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.