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#3: Five Things I'm Glad I Started From the Beginning of my Furniture Refinishing Business

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

Welcome welcome WELCOME my friends. I’ve mentioned before that I want this podcast to be able to appeal to those who have never refinished a piece of furniture before, to those that do furniture refinishing as a hobby, to those who have a full-blown furniture refinishing business. So you might start to notice a bit of a pattern, because I’m trying to switch it up week-to-week by having an episode that’s more higher-level or for those who are new to refinishing, and then the next one is more focused around the business of furniture refinishing.

But, that being said, the information in this episode IS about things that I’m glad I started from the beginning of my furniture refinishing business, but I do think that a lot of these tips are easily transferable, not only to other types of businesses and services but also just in life, whether you’re trying to work towards a certain goal like eating healthier or losing weight, or even maybe for your 9-5 job, depending what you do. So I hope you’ll stick around as I go through these FIVE things I’m so glad that I started at the beginning of my furniture refinishing business.

Now, some of these things are likely as a result of my inherent nature because I do like to think that I am fairly intentional in my approaches to things, I like to think things out and be a bit strategic whenever possible, however I also need to give a huge shout out to the awesome furniture refinishing community on Instagram. This was where I really did first start feeling the passion for this work, like I mentioned in my Origin Story in episode 1 (and if this is the first episode you’re tuning into, I recommend you go back and listen to that one to get an idea of how and when I got into this business for context). And while I can’t specifically think back to a certain person or instance, I know that a lot of these tips were created by seeing the approaches that other furniture refinishers took with their work, the systems that they set up, and them sharing that knowledge through their Instagram stories, posts, reels, and when chatting with them in their DMs so a BIG thank you if you are one of those people who continues to share, educate, and avoid gatekeeping information because I am truly of the belief that there is enough room in this industry or sector or whatever you want to call it. It’s community over competition, and we can all succeed simultaneously and lift each other up. And if you don’t think that’s possible and think it’s important to keep everything to yourself and grind away in solitude, well, I just think that that’s going to get very lonely at the top so I would encourage you to maybe re-evaluate that.

OKAY, stepping off of my soapbox now and jumping into the first thing that I am grateful that I did at the beginning of my furniture refinishing business, and that is: putting thought into the name of my business and brand from the beginning. I do think this one is a bit of a “nice to do” and not a “need to do”, but I do think it’s helpful long-term.

So, what’s funny is that when I first was creating my MelDidItHerself Instagram account, it was at a time where I had started doing some very simple DIY upgrades around my house to the home décor like spray painting curtain rods and vases and stuff, and I was basically enjoying posting about it all but knew that my friends and family might end up getting annoyed with it happening constantly on my personal account so I made a separate one to connect with folks who enjoy that kind of stuff and seek it out online. But I hadn’t done any furniture refinishing projects at that point, and I certainly didn’t know that it was going to turn into a business for me one day.

And yet, I still took the time to step back and think, “what’s a handle that will cast a wide enough net that I could take this in different directions down the road?”. I wanted to be able to include anything and everything that interested me, which has turned into my content including not only those home décor and DIYs, but furniture refinishing, thrifting, life hacks, recipe sharing, outfit styling, and other lifestyle content. And I landed on MelDidItHerself, a handle and brand name that I still love today.

I also got some great feedback late last year when I was trying to tackle some of my branding and I turned to my Instagram community for some help. A couple different people, when asked what they think of when they think MelDidItHerself, said that they were always able to easily remember my account name and the person behind it, instead of having to remember which combination of “furniture” “refinishing” or “restoration” my account name was made up of. And that’s not to diss anyone with handles like that, because to be quite honest, there was a time around then that I had debated whether I should change my name to something that sounded like a more “professional” name that reflected the service that I was offering within it. And ultimately, is what I ended up doing with this podcast name to make it easier for people to search for, if they’re interested in furniture refinishing!

But getting that feedback I was able to stop and reflect that MelDidItHerself is, yes, a business offering furniture refinishing services… but also a brand with a content creator behind it, and I do think it adds a touch of making it more personal, knowing the name of the person you’re supporting every time you purchase a piece from me or consume the content I’m putting out to the world. Although I will admit, most people get my full name wrong when they come to meet me in person but I did kind of go with Mel intentionally to add a layer of privacy between me and my business and my personal life.

So all that to say, it’s worth taking the time at the forefront to think of these kinds of things… you don’t necessarily need to keep it so high level, but take the time to have some foresight of what, in a perfect world, the brand could become. BUT, at the same time, if you are someone who tends to overthink things or over-plan, avoid paralysis by analysis and don’t spend too much time on this piece because ultimately, you can absolutely change this down the road and it isn’t a huge deal.

Once you land on something, it also doesn’t hurt to do a quick search on social media and websites too to see if the handle and URL is already taken, as well as the email address. Because ideally, for simplicity and so people remember them, you want them to all be the same wherever possible.

The second thing that I’m happy I started right from the beginning of my business and even just at the beginning of starting my hobby of refinishing furniture, is a system for organizing my products and all of the tools, accessories and tidbits that are used for this work. Those who know me, know that I LOVE a good organization system and it truly brings me great joy to be able to help friends organize, declutter and create systems in their spaces so this was just something that I innately started. But, if you’re someone that does not have that inclination naturally, I would recommend being intentional with this from the beginning, even when you have just a few products at first.

There’s a couple reasons for this - first and foremost, time is money and you want to be able to have a good, quick understanding of where everything is that you need so you don’t have to needlessly waste time looking for anything when you’re working on a project or are wanting to start working on it. If you’re putzing around and trying to find the stain you need, your paintbrush, your tape measure or your screwdriver, there’s the chance that you’ll get annoyed or discouraged that you can’t find it, lose your motivation to work on the project, and give up. Or, best case scenario, you’re just wasting your time looking for it and I know that you all have busy lives and the time that you do have, or that you make, to work on projects is important. So set yourself up for success from the beginning and implement these organization systems.

And these systems will quite honestly probably look completely different from person-to-person because it needs to be set up in a way that makes sense for you and your brain, so you know exactly where you need to go when you’re looking for a certain product or tool. So keep that in mind, but I will tell you what I did and what I continue to do for my systems, but feel free to tailor it to whatever feels right for you.

So I have two primary spaces that I keep my products and tools that I use for furniture refinishing: in the garage, which is where I work on pieces most of the time (as long as the Canadian weather allows at least, though I do get forced into the living room eventually when the winter temperatures sink low enough that painting out there is no longer feasible), and in our storage room in the basement which is kind of the under-the-stairs storage room mixed with our laundry room and now mixed with my all things MelDidItHerself room.

So, in the storage room, I bought some shelving from Canadian Tire when it went on sale and I started out with one 4 tier shelving unit, which has now grown to 3 of them over time. If you’re interested, I’ll link the ones I use in the show notes of this episode. I have one of them for paints and finishes, and 2 of them on the other side of the room hold all of the extra décor items that I have for staging and just kind of for my house in general too but ultimately I have it all sitting out and essentially set up like a store so that when I go to stage a refinished item, I can browse what I have and see what fits the vibe and pull from it.

I used to have totes or boxes that I used for the décor but then it was always tucked away under the stairs and my memory is absolute dog shit so I would never remember what I had, so it would be hard to think of staging ideas and I found I was doing a lot of the same stuff over and over for a bit. Which was fine, and it looked fine, but then like a month later I would end up going through the boxes if I was changing some décor over when the seasons changed or something, and I would see something that I had completely forgot I had that would have worked perfect for photos on a piece I sold weeks before. So really not a big deal and I absolutely recognize that not everyone has the privilege to have the space to set something up like that, but if you do, I really recommend it because it’s great to have a visual of your options and I find it helps me be a little more creative with my combinations when staging.

So within these shelves, I have different categories too, like a shelf with all candles, a shelf with all photos and frames, a shelf with all wood décor elements and cute charcuterie boards and stuff, and then a shelf with all brass and gold accents like candlestick holders and little brass knickknacks, and then a shelf with faux foliage and plants and stuff. Organize it how it makes sense for you, maybe you’re more of a colour coordinating type of organizer instead of an organizer by category, but if you can lay it out, I highly recommend.

I also try and do a little inventory sweep periodically of these shelves too, particularly if I’m ever bringing new items in like after I go to the thrift store if I find any cool vintage additions, I’ll take a look and see if there’s anything that I can swap it out for that I’m no longer liking or isn’t serving me or the business. And I do this essentially so I don’t go into full hoarder status, which I think that I could have a tendency to lean towards if I’m not intentional in this way.

So anyway, THEN on the other shelving unit I have in the other corner of the room, I keep all of my paints and finishes like stains, topcoats, and then random things like glazes, waxes, oils, and all that good stuff. Again, organize it in a way that makes sense.

So then I do have some other miscellaneous storage solutions that probably aren’t what will remain long-term for them, but they have been working in the meantime, because this room is unfinished and a bit of an eye sore as is so I don’t mind it looking like a bit of organized chaos.

There’s a cabinet that was actually already built into the room that is beside the paint shelving unit, and it’s enclosed with doors so this is where I keep my spray paint and any other aerosol products I have, like spray adhesive or WD40. I’m not sure if this is because it’s enclosed, but when I open it up there is a bit of an odour so I do like that there are doors to close it off, though maybe if it were out in the open it wouldn’t stink anyways, I dunno. Maybe I should read the label actually.

So under that cabinet, there’s another built in shelf so on and under that on the floor, I have some clear containers that I think I also got from Canadian Tire, which I have smaller tools and bits and bobs. I not only categorize these items by different containers, but I also use my handy dandy label maker (side note: if you don’t have a label maker, you truly don’t know what happiness feels like and I WILL fight anyone who tries to convince me otherwise). So the labels I have on these containers are: Painting, Sanding, Hanging (which is things like anchors and screws and levels for when I need to hang something up in the house), Staining, and Office Supplies (with pens, my Thank You cards, my maker’s mark stamp, little bags, small containers, and then things like a stapler, whiteout, highlighters, whatever).

The garage is where I store things that I use most often and don’t get affected by the elements, like paintbrushes, sanding paper, stir sticks, screwdrivers and other random things. Plus, all of my furniture inventory which takes up… more space than I would like to admit, so I do keep the majority of my products and tools downstairs.

And I just want to note, I didn’t go down into the storage room once when trying to describe this setup to remind me of how it’s made up or where things are - it is just THAT engrained in my brain where I can find these things, and that’s what I want for you. Whatever system works for you, have a place for everything so you can find it quickly and easily, and then the key is consistency with keeping it in that system and maintaining the organization of it long-term. Start this early, because the longer you wait, the more shit you will have to organize and the longer it will take - trust me on that. I have a YouTube video of me taking this room from being a fucking disaster to organizing these systems into place, if you’re interested in checking that out I’ll link to it in the show notes.

And as a quick aside, remember that we can’t all be perfect 100% of the time. So set up your systems, do your best to upkeep them, but if there’s times when you get rushed out of the workshop and can’t put things away in their spot right away, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just be aware of how your workspace is looking and when you see it getting cluttered or you notice that you have things sitting out that are from projects you previously completed, so you won’t need them again for a bit, take the 5 minutes to clean things up and put them away in their proper place, organized and tidy, and do it right the first time.

The next thing I’m glad I started from the beginning of my furniture refinishing business is a tool to keep track of my expenses and income and all the exciting tax stuff that I know everyone absolutely loves. That is sarcasm, but really, it is a necessary evil to think about and it’s better, again, to figure out what works best for you early and then when you find something you like, get consistent and stick with it.

I use an accounting software app for this that’s called QuickBooks Self-Employed. There is just a normal QuickBooks available too, but the main difference between the two is that the Self-Employed version is designed for independent contractors, and the other is for small businesses. So if you’re an independent contractor and need to separate your business and personal expenses, they recommend the Self-Employed version, but otherwise you can use the QuickBooks Online, I believe they have plans called Plus, Essentials and Simple Start. I wasn’t 100% sure what direction I wanted to take with MelDidItHerself when registering my business, and quite honestly I don’t even know if I quite have my finger on it yet, but I chose the Self-Employed route and it has been meeting my needs up until this point and I find the interface user friendly in the app.

It allows you to easily track your expenses by uploading receipts directly into the app, categorizing them accordingly, keeping track of your business income, and tracking your mileage. You can manually input your trips to track your mileage or turn on the feature to autotrack it, and then you go in and categorize whether the trips were for personal or business use. You can also create invoices to send to clients directly in the app and store your clients or vendors in there, AND the best part is that at tax time, since you have been tracking and categorizing expenses throughout the year, it already has everything set up and ready to go to either provide to your accountant or if you submit your taxes yourself, it makes it incredibly quick and easy. This past year was the first time I had to submit my taxes for my business and I’m not going to lie, I was stressing a bit but it ended up being way quicker and easier than I had made it out to be in my mind.

I have found this to be such a useful tool for me and my business that I reached out to QuickBooks, and I got a referral code that you can use if you’re interested in trying it out. It IS a paid app but I do feel like it is worth it for the peace of mind of knowing that everything is organized, inputted correctly and that I won’t need to stress at tax time. The regular Self-Employed plan is $15 per month, but if you want to get 55% off your first 3 months, you can go to - there will be a link in this episode’s shownotes if you want to give it a go. Whatever avenue or platform you decide to use, this is your reminder to start tracking those expenses because let me tell you… they add up!

Along the same lines, the third thing I’m glad I started from the beginning of my furniture refinishing business is to track product and project costs. So what this looks like for me is an Excel spreadsheet that has a sheet called Sales/Profits, and a sheet called Supplies/Expenses. In the Sales/Profits sheet, I keep track of each project I do, which includes a brief description of the furniture piece and where I got it, the initial cost of the item, the items or products used to upcycle it with a rough estimate of how much it cost for each of those (for example, if I know a jar of Fusion Mineral Paint costs $28 and I used about a third of the jar for the project, I would indicate that the paint cost roughly $9.30 and then also include how much top coat or primer were used and the cost of any new hardware, things like that), then I would track the price I sold the item at, as well as how much profit I made by adding up the initial cost of the item, the total of the products used, and subtract that total from the price I sold it at. One thing to note is that I do not track the amount of time or hours put into transforming the piece, so you might want to include that for yourself if you want to get a clearer idea of how much profit you came away with after paying yourself an hourly rate.

Then on the Supplies/Expenses sheet, I keep track of any products, supplies, hardware, any other items I purchase to use in the business and on projects. This serves the purpose of helping me fill in the part of the Sales/Profits sheet where I outline the price of the items used in the project, and also helps me to be strategic with where I purchase those products to get the best price as I move forward. On this sheet I keep track of things like the item that I buy, so its name and brand name, the price I got it at, the size of the item (so is it a 500mL container of paint or 1 quart), and the store that I bought it at. And again, I try to keep this updated continually which really isn’t a lot of work now that I have this system set up, since for the most part I have my go-to retailers that I frequent so unless something is on sale or there’s a huge price jump for whatever reason, I’m typically getting things for relatively the same price each time. But, having it set up like this let’s me take a look at it when I need something and determine, for example, whether it was cheaper to get it at Home Depot versus at Lowes, because in doing this system, I came to realize that there is a fairly drastic price difference for some items depending where you get them from! So start paying attention to this stuff too, because again, those expenses can really add up over time.

This page of the spreadsheet is also really helpful in keeping track of hardware costs so I can factor those additions into the cost of a project. There’s times when I’m at somewhere like Home Sense and I come across really unique knobs or pulls that I know will look great on a certain style of furniture piece that I can do in the future, so I grab them (because if you are a fan of Home Sense, you have likely learned your lesson that if you see it, you need to grab it or else it will absolutely not be there when you decide to go back and grab it… even if that’s like, 20 minutes later. It’s just how it always is). So sometimes I’ll grab that pack of hardware, and then there’s two things that could happen: I might put it in my stash and not use it for a really long time, so I might end up taking it out of the packaging to save space which will then get rid of the price tag, OR I might use a couple of them but then have a few leftover, and again, get rid of the packaging. So having the total cost of the hardware detailed in this spreadsheet helps me to figure out the cost per unit of the hardware when I do finally use it on a project. And this doesn’t need to be anything complex or fancy like keeping track of measurements and specific names of the items - it can be, if you want it to or if your brain works better that way - but honestly I’ll often just have things called “diamond-y modern Home Sense knobs” or “boho rattan vintage pulls Winners” written on there and as long as it makes sense to me, I’m good to go! So don’t worry about overthinking it too much, but I do recommend taking the time to track it.

And the last thing I’m glad I started doing from the beginning of my furniture refinishing business is maybe the most important one. I made the intentional move to not set high expectations for myself and gave myself permission to not have anything set in stone… especially at the beginning.

I don’t know about you, but my background in education and in employment is mostly in the social sciences and social work field. And they teach you a total of 0 things about business in those spaces. I started with literally, no exaggeration, no actual knowledge about business and running social media (other than my own personal accounts), and marketing, and the legalities of everything, and taxes, and all those things. I knew how to work with people, which I do think is an important transferable skill, but everything else I knew I was going to have to seek out to learn. And as a lifelong learner and busybee, I knew that I could do that, but I also knew that if I made it to be too big too fast in my head, I would likely shut down and just get overwhelmed and not want to pursue it long-term.

I told myself that I always wanted to enjoy furniture refinishing, the art and practice of actually doing it, but the business side of it too. And I didn’t want it to turn from a hobby that I really loved, to something I avoided or resented because of the expectations tied to it. Expectations that would have existed in my head and in my head only… let me repeat that. If you’re multitasking, come back to me. Any expectations that exist or you perceive to exist, exist only in your head and your assumptions about what is happening in other people’s head. You’re in the driver’s seat, so feel free to implement whatever boundaries, whatever support systems, whatever values and whatever tendencies that you need, to make this feel right for you. To make this feel good for you. To make this keep that passion that I know you have in you, flowing for the long haul.

And what did not setting high expectations for myself look like? For me, it meant working on furniture every single day that my schedule allowed. But that didn’t mean working all day every day on it, or saying “if I don’t do 3 hours of work on a piece every day, I’m a failure”. It just meant showing up in that space, whatever that looked like. Some days I did put in hours and hours worth of work, but some days I just put on a coat of polyurethane on a small side table and called it a day. Sometimes it jus meant showing up in the garage in my workspace, and not even necessarily working on furniture, but reorganizing the space and sweeping the floor and getting the space into better working order for me when I showed up the next day.

What this did, was removed the expectations or requirements of it, and didn’t rely on motivation to do it. It was consistency, so it just turned into a habit over time. And now, I don’t even need to think about HAVING to or NEEDING to work on furniture… I just do it. I know what parts of my day I can fit it into. And if I’m out of the house running around doing things all day and can’t physically work on it, I’ll try to hop onto Instagram and engage with my followers or share about my day, because that all contributes to the overall goal. But I do it because I want to, and because I like to, and not because I have to or I need to. And that little shift in my brain is really what I think has contributed to me keeping up with this for well over 2 years now and still feeling passion, excitement, and positive feelings associated with it every day.

So those are the five things I’m so thankful that the old version of Mel implemented at the beginning of this furniture refinishing business - and I hope if they are things you haven’t yet done, you’ll explore and see if they work well for you. But I know there’s so much more, and I want to hear it! So help me out and head over to my Instagram @MelDidItHerself and find the post about Episode #3 and and leave me a comment letting me what you have implemented in your business that you are so glad you started from the beginning… and this can be in any type of business or service, so don’t be shy if you aren’t a furniture painter or refinisher! I have gotten some of these tips from other industries and translated them into my world, which I think is the best way to learn and grow - take what you need, and leave the rest. So head over to Instagram after this episode and let’s chat all things business, and I’m happy to answer any questions that came to mind while you listened to these tips.

And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end every podcast episode with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.

So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is: “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”. This message comes from the book called Atomic Habits by James Clear and if you haven’t already read this book, I think it is one that anyone would find beneficial for so many areas of their life. So ultimately, remember that systems matter, they help lead us to our goals that we set, and at the end of the day, we can only be as good as the systems we set up to help us succeed. So take the time, do an audit of your approaches to things, whether it be in your business, in getting your chores done around the house, or in your personal goals that you set for yourself every year. “You do not rise to the level of your goals, but rather fall to the level of your systems”.

Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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