After spending years working for someone else, you might decide that you’ve got the experience, the connections, the tools and the training - to go out on your own. You’re ready for a new challenge – but where do you start?
As a tradesperson, you’re no stranger to hard work – this is a good thing because starting a carpentry business isn’t easy. Your experience and knowledge as a carpenter or builder will provide a solid foundation to get you started, but you’ll need new skills as a business owner too.
This guide is specifically for tradespeople thinking about starting a carpentry business or working as a self-employed building contractor. It’s packed full of information, templates and steps – everything you need to know about turning your hands-on skills into a successful and profitable carpentry business.
- Writing a carpentry business plan
- Financing your carpentry business
- Your responsibilities as a carpentry business
- Marketing your carpentry business
Snapshot: a quick summary of the carpentry industry
Some tradespeople may put off starting a business because of the uncertainty that comes with running your own gig – mainly, finding enough work. But according to trade business owners, finding new work and completing jobs is the least of their worries.
Tradify’s Pulse Report is a survey of hundreds of contractors and tradespeople from Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. The data helps us stay in touch with the big issues facing trade business owners. These insights are worth keeping in mind for anyone starting their own business.
Our latest report found that:
- Running a business isn’t just about the money for tradespeople. Improving lifestyles and providing high levels of customer satisfaction were way ahead of simply making more money.
- Hiring staff and dealing with tricky customers were rated as the worst parts of the job, with admin not far behind.
- Tradespeople said a great trade business turns a profit, operates efficiently, and has happy staff.
- Interestingly, they rated their own happiness and lifestyle as the least important attributes - business is not all about them.
- Most tradespeople said they almost always felt in control of their business. They were confident about completing jobs and finding new work, whereas with admin they felt less sure.
The effects of COVID-19 and subsequent recovery will continue for years. Governments all over the world have recognised this and are quickly implementing new legislation to support the building and construction sectors.
Here’s a quick rundown of what some countries are doing to aid economic recovery:
- UK - Job retention and self-employed income support schemes have helped thousands of construction workers through the brunt of the global pandemic. Grants, low interest-loans and VAT deferral programmes are part of the additional support available for small businesses and self-employed contractors as part of Budget 2021.
- Australia - Similar plans are underway across the ditch. Billions of dollars have been allocated for new apprentices in addition to the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy which aims to keep apprentices in work. Additional investment will also be made to the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) guaranteeing the build of more new properties.
- NZ - The Government has announced plans to fund large, shovel-ready infrastructure projects that can be started immediately or in the next six months. The industry is expected to recover with an average annual growth of 3.8% between 2021-2024 supported by investments in residential, transport, institutional, and renewable energy projects.
1. Writing a carpentry business plan
Writing a business plan can take a little time, but it’s a necessary step in starting your carpentry business. As a carpenter you’d know better than anyone that a solid foundation is key to success. To give yourself the best possible start, you need to lay the foundations of your business with a solid business plan. This will help you be clear on your goals and how to achieve them, as well as more practical things like financing and marketing.
While things often don’t work out exactly as planned, having a business plan will help mitigate any problems you might encounter along the way.
For an in-depth guide to writing a trade business plan, read Tradify’s No-Nonsense Business Plan Guide for Contractors and Tradespeople.
To make things easier, we've also put together a business plan template specifically for trade businesses.
2. Financing your carpentry business
When starting a business, you need to spend money to make money. Getting started will come at a cost – but how much will depend on your structure (self-employed contractor or registered business) and the goals you’ve established in your business plan.
So, where will you get the money to fund your new business venture? You might have enough saved up yourself. If so, good on ya! But if you don’t, you might need a loan to get your business up and running.
You might go into business with a partner, work with a private investor or join a franchise. This will determine the initial set-up cost of your contracting business.
If you do need to borrow, you have a few options:
- Small business loan
- Government loan scheme
- Private investor
Whether you borrow money from a bank, a non-bank lender or a private lender (maybe a family member), you’ll have to show you’ve done your homework.
- A break-even analysis – show your business can at least break even before it makes a profit.
- A cash-flow forecast – how much money is moving in and out of your business and when.
- A sales forecast – estimate future revenue by predicting weekly, monthly, or yearly sales. This isn’t easy when you’re starting, but there are ways. This will help you work out if your business idea is financially viable.
Government loan schemes
Your local government might also have a financial scheme to help new businesses. If your carpentry business is eligible, this can be a great way to access funding that may not need paying back.
- UK – Start-Up Loans from £500 to £25,000 are available to start or grow your business.
- AU – Check if you’re eligible for a variety of grants that vary between states.
- NZ – Government grants, advice and mentoring are available, depending on your business.
- USA - SBA provides limited grant funding to eligible businesses.
Your third option is to approach an investor. Angel investors are successful entrepreneurs who provide capital for promising business start-ups. Rather than you paying the initial investment back, they often receive convertible debt or a percentage of ownership in return.
- UK - Angel Investment Network
- AU - Angel Investors
- NZ - Angel Association
- USA - Angel Investment Network
Purchasing equipment and tools
Unless you already have your own tools, this may be your biggest up-front cost when starting your carpentry business – but they’re also an investment. Your tools are your livelihood and you can’t work without them. Make sure to purchase reliable, quality products that (with proper maintenance!) will last you for as long as possible.
You may also need a work vehicle. You certainly don’t need the latest truck with all the bells and whistles (not to get started anyway), but you will need something reliable with enough room to store all your tools securely while you’re on the go.
The good news is you can claim tax back on the cost of your business-related tools and equipment — including vehicles!
You also need to think about protecting your tools and equipment. They’re your most important asset. If they go missing or get stolen (unfortunately it happens a lot), you’ll be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
As well as insuring your tools and equipment, you might also want to consider general liability (in case you accidentally cause damage to someone else’s property) and income protection (if you have an accident and can’t work). You might not have the funds to take out all your insurance policies at once, so look for a reputable provider of small business insurance – they’ll be able to help you make a plan.
Accounting and taxes
Tidy books are essential. Staying on top of your admin will ensure that you get paid quickly for all your time and materials, and you’ll avoid any late penalties from the tax man when he comes knocking.
To make things even easier, Tradify also integrates with your favourite accounting software:
Working out what to charge
You make money by charging your customers for the time, skill, materials, and labour required to complete a project – not by plucking a number from thin air.
Here’s what you need to factor in when figuring out your prices:
- Variable costs - These costs vary between projects - your labour charged by the hour and cost of materials.
- Fixed costs -These are the costs associated with running your business e.g. vehicle payments and insurance. They’re called ‘fixed costs’ because they generally stay the same.
- Other factors - Your pricing should also take into consideration your skills, experience and qualifications, the quality of your materials, and where your target market is located.
Here’s a guide on how to figure out your charge-out rate using our charge-out rate calculator.
3. Your responsibilities as a carpentry business
As a business owner, you have several responsibilities. Aside from doing good work, treating your staff well and keeping on top of your financial obligations, there’s also the need to comply with any regulations surrounding the carpentry and building industry. This red-tape stuff might not make you money – but it can certainly cost you a lot if you don’t pay attention to it.
Keep the following in mind:
- How your business is going to affect the environment and how you plan to deal with it.
- Local laws around operating a business including employment laws when you hire staff.
- Health and safety regulations and what you must do to comply and keep you and your team safe.
Professional trade associations for carpenters and builders
Becoming a member of a local professional body is a great way to stay on top of what’s happening in the industry – without having to wade through pages of mundane government documents.
To join, you’ll probably need to meet minimum qualification requirements – find out what these are and whether you’re eligible before applying. They usually offer training and professional development opportunities, which can be a huge competitive advantage long-term. It’s good to keep updated with qualification requirements in case you bring on an apprentice or employee.
- UK – Institute of Carpenters, British Woodworking Federation
- AU – Carpentry Australia
- NZ – New Zealand Institute of Building
Managing your carpentry business
Running a carpentry business takes more than just skill and experience – you need business acumen too.
At first, managing the daily tasks of a business can feel like you’re juggling way too many balls. The trick is to get rid of the balls you don’t actually need to juggle.
There are core business processes to follow, and you’ll need to focus on each stage of your workflow to figure out exactly what’s required. From there, you’ll be able to streamline your work, become more efficient and increase your work turnaround times.
4. Marketing your carpentry business
Reality check – you’re not going to be the only carpentry business in town. You’ll always be up against the competition – but this is where all the work you’ve done thus far will help.
When marketing your carpentry business, lead with the thing that you do differently or better than anyone else in the market. Yes, some clients will shop around for the cheapest builder, but most will be more interested in why they should hire you. If you can make this clear up front, the price most likely won’t be an issue – and you’ll be well ahead of the competition.
Figuring out your target market
While it might be tempting to be everything to everyone, this isn’t the smartest course of action. With tens of thousands of carpentry businesses and self-employed contractors across Australia, New Zealand and the UK, finding your niche will not only help you create a steady stream of revenue but also establish a loyal customer base.
To define who your ideal customer is, think about ways you can add value. This could be making your services accessible to a new group of people (think new housing developments or subdivisions) or something extra you can offer to get a leg up on the competition.
As you design your carpentry business, every decision you make should be specifically directed at the type of client that you want to attract.
To work out your niche, here’s what you need to do:
- Decide on what area/s you want to work in. Also consider whether your customers will be residential or commercial (or both), or other contractors.
- Research your competitors and identify any service gaps in the local market that you could fill.
- Make sure that opportunities in the market align with your skills and interests.
- Narrow down the services you’ll offer based on your experience and the service gaps you’ve identified in the market.
- Estimate your niche’s profitability by collecting data on your competitors’ gross margins.
When researching competitors in your area, think about:
- What you can do differently, or better
- How you can stand out
- Whether existing businesses offer potential partnership opportunities
Your marketing plan
In today’s digital age, there are many options for getting the word out about your business, and it can be a little daunting at times. But remember – the customer is at the centre of every business decision that you make, so go where your customers are.
To start with, at least consider:
- Building a website
- Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc
- Listing with local business directories
Word of mouth is still one of the best – and least expensive – forms of marketing. Be proud - tell your friends and family about your new business and get them to spread the word on your behalf. It only takes a few new clients, a couple of well-done jobs, and you’ll be on your way.
To help with your marketing strategy, we’ve developed a practical marketing toolkit for tradespeople. It’s full of examples, tips and tactics to help you successfully market your trade business.
It’s time to build your business
For most tradespeople, running a business or working as a self-employed contractor is a tried and true way to live a better life. You’re calling the shots – the hours you work, what jobs you take on, how much you charge. It means spending more time with the family and doing the things you love. And while it’s not always about the money, making more money is a welcome side-effect of going out on your own.
Building a business from scratch isn’t a walk in the park. There’s a lot to consider, but just as you would tackle a new building project, a strategic, step-by-step approach will see your business up and running in no time.
Work your way through this guide and be sure to get your business plan sorted. Keep your goals and objectives in mind and continually hone your competitive advantage so that your reputation grows. Start right by setting yourself up with job management software that will scale with your business. It’ll pay off as your business grows and you begin to hire staff.
Already looking at hiring? Download our Interview Question Template!
Tradify is a must-have tool for new businesses. It’ll help you take care of:
- Job management
- ...and other trade-specific features for your carpentry business.
Good luck with your business pursuits – and if you’re keen to run your new business with Tradify, you can try it free for 14 days!