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Starting a Woodworking Business #8: solitude

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Blog entry by Sam Yerardi posted 1773 days ago 1512 reads 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: Internet seminar Part 8 of Starting a Woodworking Business series Part 9: My first refinishing job »

Well, I’m still at it. I’ve almost finished another item to go on my webpage when it is done. My webpage is still under construction, so there’s nothing on there yet. I have to admit it feels strange getting up every morning and walking out into the solitude of the shop. I thoroughly enjoy it, and I don’t miss meetings after endless meetings… still I am apprehensive about my insurance in the long run, as everyone else is. I’d like to hear from you guys that are on your own what you do for medical insurance. I have coverage for quite a while but it won’t last forever. I’m looking at Cobra but my wife (who is in medical insurance) says it is going to be really expensive for us. My wife has coverage through the hospital where she works, but it doesn’t pay as much as mine did. I am slowly learning to do more with less, and coordinate my trips to the store, etc. for materials. Things we took for granted like going out to eat now get a second look. It is sobering…

So far I have had some quotes on jobs but nothing has materialized yet. A friend wants me to work on his 4-season room, and refinish his dining room chairs. In addition to working on my house, I have been focusing primarily on my production items, and it is becoming more and more obvious that that is where I will spend most of my time. I will take on small remodeling jobs to bring in money but until I see which way the balance is tipping I will concentrate on building the first items of sale.

I am multitasking between business, the craft, and looking for work so I have had plenty of late nights. I suppose that is everyone’s dilemma in this business as well…

STILL LOVE IT

-- Sam



23 comments so far

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8773 posts in 2732 days


#1 posted 1773 days ago

If you can last for a while, start making exactly what it is you want to be known for. If you start remodeling, that is what you will be known for and you will be stuck in it.

If you want to make Greene & Greene side tables (or whatever), then make some and start marketing them.

If you take on remodel, that is what you will be known for. If you think “I’ll just take this one roofing job” then the neighbors will all start asking you to bid their roof.

You have a golden opportunity to directly shape an mold the public’s image of what you do. Do not miss out on this chance. Once you start sailing your ship you will find that it is difficult to change direction because you have set the public’s perception of what you do.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View jlsmith5963's profile

jlsmith5963

297 posts in 1981 days


#2 posted 1773 days ago

While I can certainly understand Todd’s point I would add a ‘on the other hand’ to it. When working for yourself you have the ability to control your public image as well. I have been in business for myself for just under 20 years. In that time I have had many different public ‘faces’, several at the same time to different market segments. For example while many of my woodworking clients know I am also an architect, they don’t know that I also do technical illustrations for the publishing industry and I don’t believe any of the publishers I work with know that I do woodworking but they do know I am an architect. I also do a lot of training and customizing for CAD users and these clients only vaguely know I do anything other than being some sort of a CAD ‘guru’ to them (lol). Obviously, this doesn’t work for every type of service. For instance Todd’s roofing example seem to me would require a crew and an admin overhead structure that the work I do doesn’t and therefore would require more commitment of resources to produce a profit. So again while I think Todd’s point is well taken it doesn’t describe the only way just one of the ways.

As to health insurance it is difficult to say anything useful without knowing your particular medical history (I am not asking you to reveal it). The restrictions placed on pre-existing conditions is highly determinative on your ability to acquire health insurance but I will suggest you look into the Health Savings Account program that is available to the self-employed which allows you to set aside pretax dollars for medical expenses. I was an early enroller (back when they were called MSAs) and have found HSAs to have a real economical benefit to me.

Hope this helps.

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2528 days


#3 posted 1773 days ago

Thanks guys!

Todd: I have been thinking for some time that I shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. I’m learning my real strengths are in designing and making G&G items. Everyone that has been looking at my items tells me that is what I should focus on and not trying to bid on a dry-wall job, for example, because it is taking time away from the crafts side of what I really love doing. The Greene & Greene items are what I am going to market, so that is where I am putting my focus. Especially when I’m doing lamps because the stained glass work takes a considerable amount of time. I’ve spent the past 2 weeks just working on the protoype design/build of a G&G-style chandelier that has a not-insignificant amount of stained glass work (I’ll post some pics soon), and if I am fortunate to sell these items I’m not sure if I will have time to devote away from it. Thanks for the suggestion!

jlsmith:
Your comment about overhead really caught my eye… that is a very good point. I take it to mean that if I open the door to certain types of remodeling work, I may inadvertently create the need for overhead that otherwise might not be needed, which could end up forcing me business-wise in a direction I definitely don’t want to go in. And thanks for the info on the insurance. I will look into it!

-- Sam

View Beginningwoodworker's profile

Beginningwoodworker

13337 posts in 2306 days


#4 posted 1773 days ago

I hope you all the sucess, Sam.

-- CJIII Future cabinetmaker

View huff's profile

huff

2800 posts in 1918 days


#5 posted 1773 days ago

Sam, I think Todd makes a solid point. Be careful what you get known for. Its OK to be versitile, but stay focussed on what you want to be known for. That also goes for pricing. Big mistake a lot of woodworkers make in the beginning is they under price their work to get “their foot in the door”. Designer’s, contractors and a lot of people love to hear you say that and they will promise you more work then you will know what to do with if you just do that first job at a great price. Once you start giving your work away, it’s hard to raise your prices to where it should be. It’s hard enough to keep up with times without starting in a hole….. and it’s real easy to sell when you’re giving it away. If you’re not losing 20-25 percent of your bids because they think you are too high, then your prices are too low. Whenever I sell a commisioned piece and the sale went really easy, as soon as I leave, I ask myself; I wonder how much money I left on the table? It’s something you should always think about. Selling our work is exactly that, It’s selling and can be very hard at times.
Good luck your new business and keep us posted.

-- John @ http://www.thehuffordfurnituregroup.com

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8773 posts in 2732 days


#6 posted 1773 days ago

The other guy’s input really helps give a well rounded perspective.

My roofing example was a bit extreme but very valid because it happened to me early in my career.

I started out in remodel and I have created a monster that I have to keep throwing meat at or it will eat me alive. I have created a situation that requires a certain amount of overhead and I need to continue functioning at that level. This is a bit of a point backed by what jlsmith5963 states.

Remodeling will take all of your time. This is the mode of operation as a remodeler; you are working on a job and you have one on deck to start. You have a small, flexible filler project still waiting for an opening, you are taking calls while you are working because you have to take the call to make the initial contact, but you can tell them that you will take their number and call them back. Letting it go to voicemail will be cause for lost opportunities. You have a potential job to go look at after work and you have two or three bids that you need to get done and you still have to go sell a bid that you finished up. And the bids don’t mean that you have the work.

With all of that going on, how are you going to make furniture on spec? Make some pieces that represent your the way that you want to be seen RIGHT NOW. Then you can fall back to make some side money on home repair and remodel. Telling people how great your furniture is does not compare to showing them. If you remodel you will not build the furniture portfolio or it will be very difficult.

I do a lot of work that I don’t share. Why? Because it would be work that should be seen over at HomeRefurbers. I could have a full time presence over there too with the work that I do. But what I share here is my deepest passion.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2528 days


#7 posted 1773 days ago

beginningwoodworker
Thank you!

Huff,
Thanks for the suggestions on pricing. It’s actually what I am working on at the moment. Your comments are well-timed… thanks again.

Thanks Todd, you’ve been a great help to me. You should write a book. Seriously… lots of great first-hand advice…

-- Sam

View cobra5's profile

cobra5

154 posts in 2602 days


#8 posted 1772 days ago

my wife works and added me to her insurance, as i started going full time i jump at every job oppurtunity out big to small, to get the word out my customers is my main addvertizement, frist of the year i’l be in thephone book. getting signs for the truck next, just starting on step at a time. with long hours, and week

-- tool time tim aka "cobra5"

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2528 days


#9 posted 1772 days ago

thanks cobra… I wish you success!!

-- Sam

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2528 days


#10 posted 1772 days ago

socalwood
Thanks! The multitasking isn’t so much a problem as it is making sure I haven’t missed anything. I am a detail-oriented person, and I really enjoy wearing different hats, but I need to develop something like a business plan, perhaps an operational plan to help me keep track of the short term goals and responsibilities. I do have a business plan, but it is more of a macro-view of my business. I spent 8 years in a manufacturing environment so that helps somewhat as I am creating a product, the design, the drawings, the bill of materials, establishing the vendors, optimizing the build, a giving plenty of thought to production-line approaches to how I might reproduce a particular item, etc. The optimizing is an on-going process, but I realize once I get a number of items to market, it will become more difficult to stay on top of it. In the electronics field that I came out of, there is a phrase called ‘Creeping Elegance’.... It means that when you are designing a product, it is very easy to ‘keep improving it’ to the point where you never accomplish the end goal – making the product…. I am trying to avoid that.
I still love it…

-- Sam

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2528 days


#11 posted 1772 days ago

Thanks socalwood. I sincerely appreciate it…

-- Sam

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8773 posts in 2732 days


#12 posted 1772 days ago

I think it is important to point out that you realize how your skills as an employee transfer to business owner.

Seriously, a lot of people cannot figure it out.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2528 days


#13 posted 1772 days ago

thanks guys

Initially, I had planned on starting a woodworking business part time and then move to that when I retired. Retirement now is not going to be an option for me any time soon, and the industry I came out of is struggling worse than the auto industry so I don’t see myself going back to that. I’ve had resumes out there for a short period of time, but the jobs locally (within 50 miles or so) that I have applied for and am definitely qualified for are going to younger guys. Even though I am only 54, each day I come closer to the reality that my future depends on me. It isn’t going to be some multimillion dollar company around which I built my dreams of the future – - thinking like everyone else that if I only got a job there I’d be set for life…. I could move to another state and perhaps start over in engineering but I firmly believe there will never be a better time than now to start my business. I have the drive asnd the desire. I have a severance so I don’t need to borrow start-up capital, and I have almost all of the equipment I need, so any expenditures I make towards the business are minimal.

As for my reasons for doing this, I have to say it is a mix… I do love the lifestyle, and I definitely have the passion as my wife will tell you, but I’m also a realist. I’m not in it for the money… I know I’m not going to get rich. But again I am not going to limit myself to saying I’ll won’t make good money. I hope I do.

With respect to Todd’s comment about the transition from employee to business owner, that is something I hopefully will learn, and with great help from you guys. In my previous engineering job, I did a lot of project management, which I am trying to apply to what I’m doing, at least from the aspect of treating each product like a project. But again, I’m going to make mistakes. We definitely made them in the manufacturing world. One thing I alwasy tried to keep in mind when I was designing something to be robust. I would always ask myself – if I ever have to travel 1000 miles and work on this thing in the middle of the night – what can I do design-wise to lessen that possibility? I think it is a good philosophy to adhere to when designing something. That joint that I have a question about or the finish – is it going to hold up – or is it something that will keep me awake at night? I am constantly running those kinds of thoughts through my head. I try not to second-guess myself, and I’m not a worrier, but perhaps I am a bit overly-cautious at times.

-- Sam

View stefang's profile

stefang

12945 posts in 1967 days


#14 posted 1772 days ago

I can’t add much to the really good advice already given except to say that many businesses fail because of inadequate marketing. It really pays to have good contacts who will be willing to put you in touch with potential customers. I’m not just thinking of people you have sold to, but people like architects, home builders, decorators, home remodelers and such who are in a position to know when people are looking for something you can produce.

Sam I admire your ambition and willingness to take a such a risk at age 54 to go into business for yourself. I have a friend who did just that producing furniture. He has since retired and his two sons are now still running the business successfully. So it can be done. I hope you make a go of it. Good luck!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Sam Yerardi's profile

Sam Yerardi

244 posts in 2528 days


#15 posted 1772 days ago

Thank you Mike. It is encouraging comments like yours and the others that helps keep my spirits up and push me along.
Thank you

-- Sam

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