Are you a good customer?

Alternative title, how do you know if your job is one somebody wants? These are related somewhat. By way of introduction, a designer sent me this question last week:

What do you need to determine if we are a fit for your skills or interest?

You’d think I’d know but it threw me off a bit. Simple question, hard answer. Sewing contractors and pattern makers have job minimums and preferences but we’ve also run into clients with promise and we don’t want to our criteria to weed them out so it is common to waffle a bit. Waffling -not because we’re trying to exclude anyone but because we hope we can find a way to make it work. Before I might have told this designer that I only did outerwear, suits, leather products or lined garments or anything tricky that requires atypical engineering or problem resolution (the harder the product is to make, the more I like it) but much of that work has gone offshore.

Anyone providing services to designers will vary, my (loose) criteria depends on the client, the job and preparedness:

The Client: They have to have my book. I wrote it to make it easier to work with designers. They don’t have to memorize it but having it handy during meetings or conversations helps a great deal because I can have them mark pages to read or show them which forms I need filled out. If they have it and we can use it as a tool, I don’t charge a consulting fee for providing additional information they need. If they don’t have it, they will have to pay a consulting fee ($125 an hour) for me to explain what is written in it. Silly as it is and in spite of the hours involved, some people prefer that.

The Job: It has to be worth it -I have a minimum (2 hours @ $50 an hour)- meaning, it must represent a value to the customer because I want them to come back. I didn’t used to have a minimum but I had to because I lose more money on small jobs. It’s a loss because I end up talking or writing to the customer (to set them up, develop a relationship and get our respective bearings) for at least two hours -and for which I don’t charge them- so I’ve already lost money before I ever start the pattern work itself. If the job is too small, something like a hanky, very few providers want to take it because paying $100 (in my example) for a hanky pattern is ridiculous. You might think we shouldn’t care but we do because you’ll then go out and tell other people how much you paid which will make us look bad. Again, the job has to be worth whatever the minimum hourly is.

Preparedness affects both parties. A good contractor or pattern maker won’t take work they’re not experienced with or don’t have the equipment for. There are always exceptions -say, it’s a very large sewing contract, worth buying a machine we need- but we mostly don’t.

Customer preparedness affects our level of preparedness too. A customer doesn’t have to know everything but they should be aware of what we expect from designers. Designers should also have expectations of the provider, usually pattern makers can give you a rough quote at the meeting. If the client needs a lot of hand holding or someone to facilitate sourcing etc, a provider may not take the job if they’re not set up to do it. I realize a lot of people think we should but this goes back to our level of preparedness. If we’re not experienced with it, do you really want to be our test subject and have to pay for the consequences of our mistakes? We don’t think you should which is why someone who is good will turn it down. I guarantee all my work. I’m not going to take work if I’m not confident I can stand behind what I’ve done.

My preference -this is just me- is to work with people who either do all their own sewing in house or have a solid relationship with a contractor or have someone in the pipeline who is good. My criteria is based on the kind of work I do. My focus is bringing clients and their products up another level or two. I help them revamp their product quality in ways I would consider meaningful meaning I help redesign their sewing process, their sizing, help them undo any bad habits etc to be able to make new kinds of products they’re not yet experienced with. Most of my clients have either been in business for a long time (10-30 years) or have my counterpart on staff.

As you can see, pattern making is only half the job. Training the designer or owner as to the new requirements of the higher quality product and training sewing operators on how to construct more complex products is the other half of it. I don’t know how many other pattern makers work like this or prefer these kinds of jobs. If I do my job well, their existing pattern maker will replace me unless the company is short a body and needs a freelancer for overflow anyway. In a manner of speaking, my goal is to make my customers independent so they don’t need me anymore.

I’d be very interested in hearing from other service providers as to what constitutes a good customer and or a good job.

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  1. Rocio says:

    To us, a good customer falls into one of these categories:
    – They don’t expect hand holding for free
    – They actually take the time to research and confirm that our suggestions are given for a valid reason
    – They see their product as a business, not as a hobby that may grow into a business
    – They take responsibility for their mistakes just like we take responsibility for ours

    A good job is always one that is profitable for us and for the client

  2. Karen Judge says:

    I think a good question to pose is “are you a good service provider?” It’s pretty obvious that because we are still small we are a lower priority for some (not all) of the service providers we work with. On one hand I can’t blame them for making their higher-paying clients a priority but on the other hand if I could send them a message it would be not to burn bridges. Some of us “little guys” become “big guys.” When I suspect my work is being back-seated for another client I just sigh and keep my sights on the road ahead.

  3. Kathleen says:

    I think a good question to pose is “are you a good service provider?”

    I write a lot about this and in fact, linked to given entries which themselves contained links to yet more of the same. If I covered every nuance this touches, it’d be book length. Hey, I already did that. At some point it can’t be all about the other party (service provider) which seems to be the running sentiment judging from comments on earlier entries.

    Ex: Over the past two weeks I’ve been trying to hire a contractor to dig a 180 foot long trench to get phone service to my building. It’s been a tough road, contractors are limited and it’s been a trial just to get a quote. And I don’t know why. I wish I did. There has to be some kind of hang up on the job. If I knew what it was, I could deal with it. Is it a matter of paying for a quote? I’d do that. Do they have a job minimum? I’d be willing to talk. I suspect I’m in the proverbial quandary of the $100 hankie. I’m not in a position to even have the opportunity to put a contractor on the hot seat as to whether they’re a good service provider. That’s my point. There are constraints we know nothing about -and I certainly wish it was something that could be discussed more frequently which was the purpose of my entry.

    What I was hoping someone would mention is the question of value and why it causes contractors turn down jobs. Value is a two way street. While the trench job might only be a value of $500 or so, it’s worth much more to me.

  4. David S says:

    One question for Kathleen, which applies broadly to other situations: Are you asking the right sort of contractor? In Kathleen’s case, is she asking excavating companies, or an electrician? 180 feet of trench for a phone line, which will be anywhere from 6″ to 24″ deep, depending on local practice, isn’t a big job (depending on the soil condition and contents, it’s anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple hours with a small trencher, plus time to install the cables, and backfill). It’s not enough for someone with oodles of expensive machinery with mortgage payments to be interested in. On the other hand, this is the sort of thing that (the right sort of) electricians do on a regular basis. They’re used to doing smaller jobs, dealing with homeowners (not just other contractors), etc.

    On an unrelated note, consider getting conduit buried, not just a bare wire. It won’t cost a whole lot more (most of the money is in the hole…) and will make it much easier to install additional wires when you want to in the future.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Good points David. Let’s call it a network referral problem. The phone company engineers came out to survey with the idea of installing an aerial line but that plan was a no-go. They left me names of two contractors they recommend (that’s all they do) who keep the cable in stock. They did mention I could hire a plumber to trench it and I could lay the cable (told me where to buy it, Greybar, where else?) and connect it myself. I started calling plumbers, just for the trenching quotes were crazy, upwards of $1,300. Happily tho, one of the contractors called me back an hour ago with a quote of @$350 plus tax and did I want to do it? He sounded dubious. Yes, I want to do it. [For that price, I’ll also supply beer, pizza and dancing girls.]

    You’re the 5th or 7th person to say I should lay conduit. I didn’t get a quote for it but I can go and get it and have them tack the install of it onto the job.

  6. Cheryl Lynn says:

    Funny :) I ALWAYS provide my workers/hired help/etc with food and drink…Beer and pizza ONLY when the job is completed :) YES…spring for conduit…..ALWAYS better to be PREPARED for the future…you know that :)

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