I’ve never thought of myself as a good business person and I definitely don’t know how to grow a business, however, next year will mark 25 years of being self-employed. It’s a big deal for me, but it certainly hasn’t been easy. Many things over the years have changed. The work I do has changed. Where I buy products has changed. The cost of things has changed. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the customer.
Most of my customers are great. In fact, many of them have become friends of mine. But I do have to admit there were some customers that would tempt me with the idea of big money and I just want to warn you to beware. If it sounds too good, they are full of crap!
Working for yourself you want to do many things. You want to make a good reputation. You want to please your customers. And you want to make a lot of money. Some customers know this and try to take advantage of you. I don’t remember who the first customer was when they tried this tactic on me, but trust me it has happened many times to many people. The offer is simple, in a nutshell, the customer essentially says, “If you do me right, I’ll give you a lot of work.” Now when you read that you might think to yourself that you wouldn’t believe that for a second. But trust me, it happens many times and it can be quite convincing. I’ll give a few examples.
As a young eager woodworker, I’m excited to sell my furniture. Many smaller shops will offer me the deal of consignment. In other words, you can put your products in their store and they will sell it for you. They will tell you how much they love my work and they know their customers will love it too. It sounds great, and it seems like a wonderful way to make money with your woodworking. But it’s just not so. For starters, they can take up to 50% of your sale. When you factor in your materials and your labor it hardly seems fair they can take so much but that’s the business. Most stores purchase the merchandise for their shelves and try to promote it to get their money back. But consignment stores don’t have to purchase a thing so there is no incentive for them to push my product. In fact, I’ve had some stores like my furniture so much they hide the price tag on my furniture because it made their store look better.
Another common belief for making lots of money is trade shows. Promoters will tell you how your product will really be a big hit at the show. They will tell you how many people have previously visited the show and your product should be a big draw for customers. Once again it sounds all good but keeps in mind they are selling you a spot at the show. The more vendors they have makes them money and makes them look good too.
Over the years I’ve done work for interior decorators and architects. I once had an interior decorator ask me to design him a line of furniture. This was super exciting for me and I was really eager to design and build the furniture to be able to have it sold exclusively at a store. But in the end, the interior decorator wanted HIS name put on the line of furniture, not mine. Needless to say, I did not build the furniture.
I’ve also had builders and contractors promise me all the custom built-ins needed for the houses they were building. This seems great because that means there is always steady work constantly being supplied to me. As the contractor is building a house I know exactly when and where I will be needed. It’s great for planning and knowing your income. However, most contractors have skilled carpenters and I was only called when the project was above their skill level.
Even the lure of selling online is misleading. ‘‘Build a website and they will come’’ is not that simple. A website is like a business card. A business card doesn’t do any good until you get it into the hands of someone. And even then, there is no guarantee they will call. So how do you get someone to visit your website? You pay to promote it. So many people go the cheaper route of using online selling platforms such as Esty, eBay, and others. But there are costs for selling on these sites as well as shipping costs and not to mention the countless of other sellers there that essentially are your competition. Once again, it’s never that easy.
Now if I’m sounding negative, I don’t mean to. I’m just being realistic. Honestly, not one of the ways listed above will be successful for you. The truth is, it takes a combination of all of them to pay off. Some will have more advantages than others. But they all come with their own drawbacks. The best thing is to know what you’re getting into. Don’t let someone lure you into thinking something is a great deal. Remember, if you are honest with yourself you will never be disappointed.
Chad Stanton- Stanton Fine Furniture 11-30-2022