Once you have gained experience with your OMTech laser engraver cutter and made a few items for friends and family, the next question a lot of people ask is whether they can be successful with a laser engraving business from home.
As we all know, home business crafting has become very popular over the last few years, and some people have become very successful at it. Laser engravers provide the perfect tool that lets you consider building your own small business with relatively low investment.
Can you make money with laser engraving?
You can absolutely make money with a laser engraving business. In fact, any laser engraver owner who is not making money with their laser machine is probably not trying to.
The advantage of the laser engraver cutter is that it can turn low-cost items into valuable products quickly, accurately, and easily. Understanding this is key to knowing what, when, and how to create a range of gifts that will sell profitably.
A great example of this is the simple slate coaster.
You can find slate beverage coasters at your local homewares store for less than a dollar. They are perfect for engraving on your OMTech Laser engraving machine, and you can create a simple template and engrave about a dozen of them in a single pass.
Now, you may be tempted to create some interesting random designs to turn your coasters into something unique.
My advice? Don’t do that.
Have a look around various craft fairs and gift outlets, and you will see hundreds of these generic designs, many manufactured in the Far East and costing maybe just a little more than your original plain coaster.
Now, I do know some laser cutting business owners who sell these sorts of items at crafting fairs. But they hold stock of literally hundreds and sell a few each weekend. Some will never sell. That is a huge investment in time and stock for what is probably a mediocre return.
So, how do you really make money with a home laser engraving business?
The Secret to Making Money with Laser Engraving
What do people love more than anything else?
The secret to making money with your laser engraving machine is PERSONALIZATION.
You can take your dollar coaster and engrave it with someone’s name, personal message, or brand logo, and that coaster suddenly becomes a $10 sale or more!
So, you now have the key to making money with your laser engraver.
The beauty of creating personalized items is that generally, they are produced in small volumes, so you won’t get bored trying to develop a production line environment. Personal, unique items are impactful. Word gets around, and they generate excellent customer satisfaction and feedback. Nothing is quite the same as seeing your own name or message on a gift.
Starting Your Laser Engraving Business from Home
Now that you understand the first principle of getting your laser engraving business idea off the ground, how do you start?
Well, first off there are some boring bits that, depending upon where you live, need to be taken care of. It’s impossible to cover every jurisdiction in this article, but some of the things that you need to check include Business Registration, Taxes, Insurance, and Covenants. Once you are happy that you have understood and complied, we can move on.
When you start a business with paying customers, as opposed to friends and family, you are going to accept various conditions from those customers, mainly around timing and quality.
Timing means that when you accept an order, you will promise to deliver the final product on a certain day. Only you know how busy you are, how much time you can allocate to the work, and when the delivery date should be. But then there are various things that can go wrong, and you need to build in contingency as well as do whatever you can to mitigate the problems.
Things that can go wrong include issues such as power failures and weather conditions. These are outside your control, and this is what time contingency is for. An extra day or two may allow you to recover from such catastrophes. Other things such as machine failures, low stock, design mistakes, etc. These things you can control and so mitigation will include such things as having an extra laser tube, laser mirrors, and spare focus lenses available at all times and ensuring that you have enough stock to cover the order and any material testing or rework that might be needed.
While we are talking about things that can go wrong, one of the stand-out issues in small home laser businesses has been design errors, especially spelling mistakes. I have seen laser engraving businesses that have created designs and even had them signed off by the customer, which have glaring spelling mistakes. Now, although you may be tempted, under similar circumstances, to say oh well, the customer signed it off — I guarantee that will be the last order you get from them. So always get someone else to double-check your work before committing it to the laser.
What do I need to start a laser engraving business?
Obviously, you need a laser machine. OMTech has a wide range of CO₂ laser engravers and fiber laser markers that can suit small home businesses. A good entry-level laser engraver for small business that can fit nicely in your garage or craft room is the 60W CO₂ laser. The 80W and 100W machines can provide a larger working area and faster laser cutting if your space allows.
Now you need to consider storage. You will need somewhere to keep your spare laser machine parts and accessories, to keep them well labeled and easy to get to. Also, ensure that you are comfortable with how to change the spares and remember especially that your laser machine maintenance at the end of each day/week is going to be vital.
As you will be keeping a good supply of raw laser engraving materials, these need to be correctly stored whether it’s wood, glass, slate, or any other substrate. Ensure that you understand the effects of changing temperatures and humidity and store your materials appropriately.
After you have processed the items with the laser you will need an assembly area — a clear workbench is ideal where you can assemble, clean, and pack your finished items ready for the customer. These of course will need to be safely and carefully stored once ready for shipment/collection.
A clean, temperature-controlled environment will make you happy to head to work each day, which is especially crucial if you plan to work your laser engraving business full time.
What can I make to sell with a laser engraver?
Obviously, you can sell whatever you can make, but just because you can, does not mean that you should.
I strongly recommend that you look around your area and see what other laser engraving businesses are selling. Visit local craft fairs and talk to people. And then walk away from whatever they are doing.
Seriously, laser engravers and cutters give you access to a huge range of possibilities, and trying to compete with someone who has created their own niche is a recipe for disaster.
Find out what others are NOT doing and do your research on the items that no one else in your area does. Obviously it is possible to find almost everything online, but when it comes to personalization, the personal touch remains super important. Ordering a personalized item online is always going to be a risky business. Although the customer may save a few dollars, being able to talk and discuss the design and product with you will build a real connection.
When you have decided what you want to make and sell, consider complementary items that can be added to increase the size and value of the order.
Using the example of the coasters, you may be selling a set of 4, 6, or 8 personalized coasters, so now consider how you will package them. It’s easy to create a design for a wooden box to hold them that itself can be engraved and personalized. Your four coaster $20 order could now become a $30 order with the box included.
When you have decided what you want to do, you then need to find those customers!
Advertising and Promotion
“If you build it, they will come,” might have worked for Kevin Costner, but in the laser engraving business, it’s important to get your name and what you do out there.
But there are many ways to do this the wrong way.
Firstly, you MUST have a website. We are all web-connected these days and many people will use a website to discover what you do before they will ever pick up a telephone. You can create nice websites for free using tools such as Wix and there are usually plenty of local experts who can advise you if needed. However, to start with, you really just need some personal statements of what you do, some good photographs of what you have/can create, and your contact details. Things such as e-commerce can come later but it’s important to get something in place. A domain name and personal email address using it will also add to the prestige of your new home-based business.
You might be tempted to start advertising your website to get visitors to it. This is a mistake as you start your business and one that can cost you a serious amount of money that is most likely wasted. Your website is there to tell people what you do and to give them the confidence to get in touch. However, the people that you want are going to be local to you. You can attend fairs and exhibitions and take your business cards and talk to people. Explain the personalizations that can be done — a selection of small samples can do a lot of the talking. Remember that your personal touch will make the difference. Later those same people will pick up your card and visit your website — they are much more likely to engage with you and there is no website advertising expenditure required.
Also, think carefully about the sort of customers who can use your services. It’s not just people who need a gift for a friend or relative — they tend to be either one-off purchases or at best occasional buyers — but think about weddings for example. Now, getting to the bride might get you a nice order for personalized place settings, but again, that’s just one wedding. But if you can get to the wedding planners, then this could be a regular source of orders.
Personalization works extremely well in the corporate world too. Companies always need promo items to give away, but it’s no use approaching big businesses as they will have contracts with major companies that will underbid you. Instead, look for the smaller mom & pop shops. Small business don’t want or need a 1000-piece minimum order quantity with the big suppliers. You can offer smaller quantities that can add value to their business, and yours.
To get started with local outreach, you might look for local clubs, small medical offices, amateur sports teams, antique shops, craft stores, local restaurants and coffee shops, etc. Clubs and small businesses such as these always need promotional items, plaques, trophies, and memorabilia.
Laser Cutting Business Pro Tip:
To help jumpstart your laser cutting business and gain some new clients:
Just about every city or town has a downtown area home to small local businesses. Walk through this area of your town and make a note of each local shop that might need your laser engraving services. When you get home, check out the shops’ websites to get more familiar with their companies. Extract the logo file from their website and engrave it on a product that fits into their business. Attach your business card to each product and surprise the shop owner with your quality craftsmanship. This free sample is an excellent way to make initial business connections, and with some luck and salesmanship, you’ll see your first orders come in.
Avoiding Business Growth Pitfalls
As you build the business, it can be tempting to accept every customer order, and invariably this will start to create a larger range of items that you will be trying to sell. Saying ‘Sorry, no’ to a customer is probably the hardest thing, but unless you want the business to get out of control, then it’s something that you must learn to do.
Let’s say you are happily building up your coaster engraving business with a nice stock of coaster blanks and various wood supplies to build the boxes.
Now one of your good wedding planner clients suggests that you can do engraved glassware which sounds like a great idea. However, in order to start engraving the glasses, you need to reconfigure your laser machine to use the rotary attachment. This can take an hour or so to get everything set up, aligned, and the settings dialed in. When you have finished that order you then have to revert the machine back to engraving coasters.
This now puts added pressure on you. It can impact your timing to deliver orders and if something goes wrong, it can impact the relationship with the client. Sometimes it is better to say, “Sorry, I can’t do that just yet.”
It may be possible, however, in your travels to fairs and markets, that you come across another laser engraving business owner who concentrates on engraving glassware. Maybe this can be the start of a referral business where you can cross-sell items or just trade referrals. Business growth can come in many forms.
Timing Your Laser Engraved Products
If you pay attention at the supermarkets you will see that Easter items are arriving in February. They were probably manufactured just after Christmas. It’s the same for every holiday and fortunately, we know exactly when they will occur. However, many people leave getting ready for a holiday a week or so beforehand, but in business, you cannot afford to do that. You need to follow the same model as the supermarkets (after all they are the experts) and plan well in advance with both your stock levels and getting orders from customers.
You might need to explain the holiday rushes that will occur and that to guarantee delivery, you need the orders in early. Leaving it too late will again add to the pressure as you struggle to get late orders out on time to avoid upsetting the client.
Making Money with Laser Engraving
Making money with laser engraving is a joy to do if you are careful about how you start and set your expectations. You will have to work hard initially to attract an audience and introduce them to what you can offer. Don’t give up your day job until you have a regular and reliable income from it. Maintaining your laser engraver will be something that you need to plan for daily and ensuring that you can diagnose the fix issues when they occur should become second nature.
Remember that using your laser engraving machine is just a small part of your home business. If you want to be successful, then you need to plan well, pay attention to detail, and be committed to achieving timely deliveries of quality products.
Don’t cut corners and don’t spend more money than you need to. A million visitors to your website might make you a few sales, but building a relationship with a wedding planner or local business group can create routine streams of orders that will keep your laser engraving business going strong.