Entrepreneurship comes in many shapes and sizes, from the kid with the lemonade stand in his front yard, all the way to the high-powered business leader making angel investments in companies with potential. What they all have in common is a desire to provide the public with something they may want, often something created by their own skill and ingenuity, all while turning a profit.
And an area of entrepreneurship that is seeing real growth, especially in a moment where everyone suddenly found themselves at home with a lot of time on their hands, is woodworking. Many people like me are finding themselves on the cusp of becoming ‘woodtrepreneurs’, that is, skilled craftsmen, turning their skill at woodworking into a serious business.
To me, what drives a true woodtrepreneur is a desire to provide customers with something unique, handcrafted, and of high quality that can’t be found anywhere else. In a world where almost anything can be purchased cheaply, so long as you are willing to accept that it is mass-manufactured, making and selling a woodworking product hearkens back to when the best things were made by skilled, experienced hands, one at a time.
But if you’re interested in woodtrepreneurship, there are some things that you should know before you get started.
Where Wood You Start? (Sorry!)
Before you try to start a business with your woodworking, you have to consider four very important things:
- It is imperative that you make a self-assessment: think about your skill level, and your experience. If you know other woodworkers or woodtrepreneurs, ask them to do an honest (even a brutally honest) evaluation of your work. You may find that you are not quite ready to make the move to professional woodworking. And that’s okay! It doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future.
- If you are attempting to turn doing what you love into a business, you must understand the difference between being a skilled amateur and a real professional. While you may currently be selling custom items to friends and family, the obligations you have to them are often very different than those you have to business clients. They are often paying a premium for unique items, and you must be prepared to deal with demands for refunds, or dissatisfied customers.
- You should ask yourself if woodworking is a hobby or a passion? Will this be a side-business? Something you want to do full time? Do you want to be able to limit the number of hours every week that you have to spend in the shop? The difference between the two can help you decide the nature and size of your woodworking business.
- To be a woodtrepreneur, it is important that you are willing to invest in your business. In my experience, woodworking can be a very expensive hobby, depending on what you want to do with it. There’s the cost of the basic materials, which can range from relatively common, thrifty wood to rarer, more sought-after wood that is considerably more expensive. There are supplementary materials like glues, stains, brushes, and varnishes, as well as clamps, saws, polishers, vices, and other basic tools. And if you want to do larger pieces you may need to purchase or rent time with much larger pieces of equipment, sometimes on a near-industrial scale. Is this something you already do or are willing?
Promotion is Easy, Business is Hard
Because the world of professional, custom woodworking is so specific, you can likely forego traditional advertising. It has never been easier (or cheaper) for skilled entrepreneurs in relatively niche markets to get noticed by customers by promoting themselves and their work on social media. Try to be smart about which ones are the best fit. Instagram, for example, is image-centric, while being organized through keywords and other specific topics.
However, woodtrepreneurs looking to get noticed should try to get a lay of the land before jumping into social media. For example, something I do is check out other woodtrepreneurs and see what keywords are popular within that category. You can then use the most common terms to get yourself noticed. Just be sure not to copycat keywords that are too specific, and never use the comments on others’ posts to promote yourself.
That being said, there are places to promote yourself and your work online. Reddit hosts multiple subreddits dedicated to traditional, skilled woodworking, where users are encouraged to promote their own work. And Facebook Groups have plenty of locality-based options for woodtrepreneurs looking to connect with new customers.
Deciding the Future of Your Business
While you shouldn’t assume that your business will grow into an empire, there are future possibilities for which you should at least be mentally prepared. If you use social media to promote your work, there is always the chance that one of your creations might become widely shared and go viral. For many small businesses, a sudden, drastic increase in attention can spell doom as they struggle to meet the new demand for their suddenly popular product.
Do you know what you’d do if, within a short span of time, orders for your work increased by 50% or even 500%? If your answer to that question is, “I’d tell them to wait,” that’s perfectly fine. But if you have an eye towards expanding your business, having some contingency plans in place may be useful.
The important thing to remember when setting out as a woodtrepreneur is understanding what you want out of it. Too often we don’t see entrepreneurship as valid if it isn’t trying to constantly expand and take over the world. There is nothing wrong if you wish to keep your business small, so long as you know that from the outset, and are willing to change if necessary.
Finally, Go Green
If you can, try to get your materials from ethically and environmentally friendly sources. There are several certification groups and agencies that can help you with this, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Consumers are increasingly concerned with where the products they buy come from, and being able to tell them your wood comes from green companies and sources is good for the world, and for the reputation of your business.
Jacob Baranski has 20 years of experience in the wood and construction industries. He is passionate about real estate and the application of modern design. His other interests include traveling, mountain biking, meditating, and practicing yoga.