10 things I wish I knew before starting my cabinet shop: Part 1
August 16, 2018 | 2:22 pm CDT
In this article, I want to dive into the top ten things I really wish I would have known before I got into business. Not only would these things have helped me to make better-educated decisions but they possibly could have put our shop on a different trajectory from day one.
Looking back to when I started the business, almost 15 years ago, I now realize that owning a business is a continual learning process. Every day you are learning by either failing, picking up tricks from others, or watching, reading, or listening to whatever resources you can get your hands on. You are constantly learning, but that is the only way you truly get better.
Let’s jump right into the first half of my top 10 list. These are in no particular order.
1. Vision
Possibly the most important, I wish I would have understood the importance of vision before starting my business. Vision is essentially a roadmap, it is a line on the ground that you follow closely and it is something solid you can base all your decisions around. When something comes up, a question or an opportunity or an issue, you can see it ultimately aligns with your vision or not. It allows you and everybody in your organization to be on the same page - to know where you are, where you are going, and how you plan to get there together.
If you aren't sure about your vision, before you do anything else for your business, read this article of mine or this article by Business Coach Martin Holland. If you don't know where you are going, you probably aren't going to get anywhere. I wish I would have known that sooner. 
2. Finances
I wish I would have understood the true meaning of a profit loss statement. I wish I would have really understood what a balance sheet was and how cash flow works. I wish I would have known what effect break even has on the business. I wish I would have known the importance of understanding your margins and understood how much they affect the bottom line. I also wish I would have known how much making small tweaks in your business can really affect your bottom line in a huge way.
To really get a grip on your finances, start reading finance articles from Anneal Business Coaching or, better yet, attend one of their "Know Your Numbers" events. Also, feel free to contact me if you are wanting to better understand a certain financial topic in your shop. I've learned a lot of lessons the hard way and would love to help you avoid those. 
3. Standards
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) are so important to a business, especially a growing business. Unfortunately, they are usually overlooked. As a starting business owner, you are more of an operator than an owner so the standards are all in your head. The quality levels or the way of doing things is only really known by you so the sooner you can get standards in a written format the better. If nobody else knows how to do the work, then that means you have to be doing all the work. You will be stuck working in your business instead of on it (this will come back up in #9 on the list). If we would standardized sooner, then I really think we would have grown better. 
4. Listened to others' opinions
I wish I would have listened to other people’s opinions in our industry like other cabinetmakers, trim carpenters, etc. I wish I would have listened to them more instead of taking the road where we thought we were better. We often had the mindset that we knew better than others and that’s why we got in business. A lot of time in the early years was spent thinking we were 10 ft tall and bulletproof. That’s not a healthy way to start your business. If you can instead look at your peers and learn from their opinions, wins, and mistakes, then that can be an incredible resource. I wish we would have realized that earlier and I think if we would have then it could have put us on another path altogether.
5. The hours
I wish I would have known (or maybe it’s best that I didn’t know) the number of hours it takes just to get a business off the ground. It was unbelievable how many long nights, early mornings, and all nighter it took just to get things done. It’s probably a normal process in most startups, but had I known how many hours it would take maybe I would have forced myself to become better at planning and time management so I could have saved myself some sleepless nights in the beginning.
To someone in this stage or about to be in the stage, I would definitely recommend planning and managing time very carefully. Other than that, I would encourage you to simply push through.
Hindsight is 20/20
Although I wish I would have known all this before starting my shop, I'm also glad I got to learn these lessons along the way. I hope these help anyone out there starting out or thinking of starting their own cabinet shop. 
What do you wish you would have known before starting your cabinet shop?
Ultimate Cabinet Components Founder Jeff Finney is a 2018 40 Under 40 honoree.

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About the author
Jeff Finney

Jeff Finney is the founder of Ultimate Cabinet Components, based in Collinsville, Oklahoma; 918-371-7171. For more shop insights from Jeff, check out his articles at UltCab.com or listen to his podcasts at thepushthru.com. Jeff is also a 2018 Wood Industry 40 Under 40 honoree.