Sourcing Subcontract Engineering Suppliers As a Startup Business

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with ten years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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If you’re a startup business with a physical product, then you may not yet have the in-house facilities required to manufacture your own designs. Plant and machinery can be expensive, meaning that it will take a considerable volume of orders to justify the investment. Therefore, it is usually preferable to outsource manufacturing to a subcontract supplier.

In order to build supplier relationships that support your business through the early stages and beyond, there are a few points to bear in mind. Read on to find out how to prepare accordingly, as well as what to look for when selecting a subcontract supplier:

Have an Understanding of Your Budget and Timeframes:

When you’re setting out to find a subcontract engineering supplier to produce your design, it’s useful to understand both your short and long-term budgets. Not only does this ensure that you don’t get caught short from a financial standpoint, but you may also be able to negotiate a payment plan that works for both you and the supplier.

By taking the time to work out the price you can afford per unit, as well as the batch size and frequency you require, you are giving the supplier the parameters they need to assess their ability to take on the work. You may also find that the supplier is willing to work with you and provide some flexibility – after all, all businesses need to start somewhere and many vendors will want to grow with your company.

That being said, you also need to be realistic about the time it takes to complete the work. Even the most flexible and accommodating supplier in the world is limited to their own capacity and cannot work miracles. By expecting to have the samples in your hands within two weeks, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, as well as possibly overlooking an excellent supplier based on parameters that are practically unachievable.

Understand That Business Relationships Take Time and Investment:

As a startup business, it will take both time and investment to become one of your supplier’s favourite customers. Whilst most suppliers will do all they can to help their clients, they will usually go above and beyond to help those whom they get on well with, or have a long-standing relationship; therefore, the power of a good rapport should not be overlooked.

You may also have to invest a certain amount of your time by organising a face-to-face meeting with your supplier. Site visits can be extremely worthwhile in coming to understand your supplier’s capabilities, whilst putting a face to a name will always pay dividends when it comes to the longevity of the buyer-supplier relationship. Alternatively, why not invite your supplier to your own premises so that they can see your setup first-hand? They may be able to identify additional ways of assisting you, such as offering the use of KAN-BAN facilities.

Take Steps to be Taken Seriously:

In order to quote your work, the supplier will need to take you – as a startup company – seriously. This means that you need to act professionally, as well as being both transparent and informative about your project. One major aspect of this comes down to technical drawings – a quickly-drawn sketch will not leave a supplier feeling confident in your own understanding of the work involved, meaning that it’s always best to invest in professional drawings prior to sending your project out for quote.

If you simply don’t have the budget available to invest in CAD drawings, then hand-drawings can be effective. It may sound obvious (although we’ve seen plenty of drawings that say otherwise!), but use a ruler where necessary and try to include as many details as you can surrounding required materials, finishes and batches. A great drawing will always give the supplier nearly all of the information they need to provide a quotation – the rest can be clarified with them personally.

Be Available:

Simply put – don’t be afraid of the phone! Many suppliers will want to call and introduce themselves prior to compiling a quotation, whilst others will have technical questions that they need to address. By making yourself available to suppliers, it demonstrates that you’re a legitimate buyer with a legitimate business need, whilst also giving you the opportunity to find out more about would-be vendors and assess how they fit with both your short and long-term goals.

There is also a lot to be said for getting on with your supplier if you’re hoping to work closely moving forward. It’s hard to get a good gauge of a supplier’s personality if you’re corresponding via email, whereas a telephone conversation will easily reveal whether or not you get on as people.


Here at Qimtek, we’re passionate about helping UK manufacturing buyers and suppliers to build mutually-beneficial relationships. Why not use our free Drag, Drop, Source! service to find your next subcontract supplier today?