Woodworking Business:  The Income Rollercoaster

by Mark Stephenson, www.ownermarketingschool.com

Custom furniture businesses, many woodworking shops, and lots of other project-based small businesses fail for a similar reason — Though it may not be the only one.

 The insidious thing about this reason is that it makes for a slow death. Especially if you’re a one-person shop, or “solopreneur” as they are sometimes called. 

Just so you understand there’s no judgment here – back in the 90s, I killed a small business building computer-based video editing systems the same way. 

If you haven’t guessed yet, you’ll recognize it right away as you read through the steps below.

Riding the Custom Furniture Maker’s Roller Coaster

Step 1: You get on the roller coaster

That car you pick IS your custom furniture business. You’ve decided to go pro, gotten your shop set up, and are ready to take on commissioned work.

Step 2: You make the roller coaster start ratcheting up 

Often your first job, and maybe all your jobs, come from your local community. So you devote your time and resources to getting that first order. 

Maybe you set up a business Facebook page to send your friends, family, and followers to see your work. You talk to everyone you know. Reach out to local interior designers and architects. 

In some way, you hit the streets to find business.

 Step 3: You made it to the TOP of the roller coaster 

You make your first SALE!!!! Cash that deposit check and start the planning and building process. 

You plan, design, order, build, rebuild, check, and finish your first custom piece…and then


Because while you’re MAKING the furniture, you’re not hustling for new business anymore.

You’re not talking to other designers. Or potential customers. Or looking for referrals. Or working on your website. Or doing anything other than making


But perhaps the worst part of the whole situation is that if the next job is something:

  • Truly unique that you have always dreamed of doing
  • Challenging on many levels; design, materials, engineering
  • You haven’t tried before

Fuentes Cigar Board Room Table

Then the BIGGER the dip on the roller coaster is afterward. 

These dream projects take longer to complete. They take longer in every stage of the process, and that means that it’s longer and longer until you start even LOOKING for your next project. 

The FAILURE ZONE just gets bigger. 

That failure zone is what’s common to so many project-based businesses, especially start-ups and owner-operated shops.   It’s probably one reason why that while you’re working all the time, your bank account is still a little light at the end of every month. 


There’s some GOOD news here.  

By the time you’re on really on the roller coaster, you know you have the ability to get business, and the ability to make a beautiful product that people will pay for.

The hole in your business is at the bottom of the roller coaster – where you are personally out looking for business – or at least paying attention to where that business might be coming from. 

To fix this, what you need are opportunities presenting themselves on a regular basis.

 You CAN do this by developing some simple, consistent, automated marketing and advertising. 

You need to be in front of likely buyers all the time, not just when you’re not busy, and this is what digital marketing and advertising do incredibly well.

I’m not pitching a “Make Money While You Sleep!” infomercial idea here.  Nor is it a silver bullet that will solve all your business problems.

But if done correctly, digital ads can make the difference between failure and success.

Digital advertising can do this because, once you have ads running, they keep working. Even when you are asleep or busy making in the workshop.

Need some more examples of when digital advertising (PPC) works?  

  • While you’re building a custom table, Google Ads is sending people to your website.
  • While you’re in the spray booth putting a final coat on a custom dresser, ads on Facebook are getting your name in front of interior designers. 
  • Driving to your day J.O.B? Microsoft Ads is busy showing your information to anyone in your area searching for custom furniture.

These 3 business powerhouses – some of the most successful in history – will send people you’re way for surprisingly little money.  

Because they’re not like a newspaper or magazine ad, you don’t pay for the ad up front and hope someone responses. Nor do you have to guess as to whether or not it really worked. 

Quick Look at Google and Facebook Advertising

Google ads:  You only pay for the ad when someone actually CLICKS on it. PPC Ads, or pay per click ads, are just that. 

On Google, for example, someone has to be searching for a company like yours to be shown the ad in the first place. Even then you only pay the Goog when they like your ad enough to click or call. 

 Facebook ads are a little more complicated. 

Instead of people already in the market for custom furniture, you’re showing your ad to an audience you select. You’re trying to inspire people to take action instead of responding to people who already are. 

For example; you might show an ad about creating custom rocking chairs to people interested in Country Living Magazine, or cabins or quilting.

The great thing about Facebook ads is that, because you’re reaching people that aren’t already shopping, you will probably pay a lot less for each person you manage to entice to your website. 


What’s it worth to not fall into that Failure Zone?

To get off the income roller coaster and grow your business more consistently?   To not worry so much about where the next project is coming from?

It’s certainly worth some time and effort on your part. It’s worth learning more about digital advertising.  There are tons of free resources out there to do that. 

Set aside the time now to develop the skill to do it yourself, or to learn enough, so you know how to hire someone to do it for you. 

Because if you can spend some of the time learning to implement this when you’re at the bottom of that roller coaster, the next dip a shorter. Then the payoff, in the long run, will be big.

What’s ALMOST Free – can be automated – and is the #1 most profitable thing you can do for an established business? 

Email Marketing.

Subscribe to the School of Woodwork to get notified of our next Woodworking and Custom Furniture Business article on getting more business with the right e-mails.

Ready to get OFF the Roller Coaster?

Sign up for our free webinar about the 3 things that kill most custom furniture and woodworking businesses… and how to fix them.

Hint: That roller coaster is a BIG one.