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Tips for getting first customers?


May 19, 2020
So I have a pretty well kitted out shop in my garage and I've been making parts for myself for 5+ years and I thought I would start offering my services to he public. I've had a sign at the end of my road advertising my shop for about 6 months. I haven't really had any takers... and I would like to get at least a little regular business for myself. I am aiming to do the one offs and simple jobs that the big shops around me won't do or only do at ridiculous prices although I am kitted out to do much more. I don't need to make a living at this but would like to supplement my income on nights and weekends. Does anyone have some suggestions for how to start getting some customers and start building my hobby into a business?
I live in a very rural area, I doubt there's a law about signs here and doubly doubt there is anyone here to enforce it. The building code enforcer is subcontracted and covers a dozen townships, there is no code enforcer here. :D
Try the search function. We get a startup a week trying to figure it out. The consensus is find a different trade. Too many shops.

I did a tally last week. 42 shops In a 30 minute radius.
Try the search function. We get a startup a week trying to figure it out. The consensus is find a different trade. Too many shops.

I did a tally last week. 42 shops In a 30 minute radius.
How many job shops? How many take on repair work? How many are strictly medical?
Finding a machine job shop for non production work is work. Finding one that can drill and tap 4 holes in a rectangle- with holes meeting tolerance of plus minus what a ruler can readily see/ buy a lottery ticket.
So... Some good idea here: Craigslist, (already have facebook), car clubs, machinery clubs??? (like old tractors?), motorcycle clubs, I have usness cards, no website...

I have 7 shops in 30 mins, 2 are mega shops, 1 is automotive machine shop, 2 are fab shops (welding type), 1 is another startup going the mega direction and 1 is the local steel supplier with an attached CNC shop, I feel the lower end of the machining spectrum is not well served and that is my target. Most big shops don't want one-offs and charge extra when they do accept them.
My son in law is a top-class sales man. he is a likeable and confident guy who is on top of all man subjects like sports, hunting, man subjects. and can follow a customer's lead if the talk wanders, plus knowing all aspects of his product and some faults of other similar ones.
I had a sales man selling inserts and his NTK ceramic inserts proved best for a hard steel application.
He was a likable guy Sam Beto, new to the states fron Japan, but his hand shake was like a limp noodle.
I Told him Sam you have to have to have a dry hand an give a solid/strong, but not hurting grip, look me straight in the eyes and have a smile of confidence like you are greeting an old friend. He told me that his sales began to run much improved. And he offered me a 3-state sale region that I turned down.
My grinding bussiness was supported by knocking on doors, sometimes I would ask What is your problem job, give me a shot at that.
I have 7 shops in 30 mins
There's your ticket right there. Go to each shop, and like said, ask them for a shot at one of their trouble jobs...or a job they need done now...or maybe one done cheap.

"The race to the bottom" can be opposite for a startup shop: you quote cheap enough to get the customer's attention, and do it for a while until you get going really well. Buyers are under a lot of pressure to reduce costs where possible.

Then, you start "the race to the top": raise prices where needed, weed out (or sub-out) the shit jobs, go after and get more lucrative work, maybe add some products to the mix.

And "products" can be things like spare parts you have machined and put on the shelf for a regional industry, without a PO and with no obligation to the customer. Parts they are paying the OEM too much for, parts they can't get anywhere else, custom wear/break parts for their machinery.

When all a customer has to do is make a phone call and their breakdown part(s) are on their dock within a couple of hours, you can quickly become their best friend in business.

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