The glib answer is "How can I help you?".
Yeah there's a lot more to it, but I try to frame the relationship in those terms right from the first interview.
I ask them what they're trying to make, and I ask them where they think they are along that path.
I ask them how they intend to make it happen, including how they intend to pay for it all.
I ask lots of questions and I persist in the conversation until I understand what they want from me.
Half the people that first come to me, go away again and I never see them again.
Recognize that my customer base does not come to me for the usual machine shop contracts.
I have neither the equipment nor the infrastructure to compete credibly in that domain...others can do that far better than I and I let them know that.
So to a large extent I've already winnowed out the poor fits at the first interview by pointing them to others more capable than I if that's what they want or need.
I get Alpha projects because of it...small startups often, that are looking for a workshop to make a first prototype.
A "real" machine shop cannot afford to invest too much in these kinds of relationships...it's hard to make money this way if you are not versatile and many shops are not...not because they're stupid, but because their demands for business viability are so different from mine.
If you've got a warehouse full of Brothers running production, you won't make money this way.
Remember also, I have almost zero overhead and can afford to reject a relationship that isn't going to work.
As soon as you have payroll and machine payments and a mortgage, that luxury is much harder to insist upon.
So I offer them an initial contract in which they must trust me enough to pony up a small to moderate amount of cash up front.
I will use it up and we will have a review.
If they don't like how it's progressing they can terminate with no hard feelings and no lawsuits to recover my costs...I was paid beforehand.
Almost all continue to come to me...I can think offhand, of one in 40 years who walked away dis-satisfied after the first contract.
The relationship relaxes after that and I typically bill monthly.
If they won't risk that they're not serious and I'm better off without them.
For their money they get everything I can provide and that means design input, strategy input, the machine shop with all its resources, and my experience.
I sell what I know with a picture album, a few project samples, and an interview.
Many come to me through referrals from others who stopped being customers of mine as soon as they went to Beta development and outgrew me and what I can do for them.
I let them go ungrudgingly and continue to help wherever I can.
I still get calls from some of them for years.
So that's it...no big secret.
I've found a niche in my catchment area and I capitalize on it.
Apparently finding vendors who will do this is incredibly difficult, so I'm never short of work, but you must also remember that it doesn't take much to keep me in milk and cookies, and I do as well as I need to.
Whether Fred C can afford to run these kinds of customers this way is something I have no idea about, but it sounded like he has this kind of customer in this instance, and this is how I have found a way to be profitable off of this kind of customer.
So I share the experience and the mindset, in the hope that some of it will be useful.
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Vancouver Wire EDM -- Wire EDM Machining