Can You Still Start Small And Succeed?

Shop owners respond to a reader who hopes to open a shop of his own.


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New businesses often begin in bad economies. Would-be business owners might dream of the right time to launch, but the wrong time has a way of driving events instead. A layoff or buyout during a bad economy might provide the kick. Many successful business owners can relate to this, because they started this way as well—some of them waiting out those bad economies until the better times provided the first opportunity for the young business to flourish.

Then again, many others try to start businesses and abandon them. The new business that doesn’t make it is an old story, too. Owning a business is not for everyone, because people’s gifts and desires are different, and because luck certainly also plays a role.

A reader recently struggled with this very question. He e-mailed to ask, “Can someone make money with one Bridgeport mill?”

“I’m thinking about starting small with one mill in my home shop,” he continued. “Is it worth it? Will I be able to grow my shop and buy more machines?”

I shared the question with readers of MMS Extra, our e-mail newsletter. We received a rich response. Readers who have achieved various levels of success with their own small machining businesses wrote in to offer encouragement and caution. These statements summarize just a sample of what they said:

• Clearly define your business. It’s better to be the very best at one thing than mediocre at a dozen, said one reader. Sometimes you will have to walk away from an opportunity.

• Expect to fill your time doing prototypes with very little lead time. There always seems to be demand for this type of work.

• The manual mill might be only a small part of the expense, said another reader. There is always another special tool, gage, attachment, maintenance item, administrative cost or tax.

• You can’t make it today with just one manual mill. The complexity of parts is too great.

• Have a product. This advice was given in various ways. Get the equipment you need to make that product. Having this product can help you when you can’t get the job shop work.

Go to www.mmsonline.com/articles/advice-on-starting-small.aspx to find much more. You can read what respondents had to say in their own words.

Before posting the responses to that Web page, I shared them with the man who originally asked the question. He perhaps drew more from the encouragement than the caution, because he has decided to go ahead with his shop.

We wish him well. In fact, I imagine you share the same hope for him that I do—that his gifts will be used and the best of his desires will come true. A lot of good luck wouldn’t hurt, either.