Could your metalworking hobby become a fabrication business?
This article explores the things that you would have to consider to turn your metalwork hobby into a fabrication business.
The COVID economic downturn, has triggered many people to look for new ways to boost their income and change their lifestyle.
The focus on buying locally manufactured products and avoiding imported goods could be a perfect time for hobby fabricators with good metalworking skills to start a business.
What does metalwork fabrication mean?
Our definition of metalwork fabrication is cutting, grinding, bending, folding, joining or welding, with power tools or metalworking tools to create metal parts, structures or products.
Fabrication is usually done in workshops, or light industrial units and fabrication businesses are part of the manufacturing industry.
Steel fabrication can use galvanised or non-galvanised materials such as:
- Circular Hollow Section (CHS)
- Rectangular Hollow Section (RHS)
- Square Hollow Section (SHS)
- Sheet metal
- I -Sections
- L-Section or right-angle steel
- Flat Bars
Aluminium fabrication is also very popular due it its lightweight, corrosion resistance and availability in extruded shape profiles.
Which type of people are amateur metalwork fabricators?
Amateur metalwork fabricators could be qualified engineers, apprentice trained tradespeople or amateurs with no formal qualifications but heaps of talent and passion.
Often metalwork enthusiasts develop their skills and knowledge over time and reach a competent standard in their chosen interest.
Many amateur metalworkers are members of groups and attend meetings or events in their area of interest.
Some hobby fabricators might be active in internet forums or have YouTube channels themselves.
They get a buzz out of what they do!
In many cases amateur enthusiasts do not have experience in running a business.
Are metalworkers creative?
Fabricators are often highly creative as they come up with designs and make physical products that solve problems, although they might not consider themselves as “creatives”.
Some metalworkers produce sculptures or decorative metal art as opposed to functional products.
Some gifted welders make their welds look like an art form worthy of Pinterest and Instagram followers!
The typical home metal workshop
As a hobbyist, you may work from a shed or garage and have workshop power-tools or metalworking hand tools such as:
- bench drills
- rivet guns
- hydraulic presses
- plasma cutters
- grinders and linishers
- hand drills
- air compressors
- lathes or milling machines
- metal benders or folders
- metal bonding adhesives and sealants
Perhaps you work to plans, drawings or sketches of your designs or even imagine designs in your head.
You probably do one project at a time because of limited time or space.
TIP – What is the difference between DIY and professional-grade power-tools
What is the difference between a hobby and a fabrication business?
For your metalwork skills to generate the major part or all of your income, you will need to scale your fabrication business up so that you could have a constant supply of work.
Building your past time into a business will require some systems and disciplines.
Some questions that spring to mind are:
- What is it like running a business and would you like it?
- What products would you make?
- Are there enough customers out there?
- How would you tell the world you exist and get work?
- What prices would you charge, and when should customers pay?
- Are they any local licences or restrictions that you must meet?
- What would be the best legal structure for a backyard business?
- How would you produce designs for customers to approve?
- How do you work out how much money you will need?
- Will you make enough money?
How do you get from being an amateur into a business owner?
- If you like the idea of owning your own business the first question to answer is “Should I Own A Business?” The purpose of the Should I Own A Business Podcast and our specially developed pathway is to help you answer this question.
- There is some personal preparation that you can take to increase your chances of success greatly.
- You must also establish that customers will keep buying before you become a full-time micro-manufacturer or micro-fabricator.
- Owning a successful small business requires a lot of things to work in harmony, and it is vital to have a good understanding before you leap in. That’s why our Podcast tag line is Listen Before You Leap!
What is micro-manufacturing or micro-fabrication?
Micro-manufacturing refers to the size of the company and not the size of the products. Many countries describe the smallest firms that employ one or a few people as “micro-businesses”. Increasingly, micro-businesses are involved in manufacturing or micro-fabrication.
Micro businesses are in all economies and account for the greatest number of businesses.
What does running a fabrication business entail?
As a part-time or full-time fabrication workshop, you will be spending time running and growing your business.
This means that not only will you be the “chief fabrication manager”, but you will need to be across the other Critical Business Functions.
Critical Business Functions are in all businesses, and they have to work harmoniously for the business to thrive.
Episode 6 Critical Business Functions is a good place to hear what some of these are.
TIP You might like this blog called What is it like to run a manufacturing business?
What changes to your workshop and mindset might you need?
As a hobbyist, you might handle one project at a time which suits your choice of tools, workshop floor area and your free time.
However, to scale your business up in size, you may need to review things like:
- the type of tools you need to make you more productive
- upgrading to professional or commercial-grade tools
- a bigger workshop area to cope with multiple jobs
- decluttering and re-organising the workshop floor to increase productivity and safety
- the amount of lighting
- fume or dust extraction
- a fire prevention and escape plan
- an organised storage area for materials
- if the electrical power supply in your workshop is big enough
- your material suppliers and their service agreement
- any new products that you might offer
You may need to improve some systems to speed up things like:
- cost estimating
- price quoting
- purchasing materials
- warranty terms and conditions
- customer order acknowledgement
- workshop job instructions
- stock management
- work health and safety
- quality control and quality assurance
- any licences or certificates you may need
- insurances for your workshop, products and people
How do I know if this is a good business idea?
Owning a business does not suit everybody. We created The Should I Own A Business Podcast to help people who are thinking of starting a business find out what it’s like.
The Should I Own A Business “Pathway” covers the essential things you should consider and how to prepare yourself to be successful.
For example, Episode 14 is called How To Evaluate Your Business Idea, which explains why to use a simple Business Model Design before writing a business plan.
Other episodes such as You-360 and Understanding Your Motivation help you work out if owning a business is right for you.
Understand The Reality of Business Ownership
The Should I Own A Business Podcast explores the reality of being a business owner in plain language.
Local manufacturing and fabrication present a huge opportunity for new business owners.
Here are some other resources you might find helpful:
We also have a great article on Manufacturing productivity for beginners.
Our free Business Readiness Test highlights areas you might need to prepare more before starting a business.
About the author: Brendan Barrow has extensive experience in leading and managing manufacturing businesses on 3 continents.
Brendan Barrow Co-Host
The Should I Own A Business Podcast-Listen Before You Leap.
Avoiding new business failures, one owner at a time.