Contractor vs Subcontractor: What Do General Contractors Look For in Subcontractors

October 15, 2021 | Read: 9 minutes

contractor vs subcontractor

There is a common belief among subcontractors that possessing the right knowledge and sets of skills for a specific project would be enough to get them a job. They often point to their licenses, qualifications, and records of previous jobs for the contracting companies to see when they bid for work. It can easily feel like a conflict of contractor vs subcontractor, but it shouldn’t have to!

Having the ability to do the work is important. However, tradespeople sometimes miss the fact that soft skills are just as important as having the required technical skills to handle a job effectively.

Usually, everyone who bids for a specific job will have the qualifications and experience to demonstrate that they can do the work to a high level. Therefore, the soft skills that subcontractors possess go a long way to determining who a General Contractor ends up hiring.

With that in mind, Volodymyr Barabakh, the Owner and Project Director of Fortress Home, is here to share what are some of the soft skills General Contractors generally look for when hiring subcontractors, and how you can demonstrate them during bids.

Let’s get started!

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1. The Ability to See the Bigger Picture of a Project

Tradespeople often focus on only getting their contracted job done. 

Although it is good for subcontractors to concentrate on their tasks, this kind of mindset hinders their ability to observe how their job affects a wider project. Therefore, this way of thinking can lead to delays because subcontractors don’t see how their job connects to the other components of a project.

General Contractors are looking for subcontractors who are eager to take accountability for the smooth running of the project as a whole. 

As a subcontractor, you should make an effort to create a plan that coordinates very well with the workflows of other tradespeople in a project. Investing in job scheduling software can make it easier for you to do that.

Seeing the bigger picture also allows you to see opportunities for improvement that could make the whole project better. Communicating these opportunities to the General Contractor can increase your chance of getting repeat business if it proved to be useful.

How to Demonstrate this when Bidding

One way to demonstrate this to General Contractors is by having a deep understanding of the Subcontractor Agreement in relation to your bid.

Subcontractors often see the agreement as no more than a formality so they do not take the time to understand its finer details. 

This later leads to problems when issues like delays and change orders occur. These problems can in fact be avoided since the agreed methods in managing issues that may arise are often enclosed in the Subcontractor Agreement.

Asking questions and discussing the details of the contract to the General Contractor during an interview can leave a strong impression on your bids. Doing so shows the General Contractor that you recognize their need for the whole project to run smoothly, not just your part of it.

2. Sense of Accountability

General Contractors want to work with subcontractors who take full responsibility for the job to ensure that it meets the needs of the clients.

You can demonstrate accountability in your work even in the smallest of things like: 

  • Doing your own punch list
  • Staying within budget
  • Showing up to work on time
  • Keeping your own set of daily or weekly plans
  • Cleaning your area at the end of your shift
  • Doing safety meetings before the start of each shift

How to Demonstrate on a Bidding

There are a few ways to establish your accountability during bids. Some of these are the following:

  1. Having your own insurance – Having your own General Liability and Workers Compensation insurance shows that you care about a safe work environment for your staff. It also allows you and your workers to focus on the job at hand without fear.
  2. Having managed projects yourself – Having past experiences of managing successful projects puts a spotlight on your sense of responsibility in managing different tasks and people at the same time.
  3. Having a track record of finishing jobs as scheduled – Delays in construction projects are commonplace. A strong record of projects completed on schedule says a lot about how you manage your time and handle delays in your projects.

3. The Ability to Communicate with Co-workers

Construction projects seldom go exactly the way they were planned. Therefore, communicating effectively within the team is of utmost importance in overcoming such setbacks.

More often than not, construction projects will have many people who are unacquainted with each other working together. This lack of familiarity poses a challenge to the whole project as everyone will have different ways of doing their work, and these may be disruptive to each other. Subcontractors should then make an effort in bridging the gap among their workers through being courteous and attentive to each other’s needs.

General Contractors also want tradespeople who communicate their mistakes and come up with solutions to these errors as it helps minimize the effects of the delay to the whole project.

How to Demonstrate on a Bidding

Most General Contractors can already get an idea of how one might work and communicate with other people just by speaking to them. So, having a good grasp of the English language and showing common courtesy should help in getting a General Contractor’s trust during bidding.

This is also why networking is crucial for subcontractors. Having a broad network of construction professionals shows that you have the communication skill to work with a team through the fact that you have built such a network.

A large network can also be useful even after biddings as you have more options for referrals in case the General Contractor needs other tradesmen in the project. Your referral is not only good for the General Contractor and the referred subcontractor but can also put you in a good light to both parties.

4. Solid Safety Track Records

General Liability and Workers Compensation insurance are just a small part of safety culture. General Contractors are equally concerned with the practical ways that subcontractors ensure personal safety on a site. 

This is because General Contractors want to avoid the negative consequences of not practicing safety procedures in their projects. These consequences go from having to pay compensation to the affected subcontractors to having their reputation damaged because of an unsafe work environment. 

General Contractors are very particular with the safety records of their subcontractors as a result. 

You should therefore at least have three years of safety records on your hand when bidding for work.

How to Demonstrate on a Bidding

Although three years of safety records are a standard in bidding, the farther back you can go is still better as it will help you strengthen your case against your competitors.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a clean safety record over this period, you will need to explain this in your bid. Highlighting how you improved your safety policies and procedures after the mishaps can help you in this case. 

Showing that you learn from past mistakes can still help you gain the trust of a General Contractor.

5. Being Proactive at Work

A reactive work attitude can cause unexpected interruptions in a construction project and General Contractors want to avoid that as much as possible. Rather, they are after subcontractors who are always on top of their job. 

You can show proactiveness by: 

  • Giving referrals
  • Identifying and raising issues 
  • Submitting your proposals on time
  • Following up on the status of your proposals
  • Visiting and surveying the job site in advance
  • Assuring all submittals are approved before your work starts
  • Keeping in touch with the project manager or field superintendent to monitor progress

How to Demonstrate on a Bidding

One way of displaying proactiveness during bids is by asking questions to get a better understanding of the scope of work. Don’t just read the bid outline and send your offer to the General Contractor. 

Having a deep understanding of the job can give you a better idea of which materials or what process might be better to get it done. You can then make informed suggestions to the General Contractor in your bid offer.

You can also send copies of product literature with your proposal so the General Contractor can see the differences between the materials, or offer to give you a call if they have any questions regarding your proposal.

Another way is by citing each scope of the job and providing various pricing scenarios in your final bid to make it easier for the General Contractor to see the different options you offer. Not only will it demonstrate your proactiveness, but it will also show off your knowledge of the project. 

The takeaway on contractor vs subcontractor

Establishing a good standing with General Contractors in a local area is one of the best ways of getting a steady stream of business for subcontractors. There’s no better way of building up a positive reputation among the General Contractors in your locale than by having the soft skills mentioned above and by being professional all throughout.

At the same time, communication plays a big role in any strategy. If you’re finding that you spend too much time putting emails and messages together, we’ve got just the thing for you! Our Customer Communication Toolkit has 10 essential templates that are perfect to get you started communicating better with potential customers!

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I'm here to bring you next-level strategies to the field service industry. When I'm not working on the best tips to grow your business, I'm on the lookout for sci-fi novels and cookie recipes.

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