Many products that businesses use and sell are made through a highly precise process called computer numerical control (CNC) machining. CNC machining businesses specialize in this type of manufacturing, which uses computer-controlled machines to produce products with a high degree of accuracy.
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Learn how to start your own CNC Machining Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a CNC Machining Business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your CNC Machining Business
- Form your CNC Machining Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your CNC Machining Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your CNC Machining Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your CNC Machining Business
- Get CNC Machining Business Insurance
- Define your CNC Machining Business Brand
- Create your CNC Machining Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your CNC Machining Business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
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STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a CNC Machining Business?
CNC machines aren’t inexpensive. Lathes alone can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands, and many shops have several pieces of equipment. Nevertheless, there are ways for business owners to keep their startup costs relatively low -- and it’s possible to start a CNC machining business for very little.
First, many business owners start out working from their garage or a workshop that they already have. This eliminates the need to lease a workspace until there’s regular work.
Second, business owners don’t need lots of equipment or the fanciest available equipment when first getting started. For example, Todd Adlon opened his shop with just a mill and a lathe, adding equipment later on. Several other business owners got started with just a basic lathe.
Having only basic equipment will limit the amount and type of work that a CNC machining business can do, but there’s enough basic work available to support a small shop that has only one or two machines. Specifically, there are lots of clients who need prototypes made, and larger shops often won’t make one-off prototypes.
What are the ongoing expenses for a CNC Machining Business?
The ongoing expenses for a CNC machining business can be substantial. They include raw material costs, utilities, equipment maintenance costs, lease payments, and employee salaries.
Who is the target market?
Most CNC machining businesses serve other businesses, although a few make products that are directly marketed to individuals.
Business-to-business machine shops can be divided into two categories: job shops and product shops. Job shops take orders from clients and then make items that are built to their client’s specifications. Product shops design and create their own products, then sell those products to businesses.
How does a CNC Machining Business make money?
A CNC machining business makes money by selling machined parts. Prototypes may be sold as single items, but most orders are for large quantities of the same part.
How much can you charge customers?
The cost of CNC machining job varies greatly depending on the type of product ordered, how many are ordered and whether there are special setup requirements. Kennewell CNC Machining uses the following rubric to set prices for lathe jobs:
- A setup charge of $120 to $160
- Raw materials are marked up by 20 to 35 percent
- Special fixtures are added onto the total cost
- Machining is charged at a rate of $60 to $150 per hour
- Post-machining work that’s subcontracted is marked up by 20 to 35 percent
How much profit can a CNC Machining Business make?
Most successful CNC machining businesses operate on a 10 to 15 percent net profit margin. For a shop that has just $500,000 in annual work, that generates a profit of $50,000 to $75,000 on top of the business owner’s salary.
How can you make your business more profitable?
CNC machining businesses can increase their profitability and diversify their revenue by slowly expanding the machining services they offer. Shops can do this without taking on too much risk if they only expand when a contract for a different type of work becomes available. If a contract will pay for a new piece of equipment, then taking on that creates an easy way to afford new machinery that lets a business expand its offerings.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our CNC Machining Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your CNC Machining Business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a 3D printing design business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Trademark & Copyright Protection
If you are developing a unique product, concept, brand, or design, it is prudent to protect your rights by registering for the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a CNC Machining Business
CNC machining businesses may reach potential clients through industry organizations, networking events, and old-fashioned cold calling. Some businesses also have success working through platforms like Xometry, which matches product designers and other clients with CNC machining businesses.
How to keep customers coming back
CNC machining businesses can set themselves apart from many competitors by getting certifications that matter to their clients. Following ISO 9000 standards and becoming ISO 9001-certified are two marks that clients look for.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a CNC Machining Business in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
Anyone who likes building things and working with their hands may enjoy running a CNC machining business. Although machined parts are made by computerized equipment, there still is a substantial amount of hands-on work involved in the manufacturing process.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a CNC Machining Business?
CNC machining involves loading materials into machines, programming machines, and letting the machines run. Depending on the work being done and type of machine, it may be necessary to manually operate the machine or manipulate the parts at certain times.
When not working directly with machines, business owners and employees take customer orders, order additional supplies and ship completed orders. Additionally, there is usually a designated person who schedules the machining work to maximize efficiency. This person may be the business owner or an employee.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful CNC Machining Business?
Business owners must know how to operate CNC machines, which is more complex than using non-computerized equipment. Most business owners have previous experience working as a CNC machinist for other businesses, and those who aren’t already familiar with these machines may want to spend some time working for someone else before opening their own shop.
Additionally, business owners can take CNC machining classes. Vocational schools, technical schools, and community colleges sometimes offer such courses, and there are also online programs. Tooling University and SME are two organizations that offer online courses.
What is the growth potential for a CNC Machining Business?
A CNC machining business can remain a small operation that’s run by one or two people, or it can grow to be a large company that completes orders for clients throughout North America. American Tooling & Prototype is a local CNC machining business in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Plethora is an example of a larger company.
Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a CNC Machining Business?
Todd Adlon and many other business owners warn against growing a CNC machining business too quickly. Investing in equipment and hiring employees before a business is ready to only increases overhead and makes it harder to remain profitable.
Instead, a strategy that slowly grows a CNC machining business is more likely to provide long-term sustainability and profitability. Business owners should only hire employees once there’s enough work for them do to, only purchase machines once there are employees to operate them and only lease larger spaces once there’s the equipment to fill it.
How and when to build a team
Many business owners start out working by themselves, bringing on CNC machinists as employees once the business’ workload and revenue allows. Half of all CNC machinists make between $20.20 and $31.28 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.