewhat saturated market of woodworkers that already do that type of work and limited visibility on my part in other markets further afield, though there have been small steps and successes in that direction.

    I have mixed professional woodworking with carpentry / timber framing / project mgmt over the years out of necessity to provide a stable income for my family and am more than ready to position into more woodworking and less carpentry.

    Im trying to find the balance between the number one rule in business of have a product/service that people actually value and want and creating a demand and value for the type of “creative” work that I already do and have had smaller, less consistent success with. I’m stubborn and want to actually enjoy and like some of the work that I build and not just only build arbitrarily just to build. I know it’s conflicted and somewhat unrealistic and of course will do what I must to feed the family, but am constantly pushing to find a more balanced path forward that has some creative satisfaction.

    Anybody been down this road and back again and cares to share, I’m all ears.
    Last edited by Phillip Mitchell; 02-26-2021 at 7:21 AM.
    Still waters run deep.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Hayes, Virginia
    Posts
    13,940
    I don't think that anyone has ever asked about a forum for professional woodworkers but we will consider it internally.

    Marketing is the key to success in any business IMO. It also helps to have a unique product line that reduces your competition.

  5. #5
    I will offer my experience such as it is. I started carpentry working summers for my father, then realized after four years as Joe College I wanted to be a woodworker. Worked a couple years in several small shops and decided like many half-formed cabinetmakers that I was ready to strike out on my own. Moved to VT, by chance fell into work with an upper crunch contractor. Built my own house and shop, waited for the phone to ring, kept busy and learned the trade the hard way. I still struggle with pricing, and in those early days I made peanuts but I did at least develop a reputation for quality work.

    I was able to keep afloat with the help of my frugal, hardworking wife- you would laugh at our combined incomes back 25 years ago but we were surviving, raising two sons, living in an unfinished house and slowly improving the shop.

    My wife had been working at the local school while getting involved with refugee work, and when she decided to follow her passion and volunteer full time I decided to throw in the towel and take a "real" job.

    I wound up working for a local custom design-build residential contracting outfit, which turned out to be a good thing in several ways. I was making good wages, had the cameraderie and opportunity to learn from a talented group of colleagues at a time when my adolescent children were making home life hell, and got to observe one way a successful business can be run. The show grew from about 20 people 20 years ago to maybe 50 today. They have a design group that regularly wins AIA awards and a couple of principals who locate, woo and massage the upscale clientele. They have ins with real estate people and stay on top of potential projects to keep the work flowing. Aside from a dry spell in 2009 they have kept busy with challenging projects as long as I have known them. The woodshop has a bit of a struggle to keep work steady by bringing in outside work to balance the in-house construction cycle, but that seems to be the nature of a "captive" shop.

    When my health took a wrong turn I decided to go back on my own for whatever time I have left in the field. I am no better at the business side of things than before but I have a different perspective. I I am more choosy about the jobs I take and as one guy put it "For fun or profit, nothing else".

    What have I learned? It's about relationships and delivering quality work. Get to know the people who want what you can do, which these days includes social media as well as old-fashioned schmoozing. Do it the best you can, keep making it better and let people know about it. Manage the clients' expectations and stay on top of the money. Hire the best you can get and don't be afraid to fire the ones who aren't working out. If you are managing, keep a sharp eye on what goes out of the shop. Always be marketing. And don't expect to get rich. As the saying goes, "If you want to make a small fortune in woodworking, start with a large one."

  6. #6
    Thanks for the reply, Keith.

    I agree that marketing is key. Marketing can loosely encompass a lot of things and be a lot more than traditional advertising. I guess part of my quest in business is to find ways to market myself (or have someone else do it!) that feels authentic and represents my “brand” and at the same time reaches the folks who can actually afford and want the work that I do. There are so many ways online these days for potential customers to find businesses, but the flip side of that coin is that anyone and everyone is out there and “in competition” and there is just so much information and options.

    My main intention for starting this thread wasn’t actually to start a therapy session for my business struggles (though I welcome advice) but more to start a conversation about the likelihood / mutual desire for a sub forum to exist to go deeper into these topics. Thanks again.
    Still waters run deep.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Western Nebraska
    Posts
    4,145
    Hi Phillip, I've been there to a degree. Curious what you build? Probably slightly different goals, but faced/facing the same type of issues here too. All of us in business are really. When you said you want the quality of the work to speak for itself, I hear you are proud of the quality of work you do, and you believe it is better than the competition, yes? You are probably right and it will sell itself, however...

    The biggest obstacle to selling is getting noticed. How many people really see your work? 100 followers on social media, half of which are probably relatives who would expect a highly discounted rate if they commissioned something? Love them, but that's the way my company's FB friends demographics look. The customers you want likely don't even use FB, because face it, who with disposable income is hanging out there? Yes, it can generate leads but you need a LOT of views there to get one actionable lead. I personally love the analytics that the various web based advertising options can give. I get feedback from our company website (wix), FB, and a couple local news/radio stations that I use. More importantly, when I get a call, I ask a few questions as to how they heard about us. Put that all together and you can get a pic of how customers find us. Turns out that for us, our pretty website generates sales leads, FB generates clicks to the website, one of the local new outlets is a waste of money, and the other develops nearly the same # of click throughs to the site as FB. The biggest lead generator though is word of mouth or if someone notices us working somewhere. We had a 100' crane towering above a jobsite a couple months ago, best advertising ever. Sold half a years worth of builds just from curious people figuring out who we were.

    My point is, it's all about the sales, and there is no one way to generate them, you have to get in frond of lots of different demographics. I am the companies sales team and I have personally come to really enjoy that role. Didn't at first, thought I'd just hang the business card in a few places, start small and word of mouth would keep me busy. Dang near starved. You have to sell, sell, sell. Never stop selling. The answer to my question earlier in my case was yes I expected the quality of work to sell itself. It did, problem was very few people actually knew about it, I saturated that market very quickly, and didn't figure out that I had a sales scope problem util I didn't have new work to do. We're booked years out now, but there were some bleak times to begin with. One bit of advice, if you want to focus on a certain thing, like built-ins or cabinets or whatever, team up with the best home builder in your area, and never say no when they ask you to build some crazy project. You will find that what you want to build, and what the customers want to buy are usually two different things.

    I like the idea of a business subforum, but sometimes those are where subjects go to die. Good luck in your venture!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    Posts
    56,588
    I would be supportive of a defined area for business practice discussion. I would hope, however, that discussion of woodworking techniques, tools, etc., would still be posted in the relevant existing forum areas because everyone benefits from that.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Location
    Mt Pleasant SC
    Posts
    708
    When I started my inspection business I underestimated the difficulty of getting agents to send you customers. There were only a handful of inspectors with websites so I used my downtime to build a website and put a listing on every site for businesses to list. This took months but jobs started to come in. Then I realized that the more I did the more word of mouth worked. I had trouble getting agents to stay around because they hate good inspectors. Good in their book means ones that don’t find problems. Then later I realized that out of the approximate 5500 agents in my area their were only about 500 that cared about their buyers. I was able to get 10 of those and that plus the internet was plenty. So you have to get into the right circles. Even rich people are tight with their money and don’t appreciate a nice piece when it’s more than a furniture store. A piece that’s already built in their minds should be $400 instead of the 1500 you want. I’ve seen some extremely good woodworking websites so you need to look at 50 or more and see what they are showing because that is what is selling. Don’t forget to put a general woodworking ad on CL etc because I did that in my younger days and snagged ongoing commercial storefront work. I can’t call it furniture because it was mostly laminate. I’m such a bad salesman I even told the guy he could get it done cheaper. He said their stuff peels off, yours don’t.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    West Lafayette, IN
    Posts
    6,178
    Lots and lots of threads on here about starting a business. I had one for a year or two before we moved to a place where, basically, there are less rich people who can spend a couple grand on custom furniture.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Location
    Orwell, NY
    Posts
    538
    What has worked for me in starting my business has been having a market that is a niche of a niche, and products and materials that are small enough to be shipped easily. Also it has taken a lot of time, I started selling in 2004 and it wasn't till 2018 that I had enough income in a year from my business to live on. I don't know if a business subforum would be helpful, it seems like there are so many different kinds of businesses that there may be limited overlap among the different folks who would use it.

  12. #12
    Lots of guys here who are in the business of working wood. I guess a new forum could cover taxes and codes, but there might be some
    liability in those. I must add that everyone wants to do high-end. The title of “professional “ used by a tradesman is often heard as
    “bumpkin” by wealthy buyers . I don’t mind it ,but I probably won’t be buying much.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Northern Michigan
    Posts
    4,805
    I have been in the business for 30 years, am a pretty good salesman, fair woodworker, but a lousy businessman. Anything to do with paper frustrates me. Learning how some of you deal with that part would be of interest, especially as from what I have seen in the real world those with an artistic bent such as myself are very rarely good at paperwork. The woodwork is fun and easy, dealing with customers can be difficult, and government/insurance issues are no fun at all in my world.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Western Nebraska
    Posts
    4,145
    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce King View Post
    When I started my inspection business I underestimated the difficulty of getting agents to send you customers. There were only a handful of inspectors with websites so I used my downtime to build a website and put a listing on every site for businesses to list. This took months but jobs started to come in. Then I realized that the more I did the more word of mouth worked. I had trouble getting agents to stay around because they hate good inspectors. Good in their book means ones that don’t find problems. Then later I realized that out of the approximate 5500 agents in my area their were only about 500 that cared about their buyers. I was able to get 10 of those and that plus the internet was plenty. So you have to get into the right circles. Even rich people are tight with their money and don’t appreciate a nice piece when it’s more than a furniture store. A piece that’s already built in their minds should be $400 instead of the 1500 you want. I’ve seen some extremely good woodworking websites so you need to look at 50 or more and see what they are showing because that is what is selling. Don’t forget to put a general woodworking ad on CL etc because I did that in my younger days and snagged ongoing commercial storefront work. I can’t call it furniture because it was mostly laminate. I’m such a bad salesman I even told the guy he could get it done cheaper. He said their stuff peels off, yours don’t.
    In my opinion, rich people are harder to part from their money then "normal" people. They didn't get that way by spending!

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Rozmiarek View Post
    In my opinion, rich people are harder to part from their money then "normal" people. They didn't get that way by spending!
    Agree, ...if you are selling ‘ door to door’. I’ve found them to be spenders IF they see something better than what they already have.
    Ive loaded up some of them , and they loved it.

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