Clients, outsourcing, and machinery

Matt Buell designs and builds custom furniture for clients all across the country.

Dear Matt (age 29),

There’s more to running a shop than just woodworking. Sales, website, social media, and sourcing are also important work. You need to outsource some of it or get comfortable taking an entire day a week to do that aspect of your work. It will matter in the long run.  It is the work you must do to keep the privilege of doing the work you love.  Being talented and skilled is useless if people don’t know you exist.

Clients will be challenging, always remember that your goal is to make money, it is in your best interest they are happy. Over 85% of your clients will be repeat clients over time and they are still one of your greatest resources for finding new clients.  That being said, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right in the initial stages pre-contract, learn to walk away (with class).  A job gone wrong or one that becomes a massive loss is better to not take on in the beginning if you can. Your time is better used finding other clients, practicing new techniques, or spending time with loved ones. They are who this all ends up being for, don’t lose sight of that.

Something you got right from the beginning was maintaining a clean shop space. Building a habit of cleaning every day at the end of work proved to be a good choice.  A clean shop space is a safe shop space.  It drastically increases efficiency, saving time and promoting organization. All of these things lead to better profit and a healthier productive work environment. The few times you abandoned this practice yielded results that only reaffirmed your commitment to it. Keep sweeping the floor at the end of a shift, no matter what time it is. It also helps you keep a sense of humility.

Machinery, power tools, and other work items are easy to get stuck contemplating what to buy. I know how much you love them and how exciting it can be to get a new machine, but get the machines that are most relevant to the actual product you will be building. You are going to be building so much furniture, you will struggle to remember every piece ten years from now. Buy the machines that specifically help you do that.  Always buy the best version on the market and from a well-established company that has parts geographically closer for quick replacement and less down time. Down time kills profit and productivity, faster work time improves it. This means horsepower matters, nothing less than 2 HP for a band saw and 5Hp on the big three (table saw, planner, jointer).  Most importantly, that 12’ jointer is the best machine decision you ever made, it made almost every aspect of work easier and increased the quality of your furniture overnight. 

The answer to “do I need more clamps” is always yes. You will have a wall of Bessey clamps and still run into situations where you run out. Budget for and buy clamps annually. “you can never have enough clamps is a woodworking cliché for a reason because it’s true.   Jigs are important and will be a major part of your workflow. Learn to discern when buying the jig is a more effective use of your time (especially sharpening knives), freeing you up for more profitable tasks or when putting the time in to make one is worth it. When you do make it, do not use half measure, take your time and build it perfectly. The tasks you like doing at work the least, buy the best tools money can buy for those tasks. It will make it more enjoyable, you will do it in less time, and it will free you up more tasks you prefer.
In my next note, I’ll talk a little about dealing with the stress of running a business. For now, you’ve got this.

Matt (age 42)

Editor's note: The 2023 #YoungWoodPro competition, sponsored by Grizzly Industrial and hosted by Matt Buell, is now open for entries. Please feel free to submit a project using our entry form for an opportunity to be recognized for your craftsmanship! Deadline for entries is March 10, 2023.


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About the author
Matt Buell | President/Owner/C-Level

Matt Buell of M. Buell Studio the host of the 2023 #YoungWoodPro contest and lead coach for the people who make up the YoungWoodPro audience. Buell has achieved national acclaim for his custom furniture and was honored as a member of the Woodworking Network 40 Under 40 Class of 2018.