Starting a woodworking business

      Ideas for advertising, books to read and special considerations when starting up your own business. June 24, 2001

I've done woodworking as a hobby since I was 3 years old and started doing it as a career 3 years ago. Now I plan to start my own business. I have experience ranging from store fixtures to AWI certified woodworking, and have done work for friends who are quite pleased. My father left me all the equipment that would be required and I have a 16x48 shop that is. The business will at first be mainly side work and hopefully grow into something else. Any advice on starting out?

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I started my business by calling everyone in my local synagogue listing and offering to do small repairs and cabinets and adding to my repertoire as I learned. I now have 3-4 fulltime cabinetmakers and over $100,000 in paid-for machines and make a very nice living. I work hard but also have time for my children and hobbies. With a positive attitude and realistic goals, you can fulfil your dreams.

I know exactly what you are going through since I just went through it myself. I left a very successful family business to pursue my passion of woodworking. About nine months ago I decided to make the move into fulltime woodworking. I have about 10 years of hobbyist experience. With a family to support, I was quite nervous.

To get started, I invested about 2k on full color brochures of my work. That was the best money that I have spent. I have also joined a referral service in my area, which refers me a good bit of work.

I do a combination of custom designed furniture, built-ins and cabinetry, and interior mouldings and millwork in a small 400 square foot shop. I have totally outgrown my shop and am looking to move and construct a larger facility.

This all sounds great, and it has been. However, the process is not always easy. There are numerous things that have presented difficulty, like sometimes having to learn on the fly because a job needs to get done, trying to keep up with what seems to be mounds of paperwork, and spending a lot of money on larger equipment. I'm sure that you understand the risks but when you love what you do, things sometimes seem to fall in place.

Are you willing to lose your house to get your business going? If not, keep woodworking as a hobby. If so, you just might be sick enough to make a go at it! Get the book “In business for yourself” by Bruce Williams as soon as you can.

I also started woodworking as a hobby and then started a fulltime business. Be SURE of your costs--material, labor, overhead and supplies. Be sure you know how to use the markup key on your calculator. Don't build monuments. Don't forget you're in it for the money.

I would add to the previous recommendation to learn all you can about the business side of things as quickly as possible. One very good way is to get in touch with your local SCORE chapter - a group of retired exec's dedicated to helping small business. Also, many colleges with business programs offer a free program where a group of majors and the professor(s) study your business and help with problems and plans. I found this especially helpful with learning about the market. I recommend Martin Edic's book on woodworking business if you're planning on making furniture, etc.

Start out as an installer and invest in equipment as you gain experience and you will be better prepared and have much greater odds of succeeding.

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