Work On Your Business Or In It?


From original questioner:

Hello everyone,

Got a question... How many of you shop owners get dusty everyday? How many of you work side by side with your employees, are part of the shop floor "system", set up tools, spray finish, install, etc?

How many of you focus on being the boss? Spend your time on advertising and chasing paper. Spend your time in front of a computer, in the truck, designing, site visits, managing production?

I've been doing this for over 10 years. We've had steady business. I have two employees, and my wife does the books, and am getting ready to hire a third (my part time finisher). I've slowly started giving up tasks in the shop to the other guys with confidence. When there was two of us, we split responsibilities, added a second guy, he took on some of my tasks. A third guy may give me the opportunity to stop getting dusty.

As you all know, wearing too many hats has its issues. I never thought I'd want to leave the shop floor... I love what I do and have a certain "need to be in control" of the product (I'm sure you all know what I'm talking about). When I started off I was a cabinetmaker first, business owner second. Since, I've figured it out. My business needs a boss that is a boss, not a boss that is also a technician. This is a hard decision for me... I'm pretty Type A.

So... how many of you are / were in this situation? Thoughts, advice?

Thanks, and I hope you are all having a great 2015 so far... and don't have 5 feet of snow on the ground from the last two weeks (Maine).


From contributor Ev

We are a similar size operation. I get dusty when I can find the time, mostly running the CNC or the final spray work. It adds up to 15-20% of my time. At our size, I have a hard time feeding enough work to the shop floor if I spend too much of my time there. I am training one of the guys to do the CAD/CAM and CNC, so that should help keep me focused on sales and design.

There is definitely a balance, one of Paul Aker's recent videos suggested spending an hour a day working alongside your production staff. By doing their work, you will gain important insights on what is working and what is not.

If you don't have a CNC, you may consider it instead of a third "guy". The biggest advantage of the CNC is that you have a lot more control about how things get done. The machine only does exactly what you tell it, and it does not have "better" ideas about how to do its job.

From contributor Ni

If you want to grow your business you have to first know what size you want to grow it to, Create or obtain detailed job descriptions for each position you have to fill to enable the company to function in a way that fulfills the stated mission. Having it on paper is a large part of the process. With these jobs descriptions created, you now have an accurate idea of who the new employee is and what he/she will do in the business. I think most business owners who would ask this question are "type A". I know Type A's who are slaves to their business, I know Type A's who wouldn't consider the time they spend as slavery because they have no issue with 16 or more hours a day. But if you want to scale your business you have to become a leader, not a technician. Don't think it all depends on you to do the technical stuff. Not to hurt feelings but there are 100 other guys that are as technically skilled as you are. Create a written goal to follow so that you can replace yourself in every way. Why not think as far as a general manager so you can run the business with conference calls. All this may be out of your desires for your business but if you want to you can replace yourself and your book keeper and your finisher and sales person and designer etc. You can deliver a competitive product or a leading product without doing the actual production work.

From contributor ma

For me, the reasonable cut-off number is five employees: in or out. I find that the shop makes me the most money with either me on the floor plus a helper, or with me off the floor 2 cabinetmakers and 3 helpers. Owning the shop real estate has helped with being able to experiment with these set-ups, but we can't grow larger as easily, so I haven't really considered doing so. Truth is, it borders on not being so much fun to keep 5 people cranking it out. I imagine that for my set-up 5 is a ceiling that will necessitate another period of investment to break through.
If you can gradually go from being on the floor to not, than more power to you, but for me, the middle zone is more stress for less cash. Taking the leap to an ideal manageable size with a period of investment would be my recommendation for an ultimately less risky way of making incremental growth.

From contributor Br

Good question, tough answer. I work in the shop. I have friends who don't work in the shop and when I visit, and go into their shop, realize they don't have a clue as to what is being done, how, or why. his individual employee has made some decision that really doesn't make any sense and because the owner is not in the shop doesn't see it or has chosen to just let it go. it does have an impact on the end product.

From contributor Mi

I have one of what I call a full time helper and one part time. Several years ago when we moved into our new shop I added on more guys. It absolutely ran me to death keeping work for them. I had to produce more to pay the additional wages. My idea of more help was to take some of the work off of me but it added to it and was more stressful, plus there were things going out the door that I didn't get to inspect or I wouldn't have let it go. When the extra help eventually quit I didn't hire back. This all comes down to what it takes to make you happy. If it takes plenty of money to make you happy then expanding into a large business might be for you. As for me, it doesn't take a ton of money. Me and the guy that works for me both have a child that is about the same age and we both have to get them off the bus. We work from 8 until 2:30 in the shop that gives me the rest of the evening for computer work and going to measure, meet with clients, etc. as far as getting dusty goes, I enjoy the shop work and take a lot of pride in it. I wouldn't be satisfied not doing the work.

From contributor Ma

I pretty much feel the same way as Mike Fuson.It seemed like the more help I had,the harder I had to work to keep them buisy,I was just working for them,instead of them working for me.I prefer to just have 1 full time person doing the stuff that I don't want to do (sanding,spraying,clean up,hardware,etc.),and a part timer to help with whatever the full time working didn't get done.I feel like this way,I get the best of both worlds,I still get to be a woodworker,and not have to do the grunt work.

From contributor Mi

Exactly Max! I enjoy designing and being creative, but picking up a random orbit sander is just offensive to me! Hehehe.

From contributor Ap

According to me, purchasing the 15hp compressor is a smart decision. You can keep the 10hp for backup in case the first one goes down.