Woodworking as a Business
Ok, so, you love woodworking / woodcrafting, right? You wouldn’t be on this site otherwise. The question is, are you one of the lucky few who get to do what you love for a living? Would you like to be? What if you could turn your passion into profit? What if you could either augment your regular income, or better yet, replace it? If working with wood is already your vocation, what if you could improve the harvest on the fruits of your labor?
I’m going to assume, for the sake of this post, that you’re skilled enough to produce wooden products of a quality that people would be willing to pay for. (If you’re not yet, other other articles on this site will endevor to help with that.) If you go to a furnature store, or high-end cabinetry store, or so forth, it’s not difficult to find woodwork projects that you could build for WAY less than what they’re selling them for, or something that you could build better for the same price. So why don’t you? For most of us, the answer to that question comes down to one word: customers.
What good is it to build beautiful works of wooden art, or to excel at the craft of placing function above form, if no one knows about it? But how do you connect with people who are in the market for exactly what you produce?
One traditional method includes word-of-mouth, where your friends, family, or other customers brag about your work. Indeed, this is often the strongest form of finding new clients, but this method is limited in scope. Only so many people hear these recommendations, and of those that do, not all will be at a point where they’re looking to buy. Still, you can get some of your most valuable and loyal customers this way, so don’t neglect this method. Just don’t rely on it as your only method. You might even get creative and offer your existing customers a discount or finders fee or special gift, for referring you new business.
Of course, the next traditional method of finding new customers is advertising. And by traditional, nowadays we’re talking about newspapers, magazines, radio, television, billboards, fliers, door hangers, etcetera. But all of these methods have one thing in common, to varying degrees, and that is cost. Most of these methods involve a significant expense, and most of the people that you reach are not your target customer. I use the analogy of this being the “shotgun method”, or “spray and pray”. It is not uncommon to spend huge sums of money with little or no result. If you haven’t guessed yet, I am not a fan of this method.
One a lot of people don’t think of, but that is actually quite effective, is using a joint venture type of relationship with another business that is complimentary to but not competitive with your own business. Sure, wholesale arangements count, where you sell a retailer your product at a discount and they resell it at a retail price. But, that’s not the only thing I’m talking about. I guess the next step away from that would be selling on consinement, but that’s almost the same thing. What if, for example, you teamed up with an interior decorator. They could show their clients examples of your work, especially if they’ve used it in their designs before, and you and they could both benefit (and profit). Obviously that’s only an example. The possibilities along this line are almost endless. If you can think of any ideas, add them as a comment below this post!
Something that a lot of woodworkers / woodcrafters have had a lot of success with are things like trade shows, craft shows, flee markets, swap meets, festivals, and so forth. Depending upon your product, you can either bring physical inventory to be sold on site, examples to show that you can sell and ship from existing inventory back home, an array of choices that people can custom order which you then produce to their specifications, or you could even have photos or computer slideshows if bringing your physical products to such events would be impracticle or unweildy.
Finally, in today’s world, it would be irresponsible to not use the internet as a method of finding new customers. The future of marketing and advertising resides online, be it websites or social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and so on. Whether you use free methods of reaching new customers, through friends of friends of friends, or what is called “organic search results”, or if you use paid forms of directed advertising often called “pay per click” (PPC), you can reach both a much wider audience as well as a much more focused audience of potential customers. If traditional advertising is a shotgun, this is a rifle. But you don’t need to be a computer wiz to utilize such tools. Most are really easy to learn, but it is also very possible to outsorce this part of the business. The cost is usually surprisingly low, and often yields superior results. If you’re serious about making money at your craft, don’t neglect this. In my opinion, this is your most important way of obtaining new customers.
So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have additional ideas that I didn’t think of? Please comment below and share with the community your ideas, opinions, experiences, successes, failures, lessons learned, etc!