The First Full Year as a Woodworker
Sometimes this woodworking business dictates that I sit and wait for things to dry. Patience is not my thing and patience when I am not being productive is even worse. Today I have two large projects sitting in my shop that have been milled, assembled and customer validated. That means it’s now time to apply paint, stain and polyurethane. That also means that I cannot make sawdust. Saw dust and wet finish do not get along. It tends to make all the hard work look bad. So I sat down at lunch and said to my self-employed business woman of a wife “What do I do this afternoon?” Her response, “Write a blog post!” Did I mention she is a graphic designer – marketer – book designer – blogger? So here I go…
While I have been building things for over 30 years, Bayne Custom Woodworking, LLC has been a real company for 5 years. Maybe I need to start at the beginning of how this all started.
Five Year Celebration
We were a young couple living in upstate NY and I was working at warehouse job filling orders for a local drug store chain. I started to make toys for our children to play with and Christmas gifts for family members. My corporate job soon transitioned to an IT professional role that served us well for over 27 years but I had really found my passion while working with wood. A table saw, sander, drill press and chop saw served me well for a long time.
Finding a Shop
In 2009, the kids were off starting their own lives and we decided it was time to move from upstate New York to Tennessee. Before we moved I was working in a damp basement with low ceilings and only concerned with building things that were good for my family. But in Tennessee we found a house that had a 20 x 25 out building where I could setup my new wood shop. So I setup my Ridgid table saw, old second hand Ryobi chop saw, drill press and other tools. No air conditioning, no heat, but it was dry, no dirt floors and I could stand up without my head hitting a floor joist.
Using Local Sawmills
I found a cedar mill about 45 minutes east and another mill about an hour west that would provide oak and poplar at a very reasonable price. Both mills however provided rough lumber that needed to be milled before I could produce product. Which means I needed some new tools LOL. But they both provided me with materials to keep building for my family, and potential customers.
Honestly, I cannot remember what the first project was that I built for a customer. I think it may have been a set of Adirondack chairs made of eastern red cedar. But all of a sudden I had people that wanted me to build things for them. If I was going to build items for sale then I was going to do it the right way. Hence Bayne Custom Woodworking, LLC was formed officially 5 years ago in spring 2017.
Working Full Time while Moonlighting as a Woodworker
But, and here is the big BUT, I was still working a full time IT professional job that entailed a lot of hours and concentration. Fortunately, I had managers that not only understood my real passion, but were actual customers. So I worked a full time job during the day and then worked 3 – 4 hours each evening and all day Saturday on customer projects. So that means my normal work week was about 60 – 70 hours a week.
Sometimes my woodworking and my IT job overlapped. I remember one Saturday I was on call for my IT job and of course I was working in the shop. I received a call from the command center that there was an issue and Change Management needed to be involved. So I took the call but continued working. At one point someone interrupted the call and said “What is that noise, is someone sanding?” Oops, hey, I had work to do and I was only there to approve the IT change once I had all the facts. We can all multitask right?
Time for Full Time Woodworking
Then one day about a year and a half ago while driving to Indiana for our granddaughters birthday my wife looked at me and said, “I think it’s time to change roles.” You see, she has been running Becky’s Graphic Design for better than 30 years. I had been praying for years that God would show me when it was time to walk away from a full time job to do this. What better sign than my wife being the one that started the conversation.
We returned from that trip, and after a lot of prayer and conversations, I informed my manager that it was time to step away and run the business full time. After some conversations I agreed to stay on for 4 months to get them through a large project that I normally ran twice a year and to train my replacement. So on March 12, 2021 I walked away from my IT career of 27 years to run Bayne Custom Woodworking, LLC full time.
This has Been the Best Time of My Life!
We have not really advertised the company except for my Instagram account @baynecustomwoodworking and my website, but business has never slowed. Of course I would like more business, but I also know that at my age I needed time to get used to being on my feet all day and handling the amount of energy it would take. After all, I have been sitting at a desk for better than 40 hours a week for more than 27 years.
There have only been 2 weeks this year that I did not have a project on the bench. Those 2 weeks were used to fine tune machines and update processes. It always seemed that the minute I worried about not having a project, I would get an email asking for a quote. Work had come from sources I would never have imagined. People that I did not know contacted me and were willing to send me their money and trust me with their dreams. Some were fixing items that were destroyed in tornados while others were projects people dreamed of. I have found that the best thing I could do through all of this was to be “ME” over design and over build.
Building Client Relationships
I am not a people person, meaning, that having to communicate with customer is something that I am not good at. Again, I have to be me and just be me. I have learned to talk to people that I have never met before. Mostly by email but a few by phone. I have a few customers that I meet with on a regular basis face to face to determine and update projects. My wife has been the strong hold here. She is there to bounce things off of and to make sure that I am on track. “Just be you” she says…. And I laugh.
I have learned to trust the skills I have and to learn new ones every day. I have learned that its ok to turn down a job If it just doesn’t feel right. While not many, I have turned down jobs this year. Most projects do not start with a single conversation or email. Some are very simple and take a couple of emails to get things started. Some need more conversation to define what a customer wants, what can be practically built and what can be built within the allowable budget. I have a customer right now that contacted me 4 months ago and seemed to have disappeared. Life got in the way for them and she restarted the conversation for the build. 3 drawings and 3 quotes later we are close to a conclusion.
Meeting Client Expectations
Another thing I have learned is that sometimes expectations don’t meet real world. Customers always want new items to match items that have been around for 50 – 75 years. Sunlight and age change the color of wood, stains and paint. Here is that patience thing again.
Quotes can be interesting considering scope changes, market changes and just changes. I have learned that I have to be paid for the work that I do and not to apologize for my prices. It has taken years to acquire the skills that I have. When someone buys something from me they are not just buying an item. They are buying a part of me. Don’t apologize for that. I built a spreadsheet that allows me to properly quote projects that include everything I need to know. Material prices, Labor prices, Markup , Cushion, Taxes, Donations,etc…
I needed a way to bill customers and communicate invoices as well as keep my bank account straight. I purchased QuickBooks Online and have learned to use it properly over the past year. I still have a lot to learn about the software and the many accounts that need to be maintained with a small business
In my type of business social media is very important for communication and exhibiting my work. I started Instagram years ago and have maintained that to showcase not only the work I do but how I do the work. The tools that I use and how I use them. I started a YouTube channel a while back to create instructional videos for folks to watch. One thing with social media is to be yourself and don’t worry about what folks say. I like to tell my kids…
The business has provided the funds for the tools and supplies for the last 3 years. But also means that my corporate salary was the primary for our household needs. Without that corporate salary each week we knew this would be a challenge. God has provided when the needs arrived for both business and household. Tools, supplies, materials, customers, funds for bills, etc…have all been there at Gods timing. After 10 months I have actually been able to transfer funds from the business to the family account on a bi-weekly basis.
Here we are about to surpass the one-year mark of being totally self employed. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t worry about the business or the pressure that I put on my bride to be the primary breadwinner. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t worry about the reaction of customers after each job or if I could actually build what they wanted. But I will tell you that each day starts in God’s word and no project is ever started without prayer.
Heading to Work Bench Conference
We head to Atlanta this week for our fourth WorkBenchCon.com – It’s been a great resource for us as we build the business. It’s always great to meet the people we follow on social media and make reconnect with vendors each year. Follow our feed on Instagram as we enjoy one more year.