thinking outside of the employment box.

Much rather than trying to tie myself down with a 9-5 job I’m thinking about going into business for myself. My training is in furniture making/furniture design. As an soon to be art school graduate I feel that my training has more to do with thinking as a corporate designer and less to do with thinking outside of the box. In a way I’m looking to pick up the pieces on my own look into other places that provide the knowledge I need to become an independent business owner.

So far I’ve signed up for classes at the Small Business Administation ( and Im looking into taking classes/sessions with the Toastmasters Club(cant hurt to have public speaking chops)

Besides these two resources are there any other places, things or books I should be looking into if I have an interest in starting up my own business?

I should also clarify that the business that I would like to start is not a traditional furniture company, nor will I take any part in the manufacturing process beyond prototype making and finding fabrication sources.

you describe a very good start.

It is fundamental to understand contracts: requests, quotations, proposals, contract wording legalese, execution of the contract, terms and conditions, invoicing.

My opinion is that everything else is common sense, or close to it.

One thing that is hardly ever talked about is capital, you need to have 1 years worth of cash in the bank to cover your personal nut. On a pragmatic side, do NOT use your personal credit cards to pay for your startup, if you go busto (80% do in the first 2 years) then you have thrashed your credit rating and that is a bad bad thing. There are loans available, many hard to get, but the smart ones self fianice when they can, and have the lowest possiable overhead (personal and company) that they can stand.

good luck

My suggestion would be to team up with a business major and combine your resources. Starting a business by yourself will take you tons of time to simply get up to speed with business aspect not to mention the time it will take in sourcing, branding, finance, and… oh yeah, design.

Having a partner with some buisness chops is a good idea, pure theory (ie bis major) is less good. The key thing in your buisness person is they must have a passion for getting into this gig, because startups are so damn hard that lots of time its just passion that carries you though.

being in business for yourself can be great.

id suggest though, in a field as small/specialized as furniture, that having some professional experience may help, though. helps with contacts, learning the business side, and getting some work under your belt playing with other peoples money.

i dont have much experience in furniture, but i’d imagine it would be one of the more difficult industries to get a profitable start up going. big overhead on material and workshop costs, and a lot more niche than a typical design consultancy biz.

if you have the guts and the $ tho, best of luck!


One of my professors at school (as I’m sure many of the rest of yours did as well) ran a nearly full time custom furniture business out of his home as well as teaching full time at school. He ran all aspects of the business, design, manufacturing, accounting, advertising, trade shows, etc. He was able to keep the full time gig, because he could fit his schedule around it and that funded his business when things were slow.

Other than a business partner, some basic business accounting skills couldn’t hurt.

hi, thank you for your time. I felt a need to clarify my overall position, your post prompted me to go into further detail. Rather than taking a focus on actual full pieces of furniture I’m thinking small. There is a whole other realm of furniture related items that can be produced with the minimal amount of work on my end. Lamps, table top items, desktop items, accesories are the objects that seem to make the most sense. They can be produced easily and potentially cheaply. Later on, perhaps 5 to 8 years down the road is where thinking about producing larger items that have a bigger overhead cost will come into play. I’m thinking of working within the industry to get a sense of how things work before I go in. I’ve heard enough stories of green(green as in unexperienced) designers going to fairs such as ICFF and not knowing up from down and becoming overwhelmed. I’m trying to think of things in a long term-slow growth-stable sense.

Thanks again for the tips.

My firm’s been in business for a little more than 5 years and I’m in agreement with a lot of the advice you’ve been given here. I’ll add or reiterate a few points.

Cash is KING. You’ve got to have money in the bank when you start or you have to have a very well thought out plan for self-financing. Zippyflounder is right. Do NOT use your personal credit cards to fund your business.

Decide up front if you want to be a business that makes money to spend money or a business that spends money to make money. The difference is huge. Either business model will work.

Get a good team of advisors in place. Money spent up front on legal services, accounting, taxes, insurance, etc. will be money well spent in the long run. Build your relationship with this team as you build your business. In a year or 3 or 5, when you need some help or advice, you’ll have a solid team who know you and understand your business and the context of your business. That background will help them give you even better advice - and that, in turn, will cost less money on a per incident basis.

I have a business partner and I love having a business partner. It’s good to have someone to share in the decision making and to bounce ideas around with. It’s also good to know that my business doesn’t come to a grinding halt when I’m on vacation. Having a partner isn’t for everyone, but it works for me.

Set goals for yourself and your company and keep track of your progress toward those goals.

Finally, as Zippyflounder said, keep your overhead as low as possible (personal and company) for as long as possible. Like I said initially, cash is king. You can’t run a business without it.

Good luck!

This is a career option I’ve explored a lot. I’d love to get out of the corporate world, do my own thing, and make a little money at the same time. But as a small business, the odds are very much against you. The advice given above is pretty much the same advice I’ve been given elsewhere. I grew up while my parents tried to start and grow a small business, and I remember how tough it was on them. This was before the internet boom, and while many things have changed that could make it easier, its still a hard way of life for all but a few small businesses that make it big.

To make it work, I think you’ve got to keep as far away from direct competition as possible. While competition may drive big businesses to spend big money in design and R&D, you are unlikely to have the capital and resources that the big players have - meaning its best not to try and beat them at their own game. Offer a product or service you can’t get anywhere else, or products/services the big guys can’t or won’t touch. Don’t think that a nifty design, that’s only a little different than every other design in the same category, is going to carry the business. This is hard to do in the furniture/home decor industry, as there is so much out there, and it relies so heavily on personal taste and style. In general, advertising/marketing/branding is probably more important than the design, if we are talking solely about making money. He with the biggest ad budget (and maybe the largest retail distribution) usually wins in the mass market. In the micro to small business end of the spectrum, what it takes to make it is not so easily outlined.

In my own pursuits, I’ve found that I’ll likely never be able to quit my day job completely and just start designing and manufacturing stuff. I’ve decided it will likely take a part-time job in conjunction to make it a possibility (self-funding, no way am I going to ruin my credit or get investors that I have to answer to) and even then there’s no guarantee of success no matter how much money or effort I pour into it.

There are many business practices that will allow you to run a business with minimal overhead, and most go completely against what any “traditional” small business are told to do. The most common bit if advice I see is to “be remarkable” (Seth Godin is probably the loudest proponent of this). Being remarkable elevates you above the rest of the boring, me-too crap that is so pervasive. In the right setting, people will pay more - much more - for something cool/unique/better than their friends’ stuff.

Online sales probably have the lowest overhead and risk right now, but its at odds with how most people shop for durable goods. There’s a huge difference between buying a t-shirt online, and buying a piece of furniture online (no matter how much either one costs).