About two decades ago I met my friend Adlai Stein. I called him a blacksmith back then, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that he decided to leave his office job and become a blacksmith full time. As a result, I asked him to write a little bit on things he considered before he left his job and also a few things he found out along the way.
Tomorrow night you can “meet” him too. He will be featured on the History Channel Blacksmith Competition “Forged in Fire” Season 3, Episode 15 at 10/9c. http://www.history.com/shows/forged-in-fire/season-3/episode-15
By the way, he shared with me that writing a blog post for me was preferable over doing his taxes.
Things to Consider Before Quitting Your Day Job to be a Full Time Maker
(or – Quit Your Day Job! But think about it first!)
- Figure out how much money you need to make each month. Items to consider are bills, food, supplies, tables, tents, displays and studio or office rent if you don’t work from home. There are also a lot of little things that you don’t expect when getting started, like how much you have to pay for taking credit cards (2% to 3% per transaction), booth fees if you are doing shows, gas, and hotel if you are doing shows out of town. All of all of that should go into your budget.
- Have at least 3-6 months worth of income in savings to get through the first transition. It’s difficult to have enough money coming in right away. I personally took part of my 401k to pay off my truck, my credit cards with high interest and get a jump on having some in savings just to get through lean times.
- Ask yourself: Are you good enough at your craft to make a living on it? It’s something that keeps us all up at night but it’s a real fear. I was blacksmithing for over 20 years when I quit my day job. As hobbyist and part time maker, I certainly hadn’t logged in 20 years worth of hours. I blacksmithed here and there. During some hard times I had a year or 2 off when I didn’t work at all. When I worked regularly it was maybe 2 3 times a month, life happens. Working full time is a great way to get better. It took me about a year to feel comfortable enough with my work to really feel like I was getting good enough.
- Do you have enough back stock to do shows and do you have enough variety of things to appeal to your audience?
- What audience are you appealing to? What kind of things appeal to your existing clients? I’m not talking friends and family since they have a soft spot for you. I’m talking about total strangers who like your work because it strikes a chord or need with them.
- Make a plan to establish an online reputation. Post works in progress (WIPs) and finished work on your website and on social media. Have a business page on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter that is separate from your personal page. It’s ok to cross post to your personal page but potential customers like a personal touch, they usually don’t want to see your food or friends and family.
- Find good shows that you can do multiple years in a row, you may not do well the first year but people will come looking for you in that same spot at future years. Have business cards and hand them out everywhere. You are your best cheerleader – promote yourself like crazy.
- Can you be outgoing enough to really engage people as they walk by your
booth or on line? Being shy does not sell product. My looks and appearance are distinctive – I go out of my way to look the way people imagine a blacksmith should . There is no doubt in their minds that this is my work. I’m gregarious and try to greet every person that walks by my booth. Sometimes it draws people in who would otherwise walk by.
- If you think you’ll have more time for your family think again. Yes, you’ll have a more flexible schedule to be able to be able to match their schedules but in order to be successful you’ll be working a whole lot more than 40 hours per week.
- You’ll have to keep yourself motivated. The upside of this is that there is no jerk boss setting deadlines for you. If working from home, try setting up a studio or private area so it feels like you are going to work. Have a routine like you did before; shower and have coffee or breakfast/lunch then go to your bench and get started. Personally, I have a shop away from my home to work from, otherwise I won’t get anything done at home. For me, home is where I relax.
- Have a good network of friends you can trust to help and vent to when things go wrong. It’s very helpful and not something we always think about.
- The big thing is don’t worry it to death. Just get off your butt and do it! You’ll never know if you are too scared to take that risk.
Adlai Stein, Blacksmith at Macabee Metals
You can catch up with Adlai at