As a general contractor, building strong relationships with your clients is important to your company’s success. Good client relationships can lead to repeat business, referrals, and word-of-mouth marketing. A good working relationship built on trust and understanding can go a long way when issues arise on a project.
The general contractor-client relationship should be mutually beneficial to both parties regardless of whether it’s for one project or for multiple projects. It’s a simple formula, the client receives a project completed on time and within budget built to their satisfaction, and the GC gets paid on time and makes a profit.
But how does a general contractor go about building that relationship? What’s necessary to take it from simply rendering services once to something more, something better?
Establishing good communication with your client is probably the most important step to building a strong relationship. The first thing you want to do is establish a single point of contact who will be responsible for all communications with the client. It will simplify the flow of information and eliminate any confusion as to who the client should contact.
You also need to determine what method of communication and how often you will communicate information to the client as a project progresses. This may mean daily or weekly updates or less frequently on larger projects like when major milestones are completed. It’s all about keeping the client informed without bombarding them with constant updates and becoming a nuisance.
Each client is different, so it’s important to discuss how and when they will be communicated with. Email and text are popular methods for communication because it creates a digital paper trail that can be referenced in the event of any issues or disputes. Phone calls and in-person meetings are also good when discussing more complex issues, just be sure to follow up with a quick email recapping what was discussed.
In addition to regular project updates, you also want to keep the client in the loop when any issue or potential problem arises that may lead to a delay in completion. Even if a delay doesn’t happen, you’re showing the client that you are on top of the situation and have a plan of action to keep the project moving.
Regardless of whether it’s a first-time client or one you’ve worked with for years, having a clear and concise contract in place is essential to building and maintaining a strong relationship. It might seem strange to think about a legal document as a key to building a strong relationship. But let’s think about that for a moment, a good contract clearly establishes roles and responsibilities for all parties involved and what each party is responsible for.
A good contract should be easy to understand and written in plain English. The contract should clearly outline roles and responsibilities for both the client and the GC. Clauses for the scope of work, payments, change orders, claims, etc. should be clearly outlined in the contract.
Both parties should sit down and carefully review the contract together. Any gray areas or ambiguous language should be addressed and corrected before signing the contract. Laying out the expectations of both parties in the contract leads to fewer disagreements and finger-pointing should issues arise.
If you’re really looking to build a strong relationship with your client, you want to work with them, not for them. Certain contracting methods and project delivery methods like design-build and integrated project delivery tend to rely on a more collaborative approach. As a general contractor, the earlier in the design phase that you can get in on a project, the better.
Focus on determining what aspects of the project are the most important to the client. It could be the budget, project timetable, quality of work, sustainability, etc. Be sure to ask open-ended questions so you truly understand what the client wants and needs in their building.
Don’t be shy in offering advice and alternatives to your client. Part of your duty to your client is to provide your expertise and knowledge. This can be anything from construction methods and constructability of architectural drawings to subcontractor selection to the building materials and finishes selected for the project.
Keeping your client engaged in the entire construction process also makes it easier to work through change orders and other bumps in the road. Guiding them through the process and being open and honest about how changes will impact the cost and construction timetable is a great way to gain your client’s trust.
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