4 Ways to Build Better Relationships with Subcontractors

One of the trickiest parts of preconstruction is navigating relationships. We know what you’re already thinking of: project owners and general contractors. While there’s much to be said about maintaining the bridge between these two—we’ve even written a blog about it ourselves—one relationship that often gets overlooked is the one between preconstruction and subcontractors.

Digital wheels with a man pointing at them with the words "partnership" in the wheel

We spoke to one of our industry experts, Robbie Gronbach, to gather four tips to improve your relationship with your subcontractors. Robbie is the Director of Preconstruction for Willis A. Smith Construction and has been working in the industry for over fifteen years. The following are his expert tips on how to build better relationships with subs.

  1. Have systems in place for transparent communication so subs aren't left in the dark.
  2. Provide feedback when possible, even if it's not a requirement.
  3. Pay subs on time.
  4. Invest in networking events and organizations.

Transparent Communication 

“Subcontractors bid a lot of work, and they’re bidding a lot more jobs than we are,” says Gronbach. “They need to know; did they get the job? Do they need to plan for that job in their operations side? Or can they move on and forget about it?”

Knowing what the next step is going to be is crucial for subcontractors, and general contractors who have poor communication and little to no schedules aren’t going to win any points. Before you even send out a call for bids, it’s important to double-check and make sure that you already have a system in place that allows for quick, open communication, and that you have a schedule of work already planned out so that the sub will know what to expect right off the bat.

Provide Feedbackoffice-team-meeting

Let’s face it, not every sub is going to make the cut. Sometimes the numbers just aren’t where you need them to be. If that’s the case, it’s a huge courtesy to let the subcontractor know why you won’t be moving forward with them—and if you can, be as specific as possible.

“Some of the [subcontractors] take that at face value and move on,” says Gronbach. “Some of them will call us for a little more information, like how far apart were they? And we’ll give them a percentage. Sometimes we’ll tell them, look, you were close. You were twenty grand away on a hundred thousand dollar job.” This kind of gesture may not seem like much, but it’s immensely helpful to a subcontractor, who can use that knowledge to continue refining their process.

Pay on Time

Another tip that sounds easy in theory but is a lot harder in practice is to make sure to pay subcontractors on time, 100% percent of the time, if possible. According to Gronbach, that’s the “one thing that will tickle the heartstring of a company.”

At the end of the day, business is business, and everyone has mouths to feed and bills to pay. A lot of companies take weeks or even months to release payment, and in worst-case scenarios, some may try to avoid payment altogether. Some might be tempted to think that this is really just a subcontractor problem. But the truth is, when subs don’t get paid, it can cause an entire ripple effect that hurts everyone involved. So, if you’re serious about improving your relationship with every sub you work with, commit to paying them on time, every time.

Click here to listen to our podcast on how to build and maintain relationships with subs. 

Invest in Networking

Willis Smith Pizza OvenLast but certainly not least, don’t forget to stay connected within the industry through professional events and organizations, especially those that are specific to your region. Gronbach says that he and his team spend time with subcontractors and other construction professionals in their community by going out for “cigar nights, golfing, go-karting, clay shoots.” He also adds that his team specifically hosts the cigar nights: “We have a place next to our office that we created, it’s an outdoor venue with a bonfire, a pavilion and a pizza oven.” The other events he mentioned are hosted by the Construction Specifications Institute and the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange (GCBX), and his team also frequently attends chamber events as well.

Part of improving any relationship involves having fun, and while that’s not the primary goal of networking, it should at least be one of your goals. Some of the best feedback that you can receive on your work and brand often comes through informal events like the ones mentioned above. It’s also an important reminder that it never pays to be isolated; it’s crucial to be a part of your industry’s community, on both a national and local level.

Ready to Start Building Better Subcontractor Relationships Today?

We hope these four tips help you kickstart your journey to improved subcontractor trust and communication today. And if you’re interested in learning even more about how you can build better relationships with the teams you work with in the construction industry, get in touch with us today by scheduling a demo of DESTINI Estimator and DESTINI Bid Day by clicking the button below.

Recently, there’s been a renewed focus on collaboration in all aspects of construction. Instead of simply coexisting, technological advancements in construction software have made it possible for separate pieces of a project to speak to each other, and in many cases, to truly partner together and tackle a project as a team. But for this kind of collaboration to take place, it’s imperative that preconstruction teams learn how to build transparency and trust between them and the subcontractors they work with.

Of course, this begs the question: is all of this effort for the occasional brainstorming session or a-ha moment worth it? Is the perceived reputation of preconstruction being a little aloof and disconnected that much of a problem?

Three construction workers looking at drawings in front of a construction site.

Yes, It IS a Problem, And Here's Why

For decades, preconstruction has tended to be one of the most isolated departments in the project lifecycle. We want to emphasize that this really has nothing to do with estimators themselves, but rather with the overall perception surrounding preconstruction.

Traditionally, the preconstruction phase of a construction project has frequently been the most undervalued phase. There were two big reasons for this: first, not enough data tracking and analysis existed in the early years of preconstruction, and so it was difficult for both general contractors and related stakeholders to understand just how big the impact preconstruction efforts had on a project’s success. Two, preconstruction was considered a “free” service up until very recently. Since there wasn’t much profit to be made, general contractors tended to overlook their estimating efforts, leading to disjointed and inconsistent approaches.

As we touched on earlier, the majority of these problems have been addressed by modern-day technological innovations. Thanks to those innovations, it has also become apparent that there are no insignificant players when it comes to a construction project of any sector. And that includes subcontractors! A great subcontractor is worth their weight in gold, and establishing a solid connection with the subs in your region is key not just to success but to standing out above your competition—especially if you work primarily in a negotiated bid model rather than a hard bid model.

Although the relationship between preconstruction teams and subcontractors have traditionally not been as tenuous as the one between precon and project owners, the needs and expectations of subs can frequently get lost in the shuffle. Before you know it, it’s easy to find yourself disconnected and out of the loop.

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