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For you small guys: how did you get started?`

Autod1dact's picture

I work for my family's winery. I'm helping my folks retire and I'm drinking some fine wine, but that's not helping my kids much. The winery's business plan was a little optimistic and now we are all looking for extra work in the off-season to make ends meet. 

I'm very grateful for what I have in these tough economic conditions. I just want to make that really clear. My wife's employment is stable and I think the winery will be in the black this year, so that's good. But I was making ~$6k a year more working for a custom home builder, and that seems like a very relevant chunk of money given daycare, etc. Things are tight.

So I'm hoping to supplement my income in the off-season with a bit of home repair and light renovation work (I'm not quitting the winery). I've got the skills. For some reason I always beat myself up because I always dabbled and never got a trade, and always felt unprofessional. Then we built our winery and I did all the plumbing, built all the cabinets and the tasting bar, did most of the electrical, did a good bit of framing, poured concrete, drywall, paint, barn metal. . . . and yeah maybe I'm a generalist, but man there's a lot of stuff I'm comfortable doing. I kind of started to feel like I'd always sold myself short.

I think working for a builder was demoralizing that way because I always able to compare myself to top-notch specialist tradesmen. We did $2-$3 million homes, so yeah, I rubbed shoulders with guys who were really good at what they did, and I always felt inferior because I did something different every day, mostly change orders and punchlist stuff, and just thought of myself as an amateur.

Ok enough bleeding heart nonsense. For you guys who do small stuff, like one man and a truck kinda thing: how did you get started? What sort of work did/do you take? How did you get your name out there? 



Personally, I think there is (post #208071, reply #1 of 8)

Personally, I think there is no better education than working on a larger crew with more experienced guys to learn from.    I'm at the top of my game and still try to think of good questions to ask when running into specialists in any trade.  None of us can know everything and we're just making it up and reinventing the wheel without tapping into the smarts of others.For a young or inexperienced carpenter I always recommend working for the best contractor or specialzed sub they can find.   There is no school, no internet site, no set of books that can compair to learning alongside someone who is at the level you eventually want to be.  There is more to being successful than just the craft - the people skills are just as important to being self employed.


If I could edit my location it would say I'm now in Reno :-)

The good news is just about (post #208071, reply #2 of 8)

The good news is just about anyone can get into business doing small jobs.  The bad news is that it's hard to compete with guys who know what they are doing and are good with clients.   Building a business is a matter of doing good work and getting refferals because people like you.  If you don't know what you're doing, then that's not likely.

Do what you're good at and if you're learning on someone elses dime you'll have to charge accordingly.

The junior carpenters that have worked under me have mostly worked for themselves at one point or another.  After they've worked with me on one big house and helped set 60 doors they are ready to take on side jobs setting doors.  Sure they will always run into odd situations and call for advice, but they've already set more doors correctly than most they will be competing against.  Should they get side jobs hanging crown?  Heck no!  If someone hasn't done something well I think it's asking for trouble doing it as a side job, or job.

If I could edit my location it would say I'm now in Reno :-)

auto (post #208071, reply #3 of 8)

Get some business cards and pass them out.  Post some on bulletin boards around town.  Stick a nice magnetic sign on your truck-push the handyman angle..............

Door hangers-go around and hang them in the  neighborhoods you want to work in.

Small town newspaper-run a nice add regularly-even if just a copy of your bus. card (which should be nice-not just the paste art of a wrench and hammer or the little guy from the 50's.

And above all-Do Good Work.  Word will get out, but overnight is a bit of a stretch.

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


starting out (post #208071, reply #4 of 8)

I got my first job working for an old German builder/furniture maker. I had been working a dead-end job in a restaurant. I wanted to get into construction but couldn't find an oopening.  Someone told me about Klaus. So I went to his shop and introduced myself. Then I called and stopped by until he hired me. I've been in construction for thirty-two years now. I always learn something new. It's good to work with people who know more than you. That's how you learn :)

Starting up (post #208071, reply #5 of 8)

Forget business cards and print advertising.  It is all about having a good website and a relevant google adwords campaign.  Don't make your website yourself, spend some money and have a pro create you a simple but elegant website.  You will get calls, but you have to spend some moneyto make some money.

Like [JOBSITE WORD] it is.  (post #208071, reply #6 of 8)

Like [JOBSITE WORD] it is. 

Research your local area for opportunities (post #208071, reply #7 of 8)


I agree with you.  Print the business cards later.  I reccommend by doing a local search for small business opportunties such as home building services, plumbers, painters, handyman, etc....  Yes, I agree on the website too.  Find a local source for creating professional website.   I started out doing handyman services.  Also, it is good to have a community blog for your website too.  Check out my small handyman business website below.  Good luck.

I started as an appartment (post #208071, reply #8 of 8)

I started as an appartment and office cleaner and now I consider about running my own business. The most important thing is to find what you're good at and what you like the most and turn it into your business.