The frost generated by Canadian winters wreak havoc on structures through their foundations. According to code conventional foundations and footings must rest below the reach of frost on undisturbed soil (in most provinces, this is safely considered to be 4 ft. below ground level or grade), bear directly on bedrock, or be frost-protected. A shallow foundation may be possible in your area in an outbuilding if you can get an engineer to design and stamp plans for insulating the area directly beside your shallow foundation wall so that frost will not form beneath the footing area and cause damage. A slab-on-grade foundation for an outbuilding is another option that will need to be designed by an engineer so that the concrete slab will structurally bear the weight of the shop structure you build above it.
When I change blades on my band saw, I usually need to adjust the thrust bearings and guides with an Allen wrench. I was tired of hunting around for the wrench, so I decided to stick it to the steel housing with a rare earth magnet (neodymium) about the size of a jacket button. Now it’s always handy! — Bill Wells. You can also use a magnet on your ladder.
However, another critical component to small business success is being self aware. With a variety of tools at your fingertips, tracking basic accounting can be fairly simple. Still, in order to be strategic about how you spend your money, properly leveraging these tools will still require a little bit of legwork. What used to take you eight hours might now only take one hour. But if you’re not willing or able to run through your financial tasks on a regular basis, bringing in a bookkeeper or accountant might be your best option.
Without organization, living in a van can feel cluttered and chaotic, so you'll want to make the most of your storage space. This is a good time to make sure you've paired down your belongings to a reasonable amount and to make sure everything has a place. (As a former engineer who loves making things as efficient and optimized as possible, this was Ben's favorite step!)
One of the core skills needed when starting a small business is the ability to build out a diversified product line that is complementary to the headline product(s). It’s hard to imagine a successful business called “Burgers and Scarves,” right? As a good rule of thumb, a well-thought-out product line allows for the customer to upsell themselves. You want them thinking, “I’m having a burger, y’know what I’m going to have some fries too.”
Due diligence is the process of going through the current owner’s books with a fine-tooth comb to verify inventory information, sales data, average ticket price, and every other aspect of the business. Doing all this yourself is difficult and time-consuming, so you’ll probably want to involve accountants and lawyers to ensure that you cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. A big red flag to watch out for here is how intertwined the current owner’s personal expenses are with the business accounts — this can obscure the genuine flow of cash in and cash out of the business. The purchase price of an existing business is often calculated as three to five times the net annual revenue, so you’ll want to take that figure into account before you make an offer.
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Trying to compete on price is rarely an effective long-term strategy, so it’s important to consider how you will differentiate your offering. Will this be with amazing customer service? Or maybe with superior product quality? Regardless of what you choose, how will you allocate your budget to make it possible? How will you market your small business? How will you get customers through the door?
Right before you start your small business, everyone has a dream setup for their small business in their head, along with a laundry list of amazing features. It’s probably large and full of natural light, opposite from a park, and filled with beautiful details like a long solid oak counter and a little bell over the door. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these aspirations. In fact, it’s vital to have a clear vision of what you’re working towards. It can, however become a problem if you let the perfect business location become a barrier to opening your doors in the first place.
Electricity was something we didn’t want to worry about at all in our van, so we went big from the beginning. We bought Renogy's 400-watt solar kit and two VMAX 155ah batteries. We mounted three of the panels on our van’s roof, and the fourth we attached to a folding stand made out of PVC so we could roll it out as needed. While the system works great and keeps us charged up, in hindsight it was a little bit of overkill - especially since we added a battery isolator.
Thankfully, the tools we use continue to get better and more app specific. For example, Sketch lets us design more efficiently with its focus on creating user interfaces. Marvel helps us craft better prototypes with it being specifically for apps. Swift has been a revelation for the Apple ecosystem and has expanded developer interest considerably. Android Studio and now Kotlin are doing the same for Android apps. Firebase and yes, even Parse, now as Parse Server, helps developers build app-focused backends to bring apps to the market more quickly.
Once you’ve considered the questions in the previous paragraph, start thinking about how your products/services stack up against the local competition. Because unless you are offering something ground-breaking and innovative, chances are that your potential customers are currently having their needs met by another business. That means it’s going to be your job to convince them that Blue Sheep Bakery is a better option than Bob’s Bake Shop. If your first thought was to compete on price, sorry to break it to you but, that’s not going to cut it. There is more to starting a successful small business than matching the price to the guy down the street.
Make sure to run ground wires wrapped around all lengths of flexible exhaust hose to prevent static build up, which can spark and potentially ignite. I chose the King 1.5 HP dust collector, with a 115 volt motor, so I did not need special wiring for it. A shop vac is a must, as well, used to vacuum out machinery, and to remove dust from furniture prior to finishing. Finally, an air filtration system was installed to clear the air of tiny airborne particles. The King KAC 650 unit I installed does a nice job, has a remote control, and a programmable delay – I usually have the air cleaner run for a timed two hours when I leave the shop.
With all the time and effort you've put into properly merchandising your products, the last thing you want is for incoming customers to hurry past them — this ultimately limits the number of products they'll purchase. One way retailers combat this is through creating breaks that force them to pause. These are sometimes referred to as "speed bumps." Essentially, this can be anything that gives customers a visual break and can be achieved through signage or special/seasonal displays.
It is also essential to take a lean, data-led approach to choosing a business space. The average length of a commercial lease has dropped over the last few years but is still often well over five years, so the absolute last thing you want to do is rush into a signing and get locked into a bad situation. There are so many ways to test the viability of your business idea before you over-invest and sign a full-blown lease agreement.
State Parks/Developed Campgrounds. Every once in awhile, it’s kind of nice to stay at a state park or other developed campground - and a big reason why is that they have showers (and sometimes laundry, too). This is what we’ve done most often when we need a shower on the road. Many state parks also have small day use fees if you don’t want to actually camp there.
But if you want to do a lot of stealth camping in cities, a cargo van is your best option. There are so many of them on the road that people just don’t notice them, and they have a lot of floor space to play around with your perfect layout. But if you don’t plan on stealth camping and you value storage space and headroom, there may be better choices.
Hand tools offer your best chance of finding a real bargain. Until the early 20th century, nearly all woodworking was done with hand tools, and their designs and uses have changed little. Most of the high-end planes on today’s market, for example, are just reproductions of the original designs. And because the originals were mass-produced, they are fairly easy to find at rummage sales and antiques stores. (For more information, refer to Matthew Teague’s article, “Buying Old Tools,” in FWW #180).
These basics are going to set you back about $180, leaving you with $320 left to work with. We are going to be leaving behind two hand powered tools from the $250 shop and upgrading to powered alternatives. This should lead to more consistent results, more enjoyable builds, and increased efficiency. These are all goods things that only the biggest fans of The Woodwright's Shop would argue with.
It can become very difficult and time-consuming to constantly track the amount and purchase price of all your inventory, but it is hugely important to your bottom line. Every time you catch yourself saying, “Sorry, we don’t have that in right now,” you are leading your business in a very unhealthy direction. Not only does being out of something represent a lost sale opportunity, but in a world where consumers place a huge premium on their time, it could mean that you lose that customer forever while hurting your brand reputation in the process.
Tip: Save money on specialty displays! Many manufacturers offer retailers low-cost or free specialty display fixtures designed to highlight their branded lines, like the one pictured below. These make great speed bump or outpost display units on a tight budget. Your product line reps can tell you if they’re available, plus provide merchandising and display advice.