Is a One-Man Shop Practical?

Can a one-man shop succeed as a business? This thread offers half a dozen first-person answers. June 27, 2005

I am interested in getting some input from anyone who has successfully run a one-man shop. I have been struggling as a one-man show for a couple of years now. I now have a better grasp of the business and finances, and I am starting to come to the conclusion that in order to pull out a marginal wage, I need to produce more than is physically possible.

My overhead is as low as it will ever be and I can't afford insurance, so my costs actually should be higher than they are. I do take in part time help when I need to. At best, I have been able to put out 10,000 a month in straight work (no time to sell or design when I am that busy). I work with a couple of other small shops that I thought were pretty successfull, but I am now certain that they have income from other sources. Has anyone out there successfully done this?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor P:
One-man shops are hard to run because you need to be in about 5 places at one time. You said that your best was 10,000 a month, so what was your average? The rule of thumb they say is 100,000 gross per man, and that depends on what you pay out. When I was a one-man shop with a low overhead, I made 40 a year and grossed 90-100 a year. If youíre not doing that now, you may want to go to an accountant or someone who can help you set your pricing to what you need to make your business work. The other key is to find help that can make you money, and for you to bring in the work that someone can do.

From contributor J:
There are plenty of successful one-man shops. It sounds like a lot of it depends on what your selling, building, and how much your getting for your efforts. I'm a one-man shop, and I know about many other one-man shops, and some do very well, and some do reasonably well.

From contributor R:
I think about half start-ups fold in the first year, and youíre right about to other source of income. Many one-man shop owners where set before they ever sold their first cabinet. My suggestion is to price it like it's work that you arenít all that into doing and price it like you donít want it. I figure my week runs from Monday morning to Sunday night, my three best weeks in 2004 have been $3740, $4012, and $4912. That is raw clear profit working alone and with one helper some days. I cant do that all the time, but I'm ok with those kind of weeks.

From contributor C:
I think there are very few successful one-man shops. The ones that are have a very unique product, and it's usually very expensive. There are so many costs of doing business that it's nearly impossible to make ends meet with just one person.

We're going through the same situation now. We can't make enough stuff, we don't have time for marketing, and are always running late on jobs and etc. It's a huge leap of faith taking on the expense and headaches that come along with having employees. But one morning you'll arrive at the shop and all your machines will be humming, and you'll have time to call on customers and keep the books up, all while product is still getting produced.

From contributor T:
As a one-man shop I am able to keep a third of all my sales, so my overhead is low, and I do have shop/business insurance and a leased building. My problems are getting higher prices. I lose half my quotes now over budget installations, and getting financing so I can buy a shop, rather than waste money/energy on someone elseís building.

From contributor B:
I started on my own with a leased space (750 square feet) in 2000. I was by myself for about three years and had part time help with installations. At the end of my first year I grossed $35,000.

From contributor E:
A one-man furniture business can be very profitable. I have been running my own business for 27 years now, with the last 12 as a one-man business. I am assuming you have some decent machinery and the ability to work fast and accurate. I find the best way is to have small jobs, about $500-$1000, and work on 5 or 6 projects all at the same time. I work 5 day weeks and I built the workshop 12 years ago. Itís about 4000 square feet and itís on 17 acres.