How to Build Strong Relationships with General Contractors

how specialty contractors build better relationships with general contractors

Within the construction industry, few things are more important for specialty contractors than building solid, lasting relationships with general contractors. When strong relationships exist between the trade partners and general contractors on a project, it leads to consistency, quality, and efficiency among the work being completed. For specialty contractors, it also means winning more bids—and more importantly, bids on the projects you want.

In the United States, there are millions of specialty contractors. This means that millions of specialty contractors are bidding on jobs, creating a highly competitive environment for many of these firms. To be competitive, you need to stand out to general contractors to prove your firm is best suited for the job. Otherwise, you could find your company losing bids against the competition. 

Relationships matter in construction, and specialty contractors need strong ones with general contractors to build their future. To learn more about building the types of relationships that drive success in this industry, let’s explore below. 

Trust as it Relates to Client Retention

Building outstanding relationships is all about trust — and that trust leads to client retention that in turn builds on your profits. This is one of the largest benefits to building great relationships with the contractors that you work with. As Bain & Company points out, when acquiring new clients, the estimated cost can be between five and 25 times more than working with existing clients. Increasing client retention by as little as 5% can lead to an increase in profits ranging between 25% and 95%.

This is because over time, everyone involved with a project — or repeat projects — develops a good working relationship that streamlines the entire process start to finish. And that is what makes trust so important. In recent research from Autodesk and FMI, you can see that construction companies who have the highest levels of trust among their clients end up with more repeat business, and thus, higher profits.

What General Contractors Look for In Specialty Contractors

The construction industry truly is relationship-oriented, from the trade workers in the field to the developers and project managers handling all of the back-end tasks. While it’s true that good word of mouth can help one get ahead in the industry, the weight that this holds has been shrinking over the years. Overall, general contractors are on the lookout for three powerful and desirable traits in their specialty contractors: Punctuality, reputation, and communication.  


Let’s start with punctuality. In a deadline-driven industry like this one, specialty contractors receive countless bid invites, all of which come in a variety of forms, such as online bid management systems, email, phone, and even fax. General contractors want specialty contractors that are organized and keep a clear head during busy periods swamped with notifications and deadlines. Once work begins, general contractors need specialty contractors to stay on schedule to meet key project deliverables. Being reliable in timing goes a long way to building the foundations of a sustainable working relationship.


Reputation also matters heavily within the industry. It is the sum of all parts — how a contractor delivers, the people that helped deliver, the instruments that helped deliver, the quality of the delivered product, and so on. Simply submitting before the deadline is not a sign of good efficacy because the condition and nature of the product receive weight above all else. Reputation is closely tied with that. General contractors desire subcontractors that are stellar at what they do and are known within the industry or local area. Managing your team's workload in an efficient manner is invaluable to producing a quality product on time, as well as recognizing the priority of implementing methods to keep a note of everything in a precise manner.


Last but not least, communication. General contractors are looking for trade partners. They far and above prefer long, lucrative relationships over brief one-time-job specialty contractors. Lasting relationships go far in this industry and over time as both parties acclimate to each other, they build a true partnership. This means that more benefits can be had and more efficiency can be achieved once a rhythm and mutual understanding is reached. Communication, especially good, productive communication, is the cornerstone of that success. From the start of the bidding process to the end in which the product is delivered and is closed out, communication is an integral aspect of the procedure and should be regarded as such. Expending just a bit more effort in devising ways to communicate effectively could lead to winning more contractors’ hearts — and winning more bids.

4 Ways to Build a Better Relationship with Contractors

All relationships take work and the right tools. The professional relationships between specialty contractors and general contractors are no exception. Here are four ways for specialty contractors to build, improve, and maintain positive relationships with GCs. 

  1. Stay up to date on communications: Successful coordination with GCs is heavily dependent on communication. One of the unspoken rules of relationship building is that you should be easy for the general contractor to stay in contact with your team. Missed messages, data, or notifications could spell disaster during the bidding process and while working on the project itself. This, in turn, takes a massive toll on your business potential for the future. Therefore, it’s recommended to set up a good, efficient system that streamlines communication processes and provides standardized ways to communicate to avoid any sort of breakdown. Cloud collaboration tools for both bidding and fieldwork can be immensely helpful to build transparency and accountability across project teams.
  2. Reduce risk and improve security: Security is important to specialty contractors. Bid boards on Excel spreadsheets lack the security businesses need to ensure that sensitive data is only seen by employees that are given permission. Transparency can be a great thing, but it can also leave a company exposed. If someone has access to an Excel spreadsheet or confidential project documents, they have access to all of the sensitive information. If an employee takes bid information to a competitor, it can hurt your bottom line and your relationship with general contractors because you run the risk of losing their trust. Instead, move your bid board online and field coordination workflows to the cloud so you can manage who has permissions to important data and bids. Decide who has access to certain information so there are no more surprises for you or the general contractors you work with.
  3. Analyze past project data: Many specialty contractors manage relationships with general contractors based on feel. You might have an idea if you regularly win or lose bids from certain general contractors, but you should be 100% sure. Keeping track of your bidding history and past project data helps teams manage time and efficiently more efficiently. Tracking your bid history in one place can inform better decisions on current and future projects. In-depth reports allow you to look at your entire bid history, see your outcomes with specific general contractors, and track win rate so you can bid smarter.
  4. Innovate, or get left behind: With breakthroughs in technologies each year, the modern construction industry has seen many advances within the last decade. Although some people may have cautioned before to do things the “old-fashioned way” in order to succeed, it is now folly to simply follow that without innovation. General contractors are far more eager to work with firms that they believe are ahead of the technological curve. While changing business workflows and tactics can feel risky, it’s important to embrace change and not be fearful of the technological unknown. In this fast-changing world, over-hesitation leads to stagnancy, which in turn leads to defeat. Using newer tech also shows that you are willing to improve, another trait that contractors seek.

Even though fundamentally at its core, construction is a handshake industry, trickle-down technological advances have already altered it to be so much more. When implemented correctly, technology can be a powerful tool for specialty contractors to build even stronger, and more trusting relationships with GCs and ultimately, their bottom line.

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.