It is Just Plain Hard to Make a Buck!

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Forum topic by andy6601 posted 10-12-2011 03:47 PM 2989 views 2 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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91 posts in 3520 days

10-12-2011 03:47 PM

I just wanted to hop on my soap box for just a minute, and say it is just plain hard to make a buck! I do not care what industry you work in it is just hard to make money as a business. Now, first let me say I am not in the wood working industry I am in the electrical industry and it is flat out stupid! I do wood working as a hobby and like everyone romantised about how great it would be to do this for a living and so on, but the truth of the matter is that once you start to do ANYTHING for money or compensation it takes it to a different level.
If you take a commission you can not work on it on and off for a year. Your client, well they will not be your client for long, will not have it. What happens is it does become a job and like any job it has to be done and requires extra effort and energy that goes above and beyond the hobby level. Even if you are building something for a friend and they are paying for any portion of the project, they have just become your client, customer, or what have you and you now have a reputation to uphold like it or not. You have just brought your wood working to a new level, that being said this is the best way to find out if this is something that you would want to pursue further or decide it is not worth the headache.
Please do not misunderstand I am not trying to rip anyone’s dreams to pieces and I will never say not to take the leap of starting a business, but most business owners I have talked always say do notnget in to this business do x,y, or z, the truth is there is no bullet proof business model out there and anyone who promises you that there is, is lying, so walk away slowly and keep your hand over your wallet!
I have done some wood working for money and have enjoyed it a lot, however it is a headache to have deal with people, and I deal with people at my day job, contractors beating me up on price, deadlines, staying compliant with permits etc. It is a real pain in the rear. Wood working for profit is no different, and has problems just like any other business has, I believe that is just the business world.
Again I am not trying to discourage anyone from selling their wares, I just want people to realize it is DAMN hard, and please ask for advice, but sometimes it seems like people just ask the same questions over and over again and the poor folks that do this for a living would have to getting tired of answering the same questions over and over.
I am not a professional woodworker I am in the electric business, but there are a lot of simularties that I believe are universal in running a business. I just want folks to really think about it before taking it to the next level. I hope I did not turn anyone off by this but please understand it is hard, but not impossible and it takes a lot of work to sell stuff, sometimes more work than building what you are trying to sell. I welcome any comments as I hope I made my point and if anyone has any further insight to contribute to what I have tried ot say.

36 replies so far

View happy_budah's profile


138 posts in 4850 days

#1 posted 10-12-2011 03:59 PM

you are so right a job is a job! WORK….... just another 4 letter word!!!!!

-- the journy of a thousand miles begins with a single step " Lou-Tzu"

View Loren's profile


11141 posts in 4700 days

#2 posted 10-12-2011 04:10 PM

There are a lot of ducks to get in rows to make real money in any business:
production, efficiency, outsourcing, competitive advantage, marketing and
so forth. It can be done, and the complexities of these processes are
part of the reason for business school degrees – business is detail oriented
and the way you make money has much less to do with producing a
good end product than most beginners realize. The harsh reality is that
with savvy in other crucial areas, it is possible to do well in business with
a not-so-fabulous product that is well-packaged. Custom woodworking is
tricky to package in today’s commoditized marketplace. Artists at least have
their unique aesthetic but woodworkers are, accurately, usually perceived
not as artists but as competitive creators of commodity.

View danr's profile


154 posts in 4237 days

#3 posted 10-12-2011 04:10 PM

Interesting comments. I have thought about starting my own business many many times but never really got close. It is more of a fantasy for me I guess. I have never done woodworking for money (just for charity) and the charity stuff was ok and I was glad to do it. As far as a business in wood working is concerned I guess I have kind of decided that I will only try it if/when I retire from my real job (and hopfully will not NEED the income). In the mean time I will enjoy wood working as a hobby. I admire, very much the small business owners/operators in any field.

It is my opinion that in order t make it in the wood working business these days you would be better off having somthing unique and somwhat artistic that caters to the wealthy. Mass produced furniture and cabinets are so available today that are of reasonable quality and price. This makes it tough from a small business perspective. Good luck to all those who try. Some will be sucessful. Keep trying.

View andy6601's profile


91 posts in 3520 days

#4 posted 10-12-2011 04:35 PM

I guess where I am trying to go with this is, business is business and like Loren said marketing has a lot to do with it. Marketing is not wood working, nor is networking, accounting all this other junk that is needed to be a business. I feel that sometimes folks keep asking the same questions on this topic hoping for a different answer. I will use this example, we all know how to lose weight, eat right and excersize, but yet how many diet fads come and go and pills? The only thing that gets lighter are the people’s wallet! I have done other things too; small engine repair, handyman work, woodworking, electric and one thing I have found is it is not so much what you do, it is how you do it (if that makes any sense). Doing the acutal thing that you are being paid to do is the easy part! It is everything else that take so much darn work, finding leads, coridinating with the customer, price issues and listening to customer’s life stories and all that drama (some of you know what I am talking about) Things that have absolutly nothing to do with what you are being paid for, I for one enjoy it but did not realize how involed it can get when I first started out.

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 4120 days

#5 posted 10-12-2011 04:55 PM

” It is everything else that take so much darn work, finding leads, coridinating with the customer, price issues and listening to customer’s ….....”

Those are what makes a hobby into a business. You can’t think of the shop time being the only thing that “you’re paid to do.” As soon as you go into business, all of the activities involved in establishing, growing, and maintaining the business become things that “you’re paid to do.”

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7851 posts in 3852 days

#6 posted 10-12-2011 05:20 PM

My family has been self employed for three generations. Each generation started their OWN business, it wasn’t passed on. My grandfather started a well drilling business. My father started a locksmith business. I started a residential service business. We’ve all had very little problem making a living. IT CAN BE DONE!

I think it comes down to motivation and creativity. For example, I was motivated by my desire to work on my own terms, not punching a clock for somebody else. If I get lazy, I need only remind myself that I have to keep going or else I’ll end up bagging groceries for someone else. If I want to maintain my freedom, I have to work for it.

The creativity comes in when you have to deal with competition. You have to come up with new ways to make money, and that sometimes opens up whole new avenues for you. For example, after 15 years running my business I decided it wasn’t enough to make money working for myself anymore. I wanted to truly enjoy what I was doing for a living. So I looked at my hobbies and figured out how I could make money doing that. Long story short, every year I spend less and less time at my old business and more time doing what I enjoy for a living. In fact, 80% of my income is now generated from things related to my hobbies.

Add to it the fact that I live in Michigan, which has been in a single state recession for more than a decade. Yet I still make it work. Not because I’m some business guru… I can do it because I don’t buy into the “it’s too hard” crap.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12314 posts in 4480 days

#7 posted 10-12-2011 06:42 PM

I retired at 59 and could not have done so had I not spent the previous 17 years self employed. I kicked myself often for not making the leap sooner.
I was never without a customer base and each year brought greater financial rewards and personal freedom than the previous one.
However, my business was a service and did not produce a tangible product. Also, no shop space or employees were necessary. My equipment costs were minimal compared to my present shop and machinery budget. Which, if one were in a cabinet or furniture business, would not be adequate.
I did spend an ungodly number hours/days and lots of $$ traveling in order to sell and provide the contracted services.
There is a whole lot to be said in favor self employment. It may not be for everyone, but for those who can weather the storm, it’s great!

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2172 posts in 3902 days

#8 posted 10-12-2011 06:44 PM

Good discussion; thank you, Andy, for throwing the first pitch.

One of Andy’s points seems to be that going into business for yourself is hard. Granted.

My caution is that we not then assume that the alternative—working for someone else—is easy.

I have lots of admiration for those who have chosen a career, grown in it, and stayed.

Similarly for those who have done this, done that, done something else.

All three choices require this for success: Show up, look your best, do your best, and be grateful.

I’m anxious to read more on this topic…



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View andy6601's profile


91 posts in 3520 days

#9 posted 10-12-2011 07:16 PM

Working for the “man” is just as hard, really that is what I am getting at is life is hard, if you expect things to be handed to you then you are in sad shape. Again I am not trying to discourage anyone from making a leap into a business. You never know it is for you until you try, I have been comming to lumber jocks for a while this is by far my most favorite forum topic to read. It seems that every month someone posts “I want to make money making sawdust, I made a bird house and I want to sell it for $500.00 what do you think?”(for those who make bird houses I mean no disrespect) I honestly think they feel that someone is going to say here is the magic formula that you need to use to be come rich making sawdust and working 10 hours a week…..come on! The folks that have put in their blood sweat and tears and had hard won the lessons of business I can not think are just going spill it all out there, really until you yourself are in the postion to learn those hard lessons I don’t think really you can explain it to someone who has never been in that spot.

Maybe I am getting ahead of myself or to far out there but this forum is great, but like anything you have to pay your dues and nothing easy is ever worth while. Maybe it is a sign of the times we live in of instant everything and “I can buy it cheaper than I can make it” and on and on. I believe that people can make it in business, it is that so many look at thru rose colored glasses. Like Stumpynubs said enough excuses.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7851 posts in 3852 days

#10 posted 10-12-2011 07:36 PM

I have no problem with helping people understand that they have to work hard to run their own business. But the vast majority of times a person says he is considering becoming self employed he gets a bunch of responses from people thinking they need to give him a reality check. They go on and on about how many hours they put in, how many lean years they’ve endured, how complicated the process is.

My attitude is, if someone REALLY needs to be told all that, they’re probably not intelligent enough to run a business anyway!

I believe that the people who come on this and other forums to talk about “taking the plunge” didn’t just wake up this morning and decide to quit their jobs. No, they’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and in the course of those thoughts it has certainally occured to them that being self employed isn’t about sitting on your butt and cashing checks. They KNOW it’s complicated, they KNOW it’s hard work and they’re looking for ENCOURAGEMENT, not reality checks. They want to know how you achieved your successes, not how you’ve been scarred by your failures.

When someone comes to me and says he wants to start his own business, (I have helped several people start businesses) I don’t start laying on all the negatives. I ask what they plan to do or sell, what are their goals, what books have they read, which industry insiders have they talked to. Then I suggest they look into some of the things that I found helpful, talk to the people who helped me, etc. If in the course of that conversation I find out that they’re expectations are unrealistic, THEN I might consider a reality check. What I DON’T do is automatically assume they’re anything less than fully capable of making their dreams into reality or that they are unaware of the hard work ahead of them.

How many of you self employed out there would never have done it if every time they brought it up all you got was a bunch of people moaning about how hard it was. What if nobody tried to encourage you to follow your dreams?

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View andy6601's profile


91 posts in 3520 days

#11 posted 10-12-2011 09:25 PM

Have I not said through the entire thread that I am NOT discouraging anyone from starting a business. My main focus is on the fact that once you are in business wood working is just a small portion of what you do. But like any decision there are pros and cons that need to weighed and at that point one can make a decision.
I have to disagree, I hate to say but I feel there are a lot of people out there who don’t have a clue as to how to run a business or what it entails, I am no means an expert on businesses but there is a big difference from selling a piece now and then being a legit business dealing with all of the legalize taxes, insurance, paper work. I am saying that most people don’t have a clue because I didn’t when got into the business side of what I do.
I am not trying to throw cold water on anyone’s dreams.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 4126 days

#12 posted 10-12-2011 09:34 PM

I have made a very deliberate decision to not try to make money woodworking. I’m quite sure it would take away the fun. My Mother likes to place orders with me for me to make stuff that she gives away as Christmas gifts. On year I made 8 pizza cutters with racks. On something as simple as that I learned that I don’t like taking orders and/or working in a production fashion.

More recently, my Mother placed an order for me to make 3 chairs for her church.

I need to learn to say no to my Mother but, so far, I have not been able to do that. Nonetheless, this little mini-exposure to working for a client, with a deadline, is something I just don’t enjoy doing.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7851 posts in 3852 days

#13 posted 10-12-2011 10:09 PM

Hey Andy- I think you missed my point entirely.

I am saying that 99% of the information the average self employed person gives to someone who is considering starting their own business is the negative stuff. You hardly EVER here someone encourage someone to follow their goals with good, positive advice.

I just wonder why that is…

Hey Rich- Give my your mommy’s phone number. I’ll tell her no for you.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View Puzzleman's profile


417 posts in 3996 days

#14 posted 10-17-2011 09:43 PM

StumpyNubs, I agree. Most of the talk about most anything is the negative side. We do not hear the positive near enough.

I for one love being in business for myself in my woodwokring business. I love the woodworking part, the sales part, the running an office part and all of the other great parts about running a business. One thing that I do realize is that while many people dream about being their own boss, they really just want to put in their time and get a check. I for one, love what I do so much that I don’t think about the money but rather the excitement of the next day’s work, the next day’s sales, the next day’s issues and all the other fun of the next day.

Being in business for myself is a blast. I do have several people who work for me that do their work very well and get a check for it and they are very happy doing it. I could not run my business without them.

As far as it being harder to make a buck, my sales have been up every year, some more than others, but still up from the previous year. In fact, at my last art show sales were up by over 20% from the previous year.

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler,

View Tennessee's profile


2936 posts in 3566 days

#15 posted 10-21-2011 09:17 PM

andy6601, I’ve read all these posts, especially yours, and you have me a little confused. I think we mostly understand that nothing is easy if you want it done well, and you want to do it full time. Neither is working for some slavedriver in a job you might not like. What confuses me is you seem to negative on both ends of the stick, and then I caught your little end saying you put at the end of each post.
“Nothing is hard once you know how to do it.”

Doesn’t that fly right into the face of most of what you’ve said up till now???

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

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