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Working hours

There are talented woodworkers who say "I can't sell my work" because they don't want to be bound to a time commitment. Or people who would like to do it part time, but their primary job can interfere. How can you run a business on a schedule like that? Easy... be honest with your customers.

There will always be a customer who wants something immediately, or wants the delivery schedule to coordinate with the construction or remodeling of a home or other event. Those customers are generally best served by someone with a larger shop and a team of workers. If something goes wrong, or someone gets sick, they have the capacity to rebuild something or put on a larger crew. On the other hand I know a very talented part-time woodworker who only promises delivery "when I get it done." No deadlines, no time estimates. He primarily builds "accessories" like tables and boxes - not kitchen cabinets. His customers know the rules "up front" but his work is good enough that he has all the business he wants.

If your solo business is intended to be your primary income, then the "self-employed, be your own boss" rule applies... you can choose which 50% of the time you work (which 12 hours per day, 7 days per week). If you want to remain a one-person business, then part of the time you are the janitor, the salesman, the bookkeeper, and the publicist. Of those 12 hours per day, you will be lucky if 6 of them are doing your primary work. Thomas Moser, founder of Thos Moser Furniture, and author of How To Build Shaker Furniture: The Complete Updated & Improved Classic laments that there are more people doing office work than people building his hand-crafted furniture. If you are "really really good" you may be able to make a living working merely 8 hours per day.

There are craftsmen who require (or prefer) discipline - They are up at the same time each day, eat at the same time, and like to go to the shop at the same time. More power to them. If that is your style, you might want to have enough customers to keep you busy in the shop for 1 or 2 or 4 hours per day, not 8 hours. No problem. Going to work and coming home on a regular schedule also gives you the opportunity to have a shop away from your home... whether a few blocks or a few miles.

Woodworking has always been fun for me. I like to wander in and out of the shop, as I take care of other household duties. I am as likely to be in the shop at 9 am as at midnight. The hours worked per week are fairly high, but not always in large blocks of time. If this is the way you work, you should consider having a shop in or near your home. That also means, with noise and dust, you probably can't live in that fancy house next to the country club.

I joke that my business plan does not include working hard. When I go on vacation or travel, no work gets done. But I am active enough that ALL of my equipment is paid for out of current earnings, I have made a profit every year that I have tried, and there is enough profit that my wife (a CPA) gets upset at the taxes and estimated tax payments. I couldn't support my family in our comfortable lifestyle with my casual work attitude, but if I worked hard, I probably could. (A couple of my vendors have pointed out that lots of solo shops are thriving in the current recession, while many of the big shops are folding.) For over 10 years I had a continuous backlog of work but there were also slow years. There are certainly customers who find my casual work rules acceptable.