Communication is the foundation on which any business relationship is built. This is especially true with your subcontractors. Fail to communicate effectively with them and you risk the success of your project, your business and your ability to work with that subcontractor.
More than Just Giving Instructions
Working with subcontractors requires that, not only can you give instructions, but you must also be able to give and take feedback and constructive criticism. It’s the give and take across the spectrum of communication that makes for a successful working relationship.
And that’s not all. As the project manager, you’ll need to be able to communicate with your client as well. You’re the middle man and if you can’t communicate back and forth, then the project is likely to fail.
For example, when you subcontract out a web design project, you will need to make sure you understand your client’s goals and you want to make sure you can communicate this to your subcontractor. In essence, you’ll need to be able to speak your client’s “language” and your subcontractor’s as well.
There are several ways that you can improve your ability to communicate with your subcontractors and your clients.
Clear and Organized
The first thing you want to do is make sure that all communication is clear and organized. While verbal communication may seem easier, written communication is more professional and more easily tracked, especially if you and your subcontractor never meet. Ways to communicate in writing include:
- Email. While email is the most familiar form of conversing in writing, it’s also one of the most unreliable. If you haven’t already, you’ll realize this the first time a subcontractor fails to complete a project, and states that she couldn’t because you didn’t answer her questions in the email she sent three days ago – but you never received.
- Project Management Software. One of the best solutions out there is a project management software called Basecamp. This software allows you to brainstorm ideas using an online whiteboard and also allows you to communicate via messages with your subcontractors and your clients. Each party in a particular conversation receives email notifications of updates. Even better, you can login at any time to see if there are updates. And everything is kept on the Basecamp website for you to access anytime, anywhere.
Once you have a system setup for maintaining communication, you’ll need to develop a communication policy for your company.
When we work closely with people, it’s easy to get frustrated and sometimes even angry. We’re all human and sometimes we don’t think. One way to help you remember what to do in these situations is to have a communications policy. The policy needs to outline appropriate methods of dealing with various situations in which you might be overly emotional.
- How do you handle a subcontractor disappearing for a few days, right in the middle of a time-sensitive project?
- How do you handle a subcontractor who completely misunderstands the instructions that you gave her, even though they are clearly written in your project management system and she read them and said she understood them?
- How do you handle a subcontractor who wants to talk on the phone, and is very chatty about non-business related topics?
These policies can also apply to how you treat your clients and how you allow your clients and subcontractors to treat you.
Making sure you follow up on your communications is just as important as a batter following through on a swing. If the batter stopped her bat as soon as she hit the ball, the ball would barely pass the batter’s box. (It’s called a bunt!) Likewise, if you don’t follow up on your communications, you often won’t get much effort from your team.
So, give your team instructions and then request feedback. And when your team has followed through on your instructions, give them feedback. If necessary, throw in some constructive criticism. And then follow the process in reverse with your client. Follow through will make or break or relationships and ultimately your business.