The one question that I get asked most often by fellow cabinet makers who are just starting up is "How do you find new customers?". It's not simple and certainly not easy. I will attempt to answer it here!
There are many tools and methods which I use, probably the most important though is my website.
You really need somewhere which you can point potential customers to show them your work. It is important to get the SEOs working well for you so that google finds the site. If you make anything unusual or unique concentrate on the SEOs for this. For example, I make rocking chairs (in case you didn't already know!), and if you google "handmade rocking chairs uk" you will almost certainly find me on the first page. It is really hard to get there with other products such as dining tables because there are so many companies making them that google will always prefer them. I could go on about SEOs and google for hours! Being an ex IT guy I have studied it quite closely and try to keep on top of it. Google and my website probably give me my largest proportion of work.
Online advertising is expensive. Google ads are costly, so I have not tried them. They are intended for larger organisations. Facebook ads are much more reasonably priced and have used them a fair amount. But I am not convinced about their value. I suppose that if you spend £50 on FB adverts in a month and get one piece of work worth £2000 then it is worth doing. Plus lots of other people will follow you on FB and look at your website and may at some point in the future buy something from you. So when I put it like that it seems worth it. But I cannot say that I have been overwhelmed by customers who have found me via a FB ad.
Which brings me onto my next subject - social media.
Facebook as I have already discussed is a good source and posting regularly there is definitely a good thing. New customers can see that you are busy and enjoy what you do. They can really get to know you as a cabinet maker and get into your business. I post pictures of work in progress as well as pictures of completed items.
I have not had so much joy with Instagram though. Most of my followers on IG are fellow woodworkers from far flung places around the world. It is nice to see what is going on in the business around the world and lovely to get compliments from colleagues in the US and Australia. But it does not bring in business. I know of other friends and colleagues who have had better luck with IG and swear by it. For instance my sister-in-law runs a small sign making business called Blackberry Willow and does loads of business through IG.
Doing shows and craft fairs is hard work. You have to have lots of stock and be prepared to sit or stand for a whole day doing very little and perhaps get a new customer from the effort. I found my first customer from a show and they were such a lovely couple who I ended up doing 5 major projects for. Without them I would not be where I am now and thank them every time I see them. But they did end up with a dining table, four chairs, a large cupboard, a TV unit, a coffee table and my first ever rocking chair!
Local craft fairs can be quite disheartening though. I have spent many a day sitting in a cold church room and only selling enough to cover the cost of the table. I have made a decision for the moment not to do anymore fairs. They are not worth the time and effort now my business is going. I suppose that if I lived in a more affluent area I might have more luck, but generally people in Cumbria do not have much extra money to spend on impulse and will not buy expensive items from craft fairs.
I have discovered parish magazines. In our area we have a parish magazine which is hand delivered to every house in the area. Advertising in this is very low cost. But certainly worth it. I get quite a few local enquiries from it and we certainly use it when we want to find someone local to do a job. Local work is so much better to do, delivery is simple and you can go and meet the customers to discuss what they want. I am just about to start up an advert in the neighbouring parish magazine too as I have had so much luck with our parish.
Repeat business is fantastic. I have a list of all my customers and if I feel I need to fill my orders book an email to all my past customers nearly always comes up trumps. Keeping in touch with your existing customers (not just via social media) is certainly worth the time and generally very rewarding.
Finding other local businesses and working with them is a fantastic method of finding work. My wood supplier is a cabinet maker too. But for him this is not his main business, so he has given me plenty of work. For him this is a win win as he keeps his customers happy and sells wood to me to do the job. I have tried to get in with local interior designers too, but haven't had any luck there yet. As mentioned earlier, I always use local suppliers when I can and always discuss my business with them when buying.
Word of mouth is always a good way of getting business. I talk about my business whenever I can with people and if they show interest give them a business card. And I always ask my customers to share my details with any friends that love what they see.
Finally, the branding on the side of my van has certainly been worth doing.
I have had quite a bit of work from having this. I once was in a car park in the lake district after a walk and someone came up to me and said that they had some planks of oak, would I be interested in them? It turned out to be gorgeous local oak which was cut into planks and air dried. I snapped it all up!