Few industries bring together different businesses the way the trade contractors do.
When a big project gets underway, the GC on that build reaches out to all kinds of specialists — HVAC teams, plumbing teams, masons, carpenters — to work collaboratively on the job.
In recent years, the “collaboratively” aspect of that work has changed dramatically. Construction project management technology like ours has allowed all of those teams to connect with one another and get better visibility into the construction projects they’re working on.
While tech changes can feel seismic as they’re happening — it’s not always easy to get a team of people to adopt another piece of software — they’re just details in the larger work you do to secure strong, reliable business partnerships.
And it’s those partnerships that are ultimately what helps a trade business succeed and grow.
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Change Isn’t Hard, But Going It Alone Is
Zoom out from our industry for a moment. Think about partnerships in any line of work.
What do they accomplish? They let two or more parties grow their capabilities while spreading around the risks of doing business. Partnering with another service provider “is a great way to expand your team, join a team or share the burdens between two business allies,” IT consultant Stanley Louissaint writes.
Louissaint’s industry works in a similar way to the construction trades. Teams of IT specialists often come together on a big job, and they have to find a way for their skills to complement and support what other teams are doing.
As you work with certain teams, you’ll get familiar with each other’s capabilities. You’ll see what the other team excels at, and they’ll see the same in your team.
Those are connections you can then leverage to grow your business. “Partnerships give you direct access to an already established customer base,” Aditi Biswas writes at Bplans. “The other brand vouches for you in the process and provides direct exposure that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”
The trick is to recognize who those partners might be, and to strengthen that relationship.
Trade Contractors: Who Are Your Potential Partners?
Anyone you do business with.
Seriously. Your relationship with other businesses can become a foundation for growth.
Retired Belmont University professor Jeffrey R. Cornwall explains this in the context of opening a hypothetical bait shop. That business would have suppliers to deliver minnows and worms, and a landlord from whom the owner would rent a storefront. Both of those parties become partners to the growing business.
“Minnows and worms are perishable, so I will work with suppliers that are willing to deliver inventory often and only deliver it when I need it,” Cornwall writes. “That reduces the risk that my inventory will go bad if I have a stormy week that would lead to a significant drop in sales.”
The same goes for the landlord relationship. In the best case scenario, that’s someone who will be on the hook for building repairs or making necessary accommodations to the space.
Now, apply this thinking to the construction trades. Your suppliers can become partners because you rely on them to deliver materials at a good price and on time. Those are relationships worth nurturing and strengthening.
You most often see partnerships develop in the relationships between contractors and subcontractors, as the team at Rutledge Construction in Minnesota writes.
“[T]his relationship is beneficial to both parties involved,” they write. “A subcontractor may have specialities in areas the regular contractor does not.
“That is important to you, the client, because it means that even though the contractor you have hired doesn’t do all of the work, they can still get it done and complete your project. At the same time, subcontracting allows trade contractors to get projects done faster and on time.”
Don’t forget the other trade contracting specialists you work with on a job. If you have a plumbing business, and you see that one local electrician does better work than anyone else, vouch for that business when a new construction project comes together. They could return the favor next time.
4 Tips for Creating Strong Partnerships
Regardless of the role a partner plays in your business — as a supplier, as a GC, as another sub — there are universal things you can do to strengthen that relationship.
1. Maintain Strong Communication
This is tip No. 1 for every professional and personal relationship you will ever have. Communication is the key to any partnership.
“Even the strongest business relationship can erode due to poor communication,” writes the team at Fundbox, a company that helps small businesses get credit and funding.
“One of the best ways to avoid this is by scheduling regular meetings to talk about the business. Not only will this give your partnership the best chance of success, but it will also help you build trust on both sides.”
2. Understand What You Want From the Partnership
This follows from the tip above about communication. “Making sure all parties are on the same page greatly improves your chances of a good outcome,” writes Katie Culp, who led the partner success team at software company BenchmarkONE for four years.
“It also gives you benchmarks for measuring a project’s success. You and your partner should have a solid understanding of each of your goals (that work in unison) and the path you’re taking to get there.”
Sometimes, your relationship with a supplier or a GC is pretty straightforward. You know what you need from each other. Still, it’s worth understanding how crucial that relationship is to the overall success of your business, and what you can do to improve that connection.
And whatever next steps you take, make sure to put your agreements in writing, Culp says. Define how you will work, lay out the responsibilities of each party, outline how long a given project will take, and keep those agreements current. Doing so “gives you a record of everything discussed and decided and lends clarity to the communication process,” Culp writes.
3. Respect Your Partner’s Cash Flow
Trades business owners understand how important cash flow is to their own businesses. Extend that sympathy to each of your partners.
If your suppliers have net 60 payment terms, see whether you can pay them within 30 days, if not sooner. The more you can speed up the time it takes to pay vendors, suppliers and anyone else your business depends on, the better.
4. Look For Opportunities to Chat Face to Face
As helpful as collaborative software can be in making construction projects more efficient, there’s always room for a personal touch, write Ed Caldeira and JC Gatlin at FTQ360, which makes quality management software for construction trade companies.
“That face-to-face meeting is especially important when reviewing trends and performance reports,” they write. “Praise strengthens partnerships and loyalties. Constructive criticism is better accepted and handled straightforward and in person.”
Manage Partnership Networks and the Work You Do Together
Building out a network of reliable partners is a single but crucial step in growing a trades business. The next step is to ensure any data that flows from those partnerships funnels into construction reporting software that gives you visibility into each of your projects, visibility into your costs, and intel you can use to make the best business decisions possible.
And if you’d like to schedule a demo of eSUB Construction Software, contact us today.
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