As a general roofing contractor, you may sometimes want to delegate work by bringing on a subcontractor. Working with subcontractors can help you handle additional work without having to commit to a new hire. This flexibility, however, has both benefits and drawbacks. Before you hire a subcontractor, you should consider your situation and the advantages that a subcontractor could offer.
Project Scale and Scope
Some projects are large or complex enough they may need subcontractors. If you believe that you cannot complete a project within the client’s timeline with the team you have, you’ll need to bring on new employees or work with subcontractors.
Onboarding a new employee takes time that you may not have. Meanwhile, subcontractors typically have their own equipment, know how to use it, and can begin right away.
Other projects may require specialized skills — like experience with solar roofing — that will also need a subcontractor with relevant expertise.
Even if a task could be completed by your team, you may still want someone who specializes in that task — or simply has the tools to get the job done.
A subcontractor who primarily does gutter cleaning, for example, may have important and job-specific tools like gutter scoops and pistol-grip spray nozzles on hand. They may also have more direct experience with gutter cleaning and will be able to complete the job faster and with fewer resources and guidance as a result.
If you don’t have the right tools or much experience using them, working with a subcontractor could save you the cost of renting gear and help speed up work.
Hiring and Managing Workers
Subcontractors will also have more autonomy and need little to no supervision, unlike employees you hire directly. If you don’t have the capacity to supervise additional workers on-site, this can be a major advantage. Subcontractors will typically take the best approach to complete the work they’ve agreed to without needing frequent guidance or input from your team.
Some contractors, however, may not like the autonomy they need to provide subcontractors, and prefer to work with direct employees, who typically expect more supervision and direction from management.
Bringing on subcontractors is costly, but it’s also typically cheaper and less risky than bringing on a new hand.
Subcontractors often have an established business reputation. It’s likely that, no matter what job you need to complete or what market you’re in, there is a well-known subcontractor with a strong work history that you should be able to trust.
It can be harder to verify the qualifications of a new employee. If they’re unfamiliar with the particular tools or workflows you use, you’ll also have to spend time training them — reducing productivity and slowing down a project.
Flexibility and Commitment
A subcontractor agreement will only require that they work with you for a specific project or task. This gives you more flexibility — subcontracting relationships can last for just one project or develop into business partnerships, but nothing has to be set in stone right away.
If you need certain expertise or extra labor power for a busy period, but won’t necessarily need it in the future, hiring a subcontractor can help you avoid committing to a long-term employer-employee relationship.
You’ll also have fewer responsibilities towards your subcontractors — you won’t need to consider subcontractor benefits, unemployment, severance, paid time off, and so on.
This flexibility does have drawbacks, however.
You will still be responsible for payment, and can be held liable for injuries sustained by subcontractors while on the job — though courts sometimes rule that subcontractors can’t sue general contractors after an injury.
Subcontractor conduct will also remain your problem. If a subcontractor doesn’t pay their employees, for example, contractors may be on the hook for their unpaid wages, depending on the business relationship between the contractor and subcontractor.
Subcontractors also aren’t committed to your business, meaning they won’t always be available for future work. You may need to compete with other general contractors when bidding for future work. Direct employees, on the other hand, will typically be available for a new job with little or no notice and no research necessary.
Subcontractors that you’ve worked with before may be happy to join you on a new project, but they may not always ask for the same terms and compensation they required for previous work. These subcontractors, for example, may work with you only if you’re willing to meet the higher hourly rate they’ve begun charging, or agree to a different payment schedule.
Know When Subcontractors Will Work Best
There can be serious benefits to bringing on a subcontractor instead of hiring a new employee directly — including added flexibility, different responsibilities, and access to skills your team may not have.
These benefits come with drawbacks, however, that any contractor should consider. Flexibility can add some uncertainty to a long-term business partnership, and you can’t count on subcontractors to always be available for additional work at the same rate. While you have different responsibilities towards subcontractors, you can still be held liable for their actions.