Lots of people go into construction after working alongside a friend or family member and feeling inspired by creating something strong, sturdy and functional.
That’s not exactly how it happened for Joshua Ferri.
“I come from a long line of people not in construction,” Ferri said with a laugh. “But I’ve always been good with my hands. It may sound kind of cliche, but growing up, I was great with Legos and putting things together without instructions. It was something I really enjoyed.”
When it came time to go to college, though, Ferri opted to take a different route and chose to study graphic design for marketing and advertising. He was interested in the field, but once he graduated and landed his first job as a printer, he soon realized the work wasn’t for him.
“I didn’t like being behind a desk,” he recalled. “And so I started taking up woodworking as a hobby so I could flex my creativity and work with my hands. Then pretty quickly it turned into something that people were willing to pay me for.”
Initially, Ferri was building a lot of cabinets but once people saw the quality of his work, they wanted to know what else he could do.
“I’d often get asked ‘do you build decks?’ and I’d say ‘no, not really,’” he said. “That just kept happening over and over again to the point where I was like ‘maybe I should be building decks.’”
And so based on popular demand, Ferri launched Wayzata-based Lakeside Decking in 2016. Now seven years later, he’s gone from installing five decks per year to doing upwards of 25 with his crew of four employees by his side. In addition to doing deck renovation and repair, Ferri prides himself on constructing customized, functional and beautiful decks that are built to stand the test of time – and the harsh Minnesota winters.
“What I love most about this work is the fact that we’re in a niche part of the construction industry that still allows us to flex our creativity,” he said. “There’s that element of ‘you know, it would be cool if we did this…’ and our clients love that and they want to do it, too.”
Like most entrepreneurs, Ferri has definitely learned a lot about what works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to running a business. If you’re contemplating going out on your own, here are a few of his tips and suggestions:
- Know your numbers: You can be a great leader. A fantastic boss. A person who is absolutely amazing at your skill, trade or practice. That said, Ferri noted, if you don’t know your numbers – for example, how much to charge customers, how much labor and materials cost and even the costs associated with your time – you’re not going to get anywhere. “It took me a long time to figure out what was going on and what I truly needed to charge to not only provide a good product but also to pay my expenses,” he said. If you’re not good with numbers (heck, even if you are), Ferri recommends hiring a bookkeeper and an accountant to keep your finances on track. “I’m in charge of the money so I do have to be disciplined, but I believe in letting the professionals do what they do best,” he said. “Hiring a bookkeeper and a tax accountant is the best thing I ever did.”
- Make sure you really like what you do: It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re not truly passionate about the concept behind your business, sticking with it long-term will be extremely challenging. It has to be something that’s in your heart, soul and spirit! “The moment your hobby becomes your job, it ceases to be your hobby and it’s now how you make a living,” Ferri said. If you’re thinking about turning something that you enjoy on a personal level into a professional venture, Ferri suggests doing a lot of reflecting before taking the leap. “I always told myself I didn’t want to go into woodworking full time because I didn’t want to resent it,” he said. “But I quickly realized that there was money to be made, a business that could be profitable and I liked the idea of being able to help people and solve their problems. That’s why I decided to give it a try.” And more than half a dozen years later, he couldn’t be happier with his choice.
- Find a mentor: Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to connect with people who do the same type of work you do. Ferri, for instance, did some research and discovered a business coaching program specifically for deck builders. By leaning on the expertise of people who have been in the field longer than he has, he’s been able to avoid common pitfalls, gain valuable insights and make more informed decisions, all of which have changed his business dramatically for the better. “If you can invest in a mentor or find someone who’s willing to mentor you and help you grow, it’s very much worth it,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there who just want to share their knowledge and finding them isn’t as hard as you might think.”
- Hire wisely: As your business grows, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to add people to your team. Before you do so, though, Ferri recommends preparing yourself both financially and mentally because it adds a new, highly important layer of responsibility. “When you hire someone, they’re relying on you to run your business properly to the point where they can trust that they’ll receive a paycheck so they can put food on the table,” he said. “I view having employees as the most sacred thing I do in my job because all four of the people who work for me have families. If my business goes under, they’re out of a job, and that’s why hiring people is something that I take very seriously.” If you choose to bring on new people, which Ferri decided to do once found himself spending more time at work than at home, be transparent about what the job entails. “I’m very honest and upfront in my job postings,” he said, noting he always has plenty of applicants. And while there are certainly fields where you need to hire people with experience, Ferri is absolutely fine with bringing people on board who have never done construction before. If that’s an option for your type of business, it may be something to consider when you start the hiring process. “I don’t care if you don’t know how to use a tape measure,” he said. “If you’re willing to put in the work and you fit our company culture and our core values, I’ll hire you – and I’ll train you how to use a tape measure.”
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