7 Essentials for the One Man Workshop

For many of us in the saddle making or leatherworking industry, we are a shop of one or maybe two people.  This business model has both its advantages and difficulties.  Finding time to design the products, build the products and market the products all while keeping a handle on the administrative aspects of our business make for a challenging day to day.

While most of us can not afford to hire a full time office manager or marketing manager, we can use the wonderful technology that is right at our fingertips and virtually free when compared to adding staff.

In this article, I will show you the 7 essentials for a one man workshop in my opinion.  There are definitely more apps, tools, and systems that can be put into place to help you accomplish your business goals, but this short list is what I would call the minimum to help you minimize the work involved in running a one man show.

1. Smart Phone

The first in our list is the smart phone.  Whether you carry an iphone or Android, the majority of the population to date is carrying some sort of phone with internet capabilities.  This little device, although sometimes very intrusive and time consuming, can be your best asset to help you run your small business.

At first glance, the infinite availability of apps for these phones is astonishing to say the least.  You can download apps to give you access to all your marketing and social media channels so that you can monitor and update on the go.  You can get apps to edit photos and even your website straight from your phone without having to sit down at a computer.   You can access all your email addresses and contacts from this device.

Outside of being completely available and connected to your customers all day everyday (which can be hard on productivity at time), the camera available on these devices has brought a quality to our workshop photos that before was limited to only those who dabbled in photography along with their craft.

The ability to capture quality photos of your works in progress, completed works, and videos of work being done has opened our shops up to both interested consumers as well as fellow craftsmen through social media and these devices.

In my opinion the smartphone is one of the most essential tools for any one man craftsman looking to grow his/her business.  Never before have we had so much marketing power and access to our customers wrapped up in a device small enough to fit in your pocket.

2. Notebook

Now that we have paid dues to the world of technology with the cell phone, lets go back a bit to something more analog.  The simple notebook is an item that I find absolutely necessary in all workshops.

As craftsmen, we spend our days working in a hands on/handmade environment.  This is the area we usually feel the most comfortable and productive in.  Many of us would prefer using paper and pencil to sketch out our ideas and plans for a job or even just our daily duties.  This is where the notebook stands strong.

I find having one notebook for all my analog work is essential.  I use this notebook for all brainstorming, planning, sketching, to do lists, and my appointments and events.  If you keep all of this in one notebook then you reduce the amount of scrap papers littering your workshop with important information on them that you can’t seem to find when you need them.

The notebook system that I found a couple years ago and still use today is the best I have ever found for keeping my life organized and in one place.

Check it out at BulletJournal.com

3. Evernote

Now let’s get into the best application you can have for running a one man shop.  Working in any craft that is a custom type business model creates a lot of challenging issues.  The main issue most of us have is maintaining our waiting list, customer information and details of the job.

The app that I use on a daily basis to keep all this information organized and easy to find is Evernote.  Evernote is basically a system to capture and organize any and all pieces of information in your life whether analog or digital.  And the great thing about this app is that it syncs across all your devices and you can access your information from anywhere anytime.

Organizing evernote to work for you can be a challenge at first until you figure out that you can virtually set it up anyway that you like to work.  I use evernote for all my waiting list, jobs I’m waiting to start, jobs I’m working on and to archive jobs completed.  Plus I use evernote to collect information for my personal life as well.

If used, this system can bring clarity into the chaos that is your workflow.  If you have a customer send you a text of a brand for their belt you can add it to their note in evernote.  If a customer sends you an email requesting you make them a product, you can forward that to evernote and you immediately have them on the list.  If you sketch up an idea for a new product design in your notebook, you can take a photo of the drawing and save to evernote.

When it comes to collecting incoming information and getting back to working on what you love to do, evernote becomes your right hand man.

4. Calendar

The fourth thing in our list is a Calendar.  This may seem a bit like “duh,” but the truth is that most of us have a calendar app on our phones but we never look at it or use it.

For all my long term planning I use my calendar app that comes with the iphone.  I don’t use the app for my daily or monthly planning, that’s done in my notebook/journal.

I use the calendar app mainly to set dates for future events for the year.  These would include travel, vacations, shows, meetings, etc.  My main use of this app is so that I don’t forget important dates that are important but no action is required on them within the next 6 months to a year.

You can also use the calendar to set recurring reminders for bills due and things that happen every month so that you don’t miss them.

5. Square

Taking payment for our hard work is the reward for us in business.  This is a lot of times cash or check still in our industry, but the ability to accept credit and debit cards is fast becoming mandatory to succeed.  Since many of us do business with people who are not local to us, we need the ability to take payment over the phone with a credit card.  Waiting on a check in the mail is not a viable business plan.

There are many options on the market for gaining this ability in your business.  I want to stress something very important here.  DO NOT get into a contract with some merchant service and lease your terminal and pay all the ignorant fees that they charge.  With technology today growing faster and faster, the old days of leasing a terminal and paying high rates and transaction fees is a complete rip off!  Let me repeat myself… A RIP OFF!!!

There are many options available that have zero transaction fees and no terminal cost… heck there really isn’t even terminals anymore.  Many of the best merchant options available are nothing more than an online account and a small reader that plugs into the headphone jack of your cell phone or tablet.

I use Square for all my merchant services.  You simply set up an account on their website, tell them where you want your money to go, and they send you a free reader.  That’s it!  And the only thing you have to pay for is the 2.75% per transaction.  There are no other fees associated with the system.

The best thing that I find helpful for me is the “Invoicing” option.  With our types of business, we usually build a product and have to ship it because customer is out of town.  With this, we have to take credit card information over the phone and key it all into the system.  When you do this, like all merchant services, square has to charge you 3.5% + $0.15.  But if you use their invoice option, then you get the swipe rate of 2.75%.  To do this you simply charge as normal through the app and hit the “invoice” option which sends the customer a secure email and they can pay right through the email with their credit card.  Since they are the entering the information then you get the cheaper rate.  And not to mention you don’t have to take the time to write down all that information and worry about destroying it when your done.

I highly recommend square or some other merchant service like this to give your customers an easier shopping experience while insuring you get paid for your work.

6. Quickbooks Online

We all have some sort of an accounting system for our business.  For some of us it may be an elaborate spreadsheet with intricate formulas and pages, and for others it may be a shoe box under a bench.  Whatever it is that you are using, you understand the importance of keeping your income and expenses organized and on track for tax season.

I have been an avid Quickbooks user for many years.  But this year I made the switch to Quickbooks Online and I love it.  I will say that at first it took some getting use to, but once I got a feel for the software I was really pleased.

My main reason for switching to the online version was that I was running a four year old software version.  My accountant suggested I look into the online version and I’m glad I did.

The online version costs me $10 a month, but I have access to all the updates to the software and my accountant can access it anytime they need information for taxes or anything.

The best thing about it is that it is web based so I can access on any browser and they also have an app so I can use that on my iphone or ipad to access my books anytime.  This makes it very easy to invoice clients and send estimates on larger jobs from anywhere.

No matter what accounting software you decide to use, having a system to keep all the income and expenses of your business sorted out can mean the difference in success or failure.  In my experience, the worst time I have ever had in business was when my finances were out of control and I didn’t have a clear picture of where my money was going within the business.

Watch your nickels and dimes and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

-Jim Plantt, saddle maker

7. Coffee Pot

The last and maybe most important thing every one man workshop needs is a coffee pot.  This may seem like a no brainer to those of us that are avid java consumers, but for those of you who aren’t… IT’S IMPORTANT!

Every shop has to have a pot of hot coffee for those customers that want to come in and see what you’re working on.  This may seem like a funny anecdote and maybe to some extent it is.  But there is something about being in a saddle shop, wood shop, or welding shop and having a cup of coffee that creates a sense of simpler times.

It’s so easy to get so involved in your work and the stress of running a business that you lose sight of why you started doing this in the first place.  Then one day a scrawny weathered old cowboy comes in early one morning just to have a spot of coffee and lean on your bench while you work.  As he cusses and discusses what you’re doing wrong, it reminds him of a story from some other shop he was in when he was younger.  The irritation you are experiencing on that particular job you’re working on begins to disappear and you grab your cup of coffee… its story time now.

Doing what we do is a hard way to make a living, but there is no other as much fun.  Have a cup of coffee and enjoy it.