The 7 Commandments of Working with Contractors

As great as it feels to conquer a major project on your own, the reality is that sometimes we all need to get some help. Finding the very best local contractors is a definite challenge.

But once they’re engaged – what are the best ways to work together? Having been a contractor for quite a while in my earlier working years, I’ve had the opportunity to see things from both sides of the fence, so to speak.

See what I did there?? ;-)

Below are my 7 tips (or ‘commandments’ if you prefer) for having the very best experience in partnering with contractors…

Contractor Tip 1: Know What You Want

Whether you’re hiring a local contractor to repair your roof or install a lawn sprinkler system, they need to know what you expect – and you need to communicate this clearly.  Now, it’s perfectly reasonable that you don’t know every detail as you’re getting started, and if so, convey this immediately. I usually start out with a written bullet list in hand (sometimes along with a drawing or photo) showing what it is that I *know* I want along with questions regarding items I’m not sure about. Reviewing a contractor’s portfolio together can often shed light on some of the items you’re unclear on and might even give you additional ideas you hadn’t considered as well. This first interaction will often set the tone for the entire working relationship. It’s critical that you’re as prepared and clear as possible.

Asphalt Tamping

Contractor Tip 2: Write Everything Down

You should always have a contract. Sometimes it’s a little awkward when you’re working with someone who wants to move forward on a handshake. That’s a really nice philosophy, but not a prudent one to follow. You definitely need a contract stating the details of the work to be done, the anticipated schedule, the payment terms and guarantee/warranty details.

Contractor Tip 3: Constant Communications

While the work gets underway, keep yourself involved in the progress. Talk to the foreman and the crew about progress and obstacles they run into. They’ll surely contact you if there’s a surprise that requires an “executive decision,” but don’t relegate yourself solely to that role. Remain “gently” involved (check on progress every couple of hours, see if there’s anything needed, etc.) and things will be much more likely to go the way you want. And while it’s always ideal to be on-site while work is underway, life often is not so accommodating. (My wife and I both work full-time, for example.) If you’re in a similar situation, maintaining communications is a much bigger challenge. I often contact the foreman via cell phone at least once during the day or at night after I have a chance to see the progress while I was away. I’ve also been known to leave notes (again – keeping things in writing) with tunes or clarifications. In some sense, I may over-communicate a little, but that doesn’t hurt anything. Better safe than sorry!

Pool Construction

Contractor Tip 4: Things Must Progress YOUR Way

You’re the boss. It’s imperative that you’re not shy about quickly communicating if you’re unsure about the way something is going. If you allow the crew to do things the way they feel is best because you’re worried about telling them it’s not your style or it’s not what you expected, you’re ultimately going to be unhappy. You don’t want that – and the folks you’ve hired don’t want that either. In the end, though, they’re going to finish their job, get paid and leave. You need to live there. Be respectful and pleasant of course, but you need to be direct if things aren’t coming out the way you anticipated.

Contractor Tip 5: Always Plan for Delays

The mason may not be able to make his schedule as it’s been raining for several days. The flooring guy may not be able to start your job on time as the tile you want is on back-order. Construction is often a frustrating endeavor, with many potential delays and it’s frankly rare that a project completes precisely on-time. Don’t let anyone delay you without just cause, of course, but anticipating delay beyond the stated schedule is a prudent position to take. Plan for it from the get-go, and it may help keep your life just a little more calm and sane.

Sidewalk Demolition

Contractor Tip 6: Remember the Golden Rule

We’re all people. We’re all essentially the same. During my time working construction, I found that customers treated us all very differently. And the reality is that it’s much nicer to work for customers who treat you like people, as opposed to workers. I’m not suggesting you invite the team inside for a 5-course meal here, but I am suggesting the following: If it’s freezing outside, keep everyone supplied with hot coffee. Providing some donuts in the morning or cookies in the afternoon? That’s a nice thing to do. If it’s sweltering-hot, by all means please keep a supply of ice water available – and if you really want to go the extra mile, watermelon or the like provides refreshment as well as energy. I can assure you from the worker point of view, I loved customers who went this extra little way to watch out for us. You want your crew to be happy. It’s good for everyone.

Contractor Tip 7: Show Your Appreciation

Personal (word of mouth) referrals are often the most effective way for a contractor to grow their business. If you have a great experience working with a particular company, let the owner know you plan to refer them to your friends and co-workers. Give them permission to use you as a reference. You can even offer to write a testimonial for them if they have a web site. This is another win-win type of situation, because if someone has truly done an outstanding job for you, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. It feels great!

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Comments

  1. I like your seventh tip about how customers can show their appreciation. References to friends and family are traditionally the way that contractors grew their business, so that’s always a great tool to help a business you had a good experience with. Plus, as you said, writing internet testimonials and acting as a general reference are other ways you can really help out a business. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Laurel Larsen says:

    I think communication is so important when working with any type of contractor, especially when it comes to your home. My husband and I are in the middle of a remodel, and realizing that we need some help to get all of the electrical work right. I’m going to remember to have everything in writing so that we know what to expect in terms of schedule and budget.

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