We have written many times about the solitary or insular nature of so many shop owners. How too often they remain isolated in their shops and struggle on, virtually alone against the challenges they face. While that image is still reality for many shops, changing economics and technology are forcing more and more shop owners to join a larger world outside their shop doors.

In the wake of reduced spending on new construction and reduced availability of financing for remodeling projects, the number of shops who can exist solely on repeat and referral business is dwindling. Shop owners who could work away in their shops and wait for business to come to them are becoming the exception more than the rule. Marketing and advertising, long thought unneeded or unnecessary by many owners, are now becoming tools considered vital to long term, stable business success.

Furthermore, increased competition for work means more demands for prompt delivery and market-driven pricing. That means shop owners must demand maximum efficiency from their operations, and they must deliver work at prices that guarantee both profit and a pole position in the race for quality customers.

The answers to how to accomplish all of that can't be found within the confines of the traditional shop structure. Today's business demands that today's shop owner step outside the shop, virtually or in reality. But the good news for those who do venture out is we are not alone.

One of the first places to look for help is in these pages. As a window on the larger world of our industry, CabinetMaker is dedicated to broadening the horizons of shop owners to help them improve their businesses. The next stop outside the shop is our Web site and the resources there. Access to archives stories, special reports, videos and product search tools all help to broaden the world beyond the shop.

But that's still mostly a view from the shop looking out. Helpful, but not interactive. That changes when you click on our  forums. Now you're talking. Lurk a little, learn a lot. Even better, try a question, get an answer or two or three or a dozen.

And finally, it's time to really connect. Make contact with other shops in your area and across the country. Meet face to face at the coffee shop or the convention hall. Look into joining the local builders association, the chamber of commerce, service clubs. Consider trade groups like  AWIWI, CMAKCMA, and  NKBA. If that's just alphabet soup to you, find out what the letters mean and get involved in the groups most appropriate for you and your business. Or maybe what you really want and need is some one-on-one help such as offered by our  CabinetMaker Consulting service.

Don't just sit there by yourself and stew. Step outside and get the help you need. This is no time to go it alone.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.