Monday, September 9, 2013

Food for thought...

I get a lot of questions about framebuilding as a career each week via email and by phone. Many folks are enamored with the idea of pursuing a career in building, have attended a class and built a few frames, and want to make the transitio...n to professional status. There is SO MUCH to consider. Here's a short synopsis of some advise I sent out early last week to an aspiring young man.

When you build for yourself, it is a hobby.

When you build for anyone else, it needs to be treated as a business.

First, get it ingrained in your head that you are producing a vehicle that is capable of carrying it's passenger at high rates of speed, it's rider is subject to a risk of physical injury. Proper liability insurance is mandatory if your bikes are going to anyone other than you...that includes family and friends. This is for THEIR protection, not yours. When you build a bicycle for another, you must be accountable for their well being, insurance protects and helps fulfil your responsibility to the client in case of failure. Cost of such insurance starts off at about $1500.00 and goes up from there.

As a private builder, you are responsible for the frame and it's use for life. Just because you stop building does not relieve that accountability. Legally, you must carry insurance on your products for the rest of your life.

By forming a LLC or Corporation, your private holdings are protected by another layer of legal shielding in case of a suit for wrongful injury or death. Additionally, when the business is dissolved, so to is the responsibility to continue to insure the products. Legal fees for incorporation run around $1000.00.

Understand that building for a career and successfully making money is 90% small business skill and 10% fabrication. Too many folks get starry eyed over the thought of crafting frames by hand for a living and neglect the fact that you need to have a foundation in place before accepting orders, such as:

- Setting up the business (licenses, insurance, incorporation)
- Having a solid business plan (knowing COGS, product quotas each year to keep lights on, customer service costs, warranty costs in time and money per product, market niche)
- Qualifying fabrication skills (having product fatigue tested, meeting product standards like CEN)
- Defining your product (type or range of builds, materials you will use, options for finish, etc)
- Determining your benefits (amount set aside to pay yourself, health insurance, retirement)
- Determining the sustainability of this career over your lifetime goals...will it support you alone, a couple, a family?

It is a lot to consider, however, the reason so many builders fail is because they ignored the above calculations, instead blindly following their passion.

Honestly, this just scratches the surface.

My advise to you is this... keep building for yourself as a hobby and continue to learn and refine your skill. Stay in school, finish your engineering degree and add in some business and accounting classes to get a feel for the skills necessary to run a successful small business. If, after graduation, this is still something you wish to pursue, honestly look hard at the above criteria and determine where your business will need to be to support your career goals. If you pursue frame building as a career, set it up and operate it correctly from the start, years later, when you are still around and so many others have flamed out, you'll be glad you did.

Sorry if this came off a bit as "tough love", just want to insure that you protect your future and those that use your product.

1 comment:

Chauncey Matthews said...

Rody, you just read my mind...or I read yours! Either way I was thinking of doing some distressed logos using the coarse brush idea you used on Kalten's school bike....and here you have an awesome post detailing the technique! Thanks for the great post, and if I may ask, would you follow the same steps of you were distressing a painted instead of powdered finish? My post-apocalyptic commuter is gonna get finished this weekend and any tips you might have would be appreciated.
Chauncey Matthews