Looking Backward to Find My Way Forward

I am barely 2 years in this business thing and it has already been quite a trip. I can say I am not standing in the position I thought I would be in right now., that is for certain.

With a recent (minor) illness that keep me both indoors and on light work for the last few weeks, I took advantage of the quiet time to think about “what’s next?” My initial thought was ‘I have no idea, but let’s just keep going and see what happens’. Still I took some time and went through a lot of the photos I took documenting the things I had work on, accomplished, or otherwise had to deal with. To be honest, I was a bit shocked at how much I had done. In fact, I had already forgotten a lot of it or it seemed like years ago. Going back another year, the feeling was even more so. These were just the physical things. Shop build outs, tables and things just to try out new skills, customer orders, and things of that sort.

A bigger part of the puzzle was what I had learned. New skills, for sure, but that was just a matter of putting in the shop time and thinking things through. More importantly, what I learned about customers and clients and what they want from me has changed rapidly as time went on. How I best satisfy those needs also grew quickly and my perspective, as well as approach, is greatly refined from when I started out. Customer service is nothing new for me. I’ve been doing that my entire working life, but now these are strictly MY customers and clients and that makes a lot of difference because I make the rules on how they get handled and treated. In the main, I think I have done a fair to good job and my customers enjoy doing business with me (I hope). But there are also some places I have failed to meet my own standard and dropped the ball on a property improvement job or two because I had taken on more work than I could do. This continues to bother me. The other side of the coin is a one-shot consulting job I did for a client with 100 acres. Bigger than i usually do. When I did the basic research on the property, I got hooked and 40 hours of work later I had a 35 page ‘pre-visit report’ for them complete with soil studies, history, maps and more about their property. I spent about 4 hours touring the property with them, looking at options and recommending next steps. I followed up with an updated collection of information and recommendations in about a 40 page report. The flat fee I quoted up front came nowhere close to what I put in or what they received, but I really enjoyed the work. So there is that.

Just 14 months ago I had a whim of an idea to try harvesting and selling some mushroom logs. I had no source for logs, I had nobody asking me for logs, and I had not a clue about how I was going to do that. I thought maybe at best I would sell 100 logs and move on. Well in that first year I sold well over 1,000 logs, drove over 1,600 miles harvesting and delivering, met numerous fine people, got involved with the Schooner Apollonia and the Hudson River Maritime museum, was interviewed for several articles, asked to participate in educational forums, video taped in the field, appeared on a local radio talk show, and spent over 25 days working in the woods. I have built 2 full length log inoculation work stations and am selling log drilling benches. 14 months ago, I didn’t know what that was, let alone have a design for one. It was quite a trip I never saw coming. On the other hand, it put quite a crimp in my other obligations.

Along the same lines, I never expected the skills learned on my little manual sawmill would have me running a fancy fully hydraulic LT50 for somebody else, but that ‘happened’ also. Now I have more obligations to keep that production going. and it too adds a little to the bottom line. Apparently, knowledgeable sawyers are in demand. as is rough cut lumber. Who knew?

So all these things are in my mind as I look forward and try decide how to make this work better. I really don’t want to ‘drop’ any part of what I do now. The variety of my work has too much appeal to me. Many days I wait until I wake up and see the weather before I decide what I am doing that day. I don’t want to give that up. Possibly even more perplexing is my desire to do some local shows this year now that things are a bit less crazy and shut down. It was in my original plan that never happened. But that means more work getting a display worked up, shows arranged, and making more ‘stuff’. That leads down another ‘rabbit hole’ of figuring out how to make it work, what sells, and what doesn’t. I’m not sure if I can handle that on top of everything else whether I want to or not.

It is always hard, if not impossible, to look in the mirror and figure out what people see in you. I believe my customers are happy when we part. I believe they are very satisfied with the product or service they paid for. But I can never be sure if that is really true or to what extent. Along the same line, I can not really tell you if I am getting out of this business exactly what I want either. The best I can say is that there is nothing about it that I dislike except my waning physical ability to do heavy work as I age. (That part sucks.)

For now, I believe I will just keep thinking about it and taking the work as it comes in. I am lucky to have that work and wish I could do all that comes along. I also continue to look for a young person that wants to learn, isn’t afraid of some manual labor and can help me for a few hours after school or on weekends a couple of days a week or month. Seems like they don’t make those anymore.

Perhaps I am looking at this all wrong. It’s possible I have what I want and need, but out of habit I am looking to improve or correct my course when it really isn’t necessary? I had never considered that possibility until this very moment.

Now I have to start thinking about this all over from the beginning.

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