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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I got myself in quite a predicament business wise. This is my second year and business and things have been going really well, happy customers, no call backs, fun projects. However, this last week I took quite the hit to my confidence and schedule. I had two projects that had major setbacks. One project I messed up a very difficult finish to apply and have to sand and reapply. The other project was a wood countertop that was very difficult to install developed a hairline crack. These things happen and I know I can fix them but......

Since these two projects have went south, it is really messing up my schedule. I have a 8ft door with a sidelight(all paint grade) I am suppose to be building right now for a bar downtown. The bar opens on January 1. I am up all night sweating and not sleeping that I will not get it done in time for their opening. Also, I have never built a door like this before (commercial door with lots of ADA requirements and inspections etc) before the hit to my self confidence last week I thought "I can figure this out!" Now I'm not so sure.

My options are
1. Build the door and push through and it will be good for my business and confidence if I pull it off. If I don't pull it off and the door isnt on time or is defective because I was rushing, it might put my business under purely because I could not take the stress.

2. Tell the client that I cannot build the door for their bar 6 weeks before they are opening and maybe screw them but preserve my business and sanity. The currently have an operable front door but it doesn't meet ADA requirements so its not like they have a giant hole in the wall in winter.

All advice is greatly appreciated!
 

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Disasters will happen. That's the only guarantee any business owner can have.

If you are sure you're going to miss the deadline, it's best to contact the customer now and let them know but don't cancel the contract. Just let them know what your schedule looks like. They can either back out and look for someone else or they can find a way to work around the delay.

For the future, decide what kind of business you're running. Customers like quality, speed and competitive pricing but no business can provide more than two of those. If you're going to commit to hard deadlines, you need to sacrifice either quality or bid high. If bidding high, leave plenty of free time in your schedule or hire more help than you need.

My business model focuses mostly on pricing and quality so we minimize projects with hard deadlines and short lead times. Keeping prices down and quality up means running a minimal crew and a tight schedule. So there's not much extra manpower if things go wrong and we fall behind on schedule.
 

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And a third option is sub-contracting out the door or hiring someone who can do it on an temp or hourly basis. Or the finishing. Or the hairline crack. This will cost money, of course, but it might save your sanity and keep your customers happy.

Falling behind schedule is the curse of contractors. But it’s also a reality that every customer who has ever hired a contractor has experienced. I do advise you explain to your customers what’s going on, and tell them how and when you are going to fix the problem—-when you’ve figured that out.

And meanwhile, get some help. I had to do this enough times when starting out, like when I had installed a complete custom kitchen and the conversion varnish finish turned green. OMG was that horrible. And it cost me to hire some expert assistance but didn’t see any other way. Lost money, but had a happy customer in the end.
 

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Since you had a problem with the finish on the one project, after you sand off the first attempt you may want to consider subbing that out to a professional that has experience with it. If you mess it up again you are really going to be in a bind. Once you get through this, re-evaluate what went wrong with the first two projects and move forward. Have you ever built a large exterior door before?
 

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OP I am just a hobbyist in this, but last Spring a friend asked me to do a job for his client. He was renovating their offices and needed some heavy-duty stair treads that also included a cast metal nosing inset into the treads - 16 treads to be exact. Sounds simple enough, but proved otherwise. He kept trying to push me along and there was sort of an unofficial deadline. I stressed a bit over it and eventually got it done by his timeframe. I delivered them almost six months ago. The stairs have yet to be installed. My stress was unwarranted. I still give him crap about it lol

The moral of the story is, you can possibly get your door done by the deadline, however it seems this bar downtown is also going thru some kind of renovation that you are not party to. There others on the job that could possibly hold up completion and their opening. Other equipment and materials may be delayed and prevent it. They may be doing their best to keep on schedule, but I doubt they're losing sleep over it if they think they're falling behind. It's the nature of the business and sometimes things are out of our control.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Since you had a problem with the finish on the one project, after you sand off the first attempt you may want to consider subbing that out to a professional that has experience with it. If you mess it up again you are really going to be in a bind. Once you get through this, re-evaluate what went wrong with the first two projects and move forward. Have you ever built a large exterior door before?
Good point. This finish (SW BAC Wiping Stain) is extremely finicky and I knew it had some problems with the stain lifting into the topcoat. Even the SW rep asked me why I was using it and warned me. I ended up using it because after 19 stain match samples delivered 3-4 at a time over 3 months the designer finally picked #16 and this stain was the one I could get to match what she wanted. I knew it was going to be a pain and had a good chance of failure but I went ahead and did it becaue I wanted to make her happy. Lesson learned...do not get talked into using a product I am not comfortable with applying just because its a "little gray-er than the others"

I have not built a large exterior door before. I have set a ton of exterior and interior doors and built a couple interior doors so I was pretty sure I could build this one. It is a pretty simple door, a two paneled door and sidelight with 1in insulated glass as the panels and square sticking but, it is very large (8ft) and I am trying to do stave core construction which I have never done before. Its becoming a little daunting to say the least, mostly because the tight timeline and the confidence hit from last week.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
OP I am just a hobbyist in this, but last Spring a friend asked me to do a job for his client. He was renovating their offices and needed some heavy-duty stair treads that also included a cast metal nosing inset into the treads - 16 treads to be exact. Sounds simple enough, but proved otherwise. He kept trying to push me along and there was sort of an unofficial deadline. I stressed a bit over it and eventually got it done by his timeframe. I delivered them almost six months ago. The stairs have yet to be installed. My stress was unwarranted. I still give him crap about it lol

The moral of the story is, you can possibly get your door done by the deadline, however it seems this bar downtown is also going thru some kind of renovation that you are not party to. There others on the job that could possibly hold up completion and their opening. Other equipment and materials may be delayed and prevent it. They may be doing their best to keep on schedule, but I doubt they're losing sleep over it if they think they're falling behind. It's the nature of the business and sometimes things are out of our control.
Oh man I have been there before. Nobody can push you quite like a onsite GC. I have trimmed houses day and night because the GC had me thinking that the painters were going to be right behind me only for them not to show up for 4 weeks after I finished.

Good idea on the scheduling end. I am going to swing by the project today to kind of gauge the remodeling progression before I send an email to the client. No reason to send an apology email to the client if they are 1 month behind anyways.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Disasters will happen. That's the only guarantee any business owner can have.

If you are sure you're going to miss the deadline, it's best to contact the customer now and let them know but don't cancel the contract. Just let them know what your schedule looks like. They can either back out and look for someone else or they can find a way to work around the delay.

For the future, decide what kind of business you're running. Customers like quality, speed and competitive pricing but no business can provide more than two of those. If you're going to commit to hard deadlines, you need to sacrifice either quality or bid high. If bidding high, leave plenty of free time in your schedule or hire more help than you need.

My business model focuses mostly on pricing and quality so we minimize projects with hard deadlines and short lead times. Keeping prices down and quality up means running a minimal crew and a tight schedule. So there's not much extra manpower if things go wrong and we fall behind on schedule.
Thanks for this. I wrote out an hour by hour schedule for the door and I think I can get it built and installed in 4 weeks starting today. I technically have 5-6 weeks but I tend to optimistically underestimate how long projects are going to take when I am under the gun. Your 100% right though, when things might not go as planned communication with the client is always the best course of action and definitely a lesson I will take from this.

As far as what kind of business I am running that has been my major obstacle starting out. I tend to take on every job because I have a fear of not having work and then have to much work to get done and that makes everyone unhappy. Scheduling work has been by far my biggest weakness. I am just a one man shop with very low overhead (my shop is on my property) so I am trying to focus on quality/projects the big shops do not want to do because they are too complicated. In hindsight, I should have bid this really high so I could have cleared my schedule and not worried about other work. I do work on a time, materials, +15% structure right now so maybe I need to switch to bid work in the future.

thanks for the reply man. I really appreciate it
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
OK, look, take a deep breath, it's all going to work. This is called paying your dues and part of the learning process.
This is the best advise I can give from a thousand miles away not knowing the facts.

First weigh out your customers. Who's willing to wait and who's more important to keep them getting mad at you.
You know the bar door is commercial and has to be done. That's your priority. Schedule your time for getting that done.

Now your jobs that went south, haven't gone south, just having some minor problems with them.
Obviously you can't do it all at once so you have to really prioritize your time to make the best use of it.

Work on your bar door during the regular hours, now put in the "owner hours" to redo the finish.
Let your customer know that your taking your time to get it right this time, if you haven't told them, tell them and let them know it's a little delayed while making it right.

I don't know what's involved in the hairline crack, but pick it up and work your ass off on it to get it back in as soon as possible.

Midnight oil bud. If you can get anybody to help, eat the cost, but make sure it's help not hinderance.
Sometimes you have to break even or eat a little to save face.

Delay refinish job as long as possible
Get wood crack job fixed as fast as possible
Keep on schedule for Bar door.

You can do this.
LeeRoyMan you are the man! Thanks for writing this up. You're right, changing my mindset to "Im paying my dues and this is a learning process/apart of the process," is definitely the way to go vs the "pass/fail" mentality I have been using.

I let the client know that I was not happy with the finish and wanted it to be perfect so I needed more time. She said "no problem." Its crazy how much more positive client responses are to changes compared to what you imagine them saying.

I called in all my favors to other carpenters and I think I have a person that can help me 1-2 days and I am going to save that for the monster door install. Im ok with losing money on these jobs. In fact, I probably already have. I just want to keep my business going, my clients happy, and my sanity. I have no problem working 12-14hr days as that is what I have been doing for the last few months because I have been doing that though, these minor problems just landed way harder than they normally would.

I really appreciated the advice. This is what I needed. It says a lot about your character that you are willing to go out of your way and lift up a random person on the internet you do nto know. Much appreciated LeeRoyMan
 

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JR clients (people) appreciate honesty and good will. They appreciate an artisan/craftsman when they hear the artisan/craftsman isn't happy with their own results and want to make it better and to their satisfaction instead of "just good enough". It means you respect them, their trust in you and the value of their hard earned money. And, they don't like surprises when they're not good surprises ;) You did the right thing for your client and for your business by being up front with them. I'm sure it will pay dividends. This is an observation from someone who has been in the construction/building business for almost 40 years.
 

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I don’t have much to add other than a suggestion that you might need to create levels for your clients. Some pay extremely well and can’t wait, some pay a more reasonable price and can wait. And add something into the contracts and agreements that says delays are rare but do happen and when they do you’ll do everything you can to control them and they will need to adjust to that. If they can’t then they’ll need to pay the up charge to move to the higher tier
Best of luck on your work.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
And a third option is sub-contracting out the door or hiring someone who can do it on an temp or hourly basis. Or the finishing. Or the hairline crack. This will cost money, of course, but it might save your sanity and keep your customers happy.

Falling behind schedule is the curse of contractors. But it’s also a reality that every customer who has ever hired a contractor has experienced. I do advise you explain to your customers what’s going on, and tell them how and when you are going to fix the problem—-when you’ve figured that out.

And meanwhile, get some help. I had to do this enough times when starting out, like when I had installed a complete custom kitchen and the conversion varnish finish turned green. OMG was that horrible. And it cost me to hire some expert assistance but didn’t see any other way. Lost money, but had a happy customer in the end.
All good advice Sark. I know I need to get some help/an employee. I have been avoiding it because of the perceived headache of trying to keep them busy, the extra paperwork, and the liability. Unfortunately I try to take on bigger and better projects that I need help on and do not hire help for the above reasons and I think I am now seeing the consequences of that mindset.

A whole kitchen turned green? Man, I do not wish that on my worst enemy. It makes the failed finish on my side table look like a minor blip! Somebody has always had/has it worse I guess! I know these mistakes will happen even when I am 65 but when they happen all at once they can really take a hit on you mentally. I do not care about losing money as long as I do not do it so much that I go under, but I do care about delivering the client the best possible project from a craftsmanship perspective. As I am sure with yourself, I am not in this for the money if I was, I wouldve been a doctor lol
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
JR clients (people) appreciate honesty and good will. They appreciate an artisan/craftsman when they hear the artisan/craftsman isn't happy with their own results and want to make it better and to their satisfaction instead of "just good enough". It means you respect them, their trust in you and the value of their hard earned money. And, they don't like surprises when they're not good surprises ;) You did the right thing for your client and for your business by being up front with them. I'm sure it will pay dividends. This is an observation from someone who has been in the construction/building business for almost 40 years.
Thanks builtinbkyn. It honestly felt like a relief to tell my other two clients their project was on hold until I could devote 100% of my attention to fixing/finishing them. I imagined them chewing me out but of course they were completely understanding. I live in a very small town so word travels very fast when you really screw someone over.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I don’t have much to add other than a suggestion that you might need to create levels for your clients. Some pay extremely well and can’t wait, some pay a more reasonable price and can wait. And add something into the contracts and agreements that says delays are rare but do happen and when they do you’ll do everything you can to control them and they will need to adjust to that. If they can’t then they’ll need to pay the up charge to move to the higher tier
Best of luck on your work.
I never thought of doing it that way. I have always kind of operated by the "first contract signed, first project built" schedule but I am seeing that methods downfall in this situation. Some projects just take precedence over others for various reasons like this bar's hard opening date. Thanks for the advice JCamp!
 

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All I could help you with is if there are any questions you have regarding the ADA part of the job as that is what I do as my day job, but I would need to know what state and year of the code you are building to. Each state can use different codes, but more than likely you are building to a set of plans and that should keep you out of trouble. One thing to beware of is the operating force to open the doors and closing speed, the closing speed is just a closure adjustment but there are a number of things that can affect the opening force which in California needs to be 5 pounds maximum.
 

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I've been thinking of transitioning to being a business, but haven't, so this is response isn't from experience, but when researching business approaches, I came upon an interesting video. I'll keep searching for it for you, but what this person suggested as a matter of his experience running his woodworking business is that you tell clients that, when they sign a contract with you, they are getting a spot in your work list. They are not getting a delivery date. He explains that he gives each job his full attention and does not want to be in a position in which he must rush a job or guess at delivery dates since, after all, things happen. He goes on to explain that, before doing this, the stress of running the business was crushing. Either he didn't know if he had enough work to stay fed or he had the pressure of stacked schedules he had to meet or feel like a failure even though that is the nature of the work. So, he turned to this system. If I recall correctly, and I am almost certain that I do, he has customers provide a substantial payment when they sign the contract even though there's no delivery date and they are only on the list. This is the second half of dealing with business stress, which was knowing his cash flow so that he didn't have to choose between eating, paying the mortgage, and buying materials for the next job. I'll keep looking for the video....I wouldn't want you to go on just my memory and I never researched whether he was full of beans vs. having a successful business.
 

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When I retired, handed over our business to my daughters, and became a 1 man shop to do different things other than architectural millwork, I became a 1 man shop and had to adjust to that.

I take only 1 job at a time and will not take a job that has a date and deadline to be completed unless I know I can do that. When I get asked to do a project for a client the 1st thing I ask them is when do you need it completed. I tell them I'm working on a project right now and then when I think it'll be completed., and I could start on your project then. If that doesn't work for them, then I let them move on to someone else. I'm not going to lose money nor stress out over trying to meet a deadline and or keep my shop loaded with work. If you've got numerous projects lined up and one gets you behind, then most likely the other projects will fall behind too. My experiences.

If I run into a problem on a project and see it's going to take longer than I expected, I contact the client and let them know the situation. Every client I've had to tell that told me they understand and keep them updated. Project completed and a happy client. So for the last 6 years I've been a 1 man shop, that has worked for me with no loss of money nor stress.

I'm finishing a project now that was initially t be completed several weeks ago. Due to sourcing problems and the weather, I'm about 2 weeks behind on it. The client understands and told me just to keep her updated on it, which I do.

As far as work in my shop right now. I've got 3 farmhouse dining table to build, 2 bed head and foot boards, 2 chest of drawers, 2 blanket chest and a slew of cutting boars to build All the clients are kept informed as to when I can start on them and have given me no grief about it. Their replies, we understand and will wait. Quality is the clue here.

Good luck with your issues and business.
 

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As far as what kind of business I am running that has been my major obstacle starting out. I tend to take on every job because I have a fear of not having work and then have to much work to get done and that makes everyone unhappy. Scheduling work has been by far my biggest weakness.
Scheduling seems to be the hardest task for most craftsmen or contractors I've run across. The lack of standardized work makes it hard to time tasks. Here's the method that got me through the early years. It may work for you.

First, do a spreadsheet calculation of overhead costs. Be honest with yourself and don't be optimistic. If Edmunds.com says your car costs $2,000/year to maintain, include that number and don't assume the car won't break down. Determine the minimum salary that you need. Add salary plus overhead and calculate a shop rate that allows you to earn overhead plus salary in 32 hours and add a little extra on top of that for cushion.

Schedule four 8-hour days of projects per week (real work so not including any break time). Assume you'll also be doing 2 hours or so of mandatory but non-paying work per day (bookkeeping, shopping, quotes, maintenance, etc.) so that amounts to four 10 hour days of work per week.

The 5th day and weekend time can be used to catch up if necessary. It can also be used to take on small, easy jobs that bring in a good hourly rate. But ideally, you'll want to use this time to improve something in the business to make all future work better, easier or more profitable.

I also put a hard cap on 6-day work weeks. There's no point in going around the clock 7 days a week and everybody has stuff unrelated to business that needs to be done. Being focused and energetic gets more done in less hours than being burned out and exhausted.
 

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Lots of good advice here. As a woodshop owner and contractor of 35 years, I learned early on about being careful about who I did work for and the type of work I was going to take on. I only take jobs that are not time sensitive as far as completion dates are concerned and always give an estimated completion of work 2-4 weeks longer than what I think the work will take, this means on 95% of my jobs customers feel that I have completed the work ahead of schedule. Another point is DO NOT!!!! allow customers to talk you into projects or products that you have doubts about your skill level will be able to handle, and this goes for products you have doubts about using also. Most of the time you run into trouble on any job is for breaking these rules and or having a customer that thinks or does know more than you and manages your every move as if you're the puppet and they are the puppeteer. I know following these rules can be very hard especially if you're in dire need of work. Once you have made these mistakes enough you learn to take charge from the first meeting of customers on, you need to have good customer evaluation skills and learn to beg off work from people you can tell are going to be hard to work with, you are the expert and you have to make it clear that your approach to the job will be most beneficial to the customer, along with giving the customer the respect and service they deserve along with regular communication as to how far along you are, and any adjustments or delays, poor communication is the corners stone of the break down of a good working relationships. Every day in business there's a lesson to learn what to do and what not to do.
 
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