10 Tips to Build Better Relationships with General Contractors

10 Tips for Subcontractors | Build Better Relationships with General Contractors


Historically, subcontractors and general contractors have had their disagreements.  Despite this, it is possible to improve the relationship between the subcontractor and general contractor with these 10 tips:


1. Be prepared at all times

Nothing bothers a general contractor more than a subcontractor not being prepared.  When going to compete for a bid, have a detailed and relevant proposal that lays out what you have to offer over your competitors.  After winning a bid, be prepared with everything necessary to begin work whenever you are called. That way, when the general contractor calls saying that he needs you to start in a week, you will be ready with everything you need to get started, which will keep everything on schedule with no delays.


2. Be pro-active

On top of being prepared, it is important to be pro-active.  Don’t wait for the general contractor to schedule your start day before investing time in a project.  By the time the general contractor calls up the subcontractor, the subcontractor should already have all necessary documents and approvals, as well as a working knowledge of the project, and even have visited the project site and communicated with the general contractor. The subcontractor should be aware of everything going on in a project from start to finish and should ask questions, relay information to the general contractor, and offer suggestions and input when needed.


3. Don’t take on jobs you can’t handle

Subcontractors may be tempted to take on a job that is outside the scope of their capabilities due to labor, cost, or time shortage.  Taking on poor fit jobs will bring trouble staffing or financing projects, which will set the general contractor as well as other subcontractors back of schedule.  Your reputation will also take a hit, as well.  If it’s simply resource constraints, employing Construction management technology may be able to improve a subcontractor’s ability to accomplish more with fewer resources. At this point, the subcontractor will be able to take on additional projects that would have previously set him behind schedule.


4. Meet budgets and deadlines

At the very least, the subcontractor needs to stay on budget and schedule.  If the subcontractor cannot do this, they need to readjust and evaluate, so that won’t become a recurring issue that will cause them to continue to lose business.  With the use of a construction project management and document control solution, the subcontractor has a powerful tool to remedy visibility issues.  This type of technology will allow the subcontractor to estimate the costs of a project better as well as avoid costly mistakes incurred by human error throughout project delivery.  It will also enable the subcontractor to keep better track of his employees and keep the schedule moving according to the plan.


5. Don’t depend on payment from the GC to be able to cover costs

The subcontractor is responsible for covering all costs incurred on a project without reimbursement from the general contractor until the agreed upon payday.  This means that the subcontractor must have enough money to finance payroll, materials, travel, and anything else.  Unprepared subcontractors often pester the general contractor for an upfront payment not to fall behind.  This angers the general contractor who knows that it is the subcontractor’s responsibility and causes a halt in productivity that will lead to increased costs and time.


The subcontractor must be a good businessman who can budget, manage his profits and prepare for future expenses.  Being a good businessman entails knowing how much projects usually cost, not taking on projects that the firm likely cannot afford, and properly allocating a percent of profits.


6. Read and follow the specs of the contract

The general contractor lays out very specific details in their subcontracts that specify how they want a project done, including things that the subcontractors need to know such as how to get paid, submit change orders, handle conflicts, or communicate. If the subcontractor fails to read or listen to the contract, the subcontractor and general contractor will not be on the same page and conflict will likely arise.


7. Use technology to better visualize projects

New technology such as BIM and virtual reality allows subcontractors and general contractors to be able to virtually visualize the specifics of a project, which will act as a way to settle disputes before the project even begins.  This way, a subcontractor can more clearly communicate to a GC why he believes his suggestion is necessary and be able to present it more effectively.  This improved understanding across parties will lead to fewer disagreements.


8. Improve communications

The subcontractor must be in constant contact with the general contractor. The subcontractor should ask him questions, and keep him updated at all steps of the project.  The subcontractor can utilize mobile technology to be able to get in contact with the general contractor more easily.  Mobile technology will also allow all documents and emails to be stored in one place so they can be easily accessed later which may cause fewer disputes due to better record keeping.


9. Be professional

The pet peeve of the general contractor is having to babysit the subcontractor.  They get angry when they are left picking up trash and fixing mistakes that were left by the subcontractor due to carelessness.


How the subcontractor can improve professionalism: 

Pride yourself on creating high-quality work.

Don’t wait for the general contractor to tell you to fix mistakes.

Be respectful of the premises and treat it like it was your own home.

Don’t leave the jobsite without checking in with the general contractor.


10. Differentiate yourself

In a time where it seems like low price is the only way to win a bid from a general contractor, it is important to differentiate yourself on other factors that other subcontractors are overlooking.  General Contractors care more about the quality of the work than the price, but they are forced to choose based on price due to a lack of differentiation among subcontractors.


Differentiating is twofold. 

First, the subcontractor must make sure that his business is operating in a way that sets it apart from competitors.  This can include better safety, larger team, past projects that were on budget and schedule, or anything of the like.


Second, the subcontractor must advertise this difference to the general contractor in a logical and concise way.  This can be accomplished by using specific examples from past projects, referrals from other general contractors, or anything of the like.


Make BUILDING TRUST a top priority! 

It is human nature that people want to partner with or work with people who they trust.  With this, the subcontractor needs to make sure that he is producing honest and quality work for the general contractor and developing references.  If the subcontractor can succeed at this, the general contractor will be more inclined to work with that subcontractor in the future or recommend him to another general contractor. 

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