Get the first step right and the rest will follow to find the best electronics design partner.
We all know the importance of a good first impression. And in the case of choosing the right electronics design partner to work with the best way to get to know them is with a face-to-face meeting. Even if that meeting is a virtual one.
What you’ll get from reading this article (10 minute read):
1. 6 great questions to ask at your first meeting (including one to ask yourself!)
2. 4 top tips to get the most out of your first meeting
3. 9 things to look for in a quote.
What to ask at your first meeting with an electronics design partner
First up, before the meeting you should sense check that you have protection in place if you need it. Request an NDA before speaking in depth for the first time if you have details you need to protect.
Next up here are some great questions to ask:
What does your availability look like?
You may find you are disappointed when a great electronics design partner says they can’t start for 3 months. But finding this out now is better than signing on the dotted line and then being tied into their schedule without knowing what to expect. And just hold on before you start looking elsewhere….
Ask yourself are your deadlines ‘nice to have’ or ‘necessary’
Ask yourself, do I NEED to start this project right now or am I just excited to get started? Be honest with yourself on deadlines.
Deadlines can be hard or soft. Sometimes they are necessary, for example if you want to beat a direct competitor to market, need to show a prototype to an investor or are presenting an early version of your new product at an upcoming show.
Bear in mind that your new electronics design partner being busy could be a good sign.
If you are planning an outing to a popular theatre show or want to stay at a high demand hotel you would expect to book in advance. Empty seats or high vacancies close to your chosen date would be a red flag. Equally if your new design partner seems a little too keen to start tomorrow its possible they have low levels of work on. In which case just take a step back and ask yourself why it is so quiet for them.
Moral of the story:
Don’t be put off by some immediate delays to the start date if the long-term gains are there and the partner is right for you.
Have you worked on similar projects and what is your team’s skillset?
Ask about the electronics engineering team you will be working with. Find out how big they are and if they have worked on similar projects. They are likely to be able to share more detail beyond their case studies with you.
Firstly, because there may be things that they can’t refer to on their website due to confidentiality. However, they may be able to discuss extra projects they are working on in brief with you, without breaking NDAs (Non-disclosure agreements). Secondly, they may think of a project that is more relevant to yours whose details they can share. Also by understanding the team’s size and skillset you can check if there are back up plans if your designated engineer were to be off work unexpectedly due to illness. Ask them how they would handle an event like this.
Will I get to meet the engineers working on my project before I start?
If they won’t let you meet the team before you start the project this could be a bad sign. Is this because they have bad communication across departments or perhaps they are unwilling to spend time on you until you are spending money? They may not be very customer centric and having a responsive partner is important for smooth communication during your project.
At Ignys we follow our initial discovery chats up with an in-depth technical meeting. This allows for a clear scope to be created and makes sure the engineers are on board with the project.
Extra top tip:
Look out for signs of who is attending your meetings. If it is the MD of the company on that first initial meeting it may be a very small company. Equally if you are speaking with a customer service representative check you will have the chance to speak with the engineering team early on. Otherwise you may not be asked the right questions for an accurate quote. They are more likely to spot a hidden problem.
Do you think my budget is realistic?
Whilst it’s understandable you don’t want to give everything away, by giving some indication of the costs you are expecting allows them to have an honest conversation with you. This means you get a clearer picture, early on, of whether you need to source extra funding or if your guestimates were accurate. If you share your budget with a company, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will spend it. If you don’t trust them enough to share your investment amount, can you trust them enough to work for you? A good company will be transparent about costs and offer you access to engineer timecards upon request with regular updates throughout the project and charge you accordingly (see our blog on fixed pricing).
What is the next step?
End the meeting with both parties knowing what the next stage is. If they are going to produce a quote ask how long this will take? This isn’t a race, quotes that take longer may be a lot more accurate. But it means you have a timescale from the start. Ask if they need anything from you to progress the quote effectively.
Next up how to turn a meeting into the start of a great journey.
How to get the most out of your first meeting
Plan these meetings early in your process
It can be very disappointing finding out that a great company you want to work with can’t start yet due to other commitments, if you start conversations with a design partner early it gives you more options to press the button or to book time in. (more on this in our ‘check their ability’ section). By leaving these conversations to the last minute you ‘create’ hard deadlines for yourself, deprive yourself of flexibility and ultimately give yourself less choice over your chosen supplier.
Make it about you
If you are confronted with someone who talks for the entire meeting or presents a lengthy presentation this could be a problem. The meeting needs to provide you with the opportunity to talk through what you do. Otherwise this meeting isn’t going to help the company assess your project and quote accurately. In that case you could have just spent an hour on their website without speaking to them at all!
Ask yourself, does this meeting feel like a sales pitch on their part or a two-way conversation? How can they suggest a solution to your problem if they haven’t bothered finding out what it is?
‘Bore’ them with the detail (in moderation)
Whilst there isn’t much merit going into every tiny detail you do want to talk about the important elements. Think of it as a first date with somebody you want a serious relationship with. You want to establish if there are any dealbreakers. For example, if you need software development and they only do hardware you may need to go elsewhere or work with more than one partner.
In addition, if you have done the research behind certain elements of electronic product development mention them. If you know that your new project requires environmental testing say so or the quote may not include it. It may be that they don’t think you want to explore the testing side when in fact it is really important to you.
Look for signs they are givers not takers
Do they provide you with some tips or advice on your project without asking for money first? If they point you in the right direction for your next product development stage, regardless of a signed contract, then it shows they care. Of course, it doesn’t mean you’ll get free consultancy work! However, the right company won’t be able to help itself in providing some key snippets to help your journey, whether it’s mentioning R&D tax credits, steering you in the right direction with UKCA or even providing a marketing tip for your planned launch.
If they are willing to give you support it shows you they offer innovation with a heart.
Next up what to expect from your design quote.
What should I expect from a good electronic design quote from a potential partner?
First things first. It’s always worth getting a few quotes. This doesn’t mean you should always go for the cheapest! But what it will allow you to do is sense check that there isn’t an outlier who is charging far more or less than someone else and also to see if they have used these best practices below.
First some things to consider:
Have a budget in mind
A good quote will consider many aspects of your project so it may vary from what you expected. But by clarifying your budget in detail before approaching consultancies you will have a deeper understanding of whether they have fully understood your project and whether the work you need is feasible with the budget you have.
Be wary of a fixed price
We explore this topic in detail on our blog on fixed pricing. Read it here.
A good electronics design quote:
• Is likely to include a price range
So you can see both futures.
You should expect to see a range in the price given rather than an overall figure. A quote that includes the best and worst case scenarios will ultimately be more beneficial, not only in helping you to budget but also to help you plan for both eventualities.
• Includes a clear breakdown
So you really know what you are paying for.
A price range is only powerful if you have full visibility on what you are paying for. Are you paying for engineering time, testing or materials? A good quote will make this easy to read and understand so you can query anything you are unsure of.
• Gives centre stage to the unknowns
To highlight any risks you may encounter
A good quote addresses the facts that there are unknowns within a project. There are certain elements that no-one will have clear visibility on until mid-way through the project. For instance the technology which needs to be integrated hasn’t been decided yet. Maybe a feasibility study into power consumption is needed before fully understanding and outlining the power source and implementation. So you’ll want to check the electronics design consultancy which quotes for you have factored these in. Be wary of a quote that promises full certainty before they have dug into the detail of your specification and done some work on product feasibility, not even the best consultancy in the world has a crystal ball!
• The quote is unique to you
To ensure they are paying attention.
Check that the quote has included key elements that you discussed in the meeting and the quote is not a one size fits all template.
• It will understand your project
Have they fully understood what you need? Some companies will copy and paste sections from your website. Ensure they have understood your project on a deeper level with clear nods to topics you both discussed during your meeting.
• Works in phases
So you can track progress throughout Quotes with a clear layout which sets out the phases of work are a good sign. You will have an end goal in mind for your projects but there are key steps on the way there. These steps will help you and your design partner ensure everything stays on track and deadlines are met.
• Sets out what both parties need from each other
So there are no nasty surprises
It will lay out the receivables and deliverables. You need certain outcomes from them. Make sure they understand your end goal from your work with them, is it a prototype, a fully manufactured product or a feasibility study? Equally they may need things from you in terms of a detailed specification or access to hardware or software, to carry out accurate testing.
• Be created following a meeting
Get clear communication from the start
If they send you a quote via email without a meeting or detailed conversation this shows a lack of commitment to your project. A lack of engagement means key details may get missed or could be a sign your relationship with them will only ever be at arm’s length. If they don’t think it is worthwhile going through the quote face to face (when they are asking for your money) what will they be like once you have signed on the dotted line?
• Isn’t too good to be true
Are they being honest with you? If they seem too happy with your last minute deadline or the price range seems too appealing just do a quick sense check. Has the quote identified key risks and unknowns and accounted for these? It’s great to be pleasantly surprised by a quote, just take things with a pinch of salt.
This blog was written by Poppy Sinclair Sales Manager and Hannah Ingram Marketing Manager, both at Ignys. Poppy carries out many discovery meetings with clients looking for an electronics design partner on a weekly basis and has lots of experience putting proposals and quotes together. These meetings are followed up by technical meetings with our engineers. Read about them in our meet the team blog.