How to Start a CNC Machining Business

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.

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 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. 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.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

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:

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

If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.

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.

Find a Domain Now

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After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free

STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

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

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire a Business Formation Service for a small additional fee.

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!

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

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?.

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

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

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.

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:

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.

Learn more about trademark and copyright protection

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.

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.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A CNC Machining Business In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

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.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

Entrepreneurship Quiz

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. Arsenal Products is a relatively small CNC machining business in Austin, Texas, and Plethora is an example of a larger company.

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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.

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:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

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.

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Generator.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

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