Consider subcontractors for your landscaping business

Recruiting Challenges at Your Landscaping Business? Consider Subcontractors

Excerpts from this article originally appeared in the October 2014 Issue of Snow Business.

Subcontractor and owner shaking hands

Subcontractors may be able to help you take your business to the next level.

Recruiting and retaining employees at landscaping businesses is always tough, but with added restrictions and recent changes to the H-2B guest worker program, green industry companies are scrambling to fill positions this year more than ever.

In light of these issues, I thought it might be a good time to share a few excerpts from one of my Snow Business columns highlighting the benefits of creating strategic partnerships with local service providers.

Subcontracting local service providers can allow your company to continue to sell and offer services to your clients without the burden of employing enough people in-house to take care of those responsibilities. This can be especially helpful with services that aren’t necessarily part of your core service offerings or are considered more of a specialty service than a routine service.

For example, if your landscaping company is a ‘full service’ provider offering maintenance, lawn care, tree care, design-build, snow removal and irrigation, you might want to consider subbing irrigation services to a local contractor who specializes in irrigation services.

The subcontracting company should certainly be able to deliver quality service (maybe even better than you can) and you won’t have the obligation of keeping an irrigation specialist on staff- plus all of the equipment on hand that goes along with offering irrigation services. This allows you to continue offering irrigation services to your clients while it reduces your overhead and helps another local company grow their business.

Sounds good, right? Well in my experience, it usually was. Our relationships with subcontractors were beneficial for us more times than not. We worked over the years to fine-tune how we would bring subs on board and who we would partner with, but with a few key controls in place, working with subcontractors was very advantageous for us and could be for you too.

My Experience with Subcontractors

We didn’t begin using subs at GroundMasters until we were about 15 years into the game, which was foolish.

Like many service companies, we were hesitant to subcontract our work because we were worried about risking our brand and reputation. We feared that subs wouldn’t show up or wouldn’t fulfill the job to our standards. We also feared that they would work directly with the client and cut us out.

We got over these fears when we realized that not having enough resources and encountering the unexpected were much bigger problems. Plus, if we hadn’t enlisted the help of subs, we would have had to work a lot harder and spend a lot more money to scale.

Had we learned to utilize subs earlier, rather than trying to do everything ourselves, we would’ve grown our core business much faster.

When you work with subs you automatically extend your reach with equipment, manpower and likely geography. You also have the opportunity to develop relationships with other contractors, which can lead to new business and business insights. All of this will almost guarantee the opportunity for growth.

Ease the Process

The initial steps to starting a relationship with subcontractors is no small task, and there’s a large, ongoing administrative component associated with maintaining these relationships, but you may find that it’s worth it.

The goal is to make it easy for subs to work with you. If you can make it easier to do business with your company versus someone else’s, you’re in a good spot and will attract and retain quality subcontractors. The key is to maintain control of the sales and administrative processes, and to remain the point of contact for both the subcontractor and the client.

This means you will be responsible for gathering the property specs, estimating the job, winning the sale, and executing the contract with your client.

A property diagram showing areas that the sub will maintain, and any notes, special instructions and expectations for the service are also a must. Review this with the sub and make sure they have a copy so everyone is on the same page when it’s time to service the property.

Be sure to execute a subcontractor agreement that outlines expectations, billing, payment terms, etc. In addition, you must have proof of insurance from the subcontracting company before work commences, and ensure their policy fulfills the client’s service requirements.

Communication is Key

The true test of how well your relationship with any given sub is going to work starts when work actually commences. If the sub isn’t going to fulfill your expectations and complete the job, discuss that with them early.

It’s also a good idea to frequently communicate with your subs frequently. With software and text messaging at your fingertips, this should be easy. At the bare minimum, come up with a system to have subs check in with you when they’ve completed the work at one of your sites, whether it’s via text, email or phone call.

You don’t want to micromanage the sub, and they probably feel the same way, so figure out a system that works for both parties so everyone remains on the same page. After all, you will remain the point of contact for your client, so if there is a problem with the service your subcontractor provides you will want to have the information for that job at your fingertips and ready to discuss at a moments notice.

Put the Word Out in Your Community

Simply putting the word out that you’re looking for seasonal labor is a great way to get started on recruiting subs. Tell your employees, friends, suppliers, neighbors, anyone you think might have a connection to someone seeking extra income, to spread the word. Placing a newspaper ad or posting a flyer at the grocery store are easy, affordable ways to recruit folks as well.

It’s capital intensive to scale these businesses, but working with subs eliminates having to invest in equipment, labor and insurance liability. Work hard at maintaining those relationships with your subs because it pays off. If you can win the work, then win the workforce, you win it all.

How are your recruiting efforts going so far this year? Are you having trouble finding qualified, reliable labor? Share your experiences with us in the comments section of this post.

2 replies
  1. Domenic A Chiarella
    Domenic A Chiarella says:

    Mike, great article. One of the reasons that my last partnership was such a success, was working and collaborating with subcontractors.
    We offered landscaping, lawn maintenance, irrigation, design, pesticides, arbor care, snow, and a host of other services to make us the best that we could be. BUT and a big BUT, we did only the work we were great at and we partnered with all the other services that we were not.
    Could we do it all, of course we could. Could we do it all the best, of course we could not. You mentioned it took you 15 years before you started using subcontractors. It took us a while too. For us, I can only imagine it was our ego of wanting to do everything and of doing everything better than anyone else mentality that held us back.
    An example of incredible service and made-for-growth was in our snow division. We were the sales, the estimators, the dispatching, the billing, the collectors, the trouble shooters, the QC and our great subcontractors were the production. We did what we did best and they did what they did best. Incredible collaboration, incredible growth for them and for us, everyone profited.
    And one last thing, MAKE IT EASY FOR THEM! You are right on the mark. They did the snow removal and each event sent in one receipt of the work they did. One invoice from them each month and if it equaled the receipts, bam paid. Easy for them Easy for us. Giving subcontractors what they wanted: work and quick profits. Giving us a way to become the best for our clients.

    • Mike Rorie
      Mike Rorie says:

      Thanks for the response and sharing your experiences. No question collaboration with other contracting companies benefits everyone involved more times than not. There’s more business to be done together more often than not. Contractors are small and being able to leverage with one another often is a great fit. Thx Mike


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