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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
David's great video post on the Hope, Faith and Love plaque is great, and it got me thinking we should start a thread on how to make a CNC pay for itself.

If you knew how to make the machine pay for itself, you might prefer to invest (loan) in a much better machine, software, support and accessories. I think a lot of CNC buyers compromise in their purchase, then if they get better at using it stepping up to a bigger, better, more capable machine. What a waste of effort and money. And I bet there are a huge number of people who get a machine, get frustrated because of lack of support, bargain software and a machine with very limited capabilities.

I have been intrigued, but no longer in good enough shape to follow my own suggestions, which are outlined here and in the attached pdf.

Remember, the idea of this string is to make a top notch machine pay for itself and maybe a little profit, not to build an large industrial enterprise.

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CNC marketing suggestions from DesertRatTom

If you are planning to make money from a CNC, you will have to become very good at marketing your services. Translated, that means being very good at identifying and effectively contacting people and businesses that are likely to make good use of your services. Everyone and their uncle Tom is making occasional signs, or signs with clever sayings or even images they hope to sell in consignment shops or weekend craft gatherings. But to really make any money, you have to identify markets that need lots of what you have to sell, but not so many that they go to a completely automated shop, or one that markets and jobs out the work to Mexico or Asia.

One example would be a small chain of regional hotels with a homey feel where signs, plaques and things of that sort, in italics, special fonts, or with logos or other branding features are needed in fair numbers. For example, a small inn that needs 24 room number tags with logos.

As machines go, that means something pretty fast with easy setup and software that makes such things as using special fonts or inserting logo images easy to set up and produce in limited runs.

Once your skills improve, you could locate individual property owners for inns or mountain cabin owners, whose orders would be small, but beyond hand made sign quantities. Entrance, exit, mens, family and womens' bathrooms, room number, breakfast, meeting room and other signs with their logo and unique fonts are all possible premium niche items.

I teach marketing to eye doctors, and know how important it is to any business. The internet and social media are good places to search, and 150 to 300 searches will turn up a good number of customers. You don't want to just have one big customer, they apply intense pressure to cut prices and profits. A good mix of lots of medium sized repeat customers is essential.

Deliver as fast as you can. Get all art approved by several people. If you see something odd or off in the design, check it with the customer before you make it and try to provide a proof run before you produce in quantity. In marketing, you'd probably have to locate, contact and work with art directors, architects and interior designers -- the real buyers. Some I knew were kind of sloppy and odd ducks.

Learn to proof read. Check the spelling of every word and if any problem shows up, check with the customer before starting design or production. Plan for rush orders. Designers are notorious for pushing deadlines and giving the producer precious little time to finish. That is a formula for a designer who makes an error to blame the producer for errors and delays, and to cut you off. Make this attention to detail and possible "inconsistencies" a feature of your service. You've got your customer's back. If necessary, hire a skilled proof reader before submitting the final design to the customer for approval. It's no fun eating a $2,000 order because of a missed comma or wrong font. These kinds of projects seldom get full attention and you backing up the person who orders this way will save their fanny if you catch a problem before their boss does.

Check out all kinds of materials to use for projects. See if you can find sources of cutoffs that are consistently available. For example, my son in law gets large quantities of 2x6 asian hardwood from pallets used for forklifts. For outdoor signs, you might try using weather resistant composite or engineered lumber. Can you cut aluminum for small signs, room numbers, etc?

Make your laptop the center of your business rather than the CNC. Being able to sit in your car on vacation while handling a design shows up as exceptional service, and pays for the vacation at the same time.

In other words, make no assumptions, don’t skip a mid-project client review because deadlines are tight. Email proofs of copy, layout drawings, printouts of drawings made in the software, and photos of the first test piece, lit by side light so the carving shows up well. Be VERY fussy about approvals for logos and special images. If there is any concern about size and proportion, you want them handled on paper, not on some exotic or expensive hardwood. Make sure your contact’s boss reviews anything more than a run of, say, 3 pieces.

Do not make the mistake of competing on price. Start as high as you can stand it, then go up another 10 percent. If you slash prices to below market rates, you can be dismissed by competitors merely by their saying, "you get what you pay for." When I raise prices, I have to practice saying the amount in front of a mirror until I can do so without making a face or showing uncertainty. Charge more for exotic materials and make the estimate known early.

Consider having someone else run the machine, spend your time marketing and taking wonderful, thorough care of your customers so they want to do repeat business. Making stuff sounds like fun, but it IS a business first, and the dollars and cents, fostering client relations and posting examples of your fine work rank higher than running the CNC.

Social media and developing a great newsletter mailing list is VERY important. (I use Constant Contact because they just don’t allow practices that appear as spam.) Social media drives people to your website, where they see your work, read your information and sign up for the newsletter. Constant Contact supplies the sign-up code. Publish articles about how to design, order, avoid errors, plus all kinds of pictures of finished work (not all of which has to be yours, by the way). These photos become an idea bank. If you have some pre-made standard items, show those on a separate page. Eventually set up a PayPal account. Publish a checklist of steps from design to ordering to final production runs that emphasizes review and proofing. CYA!

There is a great little book titled “Your First 1000 copies,” which was written for self publishing and other authors on how to use social media, website and email to generate business. It translates to any business and isn’t full of fluff. It’s one of those little books with a huge load of practical information, and it’s $10 bucks on Amazon. Really upped my business results and lowered my marketing costs. Low cost social media and email are now our primary source of new, very high end business.

I know free advice is easily dismissed, but I've been doing and teaching marketing for almost 4 decades, and charge clients a LOT for my recommendations and made a lot of millionaires in the process.

If I were starting in CNC, I’d do exactly what I suggested. I'd research and search the area for potential clients. I’d develop a list of 30-50 high-potential multiple signs per year customers. And I’d do it before I put a penny down on a machine. My buying choice would be far different if I knew it would pay for itself. I might make 6 months of payments as I learned and attended training classes, and then set out seeking customers and identifying places to sell my stuff.

If you’re not willing to do that, think long and hard about starting with CNC for money. If you do what’s suggested here, you could wind up having a couple of machines, or maybe be willing to hire some of your cutting work out. Growth happens to people who support the heck out of their commercial customers.

Now, there are alternatives. Some CNC users never intend to turn their machine into a business. An occasional sale is fine. One member has a great little business by focusing on Polish folks at festivals and expanding from there. He sells plaques with the distinctive Polish Eagle on them, including special orders with family names on them. Gradually earns back the cost of his machine. Others buy the machines for hobby use only.

Wherever you are on this spectrum of users, I hope this paper is helpful. I will accumulate the responses into a new, more comprehensive document and post that later in pdf form, so attach your name and Forum nickname so I can give proper credit. Let the fun begin.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
OK, quick addition. David's circular plaque would be a great fundraiser for a church and with very minor changes, could easily be a wonderful Christmas or Chanukah item.

His carving required several passes, but what if you used thin stock and had a really fast machine, cut through the stock, then glued it to a same size piece of material? Higher production in less time. For many corporate items or even multiple versions or copies for a company, would be just dandy cut this way. Remember this is about making the machine pay while still producing wonderful designs. It will also allow all kinds of different background treatments that are harder to accomplish with a single piece.

Ideas are OK in this string as well.
 

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Mike
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what if you used thin stock and had a really fast machine, cut through the stock, then glued it to a same size piece of material? Higher production in less time. For many corporate items or even multiple versions or copies for a company, would be just dandy cut this way. Remember this is about making the machine pay while still producing wonderful designs. It will also allow all kinds of different background treatments that are harder to accomplish with a single piece.
Tom, keeping that thought of using thin stock in mind and gluing it to another piece after cutting it out, that would be a good scrollsaw project, but given a CNC to use I would do it a little differently.

I would start by gluing the two contrasting woods together to create a blank to use on the CNC. Then, set your depth of cut in your design software so you cut thru the face layer to reveal the contrasting layer below. This would be easier than having 2 disks that might give you problems when gluing them up, like trying to clean up glue squeeze-out down in the small openings. If you can't get all the glue cleaned out then you have finishing problems to deal with. Just my take on using contrasting woods for projects like this.
 

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David - Machinist in wood
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Tom, keeping that thought of using thin stock in mind and gluing it to another piece after cutting it out, that would be a good scrollsaw project, but given a CNC to use I would do it a little differently.

I would start by gluing the two contrasting woods together to create a blank to use on the CNC. Then, set your depth of cut in your design software so you cut thru the face layer to reveal the contrasting layer below. This would be easier than having 2 disks that might give you problems when gluing them up, like trying to clean up glue squeeze-out down in the small openings. If you can't get all the glue cleaned out then you have finishing problems to deal with. Just my take on using contrasting woods for projects like this.
That's what I did on this a couple of years ago, Mike. It's a good look.

Text Font Wood Metal Logo


David
 

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Of course, there are some projects that are better done carving one piece, then carving the other piece out of the contrasting wood. This would be a modified version of your suggestion Tom.

When using expensive exotic woods you might want to cut small contrasting wood embellishments and then add them to the base item so you save as much of the expensive material as possible.

An example would be like this dice box I made as a gift, using if I remember correctly, Peruvian Walnut for the dragon and Cherry for the box. The dragon sits in a shallow pocket cut into the textured top.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
OK, what about making money with your machine? If you do, how do you do it. Have any ideas on how to go about selling your stuff. Come on guys, we're talking being able to get and pay for top of the line gear.
 

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Tom - that little palm chisel that David used to texture the background
is what really sold the show !!
that soft quisk quisk quisk quisk of the sharp blade sliding through the wood
and the small chips falling off to the side blown only by a craftsman's breath.
that is what made his project so special - the human touch.

John

.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Hi, I understand that John and Rick, but I'd prefer to keep on topic of making money enough to pay for the damn thing. The craftsmanship in David's post is inspiring, and now, on to the topic? A customer for hand made objects is called a patron, not a customer. There aren't many patrons around anymore, and I don't like making do with lesser tools. I was fortunate to have bought most of my tools while in my peak earning years, so I didn't have to compromise or buy much upgraded gear. I'd like to empower others to start with the good stuff, completely assembled, with great instruction and support, and not just sitting in pieces laying about in their garage. I am a very practical guy.
 

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I think the most important thing for people to remember if you really intend to make it a business that makes a good profit is that IT IS A BUSINESS!

Successful businesses depend on having employees that:
1. are on time every day.
2. are ready to go right to work.
2. dress properly for the work they will be doing that day.
3. are properly trained on the equipment they will be using.
4. always wear personal protective equipment when the task requires it.
5. take pride in producing the best quality product they can produce.
6. never waste materials.
7. want to learn new techniques.
8. want to learn how to operate new and different equipment.
9. want to learn as much as they can about all processes from start to finish.
10. always willing to put in extra time when it is needed.
11. above all, always show customers that they are the most important part of the business.

If you start out as a one-man show, always remember, you are the boss, but you are also an employee, so follow the above list to make it a successful business.

One other thing, you being the boss, make sure you give the employees time to enjoy their families.
 

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My wife sells handmade paper crafts at craft shows, so I go to quite a few. At one such show I met two ladies selling those ubiquitous cut out words (“family”, “gather”, etc.) glued onto “rustic” boards. I asked if they were cutting their own with CNC. Turns out they were buying from an out of state seller who only offered a limited selection (his “words”, his font choice) at fixed sizes. I offered to cut whatever they wanted, in whatever sizes they needed. Well the two ladies kind of disagreed on the future direction of their partnership and broke up, but one of them has continued as a sign maker, and is now a regular customer for me.

She is mostly targeting higher end business customers, is very active in a networking group for women business owners and has very good design, finishing and fabrication skills. I still do cutouts for her, so she is both my customer and a “maker” on her own. A couple of her signs are in Oliver’s book. But I mention her mostly for what she is doing to market and sell: networking, finding a niche market and making custom items.

As for me, there are lots of components that many crafters use, I have done cutouts for tole painters, school teachers and others, made molds and jigs for soap makers, made a vacuum form for a kydex holster maker and other similar custom one-off pieces. I have not really gotten into selling finished pieces at craft shows (there seem to be tons of wooden flag makers in my area) but do not hesitate to offer my services to other “makers”. Have a few products I want to produce and sell, but untilI finish building my new shop (which will contain my new house), I have a very limited shop in my shed up here in the mountains.
 

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An interesting discussion as always.
However it seems to me that the same comments can be made for having a wood shop in general be it CNC
based or more of a classic setup. The real issue is are you in this to be a business or as a fun hobby? I am definitely in the latter category and would much rather make a fine piece to give away than struggle under the demands of a " for sale or custom order" time frame. I am not wealthy but I get no greater joy than handing a dear friend a piece that they have previously commented on at a craft fair etc.
just my opinion.

Cheers
Jon
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
An interesting discussion. ...The real issue is are you in this to be a business or as a fun hobby? I am definitely in the latter category and would much rather make a fine piece to give away than struggle under the demands of a " for sale or custom order" time frame. I am not wealthy but I get no greater joy than handing a dear friend a piece that they have previously commented on at a craft fair etc.
just my opinion.

Cheers
Jon
Understood and respected, but there is a middle ground where people pay for a better quality unit with better support, and large and fast enough not to be outgrown. For them, being able to make a few hundred extra per month will make payments on a really nice machine and software. That's the premise.

One advantage of this is that you start a small business, and can write off the cost of the machine, thus reducing taxes. But you can only lose money for a couple of years, so making a little more than your payments will pay for the stuff you need to produce wonderful gifts.

A really nice, fairly fast CNC will enable you to help others out, for example making religious items a church can sell to help support its ministry. And what about being able to buy some of that really beautiful, exotic (expensive) wood?

There's a guy up here in the high desert that rents a kiosk in the biggest shopping center and sells small wood items, many made on a CNC. He's done it for years, so I suspect he makes money at it. If someone did that, it would be very easy to promote making special items as well. A few samples, a sign promoting custom signs,a book of available patterns, and stating that you can add company logos on your signs so people canbuy your stuff and order special items.

Don't do any of this if you don't want to. It's completely your choice. But if you want to try this to be able to afford a better unit, software, accessories, bits and have lots of support and training, and if you don't want to put all that money out, then making and selling some of what you produce makes a lot of sense.

The math: You save for a down to buy a great machine and have a $200 monthly payment on the balance. You make and sell seven $30 items and make the payment. Make and sell two or three more and buy your wife something nice.

If you're younger, get busy and work smart and hard at it, and your time is your own. Or do it part time and have a little extra for presents for the kids, or money for a college fund. Work evenings and weekends and don't give up your day job. I can tell you that doing design and creative work is VERY satisfying.

Remember, this is about how to make a CNC pay for itself. Mostly I see that as how to market. Feel free to add any ideas you might have.
 

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The math: You save for a down to buy a great machine and have a $200 monthly payment on the balance. You make and sell seven $30 items and make the payment
And you just lost money, unless your time and materials are free.
If you are selling anything made on a CNC for $30, you better me making 100 at a time, if you want to make any money.
 

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David - Machinist in wood
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Something I hear is "I can get something like this at Hobby Lobby for $25."

No ma'am, you can't. But if you like what you saw there you need to go back and buy it before they run out. ;)

Theirs is MDF or Pine, mine is Walnut or Maple or Cherry or Mahogany, etc. Theirs is done with a stencil or mask and painted, mine is engraved and finished professionally. Theirs doesn't say exactly what you want but from me it will say exactly what you want. Theirs LOOKS like it came from Hobby Lobby, mine looks like you had it custom built just for you.

So yes, from me that will cost $75 and up. :D

David
 

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Something I hear is "I can get something like this at Hobby Lobby for $25."

No ma'am, you can't. But if you like what you saw there you need to go back and buy it before they run out. :wink:

Theirs is MDF or Pine, mine is Walnut or Maple or Cherry or Mahogany, etc. Theirs is done with a stencil or mask and painted, mine is engraved and finished professionally. Theirs doesn't say exactly what you want but from me it will say exactly what you want. Theirs LOOKS like it came from Hobby Lobby, mine looks like you had it custom built just for you.

So yes, from me that will cost $75 and up. :grin:

David
Exactly David! So when my Wife couldn't find a chicken feeder anywhere that was specifically for Oyster shells and Grit.....👍
 

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So many times people would ask me to make them something. I told them to go to the fine furniture store and price something simular to what they are looking for and then double the price plus some. I found if I could make 6 of something I could start turning a profit on it. That was many years ago.

My CNC efforts are mostly along the line of gifts and making things around the house. I am a retired lineman as of 3 months ago. So my money has been made and I am not excited to "make it into work". Yet I made 10 oak 6" found carved Royal Ranger bowl with lid gifts that had the peoples names engraved in them and they were ooooohsss and awwwws and it was work but I enjoyed it. If I was making them for profit they would run 40.00 each and take about 1.5 hours to make them. (I still wouldn't be making as much as I did when I was working!)

I have been in a shop of two that had only 2 guys working in them that were making a niche project. CNC'ing sold Oak 3D Corner Trim and Final pieces that sell for about 6.00 each at Lowes. These were customized so they brought more. The guy had a nice home, motor home and shop. CNC was 4 axis and he had several of them in their working at the same time. All he was doing was loading stock and pressing run when I was there.

Some things are popular and will sell. Other things I have found that I thought they would be popular and won't sell when that was my intention.
 
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