A Magazine for Engravers, Artists, Craftsmen and Collectors
Information, Inspiration and Education about the Art of Engraving...and a bunch of other stuff
Marketing your engraving skills
I don’t care what engraving skill level you have, you can make money.
Marketing yourself is as simple as having the confidence to execute the engraving skills you already possess onto items that either belongs to other people or to items you want to inventory and sell.
Before you go “Hang a shingle”, let’s create a business atmosphere.
Here are my recommendations to start operating your business. These are pretty good suggestions and are by no means “all inclusive”. Everybody’s situation is different and this is to give you some food for thought.
Let’s look at how I developed my business. You can take whatever ideas you like and apply them to your circumstances and desires. Toss out the ideas you don’t like and add a few you think you might need.
Understand that before I went into the engraving business full time, I also had a full time job that I just wasn’t that crazy about. I had plenty of motivation to get on to something else.
I started my business by asking a simple question:
What would the ideal business look like?
Sounds simple enough, right? Here are my thoughts and answers:
1. Work at home---I already have the workshop. (and I’d rather be there anyway)
2. No Employees. No offense, but I am marketing me for right now.
3. No Storefront. Make it Internet based. Get a website, if you don’t have one already. A storefront is also having set hours of operation and waiting on customers. If you are waiting on customers, you aren’t engraving….and this is a quote from my good friend Barry Lee Hands: “If you ain’t cutting metal, you ain’t making money.”
4. Little or no overhead. Don’t go out and get yourself in debt buying all sorts of new toys. Look at what you have and let’s see if you can make this work first. I’ll give you my list of “MUST HAVE” bench items that I consider necessary for success later.
5. Work mainly for businesses as a subcontractor. Working retail means you have to collect sales tax for your state…and believe me, the last thing you want is to have your states department of taxation crawling up your backside and pitching a tent. Tax evasion is a serious crime.
6. No inventory---at least for now. Since you are just starting out. Let’s just sell your skills. Trust me---you can make a living doing just that.
“MUST HAVE” Tooling---examine your workbench/workshop
Oh God, not another “Top Ten list”
I believe these are the essentials for maximum efficiency, productivity and ultimately: PROFIT
1. Desire and a stop watch. Ask yourself this question: “How bad do I want it, and what am I willing to do to get it?” I’ll delve into “Desire” a little further down the road. Believe me, it is THE most important tool. The stop watch is to time your projects for pricing. You must know how long it takes to engrave things otherwise, you are guessing.
2. Engravers ball vise mounted on a solid platform. Just remember, everything needs a good solid foundation. If you want good, clean, consistent cuts, the vise must not be allowed to “shake”. Why? Because the force of the graver will cause the work to move away from it---and we are talking in fractions of millimeters too. You need that resistance for the graver to “lock up” against the metal to execute super clean cuts. And believe this: a lack of rigidity causes more broken points than you think. Yes, those gravers will stay sharper and perform longer if things are rock solid.
3. A really good chair to sit in….’nuff said.
4. Magnification. I love the stereo microscope and use it for 99% of my work, (I know it doesn’t really “micro” anything. We’ve become used to the generic term.) but I also use an optivisor, a loupe, and a dumb old hand-held magnifying glass. If you do not have a ‘scope, what you have will work for now. Make it work. There are many engravers that do not use a ‘scope and never will.
5. Good lighting---enough said about that too.
6. Commercial grade engraver sharpening system. GRS, Lindsay, DeCamillus, Crocker, whatever. They are out there and they work. Another “ enough said” subject. There’s a lot to be said about learning to do it “the old fashioned way”. I think to a certain extent, it is a handy skill. Play around with that when you have some free time.
7. GRS, Lindsay, DeCamillus pneumatics and NgraveR flex shaft tooling. All of these tools will increase your speed and productivity. Most of us have one or more of them, but if all you are a hammer & chisel guy/gal, I’m OK with that too.
8. A good assortment of gravers. I’m talking a couple of dozen. Carbide, high speed steel, MoMax,Carbalt, C-Max,whatever. I prefer the square blanks to make my tools. You know what you like, so get a bunch of them. The cost of these tools will be included in the price of the jobs you work on. Gravers are consumable. They are to be used up and replaced. I have gravers in just about every geometry you can think of---and few you haven’t thought of yet.
A few words about tool point geometry: Don’t get hung up on what is the best. It’s a useless argument with me and frankly, it’s unproductive. They are all good and some are better than others for a particular application. I do some pretty good work with what I call the “Don Glaser 90” : 55 degree face and a 15 degree heel. Your results may vary…. And like I said: you know what you like.
9. Elbow room. You need a place to draw, disassemble, reassemble, clean, examine, package, and invoice. Cramped quarters lead to confusion and fumbling. Fumbling leads to damage. Damage is expensive and lets you work twice as long for the same money.
10. A website. If you’re not Internet savvy, get one of your techno-friends to set you up. We all know somebody that is capable, so hire ‘em.
This is a question I just love answering because it is simple.
A better question is : “What do I have to charge for my work?” Here is where you get your financial awakening.
Before you get yourself all fired up about being a professional custom hand engraving artist, get a handle on your real world financial situation. I base these methods on what it takes to earn a living as a full time engraver. If you are part time, it’s just a matter of taking these numbers and using them as a percentage of your daily activities.
I’m obsessed with making a profit---and so should you. Being profitable is more than just getting paid for your work. Profitable is also a mindset that allows you the mental comfort of knowing you are doing it right and to the best of your ability….and the world will find you.
Everybody does their best work when they know they are making money. Don’t believe that? Try this mental experiment:
You are commissioned to engrave a real nice Henry knife for $(fill in the blank).00. About half way through, you realize you have reached the budget on this knife, you still have the other side to cut , and you have work starting to pile up. You know this project is a loser, financially, but you have to finish it soon and move on.
Knowing you are losing on this job will not inspire you to do your best work on it. In fact, you are more likely to give the other side the “Bum’s Rush” just to get it out.
The flip side to this argument is not knowing if you are making money…an even worse situation.
There’s almost nothing less inspiring than finding out you lost your shirt after the job was done. You realize that you just gave away hard earned money. That customer became your favorite charity for the length of time you spent on his gun, knife, ring, whatever.
Does any of that sound familiar or validate your experiences? You bet it does! Let’s get a grip on those finances by calculating our hourly rate and sticking to it. I’ll also insert some real numbers to provide a good guideline for you to follow along with. (This is a just a guideline to give you some form of reference---nothing more. Nothing less.)
1. Take a look at your gross income on last years’ tax return. That is how much you spent. (You actually might have spent more with credit cards, but that’s another issue altogether.) Yes, you really spent all of it. Even if you put a few thousand bucks in an IRA, you spent it on your retirement. This is our TOTAL and lets’ just use $78,000.00 as our total.
2. Add about 5% to that total and divide by 12.This gives you the amount you need to earn every month just to break even. Let’s call this our monthly total. We’ll get to making a profit shortly. 78000 + 5%(3900)= $81,900. 81900 divided by 12 = $6825.00. This is our monthly total.
3. Divide our monthly total by 22. 22 is the number of days most people work in an average month. This becomes our daily total or : $310.22
4. Divide our daily total by the number of hours you engrave per day. Notice I said engrave and not just be in the workshop. There’s a good portion of our day that involves everything except the actual engraving process. Recording incoming jobs, unpacking, set-ups, invoicing, packaging, etc.etc. These all take time and have to be figured in somewhere in the price. The only way I can make that money is by figuring it into the place where I actually earn the money: At the bench. I think it is fair to say that I actually engrave about 6 hours per day. That gives me $51.70 per hour.
5. Divide our hourly rate by 60 and this is the amount we need to charge per minute just to break even. Our example is $0.86 per minute. This “per minute” charge begins by turning on the stop watch the very moment you begin to work on a particular job. It gets “paused” every time you stop working. When the job is done, you add up the minutes and multiply by our “per minute” rate. Simple enough, huh? Not quite.
This just lets us break even at best. I’ve never been able to make to cost of packaging, invoicing, materials, etc.,etc. an exact science. I handle so many different things that none of them are exactly the same. I have to treat all of them on a case by case basis. To cover most applications and make a profit, I take the “per minute” charge and use a multiplier to cover everything from .05mm pencil lead to foam packaging peanuts.
My multiplier has evolved to 1.69. So let’s take our $0.86 and multiply
by 1.69= $1.45 per minute.
This is the number I use to base all of my charges with.
Here’s a real life example: A customer wants to spend $1000.00 to $1400.00 on a S&W 629 revolver. Budget work. He’s not going to get a lot, but he knows that up front.
As I begin the project, I document all information on a 4x6” index card and keep track of the “minutes worked” on the same card.
I worked a grand total of 848 minutes. (848 x $1.45= $1229.60) Add on $75.00 for shipping and insurance and you get $1304.60. Not bad for 14 hours, or 2 days, of hard work.
Did I make money? Without a doubt. Did I do my best work in that time frame? Again, without a doubt.
If you are engraving part time, you’ll serve your customers best by reducing your “per minute” charge by a percentage because you are not engaged full time. They could have gone elsewhere and got it done faster but they were willing to wait longer for you to do the job. It’s only fair to reward them for their patience.
Now that you are profitable, there’s no reason to pass out sub-standard work. There’s even a place for novice work—if the price is agreeable and you are confident you can handle the simplest of jobs. Most jewelers pantograph lettering on their merchandise. The only problem is that it usually wears off pretty soon. Tell them you can hand cut those letters and make them permanent. The best part is that they do the layout for you, unless you have your own pantograph and want to do it yourself. Yes, it takes some practice and some courage, but taking anything to the next level is a little intimidating for all of us…but it’s a start.
You’ll have to be honest and declare your level of competence. It’s best you do this on your own instead of letting the market discover how good you aren’t. You can bet that a good impression of your talent will spread pretty fast, but a horrible reputation will spread even faster.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the world is a pretty small place thanks to the internet. Word gets around quickly.
Brian’s Rule(s) of Thumb
An Estimate is an Estimate. You are really guessing based on past experiences with certain types of jobs. There’s no way in the world anyone can possible know exactly how long it takes to engrave something until you are done engraving it. The best route to take is to find out how much they want to spend and break it down to the amount of time that money will buy. If you’ve kept good documentation of your previous engraving jobs, you’ll have a pretty good handle on how long it takes to engrave (fill in the blank) .
Be honest with your customers. If they want gold inlay, but you’ve never done it---tell them it is beyond your skill level at this time. You might not get that job, but you won’t be damaging your reputation by screwing up their Winchester Model 12. If you aren’t any good at lettering, don’t take that job either.
Under-promise / Over –deliver. It isn’t always possible, but I like to add a little more to the cost & time estimate and then try to beat it. Nothing makes a “customer for life” better than turning the job around quicker than you said and for a few bucks under your estimate.
You can’t give anything away until you first make it. If someone is asking for a discount, it’s the same thing as them asking you for money. That’s fine….If you have extra money to give away. If you don’t, then the discount of price has to be in exchange for something that promotes you for that amount. That’s fair.
Win-Win. They get the work they were expecting and you made money on your skill. It can’t be any other way---unless you made the mistake of bad pricing. That’s not the customer’s fault. Take your lumps and move on. You also got a good lesson in giving estimates, huh? All jobs must be looked at through the WIN-WIN prism.
Don’t underbid just to get the work. Yes, we all want our order book to look strong, but not at the point of wrecking our finances. Taking on those “Losers” will keep you from working on the jobs that make money. We don’t do our best work when we are losing (giving away) money.
My favorite charities are not in my order book. I recommend you think likewise.
Raise your prices when you need too, not because you just want to. Sometimes, costs go up. In order to stay in business, you must increase prices.
Confidence “Sells”. People detect sincerity almost instantly. Likewise, they can smell a “come on” from across the county. Know your limits.
Insurance. Don’t be ignorant to the necessity of insurance .Get some for your business.
Why did I ramble on about designing, tooling and pricing? Because being successful is about providing your best service at all times. You can’t provide your best if you don’t know what you need or what you need to get paid.
I hope I’ve provided a few suggestions to help you.
A little review:
1. Define your ideal business on paper----Write it down, post it on your workbench and memorize it. This is what you want.
2. Acquire the necessary tooling for that business---If you need it, get it. If you want it, save up for it.
3. Establish pricing---know what you must get paid. Making a profit is what will make you “The Best”.
4. Make your rules and stick to them---unless they are useless or stupid.
Understand that everything changes with time. You will have to be a little flexible and be willing to adapt as your situation evolves. But that is also the fun part. Getting those customers is the goal right now.
Make those Contacts
Early in my career, I was limited in my skills but I recognized there were a few things I could do well. One of them was “Bright Cutting”.
As I browsed through the World Wide Web, I searched for those places that dealt in anything that could be related to bright cutting. Jewelers, tack shops, pawn shops, watch companies, etc.,etc. I sent them an email bragging about my skills as a hand engraver that specializes in bright cutting. (Actually, I sent hundreds of emails every day.)
It didn’t take long before I had a few customers. Those small “victories” pumped up my tires and gave me the incentive to keep going. Eventually, I was able to quit my day job. Life has never been better.
My profits provided the finances for better tools and equipment. My skill went to the next level ,yada,yada,yada.
Do you realize that there are thousands of jewelry stores in the U.S? One may be really close to you.
Many retail outlets may be looking for another engraver because they are sick and tired of dealing with the “attitude” from their present guy. You could be in the right place at the right time. Send them an email.
Some may have been thinking about adding some sort of engraving to their product line. You came along and they finally decided to act upon it. Send them an email.
Take some time to think about your business and your life in general.
Reflect on the last 5 years and ask yourself this question: “I know where I was 5 years ago. Where do I want to be 5 years from now?”
Creating a successful business and marketing your skills isn’t as much as possessing every tool or the skill of a Master Engraver.
It is to know what you want, and to know what you are willing to do to get it. ßRead that again.