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Too soon for customers?

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Forum topic by squaretree posted 04-15-2014 03:11 PM 1826 views 0 times favorited 40 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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squaretree

160 posts in 1034 days


04-15-2014 03:11 PM

Topic tags/keywords: newbie customers commissioned money advice

When is it “too soon” to take on paying customers?

I don’t ask for myself. I’ve been building furniture as a hobby for about 15 years. I occasionally build something for friends and family, and at most ask them to pay for the materials. If I do build a project for money, I prefer to build something I like and then put it up for sale. No commissioned pieces, that’s just my preference as a hobbyist.

But I routinely see people asking VERY NEWBIE questions on woodworking forums (which is great by the way), but as I read further into their question I find they are building this project for a paying customer. If I paid someone to build a piece of furniture, and then found out they did not really know how to do it, I might be a little upset.

So my question for you is, when is it too soon for customers? Is it ok to learn your craft on someone else’s dime? Please give advice in the spririt of helping new woodworkers avoid the pitfall of jumping into commissioned work before they are ready. It might save them a lot of headache and heartache, not to mention their reputation.

-- if you can't find me, just follow the extension cord


40 replies so far

View Earlextech's profile

Earlextech

1159 posts in 2153 days


#1 posted 04-15-2014 03:31 PM

You are either going to learn on someone else’s dime or on your own. If you have money and time to go to a good woodworking school, then great, do it. When you come out, you still won’t be ready for customers. You’ll have woodworking skills, but no customer/pricing/business skills. If you wait to have kids until you’re ready, you’ll never have kids.
My entire life I’ve had coworkers ask me, “How did you get that job?” or “Why did Sam get that job?”. The answer has always been the same. I educate myself, I work towards the goal of that position and most important I say “Yes” when asked if I can do something.
My Fathers favorite thing to say was, “Just do it!” and he was right.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

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squaretree

160 posts in 1034 days


#2 posted 04-15-2014 03:40 PM

I’ll give my .02
I think even a relatively new woodworker can make some projects for profit, but they need to be beginner projects. a birdhouse? a box?
But if someone wants to commission you to build a piece of furniture, you should own the proper tools for the job and have experience with each skill that project will require. One of the hard things about being a newbie is that you really don’t know what you don’t know. Practice on your own projects and only take on paying jobs for things you really have experience with. I think this will keep you and the customer both happy.

What do you think?

-- if you can't find me, just follow the extension cord

View Loren's profile

Loren

8302 posts in 3110 days


#3 posted 04-15-2014 04:28 PM

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GrandpaLen

1643 posts in 1735 days


#4 posted 04-15-2014 04:36 PM

There are perceived liability responsibilities when a consumer receives a product whether it is purchased or gifted.

You can be your own worst enemy if you ‘get in over your head’ with an ill conceived project/product.

A good example would be making cutting boards from pallet lumber which you have no idea what contaminates may have come in contact with that pallet. Pallet lumber may work well for a furniture piece with a good, cured, film coating and never present a problem.

When strength and safety enter the equation, every man/woman must know their limitations.

Work Safely and have Fun. – Grandpa Len.

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

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squaretree

160 posts in 1034 days


#5 posted 04-15-2014 04:47 PM

Loren, that video is absolutely hilarious

-- if you can't find me, just follow the extension cord

View bigblockyeti's profile

bigblockyeti

3668 posts in 1183 days


#6 posted 04-15-2014 04:54 PM

I don’t think I’d be too upset if someone was doing something for me and they were in over their head if they recognized the problem in time to keep the quality, cost and time until completed under control. Sometimes things happen, even to someone with much tenure, that can’t be avoided. The journey is less important than the outcome in my opinion.

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GrandpaLen

1643 posts in 1735 days


#7 posted 04-15-2014 04:54 PM

^ +1 @ Loren,
That’s what we’re talking about here. :-)

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View distrbd's profile

distrbd

2227 posts in 1909 days


#8 posted 04-15-2014 05:25 PM

To build a few projects and then put them up for sale is one thing ,build to order which requires holding inventories,proper tools,etc,(not to mention lots of experience),,is something totally different.

Most of us can probably sell a lot of stuff we make ,that should be a start for hobby woodworkers but there’s a huge gap between a hobby woodworker who sells what he/she builds to break even and a seasoned professional who makes a living out of it,I never let the encouraging words of few close friends and relatives to blur that gap.

-- Ken from Ontario, Canada

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1297 posts in 1411 days


#9 posted 04-15-2014 05:43 PM

My first built in was a commissioned piece. I had made some laundry cabinets for a lady, she pushed me into doing the built in. In my head I said”I’ve done mantels, and cabinets, so what the heck why not.” I was very upfront about how I felt. The price I gave her was very reflective of my knowledge. Two weeks later she had a very nice built in(unfinished). She wanted to paint it herself. I told her $1750, she handed me an envelope with $2k in it. I tried to give her back the difference, she wasn’t having it. I believe if you have the basic skills The sky’s the limit. Just be upfront with the customer and go with it. There are many jobs I have done that were 1 off first time evolutions. There is always a level of “did I do that right”, and right or wrong are in the eye of the beholder. As to the question of asking on here for help. This is the reason I hate typing. Things don’t always come out as you intended. A person may have a direction they are going and start second guessing themselves. So they go to a place they can trust for great advice. Not always do not know what they are doing, just a little gun shy on the “right way to go about it”.

View Ted's profile

Ted

2785 posts in 1674 days


#10 posted 04-15-2014 05:45 PM

I have learned on the job. The important thing is to be honest with the customer, and don’t expect to make big bucks on a learning project. First off, everything is going to take longer and some things will have to be done over. Secondly, the customer is not going to pay a novice what they would for an expert—part of the pay is the gained experience.

Just be honest with the customer and let them decide if they want to go that route or find someone who is more experienced.

-- The first cordless tool was a stick. The first power tool was a rock.

View squaretree's profile

squaretree

160 posts in 1034 days


#11 posted 04-15-2014 05:53 PM

Shawn, sounds like that worked out really well! I’m sure you did a great job. It also sounds like you had some experience before hand. Built-ins are not a far leap from cabinets.

I was thinking more about the guy who says “I just assembled my tablesaw last night. Not sure how to put the blade on, but I was just hired to build a set of kitchen cabinets”. :)

-- if you can't find me, just follow the extension cord

View Gixxerjoe04's profile

Gixxerjoe04

835 posts in 1039 days


#12 posted 04-15-2014 05:58 PM

That video was funny, never watched that show before. If you’re learning something new in a build for someone i believe that’s fine, but if something goes wrong you don’t just say you were learning, I’d figure out how to fix it. Wouldn’t want to sell something that has flaws in it, would def fix it or start over, would rather lose a little money on a first time deal as long as it’s good and the person likes it, then you could have good word of mouth and the next time you’ll know what to do and what not to do on it. Anything that I’ve made (which isn’t much yet), the first time is always practicing and is for myself. Of course even if you are really good at most things mistakes can still happen.

View Loren's profile

Loren

8302 posts in 3110 days


#13 posted 04-15-2014 06:03 PM

I definitely did jobs where I didn’t make as much money
as I was expecting to because I messed something up
and had to do it over.

One time I quoted a bunch of full-sized mahogany doors
based on the price my favorite lumber supplier (with
the lowest prices in town, by a lot)... but guess what?

They never had the material in stock. I was sitting
on my hands hoping for them to get it in and finally
I had to buy it elsewhere at something like 25% more.

View CoachSchroeder's profile

CoachSchroeder

97 posts in 1066 days


#14 posted 04-15-2014 06:11 PM

I’m weary of selling things because woodworking is something I do for me- not something I’d like to do for other people necessarily…

But, post a few pictures of a coffee table you slapped together on your social media accounts and presto. People think I can remodel their kitchen. I even got my 1st “can you make this $1,500 pottery barn media console for me? I want it to look exactly like the 1 in this picture”

So, Squaretree, I think some responsibility lies with the consumer too. Just because I made a nice bird feeder doesn’t mean I can make quality custom furniture. But is it my job to tell them that or theirs? You wouldn’t shop for clothes at Walmart if you were looking for high fashion…

-- -Sam, in Wisconsin

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Gixxerjoe04

835 posts in 1039 days


#15 posted 04-15-2014 06:26 PM

My problem is my fiance sees me making stuff then is like i can make anything and wants me to make something for her or her friend wants something. Much rather make stuff at my own pace and work out all the kinks before making something for someone else, be it a friend or someone i don’t know. Have to tell her not to tell people I’ll make them something because i still have a lot to learn and don’t want to make something crappy.

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