Serious business

As I said in my last post, I’m starting to get serious about my making. Part of that is exploring how I can make money off my work. I’ve already started to make a little bit – I’m teaching a monthly workshop at Techshop based on my cutting boards, I’m working on a couple of projects commissioned by friends, and I did one big job for a local contractor that needed help cutting some custom mounts for a floating staircase.

But now I’m interested in taking my woodworking-for-profit to the next level. I’d like to sell some of my own designs. I’m going to start by focusing on the product I’ve already perfected, cutting boards. I have some ideas for really innovative designs that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I’m also experimenting at Techshop with other kitchen and household improvements that could form the basis for future products.

Towards that end, I went to the library on Tuesday and started planning out how I could start up my own woodworking business. The San Francisco main library has a great section devoted entirely to small business issues. I browsed through the stacks and found three books that seemed like perfect foundations for my research. It was tough, but rewarding – I feel like I’m working out mental muscles that haven’t been flexed since I graduated.

The three books are NOLO’s “The Small Business Start-up Kit for California” and “How to Write a Business Plan,” along with “Grow Your Handmade Business by Kari Chapin. All these books are well thought out, methodical and informative. They offer lots of nuts-and-bolts advice about how to analyze a startup business, before spending a dime, and how to turn an interest or hobby into a business.

On the one hand, I feel a sense of confidence, writing out my goals and researching their viability makes my dreams feel more real and achievable. But on the other hand I feel intimidated – putting down all my hopes, dreams and assumptions makes me feel naked, especially since I plan to enlist help from many others before I get started. I traditionally do things on my own, and sharing so much with other people will be terrifying.

But that’s a good thing. One of the goals for my Passion Project is to continually live outside my comfort zone. Over the next few years, I want to always be just a little bit scared. Right now I’m scared on two fronts – first of all, what if I fail? What if I go through all this planning, preparation and hard work, and don’t have anything to show at the end? Second of all, I’m coming to the end of my savings from working in Korea – I have to make a go of this woodworking business now, or take a break and save up some more money later.

But I can overcome both of those fears. Even if my plans don’t work out, and I fall flat on my face, I will have benefited by trying. That’s the reason I’m trying to be as systematic as possible – in addition to setting up my business, I’m getting the experience of setting up a business. I may or may not succeed in the end, but the skills I learn will stay with me for a long time to come. Also, I’m sure by the end of this process I’ll have a much better idea if this is the type of work I’m cut out for.

I’m not going to share my step by step business planning on here – I need to feel the freedom to write whatever I want without worrying about others reading it. But I will share commentary on my experiences, and once I’ve finished the process I’ll share much more about my plans.

For now, I’m going to take things slowly. I’m working through 1-2 chapters in these books per day. Yesterday I went through a self-assessment to determine if I really want to start my own business (I do.) Today I started the process of writing an actual preliminary business plan.

I’m going to take the rest of the week to write and refine my business plan, and then I am going to reach out to others. I’m going to make time to talk with people in my family who started their own businesses, then try to find some online and local resources with information on woodworking businesses in particular.

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