Sherman Ssemambo started doing carpentry work three years, after completing a degree in art and industrial design, majoring in multimedia crafting and printmaking, at Kyambogo University.
He chose to use wood as his preferred material because, during his final year at university, the class was asked to make a toy car as their final project.
He undertook the assignment with a carpenter because, they are not taught carpentry work. But like fate would have it, his interaction with a carpenter, got his imaginative side tickled and inspired him to work with wood.
During his vacation, Ssemambo worked with a decoration company that dealt with different themes; vintage, the late 1990s, which gave him the opportunity to think up and come with creatively made centrepieces and photo booths.
The work kept both his hands and mind crafty and busy. And voices of conveyors of stereotypes such as ‘ba artists baavu’, interpreted to mean that ‘artists are poor/broke’ and jobless, could not stop him from exploring opportunities to earn a living, anymore.
How he started
Besides moonlighting with the decoration company and then with the interaction he had had with the carpenter, he was focusing his mind towards doing more to commercialise the skills he had galvanised.
The debate on whether to look for a job or become self-employed kept running in his head. When he sought advice from a close friend, he told him to set up a carpentry workshop which would make woodwork items that he could sell firstly among family members and friends as initial customers who will most likely give generous feedback and support.
Beyond visiting and enjoying pleasantries in people’s homes, the fresh graduate began selling ideas within his immediate circle.
He would recommend a well-made wall hanging for the living room, a utensil holder in the kitchen, a mirror for the bathroom, a durable dining table and chair to go with, and more.
People trusted, almost took a gamble, with what he promised to deliver. They were astonished at the quality of his work that came with a good finish and creative touch. One of his first customers was his aunt, Barbara Musoke, from whom he earned Shs600,000 for making two mirror pieces.
She was impressed, and says: “Sherman was born flowing with laughter and other things that make others happy. He is a man of very few words and load of laughter. It is this attention to detail that inspires his art. I think in his silence he sees how to fill up spaces. He works with his hands. Give him music, food, and anything he will make art. I think the best thing about him is his ability to teach children how to make art. I think in Sherman, children see an age mate and they connect. With him, any child can make art.”
He did the pieces using manual tools. With the earning, he bought his first drill at Shs220,000, a handsaw at Shs15,000 and used the rest of the money to clear rental dues for Shs120,000 per month as well as material requirements at the art school where he was completing the degree.
His uncle, Ivan Ssenfuma, gave him the opportunity through his friend, to do 3D model pieces at the Ministry of Energy, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL), and Rural Electrification Authority (REA).
Today, he describes himself as a social, hardworking and open-minded person. He makes pallet furniture and brings to life concepts of decorators that need to be made.
He works with both children and youth in skill empowerment and also makes 3D models. He was motivated to start doing this thanks to specialisation in multimedia crafting.
Most of his works were basically made out of wood, so the more he ventured into the wood and its workmanship the more he fell in love with all that that comes with wood art.
The beginnings were not easy as he tried to find his bearing and focus. With the right people and as he gained more experience, work became easier and manageable.
Besides the knowledge he acquired at university, Ssemambo has utilised the internet as well as learning from fellow artists, age mates and the older ones in the craft.
He adds: “The knowledge that I got from what I studied (bachelor of art and industrial design) helps me out in organising myself before I start on a project.”
I ask him what makes his work unique and in response, he borrows the saying, ‘two heads are better than one’. “I work with fellow artists that generate genius ideas that help me produce quality furniture work and art-based products and also the ‘Four Principles’ to identify strengths and needs, hold high expectations, provide support, and display and celebrate outcomes,” the director of the newly established Rabito Creatives explains.
His biggest expenditure is on the maintenance of the machines he uses in his work. He has to routinely maintain them, at least every two months. In business, he has made some losses, the biggest being one when he underquoted project materials and ended up using all the professional labour fee he was to get in order to get the job done.
Abrupt increase in prices of material, indecisive clients, delays in payments, and more are some of the challenges that come with his job. He mitigates the challenges by doing enough market research, keeping records of what is discussed with clients and releasing the products only after full payment.
Nonetheless, the biggest lesson in doing business is, the client is always right. He draws his biggest inspiration from Sheila Namanya, who works with Imara Concepts Limited, a company that offers capacity building services, which include team building, marketing, digital transformation, and workplace fitness programmes.
Ssemambo admires her for the way she interacts with clients, organises her workload, and how she motivates him to do his work. When contacted, Namanya says that working with Ssemambo has been inspiring.
“He is very creative and not afraid to take on new ventures where few have gone before. He believes in the power of collaboration and so he gives opportunities to fellow youth. He also uses art to spark creativity among children by working with families, charity organisations, and boy’s mentoring groups,” she says.
Namanya also adds that she was impressed to learn that Ssemambo provides a creative space for children in the community to practice their art skills as well as also collaborate with fellow artists to deliver on complex projects such as 3D artistic impressions.
The artist is also a team-building facilitator and a fitness instructor with Imara Concepts Ltd. Ssemambo’s business advice is to always put God first in all the things you do and make the right connections in terms of friends and associates.
From his observation, artists can do and earn a lot more but many are more individualistic. “We do not normally work as a group of creatives which makes us miss out on being paid our worth if we had, for instance, worked and negotiated as a group,” he notes.
As such, he does not have a permanent team. He calls on different people, based on their skills, to join in on undertaking assignments on projects. On a general scope, he observes that in Uganda, many locals appreciate functional art such as a mirror in which one can see their reflection as opposed to buying or rightly valuing a piece of art to enhance the beauty of their living room.
When I ask him how he prices his products, Ssemambo explains that he is still learning. For now, he calculates the materials he is to use, the tools and power they will use then adds labour as well as time to be used.
From the profit made, the art graduate is ploughing it back with a dream of growing the business. He is buying tools of the trade; compressor at Shs500,000, jigsaw blade at Shs500,000, polisher/sander at Shs700,000, circular saw at Shs1m, and his initial drill at Shs220,000, wood burner at Shs400,000.
Tips for starting a carpentry
The carpentry business is a competitive field. Whether you are just getting started or looking to grow your carpentry business, careful planning is essential to success.
That is why it is important to think strategically for the long term. Sure, you may have plenty of journeyman carpentry jobs today, but what about the future? You’ll want a steady pipeline of work — to have new business coming to you and return customers.
There are many ways to market and grow your carpentry business, but we have come up with tips to help your business grow.
Before we dig into the tips, it is good to review what you have already built. You know that a strong foundation is necessary to build upon if you’re going to expand.
To be a successful carpenter, you must first and foremost be excellent at your job. That is, you are professional, flexible and reliable, delivering quality results in a timely fashion. But do you already have these important aspects taken care of?
You can write a simple business plan to serve as your touchstone. It doesn’t need to be longer than a page but can help provide focus.
A contract template
It is important to have things in writing to be on the safe side. You can have a lawyer write up a standard contract, then remember to update the details and get clients to sign before you begin work.
Create a website
A website is not an absolute must in the carpentry business, but it certainly can help. You don’t need to invest too much here. Even a one or two-page website will do. You will want to include the following information:
Services offered. Ideally, include pictures so customers can get a sense of your work.
Background information. Include details such as how long you’ve been a carpenter, where you have worked in the past, any certifications you have. You will also want to include a clear recent photo of yourself.
Build a social media presence
Again, you do not need to be on social media to grow your carpentry business. Some people like it; others don’t see the point. It’s up to you and where your target customers can find you.
However, if you are into social media, Facebook can help you grow. You can post pictures of your work, answer questions, and use the page as a de facto website.
Once you create a Facebook page for your business, you can also advertise on Facebook if you have the budget. You can target ads to local users through what’s called geo-targeting.
Create business listings
Did you know that 97 percent of people learn more about local businesses via the internet? That means even if you decide not to set up a website or social media profile, you will want to set up business listings online for searchability.
You can start by listing your business on Google Maps, Yelp, and other business directories.
Be sure to provide all necessary information such as business name, phone number, and what your business does.
The more places you list your business, the more opportunities you’ll have to attract potential customers and differentiate yourself from other carpenters in your area.
Get business cards
Even in a digital world full of smartphones where clients can find your contact information online, there’s still a need for business cards.
You never know when there is a potential business opportunity, so having them on-hand is convenient. You can print them up on magnets so customers can stick them on the fridge. Always make sure to leave a few behind when you finish a job so that customers can pin you up on the fridge in plain sight.
Consider branded vehicles
Adding your logo and contact details to work vehicles and the clothes you wear on the job does two things. First of all, it makes you (and any team members) look more professional. Second, it serves as a form of advertising to all passersby. This is inexpensive and effective marketing at its best.
Update your Instagram account
Life is getting more visual these days, and Instagram is more popular than ever. So set up an account and post pictures of projects there. It’s a great way to showcase your work.
You can post pictures of your handiwork and show potential customers how you get the job done, the efficiency of your work, and your attention to detail. Of course, make sure your customer is okay with you posting the work.
Aside from your work, you can also use your account for brand-building, helping people get to know you. Maybe you want to offer helpful tips and tricks through images and videos. Or maybe you want to show a human side by posting creative TikTok-style short videos and memes.
Better define your services
As a carpenter, you have a wide world of opportunities. Right now, you likely operate in a niche market you have carved out for yourself. Are you mostly doing bathrooms, kitchens, cabinets, small jobs, or major overhauls?
There are two ways to approach this when growing your carpentry business. You can either better define your niche, differentiating yourself as an expert in your field. For example, customers would know that you’re the “go-to” person for all bathroom renovations.
Or, you can expand your services. You can let people know you’re a jack of all trades and that you do all sorts of carpentry work.
Reach out to past clients
Customer acquisition is far more difficult (and costly!) than customer retention. Once a customer has used your services, they will likely do so again if they were satisfied.
Of course, most people are not re-doing their homes on an annual basis. But they could need work on their fence once a year, add new door frames the following year, and do some work on their stairs the year after that.
Knowing this, you can periodically reach out to customers and remind them of the types of jobs you are doing. For example, things such as rafters, rooftops and fences are generally great business ideas for the spring. Or, you could offer to repair siding in autumn to prep homes for upcoming storms.
Ask for referrals
Many business owners may feel shy about asking for referrals, but it is well worth it. People are 90 percent more likely to trust and buy something when recommended by a friend, which is probably the most effective marketing tactic in this list. You can offer an incentive for word of mouth referrals. For example, a free tablet or dinner for two if someone sends you a full house renovation. Or you could offer a discount on future services for a referral. Even a heartfelt thank you note is a nice way to acknowledge someone throwing some business your way.
Improve your carpentry skills
While you are a master of your trade, with excellent skills and the reputation to match, there’s always room to learn. So, when growing your carpenter business, you may want to explore professional carpenter courses. Options include technical trade schools, carpentry colleges and all sorts of certification programs. These are great for building your credentials. Or, if you want to improve your skills or venture into a new carpentry area, you can take a specialised class. —Source: nextinsurance