Thank you for doing a follow up interview and congratulations on achieving Amazon Best Seller status! Your book, The Devil Dragon Pilot, is now #1 in its category (Aviation) on Amazon. That didn’t take very long, so your book must be very popular. There was a lot of interest in the first interview and we received several follow up questions. Here are some of the questions from our readers.
“I would enjoy hearing more about his writing process. How did he keep motivated to get up at 4:00 am.?”
Getting up that early is relatively easy for me. I had a job at the Pentagon a few years ago where I had to be at work no later than 6 AM. I also had to read four or five newspapers every morning, scan all the news websites, and then be ready to intelligently discuss the world events with a senior Defense Department official. With no emails to answer, no one asking questions, I can crank out a lot in an hour or so in the morning. I also fit in marathon training, and just completed my eighth race. You’d be surprised what you can do.
“Did he ever deal with writer’s block?”
Running helps me think through storylines. Sometimes I will use Dragon dictation, an app for my phone, and talk into it while I am driving. Plus, driving through Washington DC enables me to see the real world buildings, which link to the storylines. For example, I’ve visited Georgetown University this weekend, and now that’s in the next book titled “The Black Scorpion”. I find if I change the scenery, I don’t get writers block.
“How did he come up with his story?”
The idea was brewing around in my head for a while because I couldn’t find anything that focused on someone in the Air Force Reserve. No movies, no books. Therefore, I created Ford Stevens, our hero pilot from Air Force Reserve.
“Has he always had an interest in writing?”
Yes, I have written and published a few military related articles in different professional military publications. This was my first attempt at a novel. I am an avid reader, reading both fiction and nonfiction, and always have been since a kid. Now on to novel number two!
(Jerry) I’ve got a few questions of my own. What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?
I like to try different things that perhaps people have not seen or done before. Sometimes I will connect a service or product from one industry, and connect it with another. I will see things in different countries across the world, and wonder if it would be a good idea in the United States.
The creative thinking aspect and entrepreneurial spirit really thrills me. For example, I started my company Mach278 when I came up with an idea for colored surgical sponges. The sponges, if ever manufactured, would help solve the severe problem in medicine of preventing retained surgical items. The concept of colored surgical sponges is a cross between patient safety and aviation safety.
What is next as far as events for marketing the first book?
I’ve done a variety of print and web interviews, podcasts, and have had plenty of friends utilize social media. I also have an upcoming book signing at the Marine Corps exchange, Henderson Hall, Washington DC, on Dec 17th. There is also plan in the works to do book signings at Barnes and Noble stores in Northern Virginia.
Can you tell us anything about the second book and when it might be released?
Book 2 is titled “The Black Scorpion” and will feature many of the same characters from the book one. Ford Stevens, Emily Livingston, Mark Savona, and the rest of the crew will be back. It will be a story of human endurance and survival, related to aviation. Super exciting. It will be out summer 2017.
With all of your readers help, I am now ranked #1 on Amazon in Aviation.
Thank you for your time, Jerry. I appreciate your support very much.
Colby’s story is an amazing example of grit as we’ve written about previously. Can you imagine? His book was just released around Veterans Day and is already at or near the top in several categories on Amazon. If he can do it, imagine what you can do?
If you’d like to check out the latest and greatest for Devil Dragon marketing events in your area, click on Colby’s blog here.
One of the hazards of being a maker is hitting the occasional mental block. These blocks can strike woodworkers and entrepreneurs alike as we discussed in our earlier post about Clauzewitzian fog and friction. Should we throw up our hands in despair and gnash our teeth? Absolutely not! There are tried and true methods to power through mental blocks and one sure fire cure is a bicycle ride. You may be thinking “what on earth is he talking about?” But think back to when you were a kid. What were your memories of riding a bicycle? Most likely it was a terrific sense of speed racing down hills. Or the feel of the wind in your hair. Or having an incredible feeling of freedom as you expanded how far you could ride away from home. Does anyone ever have bad memories of riding a bike as a child? So why don’t we ride more as adults? Good question. We should ride more because it’s a great cure for what ails us in the wood shop or as an entrepreneur.
I started out calling my bike “Gary” because it was a Gary Fisher mountain bike. When I told Mrs Woodworker I was going for a ride I’d say “Gary and I are going for a ride. See you in an hour!”. Now I call it The Happy Machine because I’m almost always happy after a long bike ride. It must be the endorphins (or the speed, or the wind through the hair, or riding far from home). The Happy Machine is almost guaranteed to increase joy and help solve problems.
I’m finding whatever thorny problem I’m facing in the wood shop or as an entrepreneur is usually solved on a bike ride. And I’m not the only one. Brent Bellm was the head of Paypal Europe for 4 years and is currently CEO of a company called Bigcommerce. Here is what he had to say about the magical quality of bicycle problem solving in the Apr 2016 issue of Inc Magazine: “Every autumn, he ramps up of the Texas State Road Race cycling championship. Las year, he finished fifth overall and third in his age group. But to him, bike riding is more than mere competition. ‘If there’s a problem at work or in my personal life, or an issue that needs to be resolved, that’s what my mind gravitates to.’ Bellm says. ‘It will work it through until it’s done.’ ”
One of the dilemmas we were facing in Traughber Design recently was improving the way we cut curves into our pieces. It sounds easy, but in practice is not quite so straightforward. I hopped on the bike and thought through some of the courses of action. One thought was to just freehand the curves. Another was to buy some french curves, but then you are limited to the size of curve you have purchased. Another was to make something called a fairing stick. The ride clarified that I should experiment with the fairing stick and see how it worked out. It worked great!
Some of the most successful Americans in our history used cycling to recuperate and recharge their physical and mental batteries. In Ron Chernow’s biography of John D. Rockefeller, he writes how Rockefeller’s doctors ordered him to rest in June of 1891 because he was overworked. J.D. was in his early 50s at this point and was physically and mentally exhausted from building his business empire. To recover, Rockefeller spent 8 months at his Forest Hills estate doing manual labor with his workers in the fields, cycling, and going for long walks. Rockefeller said in one of his letters “I am happy to state that my health is steadily improving. I can hardly tell you how different the world begins to look to me. Yesterday was the best day I have seen for 3 months.” Cycling was part of the cure to clear the fog from this titan’s brain.
There can be a lot of excuses for not cycling, but most can be mitigated:
If it’s cold, layer up.
If you’re too tired, sometime you have to give energy to raise your energy level.
If you don’t have enough time, you can’t find a half hour during the week? Really?
What problem has cycling helped you solve recently? Let’s hear from you.
An effective woodworker always wants to have at least two projects going on simultaneously in the wood shop. Why? In order to maximize efficiency. If you are woodworking as a part-time gig, as I am, there is all the more reason to make every minute count as we discussed in the blog on making and managing. There is not a minute to spare when you are working a full time job during the day and working in the wood shop on nights and weekends. Let’s get into the mechanics.
How does it work?
Woodworking by its nature entails a lot of waiting during certain portions of the build such as glueing or waiting for finish to dry. It’s important to take advantage of these pauses to flip to another project(s). For example, once a glue up has been done on one project, why wait for the glue to dry when you can just pick up where you left off with the other piece? Another example is once you’ve applied finish to the first project, flip over to the second project. However, it’s important to consider that if you are doing finish work on the first project, make sure the second project is not going to generate dust that will settle onto your finish on the first project. A way to mitigate that risk is to rig a dust shroud around the first project while the finish is drying or to take the second project outside. If you are looking for more information on finishing, check out our post on the cherry coat rack project or Marc Spagnuolo’s DVD on finishing at The Wood Whisperer.
What if I don’t have a commission right now?
If you are between commissions, I’m sure Mrs. Woodworker or your significant other is looking for something that needs to be made around the house. These projects are great for continuing to build your skill set. In addition, this valuable shop time may spark an idea for another project.
Another approach is to build something that doesn’t take a lot of time that you know sells well. For example, it only takes me about 3 1/2 hours to build a corn hole set and I always like to have one set available in case a client wants one. If I have some dead time and don’t currently have a set ready, I know that time is well spent to get another one built. In general, I don’t like to build on spec as I’ve written about earlier, but if I know that something has sold in the past and is likely to sell again, then it’s pretty low risk to build another one.
Another reason to have multiple balls in the air applies to entrepreneurship in general. If you get stuck in one area you can always shift focus to another area. For example, if I don’t have a lot of work in the shop I can always spend more time working on the blog, or vice versa. We were working four commissions at once not too long ago, so I spent a little less time on the blog until we caught up in the wood shop. You can extend that concept to entrepreneurship in general. No matter what your business is, it likely involves sales. If sales are slow, you can shift focus to other value-added tasks in the business that don’t involve sales. If you are swamped with sales, you can shift to fulfilling orders until you catch up or hire more staff.
Better opportunity for flow
When you have multiple projects there is also less starting and stopping in the shop and this can be less jarring to your system. You are always seamlessly transitioning from one project to the other and it’s just part of your normal routine. In addition, there is also a greater chance for serendipity. You may learn something on one project that benefits the other. For example, on one project I was contrasting light and dark woods, which gave me an idea to try the same thing on a prayer kneeler I was building (see picture to left). That wasn’t in the original design, but I went with the flow and I think it turned out pretty well as you can see in the picture.
Increase production. If woodworking is your business, you need to be continuously producing and delivering in order to bring in revenue (you especially need to be producing if it’s on your honey-do list). Advertising completed projects on social media generates new bids, which generates more production, which generates more advertising and bids. It’s a virtuous cycle. In addition, increased production means you can build things quicker at the same level of quality and either pass on your costs savings to your clients (see our blog post about pricing for more information on what is reasonable to charge clients) which will make you more competitive, or you may decide to increase your profits, or both.
So this is your first book and it’s now up on Amazon. First of all, congratulations. It must have taken a lot of time and effort.
I am honored to be on your site, Jerry. Thank you for asking me. And thank you for your kind words on my book, the “The Devil Dragon Pilot”.
The time and effort required was a lot if you look at it from a big picture point of view. I wake up pretty early every day, no later than 4 AM, and wrote about one or two pages every morning for a year. Some days would be editing, while other days were content related. I never had enough time!
How does it make you feel to finish your first book?
A great feeling! It makes me think of a few small grains of sand that don’t pile up to much, but a lot of grains of sand make an entire beach. Just a few pages a week turned into a pretty large book a year later.
What were some of the entrepreneurial lessons learned?
For most tasks I have attempted to conquer, someone before me has accomplished it already. There are books and websites devoted to nearly any subject. Doing the proper due diligence and research is a must, and writing a book for Amazon is no different. My lesson learned is to continue to go out and find experts, and learn from both their mistakes and wins.
I also realized that it was virtually impossible to do alone, like many things in life. I had great friends that were able to help me with content, editing, layout, and character development. These are crucial to getting a book across the goal line.
Any insights you can share on your next book?
Book 2 is titled “The Black Scorpion Pilot” and we will fly again with our main character, Air Force Reserve Captain Ford Stevens. It will be another thrilling adventure in aviation, espionage, and human endurance and survival. I am about one third complete, and excited to finish in the coming months.
Where can we learn more about The Devil Dragon Pilot and your upcoming books?
See that mahogany jewelry chest in the picture? Guess how long it took to finish? My current self would crank out a project like that pretty quickly, but my old self took almost 20 years to finish it! I started the piece when I was in high school Industrial Arts class and finally finished it in order to give it to our daughter several years ago. Was that a gritty performance on my part? Absolutely not! That just goes to show you that grit can be developed over time and that’s one of the main takeaways in Angela Duckworth’s great new book called Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I’ll share some of Duckworth’s terrific lessons on grit and how they apply to entrepreneurship and woodworking.
First of all, why did Duckworth write this book? In one of her early research projects as a psychologist, she was studying why cadets dropped out of their first year at West Point. West Point used a number called the Whole Candidate Score to decide who was accepted and who wasn’t, but success in a cadet’s first year didn’t correlate to the WCS. Both West Point and Duckworth wanted to know if there was a way to predict whether a cadet would succeed so West Point could admit the right people. Duckworth developed something called The Grit Scale which did show a correlation between higher grit scores and success at West Point. So what goes into being “gritty”, which is key to being a successful entrepreneur and woodworker?
Duckworth says one must have both passion and perseverance. Passion, however, is not just some overwhelming love for a pursuit, it needs to be cultivated, which is something the Minimalists also talk about. Many people say “follow your passion”, but sometimes someone may not know what their passion is. In that case, they should try several things and see what excites them. If they do know what their passion is, it needs to be cultivated and grown over time. For example, I have a passion for woodworking, but I’ve cultivated it over time. Did I always know how to do all of the techniques we’re currently using in Traughber Design? Of course not, they had to be learned and developed. In that course of learning and developing, we can learn to be even more passionate for our calling. An example is that I enjoy performing certain tasks more in the wood shop now that I am more proficient. I have more passion for doing that type of work.
Another element Duckworth discusses relative to passion is direction. She gives the example of someone working out every day and not improving their performance. It’s important to have goals and/or a coach. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to have coaches or mentors, especially ones that are doing work relevant to your field. I have woodworking mentors I turn to sometimes when I have a vexing problem and also mentors I turn to in learning the ins and outs of WordPress and blogging. Mentors can be invaluable and help establish those goals and make sure the entrepreneur follows through. We also need to align our work with our goals which we describe in more detail in the post about woodworking and yoga.
Another component of this entrepreneurial venture has been this blog which requires perseverance. I like to write, but in order to make the blog go, I need to write consistently. Remember, this is currently a part-time gig as we wrote about in the first blog post. One might think that with over 1 billion Facebook users on the planet, that a blog would instantly achieve critical mass and millions of page views. It doesn’t quite work that way. Google runs a sophisticated algorithm 600 times per year that decides what does and does not pop up in the search rankings. It is a real art and science to stay ahead of that algorithm, and most people don’t have that kind of time. An entrepreneurial blogger is better off just focusing on fresh and good content that adds value. If you listen to successful bloggers that have millions of page views, they are consistent in writing fresh posts. To summarize that point: write often and add value. For example, I’m finding there is a big spike in readership immediately after a fresh post and a gradually increasing trend line. The key is to write and post often. But it’s not just about posting often. It is about adding value. When I’m thinking of posts, I’m thinking “what woodworking tips or philosophies help my readers?”
Perseverance also relates to something called the pivot in entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is unlikely to hit upon a million dollar idea and may have to be prepared to pivot to another idea down the road if the first one doesn’t work out. For example, in woodworking I started out making some pieces on spec (or speculation) anticipating that they would sell. I also did pieces on commission. I found through trial and error that spec doesn’t work very well for our business and Traughber Design is focused almost exclusively on commission work now. We pivoted from spec work to commissions.
There is so much more to talk about regarding grit, entrepreneurship, and woodworking, but I’ll hand off to Duckworth at this point. I highly recommend reading her book and watching her TED talk which is available here.
Are you in a quandary how to price your woodworking projects? Have no fear. This post will give you a tried and true solution developed over the past couple years that may help. This cost estimating model makes pricing a very simple process and generates a number in which you can be confident. I’ll give you the specific formula at the end, but need to explain a few things first.
The biggest wildcard for beginning woodworkers is how long will it take to make something and what the labor estimate should be. Before you get too far down the road, I have one piece of advice for you: document, document, document. If you don’t track your hours on projects, you will be shooting in the dark and working at great risk. If you are working for free that’s not a big deal, but if you’re starting a business you need to manage your risks. Once you’ve made a few projects, cost estimating becomes very straightforward. For example, my first gun cabinet took 100 hours. I made a prayer kneeler (pictured) which took 20. A picture frame, depending on how fancy it is, is about 5 hours. With the couple dozen data points I have, it’s easy to estimate how long something will take. If you are just starting out and have absolutely no idea how long something will take, try this. I’m finding that in general 60% of my projects are labor and 40% materials. This varies from project to project, but does not stray far from this median percentage. I would think this type of percentage (not the actual values) would apply to other maker startup efforts like photography, etc. So if you don’t know how much the labor will be, you can usually estimate very closely how much the materials will be because the dimensions of your project will require a certain number of board feet (see the post about buying lumber) then you can extrapolate to the labor hours by multiplying the materials cost by 1.5.
So now that you’ve estimated how many hours something will take (based on previous projects or the 60/40 split mentioned above), how much should you charge per hour? I give a lot of credit to The Wood Whisperer, Marc Spagnuolo, who wrote a post on this years ago that influenced my initial thinking. My current thinking is that the hourly rate should be high enough that you feel good about working on a project in the wood shop at that rate and don’t feel like you’re giving away your work. On the other hand, it would be nice to set a very high rate, but the market probably won’t bear it. A good way to get a feel for the going rate is to search on the Internet, but stay away from researching custom woodworking prices on sites like Craigslist, because custom woodwork is not a bargain basement proposition. We use Craigslist a lot to declutter and minimize, but it’s not a good fit for selling custom-made pieces. A better site for researching the price of custom made projects might be one like Etsy.
I had a client over to the shop the other night and we were discussing the wood type for their upcoming project. I like to give a range of woods and prices because some people are price insensitive and others want to stay within a certain budget. It’s all about what the client wants. In this case, the client decided to go with some nice premium cherry I had leftover from a previous project that had a beautiful grain pattern. We talked about dimensions and since I knew the price per board foot from having purchased this board before, the calculation was straightforward. If you’d like more information on how to do this calculation, check out our post on buying lumber.
So now that we’ve laid all of that foundation, here is the formula:
Hourly rate times estimated hours
Board feet times price per board foot
Any special tools or bits required for this specific project
Overhead Rate times (Labor + Materials)
What should your overhead rate be? All those tools you purchased have to be paid for somehow. The trick is to figure out a reasonable overhead rate to amortize this cost over your projects. I’ve been using 10%, which is probably a bit low, but it will give you a starting point.
Your Local Tax Rate times (Labor + Materials + Overhead)
Labor + Materials + Overhead + Tax
There you have it. If you are just starting out, this can be a bit daunting, but I recommend increasing your margin of safety by conservatively estimating the labor hours, making sure you’ve allowed for enough wood in the board foot calculation, and charging a high enough overhead rate. That should keep you out of trouble.
Other entrepreneurs out there–what are your lessons learned?