A tough lesson for many IT consultants to learn is that tech consulting firms cannot master every technology clients require; however, some consultants don't let that stop them from accepting and completing projects exceeding their technical capacity. I frequently see the evidence in the form of server configuration errors, improper router and firewall settings, and over- or under-built infrastructure.
The fact is a single firm can't reasonably develop and maintain expertise in a never-ending list of critical technologies, which often include Cisco routers, SonicWALL equipment, Windows servers, Linux boxes, Macintosh networks, CRM platforms, and point-of-sale devices. Instead, intelligent IT consultants strive to develop strong relationships with key providers who possess skill sets that fill important gaps within their service offerings.
Whenever subcontracting work to another firm, you must perform due diligence to ensure the subcontractor performs professional work, as their performance directly reflects upon your reputation. If you pick a bad subcontractor, you can kiss a client goodbye.
Here are four tips for establishing effective partnerships with subcontractors.
#1. Ensure the subcontractor's business philosophies match yours
Nothing leads to failed subcontractor relationships faster than mismatched business objectives. If your organization prides itself on knocking out multiple, low-margin projects quickly, it will frustrate you if the subcontracting firm obsesses over inconsequential details to the detriment of deadlines or changes project scope on the fly. Similarly, if your organization aims to build long-term relationships with businesses, it can be disastrous if the subcontractor thinks nothing of soaking clients with exorbitant hardware markups.
The only way to know whether another firm shares your philosophies and business objectives is to learn what other organizations say about their work. So ask around, attend networking events, and interview their former employees if possible. If you're not meeting for coffee regularly with subcontractors, both to gauge their commitment to projects and to learn more about how they conduct their operations, you're overlooking an important responsibility.
#2. Confirm the subcontractor is proficient in the required areas
A subcontractor's claim of expertise in a specific field doesn't mean he's an expert. I've learned that many firms that advertise expertise within a specific technology category don't even possess those skills in-house -- they subcontract the work.
Confirm a subcontractor is actually knowledgeable in the areas you require. While you don't need subcontractors to pass standardized tests, a few options are available for helping gauge expertise. Ask previous clients how happy they've been with the service they received. Talk to other IT consultants. Before beginning any work, ask for a planning document that describes the organization's plan and approach toward a specific real-world project. Search for any significant and obvious gaps. Further, ensure critical staff wielding the skills you need are actually the subcontractor's employees and not 1099ed contractors. Otherwise, your subcontractor's ability to properly and efficiently manage these technicians is weakened.
#3. Verify the subcontractor has capacity
If the partner is overwhelmed with their clients and projects, the likelihood that they'll carve time out of their busy schedule to accommodate your clients is very low. And, when the subcontractor does find time for your clients, he likely won't be favorably disposed to investing much in the relationship. Thus, you must ensure the subcontracting partners you select not only possess in-house expertise, but also that they possess capacity and value your organization's projects.
#4. Assume the role of project manager
Subcontractors aren't employees; so you must invest more time and effort planning, scheduling, and executing projects. When dependent upon subcontractors, you typically can't just place an appointment on one's schedule with the date, time, and service description; you must coordinate schedules with the client and the subcontractor. Then you must ensure the subcontractor understands the project, its scope, its requirements, and the project's budget.
Whereas you might assume an employee responds on-site and on time the day a project is scheduled, I recommend calling the subcontractor a week before, the day before, and the day of a scheduled service to eliminate any misunderstandings. Then, when the subcontractor reports that the work is complete, you should perform an on-site inspection and test to determine first-hand that the project was completed as required and to the client's satisfaction.
Related TechRepublic resources
- Growing your consultancy: Choosing subcontractors and partners
- Need help on a project? Here's advice on finding a good subcontractor
- Use these guidelines to clearly establish your relationship with a subcontractor
- Tips for success as a subcontractor
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.