Sunday, June 15, 2008

Marketing Tips

You’ve finally decided to follow your heart and open a woodworking business. Your shop is fully-equipped, you have years of experience, stacks of lumber, and you’ve just hung your sign out.

Now what?

How do you find customers? How will customers find you? How will you ensure that you have enough business to stay in business?

Following are a few of the things I’ve learned in my 22 years as a graphic designer. These items apply to all types of businesses but are not necessarily in order of priority.
1. The very best advertising is word of mouth referrals. Stay in touch with your existing clients and ask them to pass your name along to their friends.
2. You don’t need stationery, but you do need a logo and business card. Logos speak volumes about you and your business, and a business card reflects your image and provides your contact information in a compact format. So if you are planning to hire a designer, here’s where you should start. If you’re going to design your own logo and don’t have design experience, fault on the side of simplicity and readability. The best logos are simple, memorable, and can hold up in small format (business card), large format (outdoor signage), and black & white (fax and print ad).
3. Hire a photographer. With businesses that sell product, a professional photographer is the number one priority (along with logo). You are what you create. And if your creations are presented in an unsophisticated way, what does that say about you?
4. Second priority is a copywriter. A talented wordsmith can turn phrases that elevate your image, adding value to your work. Professional copywriting is the bow on the present, that necessary touch that ties everything together and adds style & polish. If you choose to write your own material, be sure to run a spell check and have someone with a good grip on grammar look it over.
Tips on writing your own copy: less is better, be professional, emphasize your strong points & the things that make you unique (do you apply a hand-rubbed finish? do you use only locally-salvaged lumber? do you handcut your dovetails?). Keep in mind that people no longer have time to read lengthy prose and you only have a few seconds to convince them to choose you.
5. Third priority is a graphic designer (unless your business is service-oriented, in which case a designer is the #1 priority). Designers provide the stage for your presentation and define your image through graphic elements, color, font, placement, balance, hierarchy, and pattern. If hiring a designer is cost-prohibitive, see if a university nearby has a graphic design department. Check with the art department faculty to see if any students are looking for freelance work and if they can make a recommendation based on your needs.
6. Set up a website. It’s more important than a brochure. View other websites that you admire and use them as springboards for your own. Above all, make sure it’s easy to navigate, easy to find your contact information, and loads quickly.
7. Know your audience. If your target is high-end clients, then your marketing material must be elegant and tasteful to appeal to that demographic. Conversely, if your target is environmentally-conscious individuals, your material should have an earthy, natural appearance.
8. Make friends. Network. Join your local woodworking club. People have asked me on several occasions if I would build something for them. I tell them I’m not for hire, but Dan or Rick, who I know from my woodworking club and who both own woodworking businesses, can do the job. My friends have obtained business referrals simply by knowing another woodworker.
9. Send a press release to your local newspaper. Did you build something for a community project? Donate a piece for a local charity? Is there something special about your business that would be of interest? Editors of local papers are always looking for interesting material and a newspaper article gives you credibility and free advertising.

I could go on and on and if people seem interested, I’ll write another post on the subject in future. In the meantime, here are two excellent books on marketing that are written specifically for woodworkers: The Woodworker’s Marketing Guide; and Profitable Woodworking, Turning Your Hobby into a Profession.

Disclaimer: I am not looking for more business; I have all I can handle. But I’m happy to freely offer suggestions to people who share my passion for woodworking.


Anonymous said...

Hi Village Carpenter,

The Village Sexton here.

Wow! What a powerful message. Not just to woodworkers, but to all who seek to be employed by self. (BTW you may have an SOB for a boss.)

I’ve admired your work for a few months, but I do believe that this is some of your best work. Your desire, and ability to share and educated is very much appreciated here within the village of readers.

Many thanx,
Village Sexton

The Village Carpenter said...

Thank you, Village Sexton. : )

Vic said...

I second VS's sentiments. Your blog is, by far, the best written, formatted and informative of any "amateur" sites on the web. But, I guess with 22 (OMG!):D years as a graphic designer, who would expect less.

Woodfired! said...

Wise words. Well chosen and spell-checked, with nicely turned phrases :-).

Thanks for your commitment to sharing your skills.

The Village Carpenter said...

Thanks guys---check's in the mail!
; )

Joey said...

Great tips, some most that post over look,

Gary Roberts said...

VC... An excellent review of the basics of marketing. In fact, I'ld apply these principles to most any craft, trade, online enterprise, even... gasp... eBay sellers!

(when do I get my kickback?)


Sean said...

Please go on and on, I am interested.

The Village Carpenter said...

Gary, does a nice piece of PA cherry qualify as kickback???

Joey, good luck with your business!

Sean, I will post more tips in future. Thank you for reading. : )

George said...

Please continue!
My wife and I have made the decision to transition to full-time woodworking, and while many of the points you've made were intuitive to us, many needed to be brought to intentionality. Thank you for your insights!

The Wood Shepherd

The Village Carpenter said...

George, congratulations and good luck to you in your full-time woodworking business!

Bill Stankus said...

Here's another. Find a niche and stay the course. There are many many generalists and that translates to competition and that also means customers will shop for the lowest cost.

But if you specialize that often means fewer competitors and you can then become "the expert" instead of just another worker of wood.

What I mean by specialize: Stair builder, antique restoration, trade show booths, entry doors, things like that.

I've seen too many "cabinetmakers" come and go due to the rigors of taking on any work while fighting both the pricing wars and the competition down the street.

The Village Carpenter said...

Excellent advice, Bill.