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Are you a subcontractor wondering how to set expectations and communicate efficiently? Or are you looking to hire a subcontractor but want to know more of what it takes to be one? Check out the final video in a three-part series with Susan Fennema and Don Clark, from FileMaker Pro Gurus, where they discuss what it’s like to be a subcontractor. For a deeper dive, get additional insight into subcontractor relationship management.

Please find a full video transcript below: 

Don:  Hi, this is Don Clark with and FM Database Consulting.

Susan:  And I’m Susan Fennema, Chaos Eradicating Officer for Beyond the Chaos.

Don:  I still love that title. Today, we’re going to be talking about company and subcontractor management, communication requirements, how do you bring a sub on board, working and managing efficiently with different clients and time-keeping obligations, that type of thing. You want to start it off, Susan?

Susan:  Sure. I think, starting it off, you want to set some clear expectations of what the communication requirements are for your team. Right?

Don:  Mm-hmm

Susan:  For example, should a sub-contractor speak to a client without you or another team member present?

Don:  Not without permission.

Susan:  Right. Absolutely.

Don:  Or the guidelines set up in advance, I should say.

Susan:  Right. Guidelines set up. Do you want them to record every meeting they have with the client, you know, via GoToMeeting or Zoom software?

Don:  Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Susan:  What internal software tools are you asking your team to use to be able to communicate well?

Don:  What are some of those tools that you like to use?

Susan:  Slack is a huge, huge tool. I love it. It allows you, especially as a subcontractor if you’re working with multiple clients, you can communicate with them all at the same time.

Don:  Wow.

Susan:  Yeah, it’s a great tool. There is a Basecamp chat in Basecamp 3 that also works similarly if you’re using Basecamp 3. But other tools might be things like your software or your project management tool, and how you expect your sub-contractor to enter notes and how to communicate so that if you are asking them to manage the project, are they managing the project, but you still know what’s going on?

Don:  Right.

Susan:  Right?

Don:  You’re kept up to date as the contractor or the person responsible.

Susan:  Don, you’ve probably had that before. Have you had problems where a sub-contractor goes off and you don’t know what they’re doing, you don’t know what the client needs, you don’t even know where the project is?

Don:  Yeah, I don’t want to share too many details.

Susan:  Too many …

Don:  You know, they promise things, and they don’t do them. They repeatedly promise things, and they don’t do them. If somebody says to me, “I’m going to get on that tonight, you know, or this afternoon, and I’ll have it fixed by tomorrow morning …” Oh, looks like we lost … Our web’s back.

Susan:  Yeah, I’m back. Sorry about that.

Don:  Good… Somebody promises something … In my opinion, if you promise it, you make it happen. If you can’t, then you reach out and say, “Okay, my truck broke down, blah, blah, blah, and I can’t …” That works once, maybe twice, but it doesn’t work every time you promise something.

Susan:  Right.

Don:  So, get it done.

Susan:  They need to get it done. The other is, is that if you had asked … And I am sorry if you can hear my dog barking in the background. If you have asked a subcontractor to work directly with a client, you also need to know what they talk about. They can’t just go off on their own like it’s their project. It’s not because the contractor’s still responsible to the client.

Don:  Right. What has the client asked for? What did you promise as a result?

Susan:  When’s it due?

Don:  And then, just how much time involved? Especially, in the case of a change order. There’s just something there. You need to be in … I need, as a contractor to be in contact with the client to set, to get a change order down.

Susan:  Right, exactly. And …

Don:  That could be done for the same amount of money that if you were doing it in a project. If they are not doing it as a project, you still to let them know. If you’re just doing by the hour, you still need to say, “Okay, this is something we hadn’t discussed before. Be aware of the fact this is going to add four or five hours to what we’re doing.”  Or whatever the number happens to be.

Susan:  Right, and it’s important I think from that standpoint, as a subcontractor that you are also approaching it as a businessperson. Right? Not just a developer. Another thing as far as communication requirements are I always suggest don’t ever give your cell phone number as a subcontractor to a client, ever. There are many ways to set up communications that don’t involve that. If you are using Slack, you can do conference calls via Slack.

Don:  Okay.

Susan:  You can set up Zoom and have conference calls via that method, which also allows you to record it.

Don:  What we’re using too, by the way, and I record all my, almost everything I do with a client. You know, I’m sharing a screen, I can share my screen, I can record and if they are interested, I send them a link. I plug a Dropbox from iCloud or the cloud on Zoom.

Susan:  And as a project manager, I would tell you that you want to post that to your project management tool too as a history, as a … You know, you can always go back to it. But, it keeps all of that in one place.

Don:  Right.

Susan:  The other is that if you are working with a subcontractor on a regular enough basis, you might want to set up an email address from that person at your domain.

Don:  Correct.

Susan: So that they look more like a part of your team and then also you have access to those communications in the back end. You don’t want to lose sight that the client’s still yours even though the subcontractor might be managing them.

Don:  Let’s change gears here a little bit real fast. How do you bring a sub onboard? What’s your opinion on that?

Susan:  Oh sure. Explaining your company culture and your company structure is important.

Don:  Mm-hmm

Susan:  They need to know what your expectation is of how your company presents itself to a client.

Don:  Okay.

Susan:  And to that degree too, remembering that every touch, every interaction with a client is branding to your company. Your subcontractors, if you’re the contractor, your subcontractors are a reflection on you.

Don:  Oh yeah.

Susan:  You want them to understand how you are different from everyone else that does this and what you expect them to present.

Don:  Good points, all. There’s going to be training involved.

Susan:  Right.

Don:  Not just training on being a file maker, developer. We hope that they are up to speed on that kind of stuff, although most of us are always open to learning new stuff. But, the training in terms of like you were just mentioning, dealing with the customer, keeping your time, keeping proper notes, updating things the way they need to be updated.

Susan:  But even with the software, is it a complex? Is the solution that they are working on something that you need to walk them through and what does the client … Where did we leave off? What does the client expect? Does the client also develop in this? Are they going to be working on your work?

All of those things are important to discuss. Now, if you are with a very senior developer, they might just be able to jump in and do it and it’s fine. But, as a more junior developer, they’re probably going to need a lot more hand-holding. You’re going to have to answer a lot more questions. You should never expect they are just going to figure it out by themselves.

Don:  No, and you’ve got to also, even with senior developers, you may have something that you are doing that’s new. For example, connecting to Amazon.

Susan:  Oh, yeah.

Don:  Pulling data down and they haven’t done Amazon before. Well, are they supposed to figure it out and they get paid to figure it out? Are they supposed to … Or am I supposed to help them or somebody else in the organization is supposed to say, “Okay, here’s some code, here’s some references from on-site.” I mean, let those things be known so that they’re not guessing, more importantly, they’re not charging for everything while they are learning.

Susan:  Right, I mean, you can’t … If you as a contractor say, “Oh, you don’t know how to access Amazon. Okay, let me teach you.” So then the question becomes, are you training somebody and also if you’re a contractor aren’t you like, “Well, I’m teaching you how to do this so you should be paying me.” Right? Not the other way around. Or is this only for this one client? Is it a specific thing about their server? That might be billable to the client if it’s specific to them. Or maybe if you’re learning and coming up to speed, you reach an agreement where, hey as we do this we’ll split the fee in half and we’ll pay … You know, you learn, you get a little done, we’ll do it for half-rate and then once you’re really in, we’ll do it for full rate.

But if I’m teaching you something that is a new training technique or new lesson for you, that might as a subcontractor, you might just say, “Thank you.” And bill that at all.

Don:  Yeah, that’s generally what happens as well as we talked about that last time we met, which was doing things over or covering, which generally falls back on the subcontractor. All those things are different for employees. They are going to get paid because they are there every day or part-time or whatever it is, whatever they are expected to get paid for. They look it over because that’s what their job is.

Susan:  It’s different with a subcontractor, right? The other is making sure you have a clear onboarding and offboarding process. What passwords are you giving people that you know you need to change if something doesn’t work out, or if they leave?

Don:  Yes, client security.

Susan:  What’s the list of all of the software and client material that they should have access to? All of those things can be very consistent between each developer, so have a list that you always just run through. Oh, they need email, they need Slack, they need Basecamp, all of that kind of stuff so that you can set them up quickly.

Don:  Right, and access to a shared Dropbox folder for example.

Susan:  Right. Perfect example.

Don:  Yeah, and again, other things like communication. We go back to communication, setting up the obligations and the structure for communication. One more thing that just occurred to me. When you bring somebody online, you need to let them know what happens if the customer puts something on hold.

Susan:  Right. You know, and that’s important to note too. As a contractor also to let your client know that if you put this on hold, there’s not a guarantee I can get my sub back when you’re ready. Right? You might … If you’re going to put this on hold, you might encounter some fees of somebody else coming up to speed on this. So that’s something that you can set the expectation with the client and the subcontractor.

Don:  Yeah. And if you want something rushed at that point, there could be a rush fee.

Susan:  Right.

Don:  Somebody to be able to drop something else to go to that trouble, to contact their people, us to rearrange schedules and things like that and probably work into the evenings and on weekends and holidays and stuff like that, if it’s a real rush project.

Susan:  Well, and it will affect your other clients.

Don:  Yes, exactly.

Susan:  So, all of those are challenges you have to discuss. Communication, I think that’s been our theme.

Don:  That’s been our theme and I think that we can call it quits there today for this with that message. Communication is a big key. You’ve got to make sure that everybody understands from both sides that communication is critical. Open lines of communication, don’t be afraid to speak up. That doesn’t mean be rude. It just means, hey, I’ve got a concern, I’ve got an issue, or have you thought of this? There’s something you need to consider.

Anyway, great communication is a great thing to have and it’s going to make your life a whole lot easier. This is the third video that we’ve done. We’ve got a series of three more videos coming up in the new year. Susan, do you want to touch on those?

Susan:  Those new videos will be more about project management than about subcontracting. We will talk about how to better help your team, whether you’re a big team or a small team, be able to finish your projects.

Don:  Here we go.

Susan:  Not just have them run on forever. We’ll talk about that in the new year.

Don:  Give you time to sign off so that there’s a line between the project is now done and this is a whole new thing.

Susan:  Right. And support agreements, we’ll talk about too.

Don:  We’ll talk about that as well. We’ll see you all in the new year. Thanks very much.

Susan:  Thanks, guys.

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