How to start a profitable laser engraving business

With a laser engraver, you can laser mark or laser cut lots of different materials and products. In other words, the earning potential of a laser engraving business is unlimited. Here are just some of the items that you can mark with your laser engraver;

  • Laptop covers
  • iPhone covers
  • Awards
  • Plaques
  • Photo frames
  • Jewelry items
  • Coasters
  • Assorted interior décor items
  • Etc.

So how do you get started? In this guide, we will give you a step by step procedure to set up your laser engraving business at home.

Why start a laser engraving business?

  • Huge profit margins

Laser engraving is the best way of adding value to otherwise bland objects. Value addition is one of the easiest ways of charging a premium for products. People naturally gravitate towards personalized items and they won’t mind spending more for such items. You can easily buy a piece of jewelry, add customized engravings on it and sell it for a lot more than you would without the engraving. Suffice it to say that laser engraved items will give you very good margins.

  • Accuracy

With a laser engraver, accuracy can be one of your unique selling points. For instance, you will need to achieve accuracy when engraving a logo for a startup. A laser engraving machine also ensures crisp, clean, and long-lasting marks. The actual accuracy of a laser machine is dependent on the size of the beam hitting the medium. Small beams translate to detailed resolutions that offer tremendous results. Such kind of accuracy lets you create legible designs, however small they are.

  • Speed

Unlike traditional methods of engraving jewelry and other items, laser engraving will deliver fast results without compromising on the quality. This is because it has minimal moving parts and can heat any material in seconds. For instance, a laser engraver can create a detailed design on a metal surface in a record five seconds. This high speed will help you reduce your product turnover which will ultimately improve your margins as well as your customer satisfaction.

  • 3D engraving

With 3D engraving, you can engrave on curved, conical, triangular, round, cylindrical, and more uneven surfaces without compromising the outcome of the product. It is, therefore, possible to laser engrave on items like wine glasses, flutes, curved glass, and other non-flat objects.

  • Low input costs

Even though a professional laser engraver is a bit pricey ($5,000-$10,000), you can still get a relatively good one under $500 that will still get the job done. But even if you decide to go with the expensive ones, this is just a one-time cost. Once you have purchased the laser engraver, you will not incur a lot of costs on maintenance because the machine will not require frequent replacement of parts. This not only means your break-even point will come sooner but it also means you can afford to offer inexpensive prices without running at a loss.

  • Eco-friendliness

A laser engraver has no ink or chemical compounds. It is therefore quite gentle to the environment. Additionally, its machine parts experience minimal wear and tear over time and thus require little replacement.

  • Convenience

When you purchase a laser engraver, it should come with a detailed user manual. These manuals are usually very easy to follow and any novice can set up the machine and be good to go in a breeze. With a laser engraver, you can easily mark your bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, watches, and other jewelry products. It is also possible to easily customize products with names and initials, personalized quotes, dates, signatures, photos, graphic designs, company or personal logos, crests, and family mottos.

What you need to start a laser engraving business

Create a plan for your business

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Now that you have an exciting business idea, take time to think it through before you jump the gun. According to Neil Patel, 90% of all startups fail. There are many possible explanations of this sad statistic but it mostly boils down to lack of proper planning. Do not be in a hurry to start your laser engraving business before you create a plan or you might end up as part of the statistics. Abraham Lincoln once said, “give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.” This is the attitude to adopt when starting anything – and especially a business venture. Most entrepreneurs dislike the process of creating a business plan but this is what will either make or break your business.

The components of a business plan vary from business to business but there are some must-have components for your laser engraving business plan. These are:

Business description

Before you describe your business, you must first of all research the laser engraving industry in order to determine the opportunities and possibilities in the industry. You will want to take note of any products or developments in the industry that might impact your business whether negatively or positively. This will call for some research and it is important to only get data from credible sources. This section is particularly important if you are thinking of looking for financing for your laser engraving business.

The business description should also cover the structure of the business. This is where you specify whether it is going to be a sole proprietorship or whether you are doing it with a business partner. If the business is not a sole proprietorship, give details of who the principals are and what they are bringing to the table. You should also mention what products you will deal with and who you intend to sell the product to. Be clear on how you intend to give your products a competitive edge in the market. For instance, you may be looking to create higher quality products by using the best laser engraver and the highest quality of materials.

Once you have succinctly described your business, you must then ask the million-dollar question – “how will I profit from this venture?” This is the section of the business plan where you explain why you think the business venture will be profitable. Here are some important factors that can help to guarantee the profitability of your laser engraving business:

  • Acquire a state-of-the-art laser engraver
  • Use the highest quality materials
  • Growing demand for the product
  • Competitive pricing strategy

If you intend to use the business plan for sourcing funding, you should also explain why the business expenses will make the venture more profitable. You can briefly mention the factors that will help you to be profitable in the laser engraving business.

Marketing strategy

It wouldn’t make sense to start a laser engraving business before you figure out a marketing strategy. As an entrepreneur, you must be ready to perform meticulous market analysis in order to understand all the important market forces in your market segment. Understanding the important marketing aspects will help you carve out a niche that you can then target with your products. Without this step, it will be practically impossible to garner your share of sales once you start producing your laser engraved products. Additionally, analyzing the market will also help you to determine your pricing strategy. Knowing what your competition is charging and how that is affecting their sales can help you know the possible pricing points to work with. Understand the market dynamics will also help you to understand the potential to grow your laser engraving business with time.

If you head over to leading eCommerce websites like Amazon and eBay, you will get some good data that can help you to guestimate how big the market is. Another great source of market research would be Etsy. Unlike Amazon and eBay, Etsy specializes in handcrafted items so most people who are already in the laser engraving business will most likely set up their shops on Etsy. But in addition to this, some people prefer selling their products directly from their own websites. This is actually the most profitable route because you won’t be sharing any of the profits with an intermediary. You can use Google to search for any competitors who are selling products on their own websites. The reviews from verified buyers is a good metric because it gives you a good estimate of how many people are buying from your competitors.

As you study the market, think of how you are going to segment yours. For instance, you can decide to target a segment that is under-served by your competition. Such a segment will have the least barriers of entry and it will be pretty easy to place yourself as the market leader. But you can still go with a saturated market but this calls for harder work and more creativity. For instance, you must differentiate your products to give your customers extra value in order to convince them to buy from you. You could also use geographical locations to segment your market. If you do not want to ship products outside the state or country, then you will have to segment the market to the number of customers within the geographical location.

The positioning of your laser engraving business is a very important component of your marketing strategy. In order to know the best route to take when positioning your products is to answer the following questions;

  • How are your products different from those of your competitors?
  • What extra value will you offer to your customers?
  • What customer needs will your products will meet?

The last question is perhaps the most important for your marketing strategy. Don’t just create a product because you think it looks good. People will naturally admire something that looks good but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will spend money on it. However, everyone is more than happy to spend money on a product that meets a need they have. The aesthetics the product should not be the main selling point but more of an added value – the main point should be to meet a specific need. If you can figure that out, you are almost guaranteed to have a profitable laser engraving business.

Pricing strategy

In addition to preparing a marketing strategy, you must also think of the pricing strategy you want to adopt. Your pricing strategy will have a direct impact on the success or failure of your laser engraving business so you want to get it right from the very onset. Before you develop a pricing strategy, you need to find out what your competition is charging. Understanding this will help you to know what your potential customers are willing to pay for the products. However, this is not to mean that you should charge what your competition is charging. In fact, you can still choose to charge way more than most of your competition as long as you can offer your customers real value.  In other words, there are two main avenues you can take in determining the pricing of your products;

  • Charge less than your competition

Charging less than your competition is an easy strategy to pull off. Every shopper loves a good deal and if they discover that your products cost less than what other sellers are offering, they will most likely purchase from you. But you have to market your products really well to convince them that your products are not cheaper because they are inferior. Obviously, you shouldn’t take this route if charging less than your competition will not yield a profit. 

  • Charge more than your competition

Yes, you can charge more than your competition and still attract lots of customers. But before adopting this pricing strategy, take time to research your competition and figure out what extra value you can offer your customers. While it is true that shoppers are almost always looking for a good deal, most of them won’t mind spending an extra buck if they get extra value for it.

I have written a more detailed blog post on how to determine the price for your laser engraved items.

The equipment

After creating a formidable plan for your laser engraving business, the next step is to acquire the equipment you need to get started. On a bare minimum, the following are the equipment you need.

A laser engraving machine

Contrary to common belief, a laser engraver doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Yes, some laser engravers cost at least $10,000 but you don’t need such a laser engraver for a home-based laser engraving business. If you head over to Amazon, you will get lots of really affordable laser engravers (under $500). I have researched extensively and have found the top 11 inexpensive laser engraving machines for starting a laser engraving business. Read the entire buying guide here

So how do you know the best laser machine from the lots of options available? The first thing to consider is the size of the machine or more precisely, the size of the laser engraver bed. The bed size will determine the size of the material you can engrave. It is also important to think of whether or not you want an adjustable bed size. Some engravers have a fixed bed size which means you can only engrave materials of fixed dimensions. The laser power is also an important consideration to make. How powerful a laser engraver is will be determined by the wattage of the engraver. This wattage will have an overall effect on how fast you can engrave through the material. Last but not least, look for an engraver that has clear user instructions and /or documentation. This will come in handy if you need to troubleshoot it.

Here are some of the important things to look out for when buying a laser engraver for your engraving business

Size of the work surface: the size of the work surface or build platform is where you will place your material for engraving. As you may have guessed, a big allowance for the work surface lets you play with varied applications. Common laser engraver models have work surfaces of either 12” x 18” or 12” x 16”. Technically, these are large enough to handle most home-based engraving projects. For more flexibility and versatility, purchase a laser machine with the dimensions of 12” x 24”.

Power output: sure, you can get your hands on a cheap, low-powered laser engraver on Amazon or eBay but if you can, purchase one with high power output. A machine with a maximum power output of 25W can engrave the most common materials with zero technical issues. If your budget allows, push it to 50W or more.

Efficiency: When it comes to a laser engraver, the efficiency is determined by the quality of service from it. Before shelling out cash, determine whether it comes with reliable maintenance service and good technical support. As a starter, you might want to settle for a reputable brand with good reviews.

A computer

You will need a computer that can support good graphic manipulation software like Photoshop. Here are the minimum requirements for the computer;

  • Intel core 2 or an AMD Athlon 64 processor (at least 2GHz)
  • Microsoft Windows 7 or higher
  • At least 2 GB Ram although 8 GB would be really good
  • 1024 x 78 display with a 16-Bit color or more
  • At least 2.6 GB of free disk space

Photo editing software needs a lot of memory and if you install them on lesser computers, the computer will probably hang or become annoyingly slow. So, if you can afford it, go for a computer that has higher specs than the minimum requirements. If you already have a computer that meets the requirements, you do not have to buy a new one. You need the computer typically connects to the laser engraver via a USB port just like a printer does and works the same way too. Once the graphic is good to go, you can send the command to “print” (or to be more accurate, to engrave) almost the same way you would print a document with a printer.  

You will also need photo editing software installed on your computer. Even though I recommend using photoshop, some laser engravers come with their own dedicated software which you can install on your computer. It will be much easier to go with the default software. However, if you are tech-savvy, you might find it easier to manipulate the graphics in photoshop or another software of your choice.

Business registration

This is an often-overlooked step but it is very important to register your laser engraving business. If you skip this step, you could run into all manner of problems. For instance, if one of your customers sues you, you will have to take liability. But if you have a registered business, your personal liability will be absolved by the company. Registering your business also makes it possible for you to meet other important statutory requirements like filing your taxes.

There are many business structures that you can choose from but the most popular is the Limited Liability Company (LLC). It is important to work with a duly registered agent. The agent will guide you on the most ideal structure for your business. Ideally, the agent should also help you to register for federal and state taxes. Alternatively, you can register for an EIN on the IRS website for free. The EIN will be mailed or faxed to you. Another advantage of registering your laser engraving business is that you can open bank accounts for it. This will help to protect your personal assets. If you mix your business transactions and other personal transactions, your personal assets are exposed to risk in case of a legal tussle.

Branding

Brand development or brand design is the process of creating a name, a symbol, a design or a combination of all these to come up with a unique identifier for your company. Branding is very important in your business because your brand is what your clients will interact with first before they even sample your products. In fact, all successful startups invested a lot of time and money in brand development before their businesses took off. Before you start a laser engraving business, think of your branding and invest some money in it. Here are some of the important components of your branding.

Business name

The first step is coming up with a good business name. Remember, rebranding is usually quite an expensive affair so you want to get the business name right from the very onset. Think of how the business name you have in mind sounds to other people and try to see if there are any ambiguities. Think of how the name affects other branding components (e.g. a possible domain name or how it will look on a business card). A good business name should be short, descriptive and easy to remember. 

Business Slogan

A good business slogan can help to not only capture the interest of prospective buyers. A good slogan will tell your customers what your business is all about and what they should expect from you.  The slogan should be trendy and interesting in order to stick in the mind of the customer after they read it for the first time. It is common practice to use the slogan alongside the company logo and business name.

A business logo is one of the surest ways to demonstrate to would-be clients that you are running a trustworthy and professional business. Just like the slogan, a logo plays a huge rule in creating a brand identity. In fact, as soon as you come up with a good business name, the next undertaking should be to create your business logo. and the best part is you don’t need to break the bank in order to get a good logo designer. If you head over to fiverr.com, you will find lots of awesome graphic designers that will give you a great logo design for as little as $5.00. What I like about Fiverr designers is that they often give you more than one concept and some even offer unlimited revisions until you are completely satisfied with the logo. I have already bought two logos from fiverr and in both cases, my expectations were exceeded.

Website + domain name

The final step in your branding strategy is building a website. In this time and age, you cannot run a successful business without a website. While it is true that the brick and mortar model will not go away any time soon, the modern customer still wants a website where they can get information about a company’s products and services before they commit to making a purchase. A website is more than just a branding asset – it also serves as a powerful marketing tool. In fact, you can also incorporate a shopping cart solution to allow your clients to shop for your laser engraved products from the comfort of their homes.

A couple of decades ago, web design a reserve for geeks who would type incomprehensible code into some text editor all day in order to end up with a one-page static website. But the onset of content management systems has made it possible for any novice to create an aesthetically appealing website in just a couple of minutes. Here are the steps to follow in order to create a professional website;

Step 1: Register a domain name

Your domain name should ideally be the same as your business name. If you register a domain name that is totally different from your business name, people will be left wondering whether they are dealing with two different companies. To avoid this, do a domain name search when coming up with a business name. domize.com is an awesome free tool that you can use to search for a good domain name.

Step 2: Add hosting

Once you have found a good domain name, go ahead and register it and add a hosting account. It is important to work with a reliable webhost because you do not want to deal with any downtime issues once your business is up and running. But at the same time, you don’t necessarily have to pay a premium Webhosting rate for a startup. It is wiser to start small and scale the hosting as the need arises. WordPress recommends using Bluehost for hosting WordPress websites. With Bluehost, you are guaranteed a 99.9% uptime and you even get a free SSL certificate. Bluehost also gives you a 30-day moneyback guarantee so there is absolutely no risk. So, you can just purchase their hosting and test it out for 30 days. If you don’t like what you get, you can just cancel your subscription and you will get your money back.

Step 3: Install WordPress

After buying your domain name and setting up your hosting account, you will be ready to start building your laser engraving business website. The first step is to install WordPress. Bluehost offers a one-click install script in their cPanel so this will just be a breeze. They have awesome customer support too which may come in handy if you need assistance during the installation. In fact, if you are unsure of how to do it, they will be happy to install it for you. After you install WordPress, login to the admin dashboard and install a good theme. You can find lots of free themes from the WordPress theme repository but if you are looking to have a professional look, it is best to purchase a premium theme from ThemeForest. These themes come with comprehensive documentation that will help you to customize the theme in a very short time. Alternatively, you can ask for an envanto (ThemeForest mother company) expert to install and customize the theme for you at a subsidized rate. These details are usually provided on the theme purchase page.

Customizing the theme includes adding your logo, slogan, changing the demo content to your custom content and any other settings that will make your website unique. If you want to add a shopping cart to your website, then make sure to install the WooCommerce plugin and use its prebuilt wizard to customize your shop. Alternatively, purchase a theme that was specifically designed for WooCommerce and customize accordingly.

Create, promote, sell, repeat.

Now that you have finished setting up your laser engraving business, all that is left is for you to start creating your awesome engraved items that you can then market on your website, on social media, and through other channels. Do not get discouraged if you do not get sales instantly. It might take a while before you position yourself in your niche but with some determination and hard work, the sales should start tricking in.