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Hiring sub-contractors is a common part of many industries. It's a system of delegation that is profitable to all parties. One area in which the system becomes problematic, though, is supervision.
Sub-contractors sit in an awkward place between employees and independent businesses. Even when the sub-contractor is an established company, the system of accountability can muddy the waters. To get the best value out of the arrangement, it is important for you to acknowledge the sub-contractor's independence while maintaining control.
Put the hard work in before hiringBusiness owners need to invest even more time in researching work history and background when hiring sub-contractors than when hiring staff. Excellent sub-contractors make supervision nearly redundant.
Clearly state termsWhile the independent nature of a sub-contractor brings a lot of bonuses, it also brings its own set of problems. Clearly set out in discussions and in the contract what the work involves, the specific outcomes expected and the legal and financial responsibilities of both parties. This step is also helpful should anything go wrong during the course of the work.As a side note, payment is a particularly sticky issue for some businesses. If the client fails to pay their invoice on time, the leading company may encounter cash flow problems. It is important to take this into account when negotiating when the sub-contractor is to be paid and how the payments are structured.
Know their scheduleSub-contractors are independent businesses, and as such may have other work scheduled. Avoid problems by having a thorough knowledge of their schedules, and allowing a buffer in your own schedule for problems.
Keep in contactWhile too much contact can undermine your relationship with your sub-contractor, constant contact is at the same time necessary. The best way to manage this problem is to develop a secure relationship with the sub-contractor, investing in face-to-face time. Provide support and encouragement without micromanaging. A regular presence on the site can also be helpful as long as you don't interfere.
Give them authoritySome supervision is unnecessary and counter to good team performance. If possible, delegate some of your authority to a trusted contractor to allow them to have direct contact with the client. Providing a business card that indicates their relationship to your company can help keep matters clear.
It is much easier to work with a sub-contractor you have used before. Small things like a good working relationship, regular offers of work and on-time payment will keep sub-contractors loyal to you and make it easier to secure their services in the long run.