3 Crucial Things to Consider When Starting a CNC Business

One of the best things about the X-Carve and the X-Carve Pro is their ability to help makers simplify the process of turning their idea into a finished product. Because that process is so streamlined, the next logical step for many is to start sharing those products with the world… and make a little money while they’re at it.

But many X-Carve-owning-side-hustlers have dreams of turning their creative side project into something a little more substantial; maybe even pursue it as their full-time gig. But that can be an intimidating prospect. Where should you start? What questions should you even ask?

If you’re one of those people thinking about starting your own business selling your CNC products, we’ve put together some aspects of the process to consider as well as some tips to help you out on your journey. These are 3 Crucial things to Consider When Start a CNC Business.

  1. Establishing a Business Plan... Backwards

Before jumping in and developing a business plan right off the bat, start by defining why you want to start your own business. Is this venture just a way to leverage your hobby into some extra cash? Or do you wish to eventually turn carving into your primary source of income? The answer to that question will drastically alter the shape of your plan.

One way to go about designing a business plan is to start by defining your ideal life (within reason). How many hours are you working, what’s a realistic income, when do you want to retire? These questions can help you determine the purpose of your business and where you want to end up. 

From there, you can reverse engineer a business plan. Who are your target customers and how will you reach/market your pieces to them? What are your start-up costs and how will you finance them? What will your initial sales channels be and will they expand down the road? What will be your business’ legal structure (sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, etc.)?

  1. Scalability and Replicability

One issue you’ll likely run into during your journey is scalability and replicability. Trying to manage a handful of custom orders per week or per month can be manageable early on in your business. However, if your objective is growth, replicability will become a necessity.

Remember that more orders don’t simply mean carving more pieces. You’ll need to consider the amount of ready-to-carve stock you’ll have on hand. Will you have time to prepare the higher volume of stock materials? Do you have enough space to keep it all or will you need to lease a commercial space? Can you keep up with the increase in shipping? How about more wear and tear on your bits and other tools?

These are all things to consider. More orders don’t just mean more income. It also means more costs as well as more time.

However, many shop owners have begun to develop time-saving best practices. For example, many experienced makers develop a standard layout or ‘template’ for all their pieces. This eliminates the need to re-zero your machine and allows you to more easily determine the amount you can produce from any one piece of stock.

Purchasing pre-milled stock rather than rough-cut lumber can be a huge time saver as well. It may cost a bit more but the pros and cons will vary depending on your goals and situation.

  1. Explore Your Sales Channels

Another crucial step of starting your shop is establishing reliable sales channels. You’ll find that getting your products out there is the easy part (we have a whole list of some of the best online storefronts and marketplaces), but establishing yourself as a brand and growing a customer base is the tricky part. 

When most makers consider starting a business of their own, they start by thinking about retail: setting up a shop of their own and selling directly to their customers. This can be great since the barriers to entry on an Etsy or Shopify store are so low that it’s an easy way to get going. But because it’s easy, there’s a ton of competition. 

With thousands and thousands of active Etsy shops at any given time, it can be tough to break into that market. Doing so often requires a strong social media presence, paid advertising, and many many hours spent marketing in addition to those spent working on your own designs and pieces.

So instead of, or perhaps in addition to, retail—selling directly to your own customers—another channel to consider is wholesale—selling in bulk to other retailers. 

There are many established retailers on Etsy, Amazon, and other marketplaces that source some of their products from smaller scale makers. Many X-Carve owners have found this to be a great way to get their business going early. Rather than establishing your own brand as a retailer, a process that can take years, try instead to seek out trusted, reputable shops that you can sell to who will then sell those products to consumers.

Like anything else, there are pros and cons to wholesale and retail. Retail allows you to develop your own products, set your own prices, and generally provides greater control over your business. And of course, you’ll be able to pocket all of the income that your pieces sell for. 

With wholesale, on the other hand, you’ll likely be working with greater volume which can provide a more stable income. But you may have less control over your designs, the margins on each piece will be lower, and you’ll need to become a salesperson of sorts by building and maintaining relationships with other sellers.

Hopefully, you’ve gotten some use out of these things to consider when starting a CNC business. Remember that the folks here at Inventables are here to help as well as our community forum. Be sure to check out Easel CNC software and the X-Carve if you haven’t already. 


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