This is a question that is often asked on forums. People discover that they like to work with their hands and dream about it becoming their day job. I think this notion is almost as popular as stealing away to a tropical island and living the good life. I’ll admit that I’ve entertained both of these options. In reality, neither of these options are as appealing as they seem in our fantasies. The more appropriate and accurate question to ask is, “How much am I willing to give up to become a full-time artisan?”.
Of all the “big” names that we know in the woodworking community there are very, very few who make their living solely by building furniture. They teach, write, publish, entertain and build furniture to make their living. They travel quite a bit, going where the opportunities are. These are some of most established people doing this type of work and they are still doing whatever it takes to bring in an income. So where does that leave the rest of us?
Being an artisan has never been a lucrative career choice. Sure there are a select few who have made some big money, but most artisans toil away in anonymity all their lives and just do eek out a living. Is it a fulfilling life they lead? Do they wish they had chosen a different path that paid better? Chances are they would answer yes to both questions. At times anyway. Most of us who dream this dream of working as an artisan are middle-aged and deeply established on our current path. We have families, mortgages and car payments. We put in our forty to fifty hours a week, collect our pay and go home. Maybe we work a little in the woodshop, maybe not. That is a choice we can make because it’s our hobby. If we truly want to make this life/career change we first must take an honest look at what we are going to have to give up. Are we willing to give up a steady paycheck? Are we ready to work seven days a week? Are we ready to travel every weekend to craft fairs and trade shows, set up and take down a booth? Are we ready to fail for a while? Small items are where most our money will be made. Building one cutting board is fun. Will it still be fun after building a hundred or more? Are we ready to move our families to an area that offers more opportunities for selling our products? Are our families ready to support us? These are the hard questions that must be addressed before you can seriously consider this change.
So if you still want to take the plunge what are some steps that we can take to position ourselves for a better chance at success? First, we need to enter this endeavor debt free with several months to a year or more of cash in the bank to cover expenses. Yes you read that correctly. I said debt free with cash in the bank. Are our skills at a level commensurate with that of a professional and can we honestly charge people money for what we produce? This is the real world, we need a well thought out and executable business plan. Where are we going to sell our products? Consignment type shops, craft fairs and/or the internet. Are we going to set up a true brick and mortar store? No matter which path or combination of paths we choose, we need a website, email address and business license. That’s the world we live in. So that’s a whole other area that we need to get a handle on. I could go on but I think you have the gist of it.
Transitioning an activity from hobby to career is a risky proposition. What is fun as hobby can quickly become drudgery once money enters the equation. As for myself, I’ll work on becoming debt free and hone my skills. I’ll continue to enjoy my time in the shop and share what little I know and learn here on this blog. Maybe helping the next person with their dream. If I take it further remains to be seen….of course there’s always Tahiti.