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Subcontractor Strategies: How To Avoid the Wrong Projects

Subcontractors often find themselves nursing a bad case of seller’s remorse. It’s surprisingly easy to bid and win jobs that get progressively harder to finish, that take companies away from their core competencies, and that threaten well-built reputations. But, you can avoid the pain that comes with taking on the wrong projects. Start with these strategies.

Pick Your Partners Carefully

Just as there are projects you shouldn’t build, there are general contractors you shouldn’t work with. The obvious cautions about working with generals who are financially irresponsible and unethical apply, but you also want to pick partners that complement your style and substance. A general who’s not very good at framing interior details will increase your work if you’re hanging drywall or painting. If the general contractor isn’t good at organizing, you’ll pay the price of the resulting chaos.

When you are interested in working with someone new, but you don’t know any more about them than what someone has told you, try to ease your way into the partnership. Take on a small role at first, or work on a small project to start. An excellent subcontractor should only work with an excellent general contractor.

Follow Your Business Plan

At some point in your subcontractor adventures you actually did a business plan; hopefully you often dust it off to adjust it and reevaluate. That plan should spell out, in no uncertain terms, just what you want your core business to be. It’s important to weigh potential projects against your business goals. If you are a foundation contractor and you decide to use your equipment on a road project, you might be straying a bit too far from your core competencies, and from your business goals. If you are the go-to sub for any kind of retail project in your area, do you really want to risk getting sidetracked in a residential project?

Many subcontractors have met their fates when they took projects with different project delivery methods and didn’t staff-up and skill-up to meet the new requirements. Integrated project design isn’t an easy thing to transition to if you know only hard bids. It’s not only about skills either, because different project delivery methods require a different way of thinking. If you hate transparency, and you think business should be ruthless and cunning like the natural world, you’ll find it difficult to adjust to collaborative delivery methods. So will your company.

Guard Your Place on the Map

Construction is necessarily a geographical business. It’s more difficult to manage projects the farther you travel from your base. Besides the project management aspects, you’ll run into differences in codes, differences in suppliers, and differences in how project partners run their businesses. Even though you know your trade, the differences you will face in new geographies are often stunning. Even simple things like finding a good lunch restaurant and getting fuel for equipment can become just more things you have to work at.

You have distinct advantages doing projects in your base territory.  The obvious ones aside, you can’t underestimate your good name and reputation as geographical advantages. People know you because you are right around the corner, and have been for years. Your employees, their families, and local businesses respect your abilities and talk them up to others. Your home base area is a familiar place where you even end up working on new aspects of projects you previously completed. All things considered, make sure you preserve your reputation on home base projects and venture thoughtfully into projects in new territories.

The saying, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it,” echoes in the mind of any subcontractor who landed a bid they thought they wanted, only to find out they didn’t. The secret is not about winning the bid, but rather about winning the right bid.