Here is the Question and Answer session for our Mentoring program. If you have questions, you can submit them here–> http://www.retro.net/2013/09/mentoring-program/

The common question I get, is how do I start or grow this business? But you might ask yourself why, instead of how? Why do you want to start or grow it? You might save yourself a lot of headache if you answer this honestly. For me, I loved working with my hands, creating was a fulfilling process, and I knew I was meant to be self-employed. But when the floodgates opened, making my stuff over and over again, hitting deadlines, dealing with all the stuff that came along with it, well lets just say this took the fun out of it. I went from building, to showing employees how to build, to managing managers and numbers. This business has been the most challenging thing I have ever gone through in my life. Way more difficult than dealing with my brain tumor. It stressed my marriage out, and at times, pushed me to the brink of insanity. It may look glorious from your side, but over here, it’s a different story. It’s a complex machine, that I started, that I can’t walk away from for long, or it’ll explode. Every person we hire, makes it more complicated, to a point.

But we’re getting over this hump now, 4 years in, we are hiring more specialized experts, that we trust, to take things off our plate. Oh, and finding the right people, good luck! I am not the best at that, but my wife / partner is, and taught me a lot about it. Most companies are filled with personal drama. Expect that in your’s too. Even if you are an exceptional judge of character. So do I recommend starting your own business? Only to the dedicated, curious, and exceptional person! Less than 1% will succeed. Thank baby Jesus that my wife became my partner, and that we communicate VERY well. We took turns being completely overwhelmed, and the other would take over while we recuperated. I do caution having a partner. While it can help tremendously, you probably have a 1% chance of not driving each other bonkers. Almost all partnerships blow up. And I do not recommend partnering with friends or family, ever. Unless you are willing to throw that relationship away. Much of this headache though, can be alleviated by effective communication and defining expectations. Did I scare you away yet? Well read on to the Q and A part!

Q – I’m starting an engineering business, mostly structural. What is the most effective way for marketing? Letters? Phone calls? Ads? Conventions?  How much time do you spend on marketing?  Should I take out loans to grow my business or should I boot strap it and just reinvest my earnings? -Jim

A – The most effective marketing I’ve found is the web, mainly blogging. Setup a blog, there are free ones out there like Blogger. I use WordPress which is a little more complicated, but well worth it. Start blogging your heart out. The rule is to write interesting relevant stuff. Include pictures too. Write interesting stuff people WANT to read, and they will come. Write junk, and they won’t. Start using the social sites too. A couple months of doing this and I started making a living. Keep in mind, I’ve specialized in web marketing for over 10 years now. I know how to get absurd amounts of traffic. You could hire somebody to help. I am self taught. That is all the marketing I really ever do. But I make stuff I love, take pictures of it, and write about it. People seem to enjoy that.
 
As for loans, I did this organically, no loans. And I reinvested earnings to grow. I’d prefer to have a regular job, do this on the side, until it picks up, then do it full time. That is the smooth way to do it. But for me, I had investments that dried up and had to get a job. And this business happened out of a need to not work for the man ever again…

 -Greg

Q – I work at a place that manufactures fire trucks where I am a painter, its a great job and I make pretty good money for a guy who is 30, but I don’t want to be a factory worker the rest of my life.  For a hobby, I build custom cars and motorcycles ( I actually build nice stuff, I’m not just some hack building chopped up stuff in my back yard like most everyone else). I was just featured in a magazine for a motorcycle I just built and am now building a 31 chevy sedan that will blow everyone’s mind when it’s done next summer. I want to start my own company but I don’t know what to do. I feel that there is no money in custom car building for the huge amount of work you put in them.  But I have a great talent and eye for detail. It is my passion but I don’t want it to be spoiled by turning it into an everyday day grind. I have the metal working skills, but how do I turn that into dollar bills.

I see all these dreamers go up to their neck in debt just to fail, thats not me, I’m smarter then that. If I do it, I want know I will succeed. I’ve always liked the craftsmanship that is put into custom furniture and thought about making custom metal furniture, but how do you market it, where do you start?  I made a few custom pieces and everyone thinks I should start to sell them but I just don’t know.  How can I turn my metal fabrication talent into my dream job? I don’t want to be Mr. Should have been.

-Kevin

A – I like the pictures you sent of your work! I started, and still build things that I love and would use. It’s not about the money, for me. My theory is if you do it for you, not to make money, you create passion and fulfillment. The zillions of hours I work are rewarded by this feeling, not a growing bank account. However, I believe when you have a passion for something like this, and an exceptional attitude, others will feel it too and be attracted. So many people live stressed out unfulfilled lives. And when they see this person, and/or their work glowing, they gravitate like moths to a flame. But you have to stand out, and bring something different to the table, or you’ll be like everybody else.

The custom car thing sounds pretty saturated. But there are those who make good money at it, like Chip Foose whose work I love! If you make a name for yourself, they will come. But do you want to create masterpieces, or do you want clients to come to you and give you orders on what they want? The first option is really an artist, and they tend to starve unless they are exceptional. If you have a never give up attitude, that can take you farther than talent. Talent happens over time. I know I will succeed at anything I put my heart and soul into. That’s the attitude I was talking about, not my ego speaking. Part of my success is failing. I make mistakes, and I learn from them. Many entrepreneurs have lost everything in their pursuit. But the ones that don’t quit, can’t fail.  I highly recommend a website/blog. See Jim’s question above. 

-Greg

Q – I work as a PT, for a large rehab company.  I enjoy my work, but I also enjoy my hobbies. I actually make money, with some of my hobbies. One of them is sand carving.  It’s basically sandblasting an image, or text, onto a glass surface.  Customer provides the artwork, and sometimes their own glass.  I then sandblast the image onto the glass. I’ve been doing it, for about 15 years.  No website, advertising, or marketing what so ever.  I’m a one person enterprise, and everything I’ve sold, has been through word of mouth, only…  I’ve actually financed whole family vacations, with what I’ve made, several years in a row. I know that more money can be made, because there are others doing it.

Since I haven’t had to rely on my hobby to support my family, I haven’t put a lot of effort into marketing, or expanding.  My question is, what are some suggestions for getting it started? Should I have a website built? Do you have any suggestions, that could point me in the right direction? You’d have to speak as if I’m totally clueless! I don’t have any marketing/business experience. I’ve just developed a bit of a following, and I’ve been told I do good work. By the way, I enjoy all of your pieces and always check your page for new ones. Thanks, in advance, for reading and for any ideas you may have.

-Johnny

A – Hey Johnny, sounds kinda like how I started. But if you create a website with a blog and put pics of your work on there, along with a write-up about it, you may start to get some web traffic. Do the same on Facebook. Do it all regularly. Do a Google search for etched glass with your city name and see what it comes up with. Those people are making money at what you’re doing. You can learn a lot from them.  You’re welcome, and thanks for the compliment. I’ve been told I do good work too, but I learn more from those who criticize me. Something to think about…

-Greg

Q – Hi I’m just starting a small furniture business specializing in reclaimed wood.  By the way I love your work. I just started my business two months ago and have done a couple thousand in sales not bad. But my question and problem is marketing pay per click (PPC) is killing my profit. Any suggestions for online marketing that will drive traffic but won’t break the bank.

-Matt

A –  I used to do PPC and did very well. But it was another business. The trick is to find keywords others aren’t bidding on. But if it’s too competitive, it’ll cost too much to advertise.  I haven’t done PPC for VI. It’s an easy way to get quick traffic, and hopefully sales, but it’ll take a cut of the profit. It’s much better, in the long run, to build a good website, and market all over the web. But you need good content, captivating and relevant stories with fantastic pictures, not to mention unique product. 

-Greg

Q –  So I have been in business with a friend for approximately one year making art and now some small furniture out of reclaimed wood. I am a carpenter by trade but went to work for the fire dept. about 8 years ago. In that time I have truly missed working with wood so I decided to start playing around in my 16×20 shed. Fast forward a year and I have a partner that is an artist by trade and a wood shop (same shed) which we are quickly out growing. Which leads me to my question(s)…. At what point should we seriously consider leasing a space that allows us more room and possibly a small showroom area? I feel as if we had those things we would be taking a huge step and risk to stay a float however we would also be more efficient at our work. As well as potentially have an area to put things out to show/sell. Where did you start? How have you made the steps to grow your business? Any insight you can give would be great!! Thanks!!

– P.

AWhen I moved out of my shed and leased a space, I had 800+ man hours of work to do with 1 employee. I had taken deposits and established a lead time with the clients that required me hiring more people. So that funded the move. If I didn’t have all the work lined up, I would not of moved probably. I leased 4k sf of space with options for 16k sf more. After about a year, I leased it all the same way. We had a growing lead time and needed to hire more people. But, be careful what you wish for. My business has been growing like a weed! And now I spend my days worrying about the 20 employees, my partner/wife, taxes, deadlines, money, you name it. And I don’t make much more than what I did in the garage because I am reinvesting it all. Running a business of this size is all new to me, so we make mistakes, and that costs $$. My partner and I spend our time in meetings, managing people, talking to lawyers, accountants, managers, the bookkeeper. It’s not like before with a few orders lined up. So you might ask yourself: Why do I want to grow this business? I’d be weary if it’s to make more money. Do it if it’s your calling, and know that it will be the challenge of a lifetime. Most new businesses fail and for good reason. There are so many variables, so much to know, and so little time to handle it all. At times I miss working out of the garage. Those were simple times.

– Greg

Q – Can you briefly describe the transition you underwent from becoming a start up company with limited/no employees, to hiring multiple employees? Specifically, what do you feel was the main factor in making that happen?
-Boyd
A – That was a matter of generating enough business that you can’t handle it all yourself. I worked 10-18 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the first year. I was obsessed, never satisfied with my designs, and knew I could do better. Trying to top myself, and never being satisfied was key, and also later burnt me out. But it jump started the business. So beware of obsessions as they can destroy the you in you. Many successful and famous people have done this. They burn brightly for a time, then burn out. Becoming a successful business person is pretty easy, but longevity is the hard part.
I also studied successful people like Einstein, who said, “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious”. If you lack curiousness, good luck. I wonder how everything works (ie. people, machinery, society, the universe), and I doubt everything I hear. If somebody tells (or teaches) me “this is how it should be done”, I usually do the opposite. The mainstream swims one direction, I go the other. If everybody else is doing it, how can I compete?
Been also pursuing spiritualism for a long time. Don’t mistake this for religion, as it’s the opposite. Understanding myself is a never ending quest that fills everyday of my life. It guides my designs, business, relationships, and life. If you don’t know yourself, you’ll be led around like a horse chasing a carrot. 
-Greg
Q – I am a full time mechanic at the same place for the last 13 years and I hate it . I love building stuff out of metal. I love natural rusty Patinas & the look and feel of hot rolled steel . I’ve built different tables and gates , metal sculptures, and have a hard time trying to figure out how to sell the stuff. Most of my friends or people I know do not have the cash or do not want to pay for quality work, or understand the difference between custom and cheap imported stuff. They are mostly local furniture ” cheap shit ” or IKEA shoppers . I’ve tried eBay with no luck , Craig’s list , FB. I’ve only sold by word of mouth.

I purchased a website domain and am going to try that. Any suggestions on how to market and sell to the right people would be appreciated .

– Bob
A – Use your passion and dislike of your current job, to fuel your hobby. It sounds like a hobby right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d suggest you continue to work at it, and show it to people like you have been. Add your work to the new website.  Maybe it’ll start selling, maybe it won’t. But if you love building stuff out of metal, keep doing it. If you hate your job, find one you love. Doing something you love is reward enough, and in my opinion, worth more than money any day. 
-Greg
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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Studio2bn says:

    Hey Greg …..

    Firstly, I admire your work…Your were blessed with an extremely Creative Soul ….And having gone through those years way back I understand what you have to go through on a daily basis when ” Success ” arrives…..I know it can become overwhelming…and most folks just will never understand what it takes to run a business like yours….I wish you good health and hope you can maintain your sanity through it all !!!

    Now ….as for my questions….and if I am out of line I understand….I am way passed attempting a new business…Retired Photographer…done my time !!!

    I am re-fabbing…habbing….ok I am sort of a Fred Sanford !!! I build coffee tables and kitchen Island tables …Yep Pallet work stuff….I recently built one out of an old angle iron frame stand and wood …..grinding….sanding…..yada yada….Then the lady ask if I could leave the steel in a ” Raw- Unfinished ” look…….I thought how am I going to seal this steel ….I researched my butt off and found a million lotions and potions…..and here is where people don’t understand…most of the ” Industrial/Commercial ” sealants are around $ 50.00 to $150.00 a gallon !!! The products I have found cost more than what I could sell the table for !!! (Like Photography…..EVERYTHING is expensive in order to get the job done right.)
    Is there ” Any ” common affordable sealant I could seal this Hot Roll Angle Iron with that would hold up for “Indoor ” ( And I am in Florida close to the coast ) use without it starting to rust in… oh say…. 27 seconds !!! And no, I can’t afford to pay those commercial prices for sealants….This is a small hobby….and maybe make a couple of bucks working in my wood shop which I enjoy doing….I want to leave the steel in its natural as possible state…..and don’t want to have to powder coat paint it or something….if any of this in Reality is possible !!!

    Any input or advise would be extremely appreciated..

    Thanks for your time and help

    J Michael Gill
    Pensacola Florida
    PS……I don’t Envy the Rich….Nor do I pity the Poor…..You have worked extremely hard for where you are…..and for that, though I don’t know you, I am very proud of you and happy for you . Now get back to work !!!

  • Greg says:

    I appreciate it! For the simplest sealer, I use to use Rustoleum’s clear available at Home Depot. It works great and is very cheap. It actually has the BEST look I have ever found. The best raw look, get the satin. Only issue is it’s doesn’t last as long as the expensive stuff. Florida is a tough place too. The only thing that’ll prevent rust there for a while, is powder coating. I used my expensive sealer on a piece there and it rusted in about 6 months. It was outside though. But steel in Florida will need to be maintained regularly. Powder coating can be fairly inexpensive. Just educate the client. Pay more for the sealer, or don’t and maintain it over the years.