• BuildCenter Team

How to be the subcontractor GC’s can’t live without

Updated: Apr 3

If you do work for General Contractors (GC’s) then it’s critical to know what things you can do to become their favorite sub ..... they can’t live without. In this blog, we’ll discuss what makes GC’s start looking for new subs and what makes them so thankful you are on the project.

As a co-owner of a medium sized commercial general contractor, I have seen them come and I’ve seen them go. I can usually tell within a few weeks of a project which subs we’ll regret having on the project and which ones we are so happy to have. What amazes me is why more subs simply don’t understand what GC’s want in a good sub.

It’s important to get into the mind of a GC and know what is going to make them think…..wow, this is a great sub and I don’t need to look for others...I have found a Gem.

Follow the steps below and trust me, you will find yourself with more repeat work from GC’s than you know what to do with.

Be Consistent with Pricing

If you are a flooring contractor then you should have standard costs per sq ft for floor prep and underlayment and even carpet install or vinyl install. This unit costing should be inclusive of labor and materials. With carpet or vinyl, those material costs will fluctuate but the labor costs won’t unless it has a special design or difficult install. Once you have you unit costing, try to be very consistent when providing bids to GC’s. Why is this important? A GC in many cases will provides budgets or estimated pricing to clients. They need to know they are in a standard range. When they go to subs for hard numbers, if they expect to get a bid for $5000 but it comes in 30% higher, then they may need to get a lot more flooring bids to get closer to what the budget includes.

Some subcontractors think that they should increase their prices when they are busy and decrease them when they are slow. This is a bad idea! It makes GC’s not trust your pricing. I call these the “dart board” subs. To the GC, it feels like the sub is throwing a dart at a dartboard with pricing on it. You never know if you will get a good price or not. I can never trust that one of those subs will give me a good price. I have to get multiple bids to make sure. I have other subs that are consistent ...slow or busy. They are consistent. I can get one price from them and I know it’s a good price. I can trust it.

Some contractors think that giving a high price to a GC is a good way to say “no” to a project they don’t want or are too busy for. I disagree. You are waisting everyone’s time. Be honest. Let them know that you are busy but you would love to stay on the bid list for projects in the future. This keeps your trust in tact.

Answer the phone!

In today’s text and email world, it’s amazing how many people refuse to answer the phone. I know we all get busy and there are many times you simply can’t answer the phone. This is understandable. But what about the other times?

When a GC calls a sub and they are responsive and they answer or call back that means they are there to help when you need them. If you call a sub and they don’t answer ever and rarely return your calls or texts, then you start to get very nervous. You start to wonder if the work will get done. Trust erodes and now it’s time to think about getting another sub for the next project.

My favorite subs make themselves available by phone, email and text. They get back to me within the day usually. I can count on them being there and getting the job done.

Don’t “Nickel and Dime”

Things change on jobs. Scopes change all the time and in most cases a change order is warranted to the GC. Where many subs…..and I would say most go wrong is with simple small items. They want a change order for every little thing…..things that could not have possibly been anticipated and that are simple to address. For example, an electrician puts in some electrical boxes and runs the wires. The GC is double checking the cabinet layout and finds that things changed from the drawings and the outlet is in the way of the cabinet. This is a simple thing to fix….an hour max of work. I would warn you against hitting the GC with a CO. Here is why…….the GC can’t get paid for this mistake. They simply can’t sell this to the customer. So now you are asking the GC to pay out of their own pocket for this? That will not sit well with the GC and they will remember that…….and for what…..a few hundred dollars…..not worth it. Even a few thousand may not be worth it if the GC is paying out of their own pocket. Ask them if this is going to get covered by the client. If it isn’t, give them at least a discount ...do it at cost. You don’t need to make money at the misfortune of your GC. You are a team and you should be in this together.

I would suggest looking at these little “favors” to do this or do that as a golden opportunity to bank favors for the GC and build good will. You will be able to pull those favors out of your back pocket when you need something from the GC. Trust me, doing favors on the little things is a great way to get your GC to love you.

I had one sub that would provide a consistent low price but they would change order like crazy. I told them eventually, “I have to pad your bids with $3,000 to cover all the stupid CO’s”. This didn’t help them get more work. It made me want to find a sub that would work with me and only make money when the client is paying for it.

Bring a solution when there is a problem

When I think of my favorite subcontractors, there is one thing that stands out more than the other items listed above. It took me a while to realize it but all of my favorite subs never ever dumped their problems on my lap to deal with. When they called and said, “we have an issue”, they always had some ideas on how to resolve it. If they didn’t have a solution, they had a plan to explore or research they had to do. They never just said, “here is the problem, what do you want me to do?”

A GC is managing many things at once and when a sub dumps a large issue and says….give me a solution, it makes the GC have to come up with a solution that may or may not be the best option. It makes things harder for the GC…..and that doesn’t feel good to them. They prefer subs that make life easy. It’s human nature. Be that sub that makes life easy on the GC and you will have more work than you know what to do with.


I have wondered for so many years why subs struggle to understand how to be a great sub. To me, it’s obvious what it takes to be a dream subcontractor. Be constant with prices, be available for calls, don’t sweat the small things and go out of your way to provide solutions to problems. The subs that have lived by these simple rules have built thriving businesses that can stand the test of time. The subs that price based on how busy they are, don’t answer phone calls, nickel and dime GC’s for every little thing and dump problems on the GC …..I can’t tell you how they are doing ...because I choose to not use subs like this.


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