Can We Just Get Along – 9 Keys to Healthy Relationships Between Landscape Designers and Contractors

How does a landscape designer ensure for a prosperous and beneficial relationship after finding a quality landscape contractor or other sub-contractor? Fortunately this doesn’t have to be difficult. Just follow these 9 important steps.

9. Have the landscape project site prepared for your landscape contractor

If you want to frustrate your landscape contractor beyond belief, schedule them to start and not have the site ready for them when they show up–it’s not pretty. Landscape contractors want to run efficiently just as we do. Respect this and ensure the site is ready for them to begin their work. This can include having materials on site, any staking and tagging that needs to be done and other construction trades out of the way.

8. Nurture your relationship beyond the project site

Building a positive and friendly relationship beyond your landscape businesses can lead to trust and respect which carries over to the project site. There are many ways to foster a positive relationship. You can take the contractor to lunch or coffee; take them to a baseball game, etc. I know of many companies who have an annual “contractor appreciation” party.

7. Present opportunities to bid and work on unique projects

Just as landscape designers prefer to work on high-end prestigious projects, so do landscape contractors. Give them the opportunity to take part in projects they can be proud to have their names associated with. Your contractors will invest more of themselves in unique projects and the results will show.

6. Insist on two-way regular communication

Nothing frustrates me more than when my sub-contractors don’t return my phone calls promptly. A close second is when a contractor doesn’t call me when a landscape design decision needs to be made on site. That said, communication works both ways which means we need to do our best to promptly inform our contractors when schedule changes occur, substitutions are made, etc. Discuss your expectations regarding communication before you begin working together.

5. Maintain control of the landscape project but don’t micromanage

This can be a difficult balancing act. The key is to work with landscape contractors you trust to complete the work to your standards the first time around. Put your trust in them, and let them do their job. Your landscape contractor doesn’t want you looking over their shoulder. This leads to hesitant decision making and frustration on their part.

4. Clearly define the scope of the landscape project

Our landscape contractors want to know exactly what they are responsible for on each project. This leads to more accurate pricing of course. It also leads to less confusion regarding “who’s doing what” between sub-contractors. Here are three ways to clearly define the scope of the landscape project:

1. Provide each sub-contractor with a detailed outline of their responsibilities as well as those of the other sub-contractors.
2. Provide Construction Documents- this includes landscape construction details as well as clearly written specifications.
3. If necessary, hold a “Pre-Bid” meeting on site with all sub-contractors and discuss #1 and #2 above.

3. Pay your contractors immediately

Everyone wants to be paid on time; this is a no-brainer. Provide your landscape contractors and other sub-contractors with a deposit as early as possible and pay the contract balance immediately upon completion of the project. No contractor likes to call and ask for money. I don’t like to get the awkward call from my contractors…so pay on time.

2. Value your landscape contractor’s expertise

Perhaps the biggest frustration I hear from landscape contractors and other trades is that their experience and expertise is not appreciated by landscape designers. Believe it or not, there are other people who know more than we do. We have to show our contractors respect by listening to their ideas and suggestions. We will learn more this way and in the process earn the mutual respect from our contractors.

1. Clearly communicate your expectations

Just as we need to clearly communicate the scope of a project, we also need to candidly communicate our overall expectations to our sub-contractors. Most important is the quality of work we expect. But this also includes expectations regarding scheduling, payments and warranty work. Another expectation that should be discussed is employee conduct. Do you want landscape contractors with uniforms or are you okay with shirtless contractors running around your site? What is your policy regarding smoking on site?

We need to set these expectations up front before working together.