As a Director of Core4, a busy commercial property maintenance and facilities management company, I’m often asked for referrals to reliable local contractors in Brisbane. To me, picking the right contractor is like selecting the right person for a job. You need a strategy and process … and you need to invest time in finding the right “fit”. Instead of using our extensive pre-qualification process here are some guidelines that will help everyone.
Just like recruitment, there are three logical stages to recruiting a contractor: interview screening; applications (quotes), and reference checks. By asking the right questions at each stage, you’ll have all the information you need to make a smart decision.
Stage One: The “Interview”
Stage One is the “screening” interview: your first contact with the company you might hire. This is when you form your crucial first impression of a contractor. You can test your “gut reaction” by asking yourself the following questions.
- What was their first communication with you like – did they actually pick up their mobile if you called, or respond to your initial email quickly?
- This might sound old-school, but it’s critical. You are investing a big chunk of money, and time. You need to hire someone reliable who stays in contact throughout your project.
- Face-to-face meetings are essential for measurements and determining scope of work.
- Did they turn up at the agreed time? This is another good indicator of future reliability.
- First impressions count. What kind of impression did they make? Did they strike you as trustworthy and straight-up, happy to answer all your questions?
Stage Two: The “Application”
If the contractor makes it through the pre-screening, the next stage is the application … in other words, the quote.
Whatever the scale of your project, the quote needs to convince you that the contractor is a genuine professional who has taken the time to think about your needs – not just copied and pasted a generic spiel. Again think about it like you’d think about a resume – is it tailored to your needs, does it convey pride in their work and show what they can offer you? Questions to ask:
- Does their quote come up to scratch?
- Did they submit their quote when they said they would? (Resumes submitted late get scrapped).
- Does the quote go into enough detail about pricing assumptions and the what, who and when of your project?
- What are the deliverables?
- How many staff or supervisors will be assigned?
- What are the main project milestones and overall completion date?
- Were there any obvious errors in the quote, like GST not included? (You might be able to forgive a typo, but not a flat-out mistake).
- Is the contractor happy to answer questions about the quote? Again, not wanting to go into detail or getting back to you about questions is a huge red flag.
My main tip for quotes is look at the fine print. You’re busy, so it’s easy to “tick and flick”. But are there “allowances” that could be subject to change at a later date?
What about “exclusions”? For example in Queensland, most residential building works valued at over $3,300 require home warranty insurance. Has this been included in the quote? (You can read more about the ins and outs of home warranty insurance, which is vital for home builds and renovations, at the QBCC website).
These are just some examples, but the quote following on from your initial meeting or phone call will usually give you a definite instinct about whether or not to go with a supplier.
My strong advice is that you then go the extra step and validate your gut feeling by doing a background check on your potential supplier.
Stage Three: The “Reference Check”
Most firms have websites, trade directory listings, and Facebook pages. Online testimonials are good, but they’re only one (anonymous) source of information.
For a major contract, I prefer to ask for details of a previous customer who can vouch for similar, prior work. Would you hire someone just off the back of their resume, or a written reference they’ve supplied?
Questions you might ask referees include:
- What kind of work did the contractor do for you?
- Was the work finished on time and in budget?
- What was the quality of the work like?
The big question is the simplest one: “Would you recommend them to do this work for me?” You’ve probably heard TV’s Dr Phil’s mantra: “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”.
In my view the best predictor of a successful contract is the last contract!