Thinking of Going Pro? Here Are a Few Realities From My World. (Warning: It's Not Pretty.) - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Thinking of Going Pro? Here Are a Few Realities From My World. (Warning: It’s Not Pretty.)

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs
a few realities of professional woodworking

Thanksgiving Day, 2012

Many people dream about running their own woodworking business. I understand. I had the same dream in 1979 when I signed up for a basic City & Guilds training in furniture making after dropping out from university.

The dream persisted for the first several weeks of my first job. Then some of the basic realities of making furniture and cabinetry for a living hit: the repetitiveness of the work, especially when you’re building something as large as a kitchen. The need to mind your client’s budget, which sometimes translates to joining drawers with biscuits instead of dovetails (never mind hand-cut). The client who changes her mind about critical design elements…after you’ve started building.

When you run your own business, you add a few other dimensions to these common realities. For one thing, there’s a host of legal, insurance, and tax requirements to deal with. And sometimes the very officials whose job it is to keep those things straight don’t seem able to do so. Here’s one of the current examples in my professional woodworking world.

Having your own business = double the potential for exasperation

I keep obsessive time-sheets for every job I do for my clients, whether it’s a design for a kitchen or a full-scale design-build. These records are a huge help in estimating future job costs. But I’ve lost track of the hours I’ve spent trying to sort out two distinct demands for business-related payments from our nation’s taxing authority — each of them in error. I pay a professional bookkeeping service to do my payroll work and fill out the forms at the end of each quarter, then at the end of the year. Those bookkeepers do an excellent job. I also pay an accountant to prepare my corporate and personal taxes. All of them are serious, highly competent, above-board professionals.

So when I first received each of these notices (complete with threatening language about seizing my assets, etc.), I immediately contacted the payroll service. The manager sent a letter explaining why the demand for payment was in error, and I anticipated a notice of resolution. Instead, I received a second notice about the payment that was supposedly due. This time the manager of the payroll company called and spoke to the authorities, who sent a notice saying that they would put a 60-day hold on the accrual of late-payment fees (for a payment that had not been due in the first place). I’ve been expecting to receive a notice of resolution.

Instead, last Friday evening was made vastly less enjoyable by my discovery of a “notice of attempt to deliver certified mail” slip in the mailbox.

The slip had one full tracking number and another partial number below. Because they were so long, and on a handwritten form, the carrier had simply put ditto marks under the top number until he got to the final two digits of the second. In my desperation to find out who the certified mail was from (because I am one of those who live in fear of the authorities and consequently do my best to abide by All The Rules), I tried to track it, deciphering the many numerals (there were, like, 20 of them). Miraculously, I found the link…which said the pieces of mail in question were not yet in the system.

These were pieces of certified mail that our carrier had already attempted to deliver. How could they not be in the system?


So, what could make for a more enjoyable Saturday morning than driving to town — though in this case, it was not to rub elbows (or organically grown cotton shopping bags) with shoppers at our town’s widely admired farmers’ market, but to retrieve my two pieces of certified mail, which I expected were ongoing demands for payment. It’s not that I expect the worst; I just know from experience that when these issues have been sorted out, the notice of resolution comes via regular first class mail, not certified.

After waiting in line for 20 minutes while the friendly woman behind me talked to me nonstop about her garden, I finally got to the desk, where there was Just One Clerk working on regular mail. By that point I was so distracted by all the talk of eggplant, berries, and much-anticipated summer tomatoes that it didn’t register until I got home that I had only been given a single piece of mail, presumably because the overly busy clerk had not noticed the ditto marks and two long numerals on the second line.

When I opened the envelope, I found that this piece of mail simply repeated what its predecessors from many weeks ago had stated, with no acknowledgement that anyone on the receiving end had even read the explanation that my payroll service had re-sent when asked to do so by the government representative she’d spoken to on the phone.


What is going on?

For this professional woodworker, Monday morning has been rescheduled. I will not be milling walnut boards for the current dining table commission, but contacting my payroll service yet again. They have been very kind in helping me with this so far. This SNAFU is not of their doing, but results from the design of the relevant tax form, which subsumes several categories of “benefit” into a single line, which makes it look like taxable income.

This time I will probably go to their office so that I can be present while they call the authorities.

Fun addendum: I now have to try to track down that other piece of certified mail without the paper notice, since the Post Office clerk took the notice away, and in my eggplant-and-eagerly-anticipated-fresh-tomato-distracted state I signed a receipt stating that I had taken possession of something — was it just the one? or was it both? I have no idea. I only know that if I don’t track down this second notice, there will be hell to pay.

If you’re employed by someone else, you may regard this tale as dark comedy. But for those of us whose business and personal assets are on the line, depending on the performance of the official authorities’ employees, this kind of thing is anything but comedic. My livelihood depends on wise use of my time.

– Nancy Hiller


And then there’s this. A hardback book nearly bent in half? The mind boggles. Did someone drive over it? Note that the package is a padded mailing envelope. There is a reason why some of us invest in cardboard mailing boxes, which generally cost between $1 and $1.50 apiece, when sending books. (Photo sent to me by a would-be reader who purchased English Arts & Crafts Furniture, though not from the author)




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Showing 9 comments
  • Kim M

    Seriously! My experience with the distributor was very similar. I pre-ordered your book, and was impatiently awaiting its arrival. Imagine my dismay when I found a soggy mess on my front porch, the victim of an afternoon thunderstorm. I could only hope that there had been some protective plastic wrap around the book before packing it in the cardboard sandwich. No such luck. Upon tearing open a corner of the package, water flowed out at my feet, and the rest of the pack disintegrated in my hand, leaving me holding one very waterlogged book. Unacceptable! Jumping to the present, the book was replaced, and I am now very much enjoying it! The story in between was that I made 5 different calls to either the customer service number on the packing slip or customer service on the PW website before I finally got to speak with a live person about the situation (this was 72 hours after sending an e-mail that was acknowledged, but was unanswered.) Two of those calls I was on hold for over 15 minutes! I understand that this situation is not of your making. I only share this in the hope that as you pointed out, a few cents more for packing in the future would significantly improve the whole experience of acquiring your wonderful new book! Keep up the good work. I appreciate your words of wisdom and insight you shared in “Making Things Work”, and am already finding many gems as I mine my way through English Arts & Crafts. All the Best!

    • Nancy Hiller

      I’m so sorry to hear about your experience with the packing. I will pass it along to someone I know is working on getting the packing improved.

    • Zenmeister

      Another reason why not to vote democrat.

  • Kelly Craig

    I worked an IRS case about twenty years ago. It was before a grand jury, to give you an idea of the seriousness of the case. In the end, we won, but not before the IRS was able to verify the fact it’s own agents are far from competent to execute its own policies and procedures, or even the law.

    • Nancy Hiller

      Ugh!!! That is so depressing. I finally went out and bought a printer that also functions as a scanner and fax machine. Planning a 7 a.m. call to the authorities one day this week, fax at the ready.

  • Dan H

    The main reason it is so difficult to deal with the IRS is that, with few exceptions, all of the initial notices of payroll/income tax due are generated by a computer, which usually sends them out without any human review. Sometimes these notices are sent out multiple times. In my over 30 years of dealing with the IRS as an accountant, I can tell you that over 2/3 of the notices that I have ever seen are complete nonsense.
    Although it is frustrating to keep getting computer generated threats, your payroll service has made progress. They have actually talked to a human at the IRS. Hopefully the human and your payroll service can get things straightened out and then the IRS can unleash their computer generated nonsense on somebody else.
    Nearly 20 years ago a business school did a fairly large survey asking people to rate their satisfaction with their interactions with major businesses and agencies. The IRS came in dead last. The surveys conclusion was that “the IRS provides a service for which there is no natural demand”.
    Just hang in there.

    • Nancy Hiller

      Thanks very much for your insight. What a bizarre world.

  • SapwoodStudio

    Seriously, some one returned a damaged book to you that they ordered from another seller? Some people are ridiculous and RUDE.

    • Nancy Hiller

      Rest assured, the book was not returned to me. The buyer just wanted me to be aware of how the book had reached him. I want to know about this stuff so that I can send feedback to the publisher (who was not responsible for the packaging) and the warehouse that does the packaging.

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