What's new
What's new

Question for all the shop owners.


Jan 7, 2006
When you were starting out and just getting your business off the ground how did you go about finding work? By this I mean, did you; have your own product, machine components for a previous employer, use a manufactures rep, pound the pavement knocking on doors in your areas industrial parks, attend job shop shows, hire a sales person (full or part time)...?

I am curious how others went about getting work when they were starting out.
Started with a company I KNEW I could get orders from, then hit the pavement, knocking on doors that looked like OEM shops and job shops. Asked about any outsourcing//overflow that they could use extra spindles for, which I happened to own. Eventually collected a myriad of work samples that I show whenever I get a chance. Gives them an idea of what I can do, and maybe even better, cheaper than can be done in-house
I had the tiniest bit of work from my previous employer, but mostly for me it was all about pounding the pavement and knocking on doors.

I did it in a somewhat unique way. I had my wife, a graphic designer, design a brochure that explained what my business was all about, equipment, experience, etc. She also designed the company logo, letterhead, business cards, etc. I had a former co-worker (MBA) help me with an introduction letter. I live near the Hanford Nuclear site in Washington State so there are a number of tech companies in the area. I then used the Technology Business Directory that the Pacific NW National Lab has compiled and targeted over 240 businesses for a mass mailing of my propaganda.

Honestly, my realistic goal was for a 2% response from the mailing. In fact, I received 5% response and 6 of those companies have become steady customers. Word of mouth referrals from these customers have netted me more customers as well.

Certainly not the recommend way of doing it, but it worked for me.
""Certainly not the recommend way of doing it, but it worked for me.""

I laughed when I saw this because I purposely do things differently from the recommened way. Thanks for sharing what worked.
Thank you for the input. I have been pondering the best way to reach perspective clients. It sounds as though there is no substitute for going door to door, Which is really what I thought. Any more ideas, I'd love to hear them.
I have an outside sales rep. I pay him 10% commission, no salary. He represents other shops besides mine, but each have a certain type of target work. My shop runs mostly prototype work, while others run production, and some do sheet metal work, EDM, grinding,etc... This has worked out very well for me. He has landed some really good clients for my shop.
I learned in sales long ago to use the old wagonwheel approach. Use your location
as the hub and start calling on everyone around you within say 5 miles,10 miles,etc.
My best customers are less than 5 miles away. I am still shocked sometimes when I
find out what is going on close by, and you won't know until you start digging.
Find a Niche

Couple of things:
Research - Honesly, read business and sales books. You could be the best damn machinist out there but if you can't run the business (all aspects) you're in trouble. Research also means keep you eyes and ears open all the time. Ask questions, listen to others conversations. If you go to a plater, or heat treater, or another shop see what parts are being made. Drive through the local industrial park or check the yellow pages to see who's doing what. Then.......FILL THE VOID! Find the work they are not doing, can't do, or don't want to do. Find your niche and complement them:) You won't been seen as competition that way. You will be "hey, that's the guy that does all our___________"
If there are 12 tool sharpening shops in a 5 mile radius, don't open a tool grinding shop.
Yes, we started our business by getting a little work from a former employer of mine. Work that they could not find anyone else to do. Turns out other businesses had the same issue and we fill a nice little niche, locally and across the US of A.

Don't be ashamed or scared to talk to people about work. There is nothing wrong with self promotion. Always approach it that you are there to help them out.
Do good work, be honest and fair. Then word of mouth brings good things to you.
Do some door knocking and networking. Look for contacts through friends and relatives. Try to get aquainted with as many people you can that are in your line of work.

Mailings and listings in the phone book were not productive for me. The internet has not been productive either. However, after making personal contact a web page is helpful. A web page is a good way for people to see what you are all about.

I do not know what kind of machine work you do.
we are a manual job shop and we have a brochure that we made as well as business cards, website, and local advertising. the thing that has worked best for us is that door to door and offering a service that our competitors do not. we have four machinists and two welders on call 24/7. we charge overtime for anything over 8 hours in a day and for saturdays, and double time on sundays. customers will pay for the service if we can fix stuff when no one else will. We also do a lot of work pick up and delivery for good customers. we go to the mills at least three times a week to see the head millwrights and pick up work. donuts and ad hats do wonders with these guys. the combination of good customer service and unique shop availability is a huge draw to folks.
All I may add is that no matter what kind of shop you are you either need to be a very good salesperson or hire one. I'm in South Carolina near the BMW plant and I am only still in business because everything is paid for. I mean I owe nothing on my machines or fab stuff. The building is mine also and all I get for bills is a power bill. I have CNC mills and manual stuff in lathes and mills but no work. I'm just not a good salesperson at all so I spend most of my time now making projects for church or friends. See my past customers have all been bought out by others who took them to china or mexico. Only thing I have going right now is that scrape steel is real high and I'm taking anything old apart and to the scrape yard. I sure hope you have better luck than I did even though it was a very good 15 years and at 50 I'm just to damned old and tired to start over, guess I'll just piddle for enough money to keep the lights turned on,,,,,best of luck to you again,,,,,

Chuck H.

PS. I was told by a good friend in the business that I'm a real good ole'boy but the trouble is that the demand for good ole'boys is really down right now,,,,,
Last edited:
I wish you the best of luck in finding work, as I know how tough it is. I owned a shop prior to 9/11, and it was easy to find work. Now having started a new shop I am finding it difficult to get started again. I have been out knocking doors with no luck, seems everyone is laying off. As several of the other guys on here have said, find something you enjoy and persue that. My real saving grace is the fact my new shop is only part time. I do plan on getting a few liscenses and larger machines. Also keep in mind, if everything is paid for you will have less to worry about. I only owe on the building and land, and that is a small mortgage payment. Again, I wish you the best of luck. Try some of the tips given earlier, I know I will be trying them.

For me it was like others said, create a product that meets a need, then produce it to pay the bills. Stay low profile and low cost to keep the asians from trying to duplicate it.

I'm a complete newbie at running my own shop, BUT I've picked up a few jobs here and there by looking at the "wanted" ad's in the paper. Then going and talking to the owner/person in charge and showing them what I can do and at what price. Sofar it's worked. I've got my finger's crossed that it leads to a few contracts, which it appears it will.