Welding business ideas
Your welding business is launched and you’re ready to take on more jobs. What does it take beyond hustle and hard work?
Here are six tips on building your business from welders who have been there: Michael Brandt, owner of Garage Bound LLC in Chattanooga, Tenn.; David Oliver, owner of Willomet Motor & Fabrication in Dallas; Missy Powell, owner of S.M.T. Metals in Arvada, Colo.; and Gregg Whitehall, owner of Metalsmoke Design in Milwaukee.
Tip 1: Be flexible
When you’re looking to grow your business, it’s especially important to take on all kinds of jobs that help you build skills and contacts. You may have a niche you want to focus on, but getting experience across a wide range of applications and industries makes you as multifaceted as possible and gets you in front of more potential clients.
“Take on a lot of different jobs and then be willing to pivot — even to places you might not expect,” says Oliver, who had a small fabrication business creating work for others before morphing into his current business of creating videos and how-to content while he works on his own welding projects. “Take different jobs and network within your welding community so you can support your peers and be a participant, and you will pick up all kinds of skills along the way.”
Having welding power sources and accessories that let you weld a variety of materials, including aluminum and stainless steel, can set you apart and allow you to take on more jobs. An all-in-one welder is a good investment that increases your efficiency and expands your capabilities.
Tip 2: Put in the hours
Be willing to hustle and take on jobs that may carry over into nights and weekends if you are prepared to invest that time. It’s a good way to impress customers and make contacts — and get your work and name out there. But be careful to avoid burnout and taking on too much.
“I’ve had some jobs where I worked probably 40-some days in a row on a big project. I’ve done back-to-back bar restaurant jobs and worked my butt off,” says Whitehall, who turned his welding side hustle into a full-time business three years ago. “But I make hay when the sun shines, and I don’t mind that.”
While being your own boss means you can work as much as you want to work to kickstart growth, it’s important to know your limits to keep yourself sane and the quality of work high.
“Be respectful of your own time, which is still something I have to practice today,” Oliver says. “Sometimes you think your own time is free, so you don’t build it into your costing. But that's not a sustainable model.”
Tip 3: Invest in equipment that helps you grow
Perhaps you started your business with just a few pieces of essential welding equipment and other tools for your shop. That’s a good way to get started without taking on a lot of debt. But as you look to grow, it’s smart to invest in equipment and tools that can help you take on more jobs and expand your offerings.
“I pretty much started my business off of one welding machine. Then when I moved into my larger space, I saved up to get a giant Ellis saw and massive welding table and just started stacking equipment up,” says S.M.T. Metals owner Powell, who went full-time with her welding business about a year ago, focusing on custom welding fabrication and sculpture. “I'm obviously always buying tools, but nothing really too big.”
A fixture table is a good investment that can improve repeatability in your shop setup. Leaning on friends in the industry to borrow tools or equipment that you don’t have is another good option.
“The idea that you need every tool is a great way to max out your credit line and deplete all your cash,” Oliver says. “Have the tools that you need to make money, then add tools strategically.”
Tip 4: Curate your customer list
As you grow and build a stable roster of customers, you can make the call about which jobs to take and which to pass on. While it’s a good idea to take on all kinds of jobs when you’re just getting started, as you grow you can be more selective. Perhaps you find that you prefer jobs in a certain industry or for a certain type of customer. Understanding what you enjoy most and do best helps you choose jobs and manage your schedule.
You may find that some industries or types of customers provide more steady, lucrative work than others. For example, Whitehall only takes commercial jobs with other businesses and avoids residential work for private customers. He has found this method to be more efficient and a good way to build repeat business. Networking within the welding community or the local manufacturing industry can help you establish contacts that can turn into referrals.
“I have built this customer base that is probably 80% repeat business, just a constant flow of work with a few industrial customers,” Whitehall says. “Being a maker’s maker for other businesses is way more efficient.”
It also helps to be diverse in your customer base. If you’re working mostly with manufacturing and that industry slows down, it’s good to have customer contacts in the restaurant and bar industry or in heavy equipment to pick up the slack.
“Don’t be reliant on any one industry,” Whitehall says. “A little diversity doesn’t hurt.”
Tip 5: Hire employees you trust
Hiring employees is a great way to significantly build your business through expanded capacity and the ability to take on more jobs. Your time is finite, after all. If you grow to the point where you want to hire employees, make sure they share your priorities about weld quality and customer service. Any employee is an extension of you and your reputation.
For Brandt at Garage Bound, his goal is to be able to step away from his welding business more as it grows and allow his employees to take on more responsibility. But to comfortably do that, it’s important to him to hire employees who take as much pride in the craft as he does.
“If one of my employees has a crummy day and does some nasty welds, I’m still responsible for those welds,” he says. “It has to be right when it leaves here because if the customer sees bad work, that reflects negatively on me. So you have to have employees who care about that.”
It can also be helpful to invest in welding equipment with technologies that make it easier for welders of all skill levels to produce quality welds. Some machines offer programs with predefined weld settings to increase ease of use and ensure that the job is done right.
Powell is a one-woman show at S.M.T. Metals, but she occasionally hires help when she needs it, such as for project installs to speed up that process.
“I have a handful of people I can reach out to and hit them up when I need help,” she says.
Tip 6: Use social media wisely
Social media can be a great tool for small business owners and an inexpensive way to build a community online that supports your brand.
Oliver was a hobby welder who turned that passion into a side hustle of building things for other people. But he realized what he really enjoyed was working on his own welding projects and using those projects as teaching moments for beginner to intermediate welders. Social media helped him turn that into a side business. He creates welding content for YouTube and partners with tool and equipment companies. His social media advice to other small business owners is to remember to represent who you really are without exaggeration and to keep your content focused on the work.
“Be yourself, let your genuine self come out, work very hard to take care of your audience and show them things that are valuable on a consistent basis, and take the time to write a good description and take a good photo,” Oliver says. “If you’re a fabricator, be very transparent about the settings you used and what your process was.”
It’s also a good idea to study other successful welding social media accounts to see what hashtags they use. This helps make your content more searchable.
Growing a welding business
With advice from some welding pros who know, take your welding business to new heights with some networking, diversification in your work and a focus on quality.