Being a manufacturing leader is difficult, especially if you are a manufacturing entrepreneur! With so many possible opportunities and pitfalls, it can be hard to know how to navigate the small-business world of an entrepreneur. Guest speaker, John Saunders, shares his insight and experience as a leading manufacturing entrepreneur and the ways he has successfully set his business apart and thrived through slow growth.
Founder and owner of Saunders Machine Works, John is a serial entrepreneur with his hands in multiple jobs, including running the NYC CNC YouTube channel and overseeing the training and manufacturing sides of his small business. His YouTube channel has become a medium to influence, inspire, and encourage aspiring and seasoned machinists in their careers.
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Although he attended college to learn entrepreneurship, John found that his key takeaways came from practical experience in selling and machining. Originally wanting to create a business in order to provide a specific product, he quickly realized that creating an excellent product isn’t the same as creating an excellent business. In order to generate a successful business, you have to know the “why” behind the work and the products created.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart. John advises that if you are having doubts as to whether or not you really want to work for yourself and jump into the world of paperwork, legality issues, building, training, hiring, producing, and customer service, then you may want to work for someone else for a couple of years. Study how your boss leads and drives their business forward - and then go try it for yourself.
John’s business - Saunders Machine Works - grew out of his love for CNC machining and sharing its workhorse capability with viewers on YouTube via his NYC CNC channel. Continuing with the YouTube channel, he wanted a business that could also train individuals in machining and sell manufacturing tools and products. The three-part business has kept up steady - yet slow growth - just as John wants it.
Keeping a focus on who you are and why you do what you do helps you to navigate the way forward. Instead of chasing every glittering opportunity, consider whether or not it will help fulfill the goals of your business or help create a better experience for your customers. What you are selling isn’t just the object in the box - it’s the atmosphere, relationship, and experience that you are offering your customers.
For John, this means finding the best ways to share the modern world of manufacturing with others. His YouTube channel provides a place for machinists of all experience levels to ask questions, easily view videos that demonstrate solutions to popular machining problems, and be a part of the manufacturing community. The training classes that Saunders Machine Works offers provide practical experience in a variety of machining skills and open the door to both young and old to explore manufacturing as a hobby or career. John’s business also values offering internship and apprenticeship-modeled jobs to those who need practical experience through their product manufacturing side of Saunders Machine Works.
The goal in sorting through opportunities is to make continuous improvements in your processes - to make them as efficient and streamlined as possible - all without wasting resources. Bootstrapping is the ability of your business to leverage your equity for the greatest return on investment. Money and time are ever manufacturing entrepreneur’s most limited resources. In some phases of your business, you may find that you are lower in one of those resources than another. If you have the opportunity to grow in your knowledge and skills as a master of your trade, take them! Don’t be wasteful. Invest with results.
“Growth eats cash for breakfast,” John warns. We are trained to think that any growth opportunity is a good opportunity, but it’s wiser and more profitable to consider each one through the lens of your “why.” With such a large following, John often gets calls offering partnerships with other businesses. Due to a poor partnership experience in his early entrepreneurial days, John has decided to never partner with another business. The true 50/50 partnership is rare and often difficult to maintain. That doesn’t mean you should never try it, but know where you want your business to go and maintain integrity with those goals through your growth tactics. Be sure to listen to the entire episode for more insight into making the best growth decisions possible.
It can be easy for entrepreneurs to become overwhelmed by all the marketing and advertising mediums available. John stresses the importance of only utilizing what you need, what you can afford, and what will speak most authentically to your potential customers. John aligns his content creation with his goal to help others help themselves in their manufacturing stories. Be honest about what you are portraying through social media. Authenticity is a huge factor; make it a point to share the stories that surround the challenges that your business has faced and the solutions that you found. Make note of what you are personally drawn to on social media and study why you like it. At the end of the day, it’s not about you. It’s about your current and potential customers and the quality of what you are offering them.