Good general contractors value and strive for having relationships versus transactions with Owners. This is also true of a contractor’s relationship with a subcontractor. The subcontractor that understands how to partner with a general contractor on a consistent basis will find itself in a position not based on hard numbers, but rather, based on the overall value and contribution they provide.

Five things a general contractor looks for in their subcontractors:

  1. Consistency

    Subcontractors who consistently provide excellent service through every business interaction are standouts. Estimators appreciate having a single contact person—communication is always more successful if there’s an existing relationship. Employee turnover happens, but committing a designated person or team to build a relationship with your contractor demonstrates your stability and reliability, and the estimator will keep that in mind when soliciting bids.

  2. Responsiveness

    Whenever possible, return all emails and phone calls promptly. Strong, immediate communication signals to the GC you have a relationship-based mindset, not a transaction-based mindset. Contractors are looking for subcontractors who will take personal responsibility for achieving project goals. To really stand out, make a point to show that you will do whatever it takes to help the project succeed during the bidding process.

  3. Expertise

    As the subcontractor, you are the expert in your specific trade. You know the materials, the supply lines, the manufacturers, and the installation methods associated with your trade; therefore, you will know the most innovative and cost-effective way to approach the project. Your suggestions for alternate materials and project approach could be the difference in winning the bid or helping get a project into budget during the proposal stage. Instead of just listing numbers, a bid provides you with a unique opportunity to help the contractor understand which issues and challenges are likely to arise and what can be done to overcome those challenges. Providing context for your bid numbers demonstrates your expertise, and it might even help you beat the lowest number, rather than submitting a low bid and relying on change orders once you win the project.

    This tactic is unprofessional. Most contractors look for a subcontractor who provides a complete and transparent bid with thorough detail. Demonstrating that you fully understand the project scope; you have experience with similar projects; and you will be able to meet the deadlines will set the bar high for other subcontractors and differentiate you as an expert. Although you can’t always beat the low bid, you can build a solid, trusting relationship with the general contractor, and because of that relationship, you can be certain you’ll win more work in the long run.

  4. Persistence and Patience

    You probably won’t win the first project on which you bid for a new contractor, and that’s ok—all relationships have to start somewhere, and balance of both patience and persistence will make a big difference in how it develops. There are dozens of ways to establish your reputation with a GC:

    • Be persistent.
    • Make yourself known.
    • Visit the jobsite and get a sense of the project.
    • List the ways you can be proactive before the project even begins.
    • Visit the contractor’s office and ask how you could make the job run perfectly.
    • Follow up on a regular basis and ask how you can earn the business.

    Once persistence gets you the work, have patience. Every subcontractor wants and deserves quick feedback on their bid number and competitiveness among other bidders. Contractors aren’t trying to be aloof, but the process takes time for a number of reasons: long preconstruction periods for negotiated projects, Owner-dictated project timelines, design-build delivery method. Even in the final phases of pricing, it may be weeks before the GC knows how the price stood against the Owner’s budget. Be patient, and the contractor will give you feedback as soon as possible.

  5. Realistic View of Commitment, Capabilities, Capacity, and Limitations

    It’s highly important for a subcontractor to know—and communicate—the realities of its abilities, beginning with commitment.
    If you accept an invitation to bid, make sure you actually bid. Subcontractors who withdraw when it counts will not receive future bid invitations, barring extenuating circumstances. It’s an issue of reliability – if you can’t be reliable during the bid stage, how can the GC trust you to deliver during construction?

    No one knows your capabilities better than you. Resist the urge to accept a job, presuming you’ll learn as you go, just to get in with the contractor. If you’ve never worked on a project at a five-star hotel, for example, don’t bid for the work; you’ll underwhelm the GC, and it will likely hurt your chances at future work.

    Capacity refers to both staffing and finance. A good General Contractor will encourage you to understand payment procedures for projects, in order to ensure that you have enough working capital or line of credit to manage the work you are awarded. Knowing in advance that you will need additional resources will allow you to secure the appropriate cash flow necessary to hire the help you need to get the job done on time—the best way to impress a GC.

    If you win a bid, be sure you have the capacity and depth of qualified trained workers required to complete the job. It seems obvious, but not all subcontractors have their crew thoroughly read the job plans. Subcontractors who familiarize themselves with the project are able to provide accurate numbers and input to the contractor, making the project run smoothly from the start.

Most importantly, remember that you’re bidding on a long-term relationship as much as a short-term contract. It pays to work with a good contractor. Not only will you win more work, but a good contractor will be willing to partner with its subcontractors, offering feedback on more than just bid numbers.