In search of trustworthy advice
October 1, 2021 | 9:03 am CDT
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In a world where we are constantly bombarded with new information from countless sources, the one thing it seems we are always short of is trustworthy advice. I’m not talking about “trusting science” or listening to all the talking head experts on the news channels. I’m talking about the kind of trusted advice that comes from someone who has actually, as the saying goes, “been there and done that.”

Those are the leaders we yearn for. The ones who blazed a trail to success and are willing to share their journey. Advice from people like that is hard to come by and priceless.

All that is especially crucial when it comes to running your business. It never ceases to amaze me as I visit woodworking shops all over the country how few of the owners and managers regularly step outside the confines of their own facility to see how other shops do things or talk to other owners and business people.

This is especially more of a problem as the shops get smaller. Then the likelihood that the owner has little or no formal business training goes way up. For that matter, the owner and staff might have even learned their woodworking on the job through the school of hard knocks. Now don’t get me wrong. I started out learning that way, too. But I can’t count the number of times I encountered a better way and slapped my head that I had not been doing it that way for so long.

Why don’t woodworking business owners step out of their shops to learn what they don’t know? I’ve struggled over that question, because I know some who do. It seems the ones who stay isolated have a number of common traits. The more they work, the behinder they get, so they figure they don’t have time to leave the shop. They’ve been in business long enough that they figure they know what they are doing and don’t need any help. They don’t realize that even successful shops can be more successful. And in some cases, they are embarrassed or afraid someone will find out how little they actually know.

When I helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998, we were constantly encountering all of those issues. Shop owners were afraid to network with other shop owners because it might give away all of their “trade secrets.” But a few smart and brave shop owners did start talking to each other. They started helping to solve each other’s problems. They started doing business with each other as they discovered most shops have specialties they can do more efficiently and more profitably. Why not outsource to them or at least learn to improve your operation?

Small miracles began to happen as shop owners became smarter and networked more, not only with their peers but also in their communities. They gained strength in numbers and knowledge. Their businesses prospered. Even when disasters struck, they discovered a network of people ready to help them. People they could trust to give them straight answers even to questions they were afraid to ask. And pretty soon, they found they were offering similar trustworthy advice to other shops. 

They learned you can still be independent and grow together if you build the right network. A network of trust.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editor of FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.