The use of subcontractors is a time-honored means for landscape designers and contractors to control overhead and keep operations lean and mean. But subcontractors can be a double-edged sword that can work for you or against you if you are not aware of potential pitfalls.
It all starts with setting the stage properly for your working relationship. It’s important to clearly articulate the parameters and expectations for working with your company – and then holding subs accountable for working within those parameters and delivering on those expectations.
If you’re clear about your service offering and the resources you have in-house, then you’ll know exactly what help you’ll need to get from subs. That should enable you to easily craft a document that outlines your specific needs for a particular subcontractor and your expectations for receiving that assistance.
Here are three key elements to consider that will help you successfully utilize subcontractors in your operation:
Without exception, every company hiring a subcontractor needs to have three specific forms of documentation from their subs:
Certificate of Insurance with your company named as an insured entity on their policy and a clear indication that their company is insured for as much as, or more than, your company.
Certificate of Indemnity, also known as a “hold-harmless” document, that’s basically a bond protecting you against loss if the sub does not do the job they were hired to do. Don’t confuse this with a quality guarantee – this document simply requires them to do what you hired them to do. It doesn’t stipulate how well they do it.
Contractor Agreement that spells out everything you expect from the sub. This includes when and where they show up, what they have to do, and that they submit change orders and don’t try to upsell the client. Whatever you want them to agree to, you put in this document.
This is important because how the subcontractor appears on-site represents your company and can reflect well or poorly on you and your reputation. Is it okay if the sub’s workers are on the job site yelling, swearing, smoking, talking on the phone, and blasting the radio? No. Is it okay if they wear their own shirts, or would you prefer to outfit them with your own logo-wear? That’s up to you. The point is, carefully consider appearances and make a decision on how you want subs to represent you.
Clear, consistent, and timely communications keep a job on track, on budget, and on time. It starts with how you want information such as proposals presented. Are texts okay? Do you prefer email? Or are you a stickler for a formal proposal on real business letterhead sent through snail mail to establish legitimacy and have a real document on file? You may want to have daily or weekly phone calls at a specific time to receive project updates and be able to address issues when they arise.
Remember, you’re the boss in this relationship. You get to lay down the law and have things done your way. While it doesn’t really matter what form you want your communications to be in, it does matter that you’re consistent. Good communications grease the wheels of progress, enabling you to establish processes, document work, and keep things humming along smoothly.
What we have learned
Speaking of which, here’s a word of caution -- documentation is the best possible recourse you have when things don’t go as planned. I highly recommend getting proposals in writing with clear financial quotes, not open-ended guesstimates. Establish and document a project start date and production schedule with benchmarks for completion. And have a protocol for unforeseen issues that clearly states how you expect to be notified, when a sub can proceed, and what effects there will be (if any) to the original quote.
Healthy, profitable subcontractor relationships start with establishing, from the beginning, the ground rules and expectations about how the relationship and projects will proceed. It continues with good documentation and communication throughout the relationship. Setting all of this up in advance will go a long way in ensuring positive, long-term subcontractor relationships and more successful project outcomes.
Having been in the landscape industry for so long, I have had the opportunity to work with many subs over the years. I have built synergistic relationships with talented professionals and have great respect for them. I trust them with my reputation, and they know that and make an effort to uphold my style of work when on my jobs. That is the key to a well-functioning team!
But the truth is I have some horror stories too. Like the time a fence company skipped off with my client’s deposit, or of a concrete contractor that poured a patio in the wrong shape. Then there was another contractor who put a perfect set of four divots in a new driveway with their saw horses and the carpenter who put several chips in a brand new pool deck and then denied it when he was the ONLY person working in that area. UGH!
Seriously, the list goes on...the early years were filled with trial and error until I wised up and got to work on the three key tasks above. Simply having those signed documents does very little. It’s the conversations needed to get them signed that set the stage for a good working relationship. I also learned that predictable scheduling and planning with subs helps to keep the job on track because you’re both clear on the plan. This kind of contact, these discussions, and even the paperwork won’t scare off the real pros. In the end, those are the only people you want to be working with!
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