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Turning Pro | Popular Woodworking

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No sick days, no paid vacations and no IT department – but it’s worth it.

Ah, going pro – telling your boss to take your day job and stick it in his ear while you go off to earn your living doing what you love best. There is not a woodworker who, while looking at the clock and waiting for it to reach quitting time, has not dreamed of taking the plunge.

I write from experience; I did it 35 years ago. I can honestly say with the clarity of hindsight, I would not have had it any other way. A large number of the people who have passed through our woodworking school, The Windsor Institute, have also realized this dream. While here, most of those who have successfully gone pro have taken advantage of the opportunity to talk with my wife, Susanna. She has an extensive background in marketing, public relations and political consulting. I am a beneficiary of her skills. So are the students whom she has counseled. In fact, I cannot think of anyone who is responsible for more successful woodworkers than Susanna.

I am going to tell you what she tells people in the first five minutes. I am not trying to talk you out of pursuing this dream. However, I am trying to help you determine if you really want to go pro, or if you are just a dreamer. This is a crucial step, because a failed dream hurts a lot more than getting up every morning and going off to the day job.

When you go pro, woodworking changes. Right now, it is a pleasant and rewarding hobby, but it will become your job. Now, you dream about getting out of the office and going home to your shop. A professional woodworker dreams about getting out of the shop at the end of the day and pursuing his or her hobby. It is sort of like dessert – if that is all you eat, you end up yearning for vegetables.

When you work for yourself, your boss has to be a real S.O.B. No one will be forcing you to do anything. You must have the drive and gumption to make yourself work. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of temptations: fishing, ball games and guys who think your shop is a great place to hang out. People out there with time to kill will eventually find you. Remember this: Someone who kills time by wasting yours is stealing from you. Every minute you are not working, you are not getting paid.

Forget about benefits. You buy everything. If you want to take the family on vacation, you not only have to save the money, you give up what you could have earned by staying home and working. You will find out how expensive health insurance is. It helps a lot if your spouse has a job that provides this. My wife and I work together and our health insurance dwarfs our mortgage payment. There are no sick days. So, take good care of yourself.

At your day job, someone does the accounting, shipping, receiving, maintenance, IT, etc. Guess who does all these jobs when you go pro? You do not get to work wood all day. You spend a lot of time doing stuff that you don’t like. The only other option is to pay someone else to do it, but you have to go out and earn the money you are giving to them.

Susanna’s introduction to going pro goes on a lot longer in this discouraging vein, but she is weeding out those who are not being realistic. However, if you are cut out for it, there is no better life in the world than being a self-employed woodworker.

This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Popular Woodworking.


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