If you use subcontractors for any aspect of your business, you know it’s important to choose them wisely.
Whether you need snowplows for the winter season or teams to handle specialized construction needs, the subcontractors you choose represent your company in the field. Clients won’t know (or care) that they don’t technically work for you. When the contract is yours, your reputation is impacted by the behavior of everyone on the site—regardless of who they report to.
The stakes are high, but—thankfully—you don’t have to leave it to chance. Here’s seven questions you should ask before choosing a subcontractor (or if it’s time to evaluate relationships with current subs):
Can I trust them?
Before you do anything else, check any potential subcontractor’s credibility and financial stability. Make sure they have adequate insurance coverage and that necessary licenses are up to date. Ask for references and examples of past work. Find out how long they’ve been in business, and what their financial situation is. While companies are unlikely to disclose all of their data, they should be able to provide reasonable proof of solvency.
It’s also a good idea to look up prospective partners on the Better Business Bureau. Here, you can see an overall rating and record of customer complaints. Sources like Google reviews, Yelp, or the company’s own social media pages can be good places to check for customer comments as well.
Are they the right fit?
Once you’re confident in a sub’s reputability, it’s time to decide if they’d be a good fit for what you need.
To do so, you’ll need to dig into examples of past work. You can look at case studies or testimonials on their website, request photos over email, or ask questions during an introductory meeting.
For construction needs, it’s particularly helpful to review a company’s history with projects similar to yours. If you need to install a multi-level deck, for example, subs who can demonstrate successful completion of multi-level decks have an advantage over those with regular decks only.
You’ll also need to know about the size of their staff, as well as how they create and manage schedules.
Are they professional?
Since the subcontractor you choose represents your business, you want them to make you look good. This means showing up on time, treating co-workers and customers with respect, using appropriate language, and presenting a professional appearance.
When you choose a new subcontractor, plan to invest more time at the beginning of the relationship monitoring their performance in the field to address any issues.
Can I mark up their prices?
To make money, you’ll have to mark up the prices your sub charges. Review past job costing data to find out how much you need to charge, then see how that number compares to your subcontractor’s bid. It’s okay to invest in a high-quality sub, but make sure you’re not putting yourself out of business to do so.
Can I count on them?
The strongest contractor-subcontractor relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect and accountability. Expectations are clearly communicated, deadlines are met, are promises are fulfilled.
You should depend on your subs to follow through on commitments—and hold yourself to the same standard.
Will I have to micromanage them?
One of the benefits of hiring a subcontractor is not needing to worry about the project they’re in charge of. If you find yourself having to micromanage (or get the sense you might need to), it’s time for a conversation. Make responsibilities clear, along with the consequences to expect if they aren’t fulfilled.
What’s their performance like?
Before hiring a subcontractor, you can get a sense of their performance from reviews or references. If you’re already working with them, set aside time to intentionally (and regularly) evaluate their performance.
How quickly do they accomplish tasks? Is their pricing model still appropriate? Have they proven to be a reliable partner?
Replacing a subcontractor you work with regularly takes time, energy, and risk. It can also be uncomfortable if you’ve developed a personal relationship with them. Consistent monitoring is necessary, though, to make sure you work with subs who are the best fit for your company’s needs.
In the same way a thorough hiring process helps you end up with the right employees, a rigorous qualification process for subcontractors ensures you end up with the right people representing you in the field.
And—once you’ve chosen them—treat them like a partner, not a second-class citizen. They’re here to help you do great work, and with the right direction, they can help take your company even further.
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