The art of negotiation: empowering specialist subcontractors

Yosof Ewing is chief executive of atrail Systems

In the vast and unpredictable environment of the construction industry, specialist subcontractors sometimes contend with unfair contract terms, payment abuse and even mistreatment. The consequences of this can be so grave it threatens a business’s viability and can result in insolvency.

“You wouldn’t set sail without the necessary provisions, so why enter a negotiation unprepared?”

In addition, the unfair treatment of smaller contractors by tier one and other large contractor companies and employers in terms of late and non-payment can lead to financial and psychological damage.

However, with the right skills and knowledge, specialist subcontractors can overcome and even avoid these issues so their businesses not only survive, but thrive.

Allow communication to lead the way

Clear communication is the compass with which subcontractors can orient themselves towards success. It involves more than just expressing your needs; it is about crafting messages that resonate with main contractors, and making your terms non-negotiable yet reasonable. It’s the skill of articulating the value you bring to the project, ensuring your voice is heard and respected.

Take time to understand

The contract is your map. Knowing its contours and pitfalls allows you to navigate it with confidence. This means not just skimming through the terms but understanding them inside out. It’s about identifying clauses that could potentially sink your business and renegotiating them.

It is important to emphasise a contract is not set in stone; it’s a starting point for discussion. Make sure you have fully understood what is outlined, but also what you have compromised, to prevent any confusion or regret later down the line.

Be tough but fair

In negotiations, decisiveness sets the direction of where your negotiations are going to go. It shows you’re in command of your deal. This doesn’t mean being inflexible but knowing what you want to get out of the negotiation and standing firm on your non-negotiables. It’s about having the courage to walk away when a contract threatens your business’s integrity or values.

Listening is key

Listening is the anchor that stabilises your negotiation. It’s about genuinely understanding the other party’s needs and concerns, which can often reveal common ground you weren’t aware of. Listening more and talking less can be your strongest negotiation tactic.

Prepare for every step

Preparing for every step is what is going to set your negotiation up for success. You wouldn’t set sail without the necessary provisions, so why enter a negotiation unprepared? This means knowing your numbers, understanding market rates, and anticipating counterarguments. The more prepared you are, the smoother your negotiation will be. If you fail to prepare, you need to be prepared to fail.

Don’t be afraid of persistence

Being persistent shouldn’t be looked down upon.  Specialist subcontractors work tirelessly to keep their business moving forward. It’s about not giving up at the first sign of a storm. Rejection or resistance doesn’t mean defeat; it’s merely an obstacle to navigate. Persistence, paired with professionalism, can turn the tide in your favour. When you can’t reach a resolution, don’t push any further, and remember it is ok to walk away if you’re not aligned.

Assess the compromises

It is important to keep an eye on the horizon, identifying potential compromises. Not every hill is worth dying on, and knowing when to compromise can avoid unnecessary battles. It’s about distinguishing between what you want and what you need, ensuring you don’t give away the latter.

Let these skills empower you

Negotiation is not just a skill; it’s an art form that specialist subcontractors must master. It’s about understanding that you’re not just a sub contractor but a vital, specialist piece of the construction puzzle. By embracing these skills, you assert your worth, demanding the respect and fair treatment you deserve.

Be mindful of the choices you are making and consider asking for a deposit before you start anything. Negotiations can be lengthy and can lead to unnecessary expenses that you may not be able to afford.

The construction industry is notorious for its rough environment, but equipped with the right skills, specialist subcontractors can navigate through the toughest negotiations. It’s time to change the narrative from one of victimhood to one of empowerment. The art of negotiation can be mastered by repositioning yourself and your business as respectable and diligent.

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