From My Experience, Things to Know When Starting a Woodworking Business
Many people find woodworking to be a fulfilling hobby and consider opening a woodworking business; they realize they have a talent and skill others are willing to pay for. For such a person, with the right aptitude and ambition, there is no greater career path than doing something they love on a daily basis.
But, as a wise person once said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
Three important aspects of starting a woodworking business are 1) understanding how to run a business, 2) having the knowledge and aptitude to be capable to start that type of business, and 3) understanding the level of dedication it takes to find success.
The fact is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20% of small businesses fail in the first year, 40% fail in the first five years, and 65% don't last more than ten years. Those figures aren't meant to discourage anyone from opening a new business but provide realistic expectations as to the dedication required for success.
Differences between Hobby and Professional Woodworking
The first thing to consider about developing a career in woodworking is how, like most activities people enjoy, it's fun as a hobby but becomes “a job” when made a profession.
It's easy to build a dining room table for your own home by working on it for years whenever the mood strikes. It's much more difficult when clients have expectations and deadlines for a dozen of the same project. There's also the reality of how a small mistake can make the piece personalized for you as a hobbyist, but clients don't have the same appreciation for the lack of perfection.
As a professional, you have to meet your own expectations and those of your customers.
The tools you use as a hobbyist might not cut it in a professional woodworking shop.
Woodworkers understand tool quality. Although a cheap power saw can do the same things an expensive one can do (at least at first), the cheap one wasn't built for hard daily use. For quality and consistency in projects, investing it better tools will be necessary.
While a hobbyist can afford the time to use hand tools, a professional has to balance this desire with efficiency. Although you can make nice projects with hand planes and chisels, can you charge a fair price for 20 hours of work when a competitor can accomplish the task in 30 minutes with a CNC machine?
That's an important question to ask when defining the business plan of a small woodshop.
Running the Busines: Balancing Time and Money
There are two currencies in business: Time and Money. In a woodshop, investing in professional tools can also return time to you.
Professional-level tools are expensive, and just because you spend more doesn’t mean you get more. Will the cost allow you to produce more, faster, or last longer? Prioritize your investment in tools based on the type of projects you plan to work on, and on how they will help you be more efficient.
Time management is important. It goes beyond the project work itself.
Can you build a set of kitchen cabinets in two weeks? Yes.
But, can you build a set of kitchen cabinets in two weeks when the lumber arrives late, an employee quits without notice, you have three sales meetings, and you have another overlapping project due in the same time frame? Perhaps not.
The catch is that there's more to the job than building projects. You have to be efficient in your production in part so you can manage the other aspects of running the business.
Finding a Niche, It May Take Time
One of my first jobs was for a professional book collector who specializes in French renaissance treatises. It was a great job and looks good in my portfolio, but you can guess how many other clients I've found who need an entire condo turned into a French renaissance library.
The project did help define a niche in which clients understand I'm able to research and design historic replica pieces. However, before I built such a reputation I had to build a lot of decks, install cabinetry that was bought from a home improvement warehouses, and work on regular trim or framing carpentry on construction projects.
You can expect the same when opening a woodworking business. As you build upon your niche, expect to take on projects that don’t exactly fit. In time, as your reputation and customer base grow, you’ll focus more on your niche, and less on the “have to take” projects.
Woodworking can be a lot of fun as a hobby or a satisfying career. If you decide to open a woodshop, it has to be approached as a business startup. If you love woodworking and are interested in opening your own business, then pursuing a professional woodshop is maybe for you.