Managing Subcontractors – The Do’s and Don’ts

With all the craziness that we have seen in the construction industry over the past two years regardless of if it is a new home construction to renewable energy installations, so we thought that we would put together some of the “Do’s and Don’tsthat have been common among those that we have spoken with let us know if you agree or if you have something that you would like to add.

Let’s start off with the Don’ts:

Don’t expect them to care as much as you do about your project!

Nobody cares as much as you about your project or your business for that matter. Subcontractors included. If you expect anyone to care about your business as much as you, I am afraid to tell you that you are heading for a lot of disappointment.  So best to accept this first and foremost.

Don’t rely on their pricing or timing – Do your own numbers!

When doing an estimate for a customer’s project that includes a subcontractor, their work and pricing, don’t just go but what they are telling you, always triangulate the numbers with numbers of your own after all it is your project, business and reputation that is on the line.

Don’t be a friend!

As my father always says “no friends on the field son” well the same goes for your project.  Subcontracting friends will cost you over time. Price creep, special favours, “friend” deals, excuses.  All of these will add up over time to higher costs and smaller margins for your project or even worst, an unsatisfied customer.

Don’t let them off the hook – Keep them accountable!

This one kind of goes with the previous “don’t.  There will always be a special circumstance on a fixed-price contract where the sub will lose a bit of time/money. This is part of doing business, just remember all the times that you miss calculated your costs and no one let you off the hook so why should you be any different and take the loss?

Don’t be moved from your original deal!

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and you will have to evaluate on a one-by-one basis, but as a principle, don’t be emotionally moved by someone’s tall tale to change your deal. (See above)


Now for the Do’s:

Do size your Sub trade up quickly!

If you have been in the business you know the ways to determine if you want to work with a Subcontractor long before they are at the job site and working on your project to know if they know what they are doing.  You should be asking yourself, what does the truck look like? How do they dress? Do they proudly display their logo on both? Are their tools well kept? Check out their socials and website.  These are just some of the ways to look for clues regarding the Subcontractor and their ability to do the job.

Do match subs trades to the jobs!

This more or less goes with the previous “Do,” know your subcontractor’s skill set and limitations.  Some will be great at high-end work and adding those special final touches, others will be better at managing the managing customers, some are fast, get in and get it done, but a little rough.  Make sure you’ve booked the right subcontractor for each job and remember two projects are alike.

Do set expectations and stick to them!

Make sure that you set expectations at the start of the project and stick with them then everyone knows what to expect and when it is expected.  What is acceptable and what it not!  This is much more effective than see-sawing back and forth from strict to generous or worst from generous to tough and then you’re the bad guys and hard to work with.

Do track their time and costs!

Even on fixed-price contacts, it’s important to keep track of your sub’s time and costs.  This is not micromanaging it is just making sure that things are going according to plan and budge.  So, make sure that you are doing that back-of-the-envelope calculation or updating your spreadsheets on how they and you are making out with the project.

Do constantly communicate!

This is important for any business regardless of the industry.  As the business owner, you are not in the construction business, you are in the communication business, and it is your responsibility to make sure that everyone is getting the same message and that it is being communicated regarding how the project is coming along.  After all, it is your reputation that is on the line if things go wrong, and the customer is not happy with the outcome of their project it falls back on you because your name is on the contract.

We would love to hear your thoughts and if there are any other Do’s and Don’t that we should have on our list.  If you have them let us know we will be happy to share.


by Ryan Myson