Many contractors need to work with subcontractors, and it can often get tricky, especially on larger projects. In the perfect world, everyone arrives on time and performs every task perfectly. But the world isn’t perfect and neither are we. Regardless, working smart can protect yourself and your reputation. Here are our tips for keeping projects smooth while working with subcontractors.

Consider your quality expectations

It’s important to manage your expectations of your subcontractors. Not all subcontractors are created equal. Quality varies and you need to pick subcontractors that match your brand. If you do builder grade work, you can afford to hire builder grade subs. But if you market yourself as an upscale contractor and do custom builds, you should bring subs that match your standards.

Bringing a subcontractor that works at a lower standard than you is a dangerous game. It can lead to wasted time and money, as things have to be redone to match yours and the client’s expectations. Remember, if your sub botches something, it’s your responsibility.

The same can be true of bringing a sub in that works at a higher standard. A sub that does beautiful custom work could waste time on site doing things in a way that is too rigorous and perfectionist for a less expensive project. You may end up spending too much on something that is unnecessary and will go unappreciated by the client.

Always keep an eye out

When you bring a sub that you haven’t worked with before, it’s important to keep an eye on them until you’ve built up that trust. As mentioned above, any mistakes by a subcontractor are your mistakes. A client doesn’t want to hear excuses or passing of the buck. To them, if it’s your site, your job, then it’s your responsibility.

Especially when working with a new sub (new to you, at least), take the time to ensure that they are doing things in a way that complies with the quality of work that you expect. Obviously, subcontractors are independent entities who can do their work as they see fit, within the confines of the project, but so long as you are providing the materials, they are beholden to you and your standards. Particularly if you are providing expensive materials, in the beginning, take a moment to make sure that they are measuring twice and cutting once and within your expectations.

Use your network to find the right subs

If you are just starting out, you may not have a full list of subs that you like to or have worked with. But if you have even one, the chances are that knows lots of other guys. If you really trust one of your subs and his judgement, ask him to connect you with subs in other trades.

If you have a good electrician, ask him about an HVAC tech or a plumber. A reliable painter probably has worked with a good drywall crew. Use your network to find people that you trust and that can share a site well. If others in the trades have had a good experience being a fellow sub, it’s a good sign.

The opposite is true, as well. If you are thinking of hiring a new sub, you may want to run his name by your trusted subs to see if they have had a negative experience with him. Bringing the wrong person onto your job site can jeopardize not just that project, but also your reputation and your relationship with your existing subcontractors.

Keep it simple and clear

Subcontracting can be tricky. On a large project, you could have half a dozen different teams on the site at any given time. Keeping your subcontracting terms clear and simple is key to keeping your project organized.

Establish payment terms before the gig starts. Whether you decide to pay at the completion of the individual sub’s work, the completion of the project or Net 30, you must manage expectations and stay organized. If you have a great experience with a sub, but are late paying him, he may not be willing to work with you again.

Establish standards around day to day operations. While you typically can’t dictate a sub’s hours, some sites have restrictions, especially if you’re working on an occupied homes. You can tell subs that the client wants everyone out by 5pm each day, you expect the work done by X day, and that they need to schedule accordingly.

If you have subs that will need to coordinate parts of their work (for example, demo may need to rely on an electrician and a plumber at certain stages), connect them directly and make clear that you expect communication and coordination without delays.

Insurance and Licensing

It is absolutely critical to ensure that any sub you use is properly licensed and insured, to avoid legal issues. When you employ a subcontractor that isn’t licensed for the work he is doing, you could be held liable if someone is injured or if damaged are caused.

If your subcontractor is uninsured or doesn’t carry workers’ comp for his crew and someone is injured, the injured party could sue the home or property owner, who could turn around and make a claim against you. If your contract with your client states that you and any subcontractors that you use are properly insured, a common enough clause, then you could end up in hot water.

It’s easy to avoid this. With a simple subcontractor agreement, you can protect yourself and your reputation.