Daniel Nisbet

Episode 94  |  November 27, 2018

Subcontractors and clients

If you've ever worked on a larger project—particularly if you're a one-person shop—the project may have required a sub-contractor to help out. Aside from the first task of finding one, the next question is how to handle the relationship between the sub-contractor and your client.

For some projects, you may never need to directly introduce them. A print shop or web developer can work in the background while we manage the client. We can do our own check on the work that's been done for us as a way of quality control before the client sees it.

However, there's a few different ways to approach this question if the sub-contractor does need to talk with your client.

Like an employee

I was brought into a project where I was filling a gap in on a larger team. It was decided that anytime we were working with the client that I would be representing the main contractor instead of myself. Overall, it worked fairly well. The contractor kept control and I still was paid my usual rate. The downside though, is that I wasn't able to implement my process like I wanted to.

The contractor's process was similar to mine, so this wasn't a gigantic concern. But it did produce some hiccups. We were able to work through them and the project still was a success. If you're a large enough company, it's an avenue worth exploring if you need to look like a larger company than you actually are.

Get an introduction, but have a separate agreement

Based off the primary concern in the first arrangement where I wasn't able to use my own process, this allowed me to set my own rules. On the downside, the main contractor wasn't able to mark up my rates. In some instances, one may ask for a percentage of your earnings—if you do go this route, make sure to account for that in your proposal.

What I also appreciated, is that it let me continue working with the client on some ongoing work. This is particularly useful for web, where a regular maintenance retainer may come into play after the website is finished.

Never meeting the client

The third way, as outlined at the start, is never meeting the client. Obvious benefits here include not needing to manage the overall relationship or worrying about project management. The main contractor handles everything and your work passes through them. I was able to use my own process but I did lose control in situations where work was pitched to the client. I had to count on someone else pitching the work.

So with that said, what was the best way to work with a subcontractor and a client?

First things first, it's easier for a client when they only have to manage or deal with one person. The situations where they were able to work with a main contractor and not have to maintain multiple relationships was always a big seling point.

On the flip side, when I was introduced to the client, it was easier to build a proposal and pitch my services. The main contractor usually highlighted why I was the best fit for the job and could back it up with the fact that we worked together for a very long time. To the client, it was like hiring a mini studio tailored to them. Everything was able to move forward fairly smoothly.

That said, I do know there are some concerns with people who they bring a sub-contractor on.

One big worry is that you're the odd person out if everyone hits it off well without you. It's a valid concern, but I also see it as business. If a relationship works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

However, clients can still see you as a valuable resource if you're able to make connections that benefit their business. So go ahead and introduce sub-contractors to a client. You can always manage the relationship if you need to.

At the end of the day, the goal is to make the client happy—both with the relationship between you and the client and everyone else who plays a role.