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Just to keep the business going I've had to take whatever came in the door. Gates, grilles, entranceways, wall hooks, business card holders, letter openers, restorations, lighting, colonial, contemporary, etc., etc. That doesn't near cover it. Seldom have I done two things twice. It's been a great way to learn a lot, but keeping the jobs coming in is another story. Back in the '70's when I only did colonial restoration work I had a fairly steady work flow. The more I changed and diverified the less work that came in. When in rough times I've called a lot of fellow smiths and talked to them about how they make money. What am I doing wrong? Usually in a room of people if you start talking about money the room gets real quiet fast. Luckily my friends in the forging world were happy to share with me. Through this and my own observations it looks to me like the ones that are the most successful are the ones that are specializing. Not just in being a blacksmith or artist-blacksmith, but also in what they make. They "only" make gates, rails and fencing, or they "only" make hardware, or they "only" make weaponry, or ... I know one shop that "only" does shutter hardware. Another that does arrowheads, another that specializes in Celtic ironwork. Or they have a style that they specialize in. I use only in quotes as of course they take something else if it comes in, but mainly have a reputation for whatever they're specializing in.

My problem in knowing this is finding my niche. Since I've done so many different things I don't have a known style or look to my work. At times I thought I had found what "it" was and something happened that it fell through. I am heading in a specific area now, but it takes time to put all of the pieces together.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and how this affects your business.

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Specialization can provide a lot of efficiencies but being diversified can help when one part of your work dies down.

I am quite diverse in what I do in that I make patterns as well as blacksmithing. But I do keep somewhat specialized in what I do and will turn away or sub out work that does not fit with what I can do efficiently.

While I have a well equipped wood shop for the patternmaking I will not take on cabinetmaking or furniture work apart from personal or family projects. I am not set up for that type of work and with not doing that sort of work on a regular basis I don't know all the little tricks that make you efficient. I don't have an area set up for finishing and I have a lot more dirt, grit, and foundry sand in my shop than a wood furniture shop has in it. I am set up and have the experience for Patterns and industrial jigs and fixtures.

Unlike many blacksmiths I don't do fab jobs unless there are forged components involved. There are lots of welding shops around with better welders than I am, with lower shop rates than mine. A shop that I use to do critical welding that has all it's certifications has a shop rate that is half the rate I quote forging at. It doesn't make sense for me to try to compete with that. I am no longer actively looking for architectural blacksmithing jobs, because I don't seem to be that good at reading and designing what customers want. It takes me way too much time to draw designs only to have nothing happen. I seem to have found a niche doing industrial forging, however I need to find more of it. This may involve making my own products or just finding more jobbing customers. I would like to do some furniture and sculptural work but I don't want to have to rely on it.

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This is where the fun starts. What you will need to do is figure out quite a few things that will be unique to you, as everyone will have different answers depending on where they live.

What are you best at forging?

Does that best skill have a local market? An out of state market? A world market?

Can the local market keep you afloat?

What is your advertising budget, and how will you get the word out? Internet, print, magazines, etc?

Is there a need for something that you could learn how to make?

How much interaction do you want to have with the public?

Do you have the equipment that you need, or do you need to upgrade, or add something?

Is the product something that will need to be certified, tested, or otherwise checked to be sold for safety reasons?

How many hours do you want to work to make a living? Some people can work day, and night, some can't due to other obligations: family for one.

Sometimes simple is the best way.

I live in a rural area with lots of horse owners, and we have the rodeo out here at the fairgrounds, so I may be inclined to look into Cowboy gear like hoof picks, boot jacks, and other cowboy themed items. I also live near some arty areas so I may want to explor the sculptural side of me. Seeing a not so refined mig welded tube, and granite bench sell fro $1,200 opened my eyes for sure. Imagine what I may possibly get for a forged bench. The best way to find the possible niche market is to get out and explore the area. Talk to people, listen to their complaints, and see if it is something that you can fix for them with a product. Contact agricultural co-ops, stables, horse arenas, horse riidng schools, industrial sections if you have them, cruise some art galleries to see what is being sold, and ask how often the metal items sell. This won't happen in one day, so you need to take some time from the shop, and get out to see what is needed.

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If you don't know what you want to specialize in, just do everything you're able to. It'll come to you one day. Needs to be something you enjoy AND has enough potential to support you the way you require.

Grant's #1 rule for success: Start out doing what everyone else is doing. At some point, start doing what no one else is doing.

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It's clear you are making a living at smithing and are to be congratulated for that effort - but I believe we often get hung up on words like "forging" and "blacksmith" when in fact, the world in general just doesn't care. In truth, a poorly equipped and/or trained smith is often less capable and competitive than a good welding shop because he/she may possess a stubborn streak about process. We in the trade tend to get all warm and wet when we see hammer marks but in reality all the customer wanted in the end was a window grille or a gate; they can't understand why a hand forged leaf is "better" than one you bought from King's. The combination of educated customers who are willing to pay for hand work and efficient, competitive smiths is somewhat rare - especially when you factor in the wide variety of forged elements than can be purchased from mail order suppliers. That doesn't mean forged work can't be sold for a fair price but it has to be a package deal for the customer. With that in mind, I believe that anyone who wants to prosper (and not simply survive) has to work smarter than the next guy in all aspects of business. The successful smiths on this forum have figured this out in their own way.

Personally, I have managed to run a part time business for 30 years and it works well for me. My shop is not a hobby but it's also not my primary income. I will quote many types of work but stay away from really large commissions because I work by myself (which is another subject in itself, i.e. the fundamental problem of one person trying to accomplish too much in too little time). However, even though I'll take on a wide variety, I tend to specialize in fireplace screens and accessories, primarily because many home builders in this area don't standardize their hearth sizes and most commercial suppliers don't make custom sizes, which is where I have found a niche.

Many years ago, a well known smith told me that you can be successful in craftwork, or architectural, or forged tools, or knives, etc. but you will become known by your work - so I believe in the end that finding a specialty will be the backbone of the business , even when other work comes in the door.

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i think there are two ways you can look at niches /specialising - you can say what is not being done round here, what is the hole ion the market, and i will try to do that, OR what do i love doing and am good at, and i will persist with that. there are so many circumstantial variables that effect the running and success of a business, all mentioned above, and personally with what i do, as Not the primary earner, is a very vague science on paper, with the long term instinctive approach of what is good for me, will be good for my work...
this approach is supported by our other business (which is Very niche) and is the reason why im later into my own "career", but by getting really busy building the other business with my husband initially, i can now take a different approach with my own..:) the other busines(the one that brings the cash in ) is hiring out and operating specialised equipment, to other trades, architects, masons, builders, surveyors, but we started in a much more general way, and, organically, the niche formed ( as it did previously in our tree work other life)
i think you certainly have to be very proactive in sitting and thinking, and contacting likely candidates for what youre offering - it was particularly abstract with the access equipment, because potential clients did not even know machines existed that do what ours offer, so we had to arrange lots of trials and demos and all sorts, but getting to the stage of that very good specialist idea was like i said, an organic one, which happened naturally from being closely interested in our market and the needs, or potential future needs of that market. i think youve got to be interested, passionately, in either what your actually doing, or just in making money, for it to be successful, i guess a lot would be interested in both :)
back to the b smithing though - there are so many areas of this trade/subject which would require a totally different approach, i can only say what my ambitions are, and try hard hard hard to weave my way towards that. im lucky enough that the money is not, and does not have to be my Primary goal, although its obviously still an issue, so i realise im in a minority in this conversation, but i do think certain aspects of my approach are helpful, if not essential, if you are an artist rather than solely a business person. if i try to make things to other peoples designs, i am often unhappy from the outset, and frustrated throughout the entire process - not a good business plan. if i try to repeat items in a prod line fashion, i am not happy its not for me, again no good for business. what makes me happy, and in my mind will therefore be as good for business as anything else, is making something i want to make ( i work in other materials too) and then letting the customer find me - galleries, shows, or more importantly word of mouth. im sure ive said it before on here , but as artists, your niche is yourself, thats the only unique selling point any of us have - undiluted and free to make what your wanting to make - to express your own ideas. thats just my lil ole plan anyway! - in its idealistic form :) you have to decide sometimes what you wont compromise on, or at least the order of the things that youd rather not compromise !

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As much as I love blacksmithing the facts for me are it is more of a hobby with the amount of blacksmithing work that comes through the door. My speciality is welding and fabrication. I can't seem to brake this cycle of work. This is what comes to me and I have a reputation for and is what pays my bills. I would love to do more blacksmithing work and I know if I keep going forward it will come.

Last year my New Years resolution was to do more blacksmithing work and less fab work. In order to do that I would have to say no to paying jobs to give more time to blacksmithing. I just could not say no to the money jobs because they just kept coming in.

Around AZ, their are a fare amount of very talented smiths as you may already know. Most specialize in architectural work but then some do like you and will do anything that comes in the door. So it is hard to say. :unsure:

I do think if you want to specialize in something. Find something practical you can manufacture and market yourself.

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Specializing lets you perfect the tooling and setup for a job, makes things go faster, you don't need to reinvent the wheel everytime.

I did forge and fabrication work, gates, railings, store fixtures, lighting, sinks, fabricating parts for waterparks and even parts for cars and trucks. It kept the work coming in and paid the bills, but every quote i was doing or project I got I spent a lot of time just figuring out how I was going to do it, vs getting it done and making money. Created a lot of unpaid hours in a day. Some jobs I made good money other days I was paying the customer.

I like the challenge of a new thing, but it gets tiring at times when you need to pay the bills.

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