I sit on the Advisory Board for Skanska Northwest and at the last meeting Fred Fox, the Northwest Business Manager gave a brief talk that I wanted to share with you. These are his tips for subs trying to get work.

Public vs. Private

For both types of jobs you want to keep in touch with estimators to find out which jobs are coming up and what types of work will be needed on the jobs.  This is an ongoing requirement if you wish to have the best chance to win work.


Projects that are government projects tend to be won primarily on price.  Therefore, you need to do a few things to win these contracts:

  • know when the project bids and make sure you get solicitations for bid when the general contractor sends them out.
  • submit your bid on time, with no scope surprises (exclusions that weren’t discussed).
  • follow-up after the bid to find out whether you won and if not, what were the reasons and how competitive you were on your price.
  • make sure that your firm is listed on http://www.omwbe.wa.gov/biznetwas/mainmenu.asp if it qualifies. This is very important on public works jobs in WA and you should similarly seek credentials from other entities such as the federal government, tribes, women owned associations, etc. These credentials can help a general contractor meet contract requirements and these credentials can be very valuable in winning work.


  • The best thing you can do to get involved in a private project is make the private owner want you involved. If the private owner wants your firm involved, the general contractor will happily involve your firm in the project.
  • Relationships with general contractors can be very important on private jobs. These relationships may determine if you’re considered for a role and how much competition you’ll face. The ideal amount of competition for you is none, meaning your relationship, say with the owner, guaranteed your involvement.

Who to Meet in a General Contractor

  • Before a bid, estimators are the most important people to interact with.  They frequently choose who gets to bid a project.
  • You should also get to know anyone who works on diversity or small business initiatives with the company as those people have the same goal as you – higher participation for your type of business.
  • Finally, just after projects are awarded, find the project manager of the project and ask him or her whether they have unallocated items of work in your specialty so that you may have a chance at that work. Not all work is directed to subcontractors at the time of the bid.

Big Company vs. Little Company

  • Big companies are neither your enemy nor your friend. They simply employ a lot of people. Some people in large companies will not reach out to help you. Others will work very hard to assist you. Personally, I believe that you will do better working with those inclined to help than trying to “convert” those who are not.
  • Not all people who work in large firms always worked in large firms. If you want to talk to people who understand your needs, talk to people who have worked for small firms or who have family members who work for small firms. These people may better understand your obstacles “even though” they work for a large firm.

I elaborated just a bit more here since I was trying to be concise at lunch. These tidbits can really be valuable to subcontractors that don’t really know how things work.

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