Tired of the rat race? Ready to get off that hamster wheel? Being a maker (like a woodworker, for instance) can be incredibly rewarding. It’s not easy to get there, but the rewards are incredible freedom and limitless creativity.
There are many paths to success, but I’ll share what has worked for Traughber Design. We’re currently in a position of having as much business as we can handle as a part-time (see blog post #1) enterprise. We’ve delivered two commissions in the past couple weeks, are currently working on a dining room chair commission, and are about to ink three deals on more projects. This was after 2 years of effort, though, and we’ve learned some things along the way.
If you’re contemplating such a journey or have already retired, the following principles may help.
You have some amount of time every day you can devote to making. Everyone’s situation is different, but you can get up early, stay up late, or shoe horn in a few minutes before or after dinner. That amount of time depends on how badly you want to succeed with the transition. I experimented with multiple approaches over 2 years and found that allocating a set amount of time every day worked best for me. I’m currently setting aside 90 minutes every day split in two pieces (more on that below) since I’m about 2 years away from retirement and want to ensure this endeavor supports my family before then.
Along those lines, another key ingredient for success is to just get in the shop. Some days I get tired and don’t feel like it, but I drag my sorry butt down to the wood shop. Once I get started I’m energized again and more often than not, find myself in the zone (or flow).
Another strategy is to get up a little earlier every day. As we learned in our interview with an Amazon Best Selling author and entrepeneur in a future post, getting up early every day before someone’s day job is a way to squeeze in some regular making time.
Split time between making and managing. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, which many view as the pre-eminent start-up incubator in the world. Graham wrote a great blog post in 2009 called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule about the difference between making and managing. Making to me means unfettered time in the wood shop to create or time to write blog posts. Managing is all the associated functions like drafting proposals for clients, filing taxes, etc. and includes everything not making. I allocate 60 minutes minimum for making and 30 minutes for managing every day (remember I’m doing this part-time for now). Sometimes life happens (Back to School Night for one of our kids, for example) and I don’t get to spend any time in the shop, but that is the exception rather than the rule. If I can’t get the full hour in the shop, I try to spend whatever time will allow.
An hour per day for a year is extremely powerful! I take Sundays off, and 1 hour per day, 6 days per week over the course of a year comes out to 312 hours. That is a ton of woodworking projects. The gun cabinet project took 100 hours, but most projects are in the 10 to 20 hour range. That means you can potentially crank out around a dozen projects in a year with only 1 hour in the shop per day. If you leverage holidays and weekends while you are still in a career, you can accelerate your making that much more.
Another very important concept to consider is efficiency. Between the times I’m in the shop, I’m thinking about how I’m going to use that hour the most effectively. In addition, I write down exactly what I’m going to do with the 30 minutes of managing time. As I’ve told our kids a million times, “plan the attack and attack the plan.” It’s amazing how you can quickly move through your tasks during managing time when you’ve written them down. For example, my goal was to spend 30 minutes per night going through a WordPress class this summer, but I found if I focused, it didn’t take 30 minutes every night. If I had extra time, then I moved on to drafting blog posts, like this one. I could not have been that efficient if I hadn’t written down what I wanted to achieve in those 30 minutes.
Start your side business now while you have income from your primary career. Building a business takes a very long time. I’ve been at this for almost 2 years now and am just now at the point where the commissions are rolling in on a regular basis. I’m confident this will work. You want to build enough revenue that you can be confident your small business will be a going concern before you jump ship from your primary career. In addition, you can build all the start-up infrastructure (company registration, insurance, website, tools, etc.) you need so that when you do transition you can focus on making and continue to build your client base.
Already made the transition? Share your lessons learned below!