Setting up on my own... (Daunted) - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 13 Old 10-06-2012, 06:39 PM Thread Starter
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Setting up on my own... (Daunted)

With in the last month I finally quit my job as a cabinet maker and I've set up on my own. Initially it was really exciting but I think now the realisation has set in that I may be in a bit over my head.

I have to design, price, meet customers and build and install. I've come to realise how much work can go into quoting a job that you might not even get because of the $6 an hour guy down the road who's cheaper.

I've worked with customers all my working life and I know how to handle them but it just feels strange to have finally made the plunge.

Anybody else here set up on their own? How do you all find it?... And finally, any tips? Any tip could be useful.

Thanks guys :)
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post #2 of 13 Old 10-06-2012, 11:21 PM
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I am by no means a professional woodworker. In fact, I don't even sell much of what I make. I do carry a few pens around that I made, and while I'm working my day job, people notice the pen I use and some of them ask me about it. When they do, I tell them I make them. Sometimes they ask to buy one, sometimes they don't. Those that do often tell their friend and family who then call me and ask for one too. My advertizing is pretty much myself. I've sold a few dozen pens like that. I certainly don't make a living doing it, though it would be cool to do so.

People buy my things because they see them. Obviously, you can't carry an armoire with you everywhere you go. You can make a showroom though. If you're working out of your home, use your garage. If you're working out of a full shop, set up a section with some display pieces to show off your work. The guy that redid my kitchen had a showroom set up and it helped me figure out what I wanted, and what I definitely didn't want. It was more useful than I thought it would be.

I don't own my business, but I do work for myself in a strange kind of way. My job requires that I often change employers. As often as every few weeks sometimes. I don't sell items, but I do sell myself. I'm selling my expertise and knowledge to the highest bidder. While on the job, I'm stuck wearing flame resistant clothing, steel toe leather boots, and a hard hat. Everyone wears that, and nobody looks professional in that outfit. When I go on interviews, or meet prospective employers, I wear a business suit, or something similarly appropriate. (Clearly, no suit on a hunting trip...) I sell myself, so I have to make a good impression. Not getting a 2 week job because someone else made a better impression can cost me $10,000. A two month job costs way more. That suit has paid for itself many times. You should also have something similarly professional to meet clients with. A kitchen remodel can an expensive job to lose. Do a good job in the kitchen and they'll likely go straight back to you for any future remodeling or woodworking needs. Don't get the job and you guarantee that you won't be invited back.

Finally, don't sweat the little stuff. There's only one of you and you're bound to make a mistake sometime. Just fix it and don't spend all day worrying about it. It's not a big deal and there's nothing else you can do about it. If you feel as if you're in over your head and are scared to tackle a big job, the client will notice. Be confident, honest, and let the chips fall where they may. Things have a funny way of working themselves out.
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post #3 of 13 Old 10-07-2012, 04:11 AM
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I've always worried about quality and attention to details. The money will come even if the guy up the street is cheaper. Cheaper usually mean production work and short cuts.

You're your own best asset. Meeting with customers and handling them is not enough. You need to sell yourself and your work. Distinguish between your work and the cheap guys stuff.

Most people know or I sell them on the fact that I'm a perfectionist. I also have health issues that sometimes cause things to take a little longer. However by word of mouth people are willing to wait a little longer or pay a little more because they know they are getting quality work and I will go the extra little bit to make things right or better.

I'm also a very good sales person. It starts with confidence, honesty, a likable personality and a quality product.
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post #4 of 13 Old 10-07-2012, 07:48 AM
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I am not a professional wood worker, well kind of. I am a flooring contractor. I do wood floor installations, floor sanding, ceramic tile installations including showers. I know my products...well. I am confident in my products and abilities. I also know my limitations. When I meet with a customer, I give them a little bit of the science of what I do and the materials. The normal flooring guy knows only what he learned from his last employer, not the specifics. I try to go to a school of some sort at least once per year to keep up with new products and techniques. I keep a clean shirt and jeans in the truck at all times, just in case I need to see a potential customer on the way home. I am a one man show. Some people, not all, by any means, are willing to wait for the right guy to do their work. Right now, I am booking into January and hav 5 more jobs to go look at now. I am not braggng but just saying that if you do quality work, are respectful to people and their property, do what you say you are going to do, your efforts will be rewarded. Sometimes my work schedule gets down to a few weeks. It is not a great feeling but, you need to be saving up an emergency fund for those times. I hope this helps.
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post #5 of 13 Old 10-07-2012, 08:18 AM
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Great advise so far...I would just caution you on growing too fast. I have a good friend that took his woodworking hobby into a full blown cabinet shop. He is very good at what he does. The jobs came...there was not enough hours in the day...he got behind...the natural inclination is to get help... New shop short, overhead ballooned. A lull in business came and he still had the overhead...His middle name became "STRESS"
He cut back, shrank his company, became more selective on the job he accepted. Now his net profit is up and he is much much happier.

Roger from the Great Horicon Swamp
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post #6 of 13 Old 10-07-2012, 09:47 AM
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Your question is almost impossible to answer without knowing much more about your previous experience. Working in a cabinet shop should help a lot depending on what you actually did there.

Cabinets involve working with customers to define their wants and needs, coming up with a design, generating a bid, buying materials, building the cabs (will you have the same space as your former job and the same or similar tools?), finishing, delivery, and installation. How much of each step have you done before?

That's just the technical side. What do you know about running a business? How will you market your services? Will you have employees? How will you calculate your shop rate? Do you have an accountant? (Book keeping is a job unto itself.) Do you have a handle on how your taxes are different if you're self employed? What licenses, insurance and bonds will you need?

There's plenty more, but you should really think thru these and study up on your weak spots. It's do-able, but some critical self assesment and homework now will cut down on the surprises later.
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post #7 of 13 Old 10-07-2012, 09:55 AM
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I've been in business for 27 years and in the beginning I spent a great deal of time working out a precise estimate figuring materials and labor which often the customer used to do the work themselves or get the $6.00 an hour guy down the street to do. Now unless the job is complex or uses some expensive materials I just guess at the price. If I underestimate the job I figure I saved time and money giving estimates so it all works out in the end. Also when I give an estimate, I guess at a minimum price and the price I would like so that is what I bid. When you give the estimate you can tell by the look on their face if they got sticker shock so I have a excuse already worked out how I could discount the job and then give them another lower price. In the end the work is the same and the customer is happy.
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post #8 of 13 Old 10-07-2012, 10:26 AM
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Good luck!

I'll rattle off what might sound grim, but end up with a note of hope.

I've had two businesses, and both went belly up. The first was because I was in over my head, the other was a casualty of the housing bust. Things to think about,

More than half of new businesses fail (if that happens, don't take it personally);

Most failed businesses were started without a meaningful "business plan" (my mistake first time around);

Something that continues to surprise me.... many failed businesses have plenty of customers, but still go under when due to short term cash flow problems;

(Another mistake of mine) Don't mix your sense of self worth with the businesses' success so you can let go when its time

Never-ever borrow against anything you can't manage without. Keep the money separate from self & family expenses, right down the line.

And - the silver lining - behind nearly every single successful business is someone who struck out the first time - or two or three - at bat.

For more help, your chamber of commerce can probably put you in touch with retired business owners who now volunteer to coach newbies. Most places I've lived have such a program. I tell all my friends thinking of striking out on their own.... first spend a few saturday afternoons at the library, or at Barnes & Noble, reading business how-to books.

Good luck!
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post #9 of 13 Old 10-07-2012, 06:20 PM Thread Starter
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Those are some really good ideas. I've been quite wise (i think)... all my tools workshop house and car will always be mine. Even if the business fails I will keep all my stuff. I have about $20,000 dollars saved just in case I make a pigs ear out of something.

My exact experience is as a Carpenter Joiner. I worked as a cabinet maker building fine furniture, executive type stuff but I can't say I enjoyed long days in that workshop making desks and book cases everyday. Before I did that I was a site carpenter and bench joiner and I also worked as a plumber for a year. I can do anything in the house apart from gas and electrics.

About the self assesment and tax and stuff... I'm still working on that, I have a friend who is a chatered accountant and he is helping me out free of charge which is nice of him. I am hoping he will put me straight on how not to end up messing up taxes lol

And steve, thanks for your experience especially, I appreciate you sharing :)
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post #10 of 13 Old 10-08-2012, 06:58 AM
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Sounds like you have all your ducks in a row. Just go for it and try to balance your time between work and family.

Roger from the Great Horicon Swamp
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post #11 of 13 Old 10-08-2012, 07:21 AM
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This may sound weird, but I've been through it personally and I have a friend who's going through it currently:

I don't know your marital/relationship status, but if you're with someone, conversations need to be taking place pronto. In my situation, my wife opened her own business about 7 years ago, and she went from working 40 hours a week to 70-80 on average.

We hardly ever saw each other and I had to pick up the slack of the things that she'd been doing around the house that weren't being done. My life went from easy street to being pretty stressed out. I wasn't spending any time with my wife, couldn't plan anything out because she was always working, my household chores went through the roof, the money that she used to be able to contribute regularly wasn't so regular anymore, causing me to pick up financial slack.

I got frustrated and pretty upset but didn't want to discourage her, so I kept it to myself and let it fester. Eventually some of that turned to resentment and anger and, after about 8 months of being "roommates" with my wife, it finally exploded. Thankfully we were able to make it through all this and have become stronger on the other side, but it was very rough for a period.

My friend wasn't so lucky. He opened his own business and did the same thing. He worked 80 hours a week trying to get his business established and didn't pay his wife enough attention and she found someone else because she thought he didn't care about her anymore. The irony is that all of this was so that he could take care of her and give her everything she wanted. In his case, he's probably better off without her, but the important thing to take from this long winded message is:

Talk to your significant other about what to expect in the coming months!

Ut Prosim
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post #12 of 13 Old 10-08-2012, 08:23 PM
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I can't say I enjoyed long days in that workshop making desks and book cases everyday
Then you might hate your new job. Working alone (as I do) means you da man and repitition is the name of the game if your doing something like a kitchen. After the 15th face frame, door, or drawer, the fun wears out and it becomes "Omigod, *** more to go." - lol
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post #13 of 13 Old 10-09-2012, 12:02 AM
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I have to design, price, meet customers and build and install. I've come to realise how much work can go into quoting a job that you might not even get because of the $6 an hour guy down the road who's cheaper.

I've worked with customers all my working life and I know how to handle them but it just feels strange to have finally made the plunge.

Anybody else here set up on their own? How do you all find it?... And finally, any tips? Any tip could be useful.

Thanks guys :)[/QUOTE]


Your story so far sounds very much like mine. From the clues you provided it sounds like you are building kitchen cabinets or built-ins for homes which is what I did predominately early on.

I have been doing woodwork since my early teens and began doing commission work out or my Dad's garage before I had a driver's license. I spent a short time as a cabinetmakers apprentice, a position I easily secured by showing the proprietor photos of my work. Once I had devoured all that I felt I needed from that opportunity I found a qualified individual to take my position and I went about setting up my own cabinet shop.

I did not have a business plan because I didn't know you needed one. I had very little money to get started with but I made do by renting the cheapest space I could find. I was 1000 sq. ft with a leaky roof. I had been acquiring tools whenever I could up to that point and I had the basics the center piece being a PM66 cabinet saw.

What I had to offer my clients was Value, quality and good design. My father was a commercial artist/illustrator who taught me much about good design and I followed the trends in cabinet fashion and tried to stay in front of it. I put a lot of time and effort into creating samples and mock up cabinets to show my clients. A picture might be worth 1000 words but a full scale finished mock up put together specifically for a particular client was worth it's weight in gold (well not really but you get the idea).

I was young and worked hard and long hours and I was fortunate to find helpers (employees) with the same work ethic. I found success almost immediately. I landed some well known builder accounts and built some cabinets for a couple of celebrities. I soon outgrew my little dumpy building but I made enough money out of that space to buy property, build a house and a shop behind it. I got a mortgage for the house but built the shop for cash and barter. I worked out of that shop with three helpers for about ten years building one set of cabinets after another with orders stacked up for months in advance. that was about 1975-1985.

I no longer have the energy that I had back then. I was designer, salesman, scheduler, purchaser, layout, cutout and production manager.
I always took time for my clients but politely hurried them through the process and I was always prepared for the meetings with samples and prices ready to quote.

I never put the cabinet shop into debt except for the revolving accounts I had with my material suppliers which I always paid off before any interest was charged me. Always! I always paid for equipment in cash. This is what saved my bacon later on.

Wanting more of a good thing, I decided to expand and leased 6000 sq ft of industrial space and hired a salesman, a shop foreman, a full time bookkeeper and receptionist and carefully hired a production crew (can you see where this is going?). I have always kept one eye on the general ledger and income statements and knew after a few short months that this new scenario was just not working. We had increased our gross sales three fold but the over head quickly gobbled up any extra profit. My efficiency was roughly half of what it was when I did everything myself with a couple of helpers and my clients weren't getting the level of service from me that I used to provide. I struggled with this situation for another ten years. I stayed current on my bills and remained solvent but the cabinet shop never enjoyed the same financial rewards I had before.

I tried to sell the business for about two years and finally liquidated when I had an opportunity to end my lease. We had a big auction and sold everything. A big load was off my shoulders and a large check in my pocket. Had I not stuck to my guns and remained debt free this situation would have had a much more dour ending.

The flip side: Part of the reason I couldn't spend the time with the new cabinet shop was because I started a new business venture in a related industry which I owned and operated for twenty five years until my recent retirement. But that's a whole other story.

Hope my story helps you.

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