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Six Considerations When Starting A Furniture Refinishing Side Hustle

What is UP my friends and fellow busybees. If you’re here with me today, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re interested in starting up your own side hustle selling painted and refinished furniture. I would like to formally welcome you to the dark side, beware because you are about to become absolutely obsessed, it’s great.

I first started refinishing furniture back in 2020 a few weeks before the pandemic started, or before it hit my area at least, and it made for such a great escape during that time and a way for me to feel productive and driven towards something during lockdowns. While everyone else was running out of Netflix shows to watch and having their happy hours start at noon, I was plugging away out in the garage (which quickly turned into my workshop) getting into the zone and in a state of flow working on painting and refinishing furniture pieces. I started out with a couple of pieces I had from my late grandmother– questionable approach to use family heirlooms as your trial pieces but thankfully it all worked out– and then I quickly graduated to looking on Facebook Marketplace and scouring the curbs in my neighbourhood on garbage day.

I then started trying to sell these pieces, at first for waaaayy too little money (I recently went back and looked through my old Marketplace listings and cringed a little bit but it was a reflection of where I felt my skillset was at the time and a lack of confidence that things wouldn’t sell if I put them at a higher price point). Eventually, I periodically raised my prices and held my breath as I did so, only to continue to see pieces being sold within minutes, hours, or a couple days which was what I needed to encourage me to keep going. I started having people who had bought pieces from me reach back out looking for more and having friends and family want me to refinish their pieces which led to starting up doing custom work. Before I knew it, I had a legit side hustle and decided I wanted to be more intentional with it and see where I could grow it. Just over 2 years after tackling my first furniture flip, I made the decision to leave my 9-to-5 job and went full-time in the business and have been loving just about every minute of it since. But it all started with those foundational months of figuring things out, putting the pieces into place, and growing the hobby turned side hustle into a business to get me there.

And there was plenty of trial and error in order for me to get there… trust me. But luckily for you, who is interested in and curious about starting your own side hustle selling your pieces, I’m here to bring you insight and recommendations on what I would do if I had to start all over again and avoid the trial and error. Today I have 6 things that you should be thinking about when you’re looking to start your own side hustle slash business, things that, together, will form a successful, profitable, thriving side hustle that you can either decide to maintain alongside whatever else you do to fill your days or (if you so choose), can one day decide to grow into a full-time job.

Taking that leap to try and start a business or side hustle can be super intimidating though, especially so if you have never been in business or don’t have a business background so you don’t know what elements go into it. I was there too, I come from the world of social work and victimology and I had no idea what even went into creating a business. From my experiences and lessons learned, I put together a free guide and checklist to starting your own furniture painting and refinishing business so you can check off the steps as you work your way through them– click here if you’d like to grab that. It breaks down the concepts into more tangible steps, which is exactly what I wish had existed when I first started out.

And if that’s helpful but you learn much better by doing and seeing things laid out and explained for you, not to worry! I have a free upcoming training called the Furniture Refinisher’s Bootcamp: Two Weeks To Launch Your Side Hustle where I will be coming to you live teaching over two weeks and showing you how to create, name, set up and launch your side hustle without missing any of the important bits that will cause you headaches down the line. If you’re interested in hearing more and saving your seat, click here and let's turn that daydream into a reality together!

But for today, let’s highlight some of the aspects you need to be thinking about if you want to DIY your own side hustle and want to ensure you aren’t missing any critical aspects when making it.

The first thing you want to think about right out of the gate is getting everything set up and getting official. This is the not-so-sexy stuff that isn’t the most exciting part because it isn’t as fun as being in the workshop is, but ultimately it’s what will set you up for success and save you from a bunch of headaches down the line if things start to pop off and you have to go back and get everything caught up. For those of you who are a bit intimidated about the prospect of getting this all set up, this is exactly why you need to be doing it from the get. It helps you to better understand things, to have that foundational layer backing your side hustle so that things can run smoothly and legally so you don’t need to be anxious about the fact that you may have done something wrong in setting it up and could get in trouble one day. Do it right the first time, it’s not that difficult, and then you’ll have the peace of mind to move forward without that sitting on your shoulders. I know people who did not take this approach and let me tell you, they still sweat when listing their pieces or when tax time comes around that something might get flagged or audited and it does not sound like a good time.

The second thing to think about is how you’re going to source your furniture. This is maybe a step you feel you’ve already figured out and mastered since you’ve likely been refinishing furniture as a hobby for awhile now, but if you are now doing this work for profit there may be some other considerations that come into play. Have you been keeping in mind how much the pieces you’ve been sourcing cost? Have you considered that price plus the cost of supplies used to upcycle your pieces and then compared that to the amount that you’re selling them for? Have you been establishing a maximum dollar amount that you’ll allow yourself to spend on a piece so that you have some sort of guidelines for when you come across a super cool and rare piece that you get really excited about one day and are in your feelings about getting, even if you know that the price that it’s listed for sale is way higher than would make sense for you to be able to make a profit off of once you refinish it? Have you been keeping track of the time you spend on refinishing the pieces, and how perhaps getting pieces that don’t require quite as much repairing would save you boatloads of time?

Asking yourself questions like these may end up changing your strategy for sourcing pieces, the parameters you set for yourself when doing so, or the places you’re searching for pieces to source. I know there was a point in time where I would drive around on garbage day in my neighbourhood and nearby areas and just drive the streets looking for pieces that had been put to the curb. Because… free pieces equals high margins for profit, right? Getting pieces free is always more ideal, right? In some cases it definitely might be, but when I took a step back and looked at the pieces that I was coming out of those searching sessions with, the potential for profit they had once I considered the type of furniture they were or the repairs that would be needed to get them to a sellable condition plus the cost of gas that I was using up when going to look for the pieces PLUS the time I was spending aimlessly driving around, hoping to find a jackpot? I determined after a cost-benefit analysis that it wasn’t in my best interest to be making that a regular occurrence for my side hustle. Instead, I turned on my notifications for my neighbourhood Buy Nothing groups on Facebook and made it a habit to check when posts went up there to see if there were furniture pieces looking for a new home– which, for the record, there was AND they were typically in much better shape than the things I was finding at the curb. So taking a step back and doing that analysis was a really important and impactful step for me to be doing in my side hustle.

The next thing you want to be thinking about when creating your furniture refinishing side hustle is the equipment you use. Do you want the best of the best, reliable tools that are quality and backed by a lifetime warranty? Sure, that would be amazing. But the reality is, at the beginning of starting up your side hustle, money for start-up costs will likely be tight and you’ll be meticulous with where you’re spending the money you do have. Due to this, you just want to have the essentials in the beginning to get the job done but you don’t need all the bells and whistles. My recommendation would be to invest in a decent electric sander, a carbide scraper, a few different shapes and sizes of paint brushes, and your basic tools like screwdrivers, a hammer and some rollers and a paint tray. It doesn’t take a lot to cover your bases and then as you and your side hustle progress and you get some more income coming in, you can invest in other things that you find would help you be able to do more to your furniture and create more complex designs.

The next aspect to be thinking about for your side hustle are your marketing strategies. Without a way to get your business in front of potential customers, you just have a hobby that takes up a ton of space and money and turns your home into a furniture store. Well, to be fair my home still looks like a furniture store, but anyways… So there’s a fine line when you’re first starting up your side hustle between having a well thought out marketing strategy or approach and also not trying to do everything at once. If you go too hard too quick, you’ll likely get overwhelmed or start to burn out because everything will be so new and it will just feel like… a lot. So my recommendation would be to have an approach for your three ways of marketing the side hustle and getting the word out there and then once you have those approaches down pat and moving smoothly, you can look at diversifying. Those three approaches would be one approach to getting eyes on your business online, one way to market it locally, and one way to get word of mouth referrals or people talking about you and the work you do.

The online approach is one that I see people most often probably not using the most effective approaches, especially early on when they need to be choosy with where they’re spending and investing their time. I think more often than not, people instinctively start an Instagram page because that’s likely where they’ve seen other furniture painters and refinishers and so it seems like the thing to do. And granted, some people do definitely go straight to Instagram when they are looking up a business and service provider so this isn’t to say that it’s the wrong thing to be doing. However, for how much time and effort and energy it takes to curate an Instagram feed, keep that account active and current and presumably trying to grow the following, it will require a lot more time and attention than some of your other options in the beginning. Options like getting or building a website or if the thought of that sends you into stress hives, even just building out a landing page in the meantime that showcases you, your business, the work you do, and how to get in touch with you.

The Instagram and other types of social media marketing can certainly be things you integrate and implement as you build up the business and create more of a mark for yourself, but the reality is, the large majority of people that are following you on Instagram aren’t really potential clients of you and your furniture refinishing services (that is, unless you did a really good job of specifically trying to tailor your social media strategy to reach your local market, in which case, well done!!).

When it comes to trying to market your side hustle in your local community, your overarching goal is to get you and your business in front of people who would be interested in your services, have a space to put the furniture you sell them, and who can afford your prices. Depending on your area, that could look a lot of different ways so I recommend you set aside some time to do some brainstorming but some options could be things like: connecting with a radio station or television station to see if they’d be interested in doing a segment about furniture refinishing or look into their advertising packages, advertising in local makers’ groups on Facebook or on other social media platforms, or connecting with other local businesses who are in the same secondhand/eco-friendly worlds as you and would have customers that might be interested in your products and see if there are any opportunities for collaboration.

Literally any idea you have, give it a shot if it won’t put you out a ton of money or time. If it’s a matter of you being nervous to ask someone about an opportunity or propose something in fear of them saying no, you just honestly have to push yourself past it and be willing to hear some No’s before you hear that one Yes that will change it all for you. I promise you that it will be worth it in the end!

And then when you think about trying to get the word spread about your work through word-of-mouth, that means delivering as good of a product as you are capable of and providing as ideal of an experience to those customers as possible. Whenever possible, under deliver and over promise. It can take very little to add an unexpected surprise or some delight to someone’s day.

I like to always include a hand-written thank you card with all of the pieces I sell, along with a Care Card that I had printed that lets them know how to best maintain and clean their pieces to keep them looking their best long-term, and if the piece is painted then I’ll always include a little bit of paint in case touch ups are ever needed as well as including the paint name and brand name in the card in case people ever want to get another piece to match it or just want to know what colour it is for whatever the reason. There are plenty of options of what you can do to ensure that interaction goes smoothly and enjoyably for your clients and customers, so think about what you would enjoy and try to integrate that into your routine and ideally people will be so pleased with the experience that they will tell their friends and family about you and your business.

Oh, and I also always include two business cards in the Thank You cards I give – one for them to keep and one for them to pass along to someone who may be interested in me and my work. Yes, business cards. Get business cards. They’re not a way of the past– they don’t need to be expensive or super fancy and convoluted but when you’re chatting with someone about what you do and they are interested in learning more and they ask if you have a card they could grab, you want to be ready. It happens more often than you would think!

The fifth thing to be thinking about when setting up your furniture upcycling side hustle is how you’re going to build (and maintain) a customer base. This ties in to the last point about trying to find the right people for you and your products and services, and treating them well so they want to come back for more. A great way, once you start to get a few sales under your belt, is to chat with the people who are buying your pieces (the ones who are more chatty and are looking for that, don’t force it on the people who are trying to just grab their dresser and get out of there), but those can be such useful people to do some light market research on.

Things like finding out what they do, if they have hobbies, children or pets or spouses, if they go to craft markets or other events where it would be beneficial for you to be at showcasing your pieces. Don’t be weird and try to pry information out of people OBVIOUSLY, but if anything comes up naturally in conversation then try and take note of it. Because the more you can better understand the people who are buying your pieces from you the better you can put yourself in the shoes of your ideal demographic and then make advertising and marketing decisions based on that information you uncover.

And when trying to grow this customer base, having provided a great experience is what will set you apart. Like I said, word of mouth is powerful. Especially when it comes to potentially having to trust a stranger with an antique dresser that has been passed down in your family for generations– you don’t want to be fucking around with who you’re choosing and potentially getting burned. I know for me and my household, pretty much any new service I’m seeking out like a contractor or plumber or electrician or painter or whatever it may be, I’m asking friends and neighbours if they have someone they would recommend to start off my research.

You want your name to come up in those conversations, so always always always keep that in mind. Even if you ever encounter a situation with a difficult client who maybe is totally in the wrong and you know it, never lose your cool, never be rude or accusatory or negative or anything other than solution-focused, apologetic and trying to make the most of the situation. Word of mouth is powerful in positive ways, but it can also break a business before it has even found its footing if someone starts talking about a negative interaction they had.

That’s also why testimonials and reviews, positive reviews, are also a great way to show that social proof and get that clout. Showing these off on your website, having people leave you a Google review or even showcasing them on your social media platforms are a great way to reassure people that you are the right choice to be making. And don’t be nervous to encourage your clients to let their friends know about you and your services if they’re interested– people love to be able to help support a small business and someone pursuing their dreams and doing what they love.

The sixth thing to be thinking about, at least at a high level, when setting up your furniture refinishing side hustle is about growing your business. Yes, I used the big scary “B” word. You can call what you’re doing a side hustle but sorry to break it to you honey, she’s a business. I know that makes it sound intense and scary and immediately makes all these feelings of imposter syndrome come flying into your brain because like, who am I to be a business owner?! But the reality is if you are selling your goods or services, you are operating a business. And that does NOT need to be a scary or intimidating thing. It can actually be SUPER fun and exciting and thrilling to do- with the right mindset.

This mindset piece will absolutely be a topic of discussion during the Furniture Refinisher’s Bootcamp because it is probably the most common thing that I come across when talking to people who are interested in starting up a side hustle doing this and I ask them what’s holding them back. It’s the uncertainty of what to do and that fear of failure. If you’re feeling it, just know you’re not alone and we will dive deeper into that in the bootcamp.

But you do want to be thinking longer-term about what you’d like to be able to do to build that business. In an ideal world, if everything was going right, what would things look like 6 months into starting that side hustle? One year later? Five years later? It doesn’t need to be something that you stick to as a set in stone plan but it’s good to have ideas of where you’re headed to keep you excited and working towards something bigger for the days when things go wrong or get annoying or stressful. Because they can come up from time to time, but having that bigger “why” and remembering what excited you when you first started will keep you working and excited for what your future in this side hustle– ahem, BUSINESS– will look like.

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 end every blog post 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: If your dreams don’t scare you a little, they’re not big enough. Great things never come from comfort zones.

Alright, that’s it for now. Again, if you’re thinking now is the time to finally get started on that side hustle make sure you register for the upcoming FREE Furniture Refinishers Bootcamp: Two Weeks To Launch Your Side Hustle, it’s gonna be great. I appreciate your time, thanks for being here and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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