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Another success story. Marc Blanchette of Ellsworth, Maine is another of Dunbar's students who's made a go at selling Windsor chairs.
Michael Dunbar wrote an article in 2000 about Going Pro. We’re republishing his 8 tips for Going Pro on our new blog The Pro Shop. Read his first four tips here and tip five is here. Dunbar’s tips below focus on reaching out to the media. He suggest frequently sending out press releases. Done that before? Any success? Post a comment below.
How to succeed, in eight not-so-easy steps, continued…
6.Work the media You may need to advertise, but it is expensive. And because few publications directly target your potential customers, it is frequently inefficient. Furthermore, most people have a healthy suspicion of advertising. The media, on the other hand, usually are seen as objective third parties, which make them very effective. And media coverage is free.
A good politician and a woodworker going pro need to go to editors and reporters personally. Target the outlets that are read, watched, or listened to by your potential customers. This often means the local newspapers and radio and TV stations—above all, cable. However, for high-end work, it could be architectural and decorator magazines or TV programs with a similar focus. Clip or record the reports about other craftspeople for future reference.
Do not be afraid to approach the media. Remember, editors and reporters have to turn out a newspaper, magazine or show on a regular basis and are always looking for material. It is a lot easier to write about someone who walks through the door than to go out and find suitable people. Do not be afraid to propose yourself as a story. That is how Sue got our business on the front page of The Wall Street Journal; in The New York Times and Country Living; and on New Yankee Workshop, Martha Stewart Living and The Woodwright’s Shop. The press release is the easiest way to propose yourself as a story.
Send a press release if you do anything interesting
If you do anything interesting—open your business, get a major contract—or are recognized in any way, send a press release to your targeted media. Including a photo always helps. If you see a story that relates to your work, call an editor or a reporter. You may be included in a follow-up story. Also, you become a source. The next time the reporter is writing about something similar, you may be called for a quote or for assistance. Being helpful in these ways frequently leads to articles about you.
When an article finally appears, clip it and send copies to all your other targeted outlets. Furniture maker Garry Knox Bennett once told me, “The more media you get, the more media you get.”
Get to know a publication’s audience and what the audience needs to hear about you and your work. A Windsor chair maker being interviewed by an antique publication should talk about how accurately he or she copies the originals. When talking to a reporter from a high-end decorator magazine, focus on quality.
7. Get out of the shop We remind our students that a good politician gets out and presses the flesh. He speaks to groups. Do the same. These are some of Sue’s suggestions: Join your local woodworking club and do a presentation for them. Contact service groups like the Rotary. Speak to your region’s historical societies. Every time you speak you meet potential customers, tap into a network, polish your presentation and create a reason for yet another press release.
High-end craft shows sell booth space and are happy to take your money. However, many of them offer live presentations and demonstrations and will trade booth space for this service. People are drawn to activity. You will get a lot more attention from the public if you are making a table than if you are standing next to a finished one. Be sure to issue a press release.
A politician knows he can get more done if he has good relations with his colleagues. Do the same. We have a network of past students who have gone pro and all make chairs from our patterns. Working together, we can quickly fill a large order with a couple of phone calls. Even though we work by hand and have limited production, pooling our efforts puts all of us in a position to go after large jobs. Team up formally or informally with other woodworkers. Chairs go around tables, so we have a network of guys who make tables.
8. Clinch the sale Before you actually have a customer, practice your sales pitch until it is flawless. Enlist someone you trust to act as a customer and to critique you, just as a politician does with trusted advisers before a debate or public appearance.
If there is something about your work that is unique or interesting, prepare a demonstration for your customers. For example, to demonstrate the effectiveness of locking tapers as a leg joint, we clamp a piece of 2-in. pine to the bench. We insert a leg tenon into a reamed hole and tap the leg with a hammer. Then we lift the 300-lb. bench by pulling the leg straight up.
Discuss why your product is best. Mention competitors or alternatives, but do so cautiously. When made in person, such comparisons can seem more harsh than when made in print and can hurt the customer’s impression of you.
Your media exposure has presented you as an interesting person. If you are laconic or expressionless, work on projecting a more bubbly personality. Sue had to train one student to not glower when talking to other people. He did not even know he was doing it. I am painfully shy and would rather have teeth extracted than meet new people. Sue worked a long time to train me to appear outgoing even though my guts are churning. Sue suggests videotape so students can see themselves as others see them. Ask whether you would buy from the person you are watching.
And if all else fails, consider this tip from Barry Thompson, of Virgilina, Va, Barry is the most successful student we have ever had go pro. One of his most effective techniques is to have a customer take a chair home and use it.
Read Dunbar’s other tips: read about preparing yourself, your family, and your shop and marketing and developing an identity for your business.
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