How To Find Subcontractors For Commercial Projects: Advanced AI Strategies for General Contractors

Written by Bridget Cooper

DateMay 20, 2024
Reading time12 min read
subs for a project

In the construction industry, hiring subs quickly and accurately is crucial for project success. While most construction workers can do jobs like painting--hiring good subs is more cost-effective than moving your team from higher-priority tasks.

Traditional methods like outdated databases, endless phone calls, and word-of-mouth are time-consuming and often lead to suboptimal results. Our team has developed a tool that streamlines the process of generating subcontractor lists, turning it into a series of efficient, manageable steps.

In this article, we'll walk you through how we created our tool, why it is different, how it works to instantly find subcontractors for commercial construction projects. Let's get to it.

Note: Leverage AI to find dissect project plans, find relevant subcontractors, and send bid invites in minutes with Downtobid. Speed up the preconstruction process and win more bids today. Click here to upload your project plans and try us out for free.

Why Traditional Methods For Subcontractor Searches No Longer Cut It

As a company providing bid-management tools for commercial trade contractors, we were struggling with a major issue: it was getting harder and harder to find good subcontractor leads. Here's what we initially did for our subcontractor hiring process.

Google Maps + Calls

Using Google Maps, we initiated queries such as “electrical contractors in Las Vegas”, followed by an in-depth review of each subcontractor’s website. We would then manually call each potential subcontractor to inquire if they had experience with luxury retail projects. This process was not only time-consuming, often taking days to even prepare a preliminary list of subcontractors, but also highly inefficient. Given the limited size of our estimating team, we simply did not have the capacity to make thousands of calls and adequately vet each subcontractor before inviting them to the job site.

BuildingConnected & Planhub & Other Bid Platforms

BuildingConnected and Planhub initially appeared promising due to their extensive databases of subcontractors. However, we encountered two important issues. Firstly, the data was often outdated, with subcontractors frequently listed under incorrect trades and erroneous contact information, necessitating extensive manual corrections. Secondly, our generic invitations to bid (ITBs) yielded barely any responses. Subcontractors don't respond to impersonal emails from bid platforms. We sought after BuildingConnected and different PlanHub alternatives to find subs but there weren't any reliable networks on the market

Ask For Referrals

We’d ask for referrals from 1-2 local subs and then slowly work the network to find quality subcontractors. For example, we’d talk to a manufacturer’s rep, get 1-3 HVAC subs. Then we’d ask these HVAC subs for recommendations for drywall and electrical and glass subs, rinse and repeat. This was great, but it was still incredibly time-consuming. Again, another manpower issue.

Our Revolutionary Approach To Finding Subcontractors

Finding the perfect subcontractor for a construction project was a long process - until now. Our approach consists of four key components: identifying potential subcontractors in a given area, programmatically vetting them through their online presence, securing up-to-date contact information, and reaching out directly to fill any information gaps. This method speeds up the process and enhances the accuracy of the information gathered, ensuring general contractors can engage only the most relevant and qualified subcontractors.

A Breakdown Of Our Process

Here's how our tool worked to automate the steps:

Comprehensive Subcontractor Mapping

We created a list of common trades we needed and every zip code in the nation to build a gigantic list of subcontractors. If a subcontractor had a website or some internet presence, these methods would find it. Now we have a gigantic list of every subcontractor in the U.S

Automated Data Verification

A gigantic list of subcontractors and websites isn't useful on its own, as there are many potential issues. For example, a subcontractor's website may be out-of-date, or it may be a manufacturer's representative rather than an actual subcontractor. Therefore, the second challenge was to clean the data and make it useful for bidding outreach.

To accomplish this, I built a web-scraping tool that would visit each website and extract the following information:

  • Trades performed
  • Area of work
  • MWBE status
  • Union / non-union status
  • Average project size
  • Past projects
  • Estimating decision makers (emails & phone numbers)
  • Phone numbers
  • Estimating email

Here are some examples of the techniques we used:

  • Predict the trade based on the description on the home-page using machine learning (e.g., if the word "electrical" is common on a home-page, predict that it's an electrical subcontractor)
  • Extract basic information (e.g., location, emails, phone numbers) using web-scraping
  • Look for specific keywords like "MWBE," "union," etc., using web-scraping

Direct Decision Maker Contacts

Armed with a clean subcontractor list, the next challenge was to find the decision maker at each company and their contact information. Unfortunately, most websites don't list the chief estimator's contact information and just have generic emails like info@subcontractor.com. In our experience, if you blindly send a bid to a generic email, you'll rarely get a response.

By using this process, we obtained direct contacts at each company, including their verified email addresses.

We used this process to create a comprehensive list, and a tool so you can send bid invites and hire subcontractors quickly.

Introducing Downtobid...

After interviewing over 100 contractors, we learned about their major pain points (and created Downtobid to solve them):

  • Spending too many hours working on scopes with strict deadlines
  • Struggling to recruit qualified and available subcontractors
  • Generic bid invites yielding poor results
  • Scope gaps leading to poor collaboration, budget overruns, and abandoned projects

We built the best preconstruction software to automate comprehensive scope detection within minutes, recommend qualified subcontractors to contact, enable personalized bid invites, and use AI to detect scope gaps early to prevent confusion.

For Commercial General Contractors:

  • Estimators use it to enhance plan review, preventing missed scope (AI analyzes construction plans, checks for all major trades and writes brief summaries)
  • The AI Copilot then suggests appropriate bid packages and matches them against a list of qualified, local subcontractors
  • The Copilot includes detailed scope of work/sheets in bid invitations, ensuring fewer scope gaps during preconstruction

For Trade Contractors:

  • Estimating teams can now evaluate hundreds more opportunities simultaneously
  • The AI Copilot scans every received plan set/bid invite and detects scope related to your trade
  • If it fits your project criteria, it automatically adds key details (deadline, GC, etc.) to a bid board/calendar
  • Provides analytics for win/loss tracking

Downtobid's Key Features

Here's a quick breakdown of all of Downtobid's key features.

AI Co-Pilot

AI Copilot Our AI Copilot reviews construction documents for completeness, detects scope gaps, and ensures you don't miss important details - replacing the lengthy and expensive manual process.

Personalized Bid Invites In Minutes

We revolutionized bidding with attention-grabbing, personalized bid invite templates containing key project details like location, size, deadline, and scope summary. This increased response rates by 30% on average.

Subcontractor-Centric Planroom

Our streamlined Planroom categorizes documents (plans, specs, photos, misc.) for easy subcontractor access to trade-specific files, improving communication and collaboration.

Straightforward Subcontractor Selection

Our system matches detected scope to a qualified local subcontractor database you can invite, powered by AI and multi-verification to stay fresh. You can also upload your preferred sub list.

How to Use Downtobid

Our system streamlines turning project plans into detailed scopes with an easy-to-use process:

Get started by clicking here.

*Create Project.png

Upload your project plans in PDF format. Plans must be under 1GB in size. Enter your valid email address to receive notifications.

*Project Information.png

Our system will automatically analyze the uploaded plans to detect relevant scopes. This process takes 10-30 minutes, depending on the complexity and length of the plans. You'll receive an email notification once analysis is complete.

*Scan For Scope.png

Log into your account dashboard to access the newly created bid packages. Each package contains:

  • A brief description summarizing the project scope
  • Specific sections/pages of the plans where that scope was detected
  • A list of locally qualified subcontractors we recommend based on matching their skills/trades to the detected scope

*Email Template.png

Take time to thoroughly review each bid package for completeness and accuracy. We use filters so you can label how responsive and engaged subs are.

*Filters.png

As a GC, if you have your own preferred subcontractor list, you can choose to invite them instead. Otherwise, you can leverage our verified subcontractor network to expand your reach. We use the multi-verification process above to keep up updated database and locate quality subcontractors.

How Our Tools Improves The Subcontractor Hiring Process

Once reviewed, you're ready to send bid invites. Our tool improves response rates through:

Attention-Grabbing Subject Lines

Instead of generic titles like "Bid Invite: [PROJECT]", we use project-specific details such as size, type, and location to pique interest and boost open rates.

Truly Personalized Bid Invites

Going beyond just using names, our tool offers customized scope summaries and highlights the qualifications that make each specific subcontractor a good fit. This enables you to specifically target experienced subcontractors who specialize in certain materials or possess specialized skills.

Subcontractor-Friendly Planrooms

We ensure easy access to plans without requiring account creation, avoid overwhelming with multiple plan set versions or preliminary qualification forms, and simplify the focus to help subcontractors quickly understand the project scope.

Well-Timed Follow-Ups

We limit reminders to 2-3 well-spaced follow-ups based on the bid timeline, showing respect for subcontractors' time while underscoring your genuine interest in the project.

Suggested Bidding Schedules

Don't waste time guessing when to send invites. Our system automatically schedules bid invitations to go out at the optimal times when subcontractors are most active on our platform, maximizing visibility. The personalized invites capture attention with key project details like size, location, deadlines, budget requirements, and quantified work units - letting subs quickly evaluate fit without digging through plans. We also automatically schedule staggered follow-up emails to subcontractors who haven't responded, striking the right balance to prompt response without overwhelming their inboxes.

Subcontractor-Centric Planroom

Our planroom interface is designed for easy subcontractor use, with all files organized and indexed by trade for quick access to only the relevant details they need. No more digging through full plan sets - we streamline access to trade-specific sections, photos, specs and misc. files. This focused presentation improves communication, feedback, and collaboration. Subcontractors can even access the planroom for free without creating an account.

Pricing Plans

We offer flexible pricing solutions:

  • Free Plan: For small, simple remodel projects. Basic features with limited functionality.
  • Team Plan: $50/user/month. Ideal for smaller construction teams. Includes a bid coordinator to assist with the bidding process.
  • Enterprise Plan: $499/year (50% off for first year). Best value for larger teams/companies. Unlimited user accounts.

Case Study For Hiring Subcontractors With Downtobid

One of the most compelling validations of our innovative subcontractor tool comes from its application by a general contractor who specializes in constructing luxury retail stores for high-profile brands such as Tiffany’s, Dior, and Ralph Lauren. This general contractor was asked to expand operations into new markets across the country, which difficult because of the absence of local subcontractor networks.

The Challenge

The primary challenge was the need to quickly establish a reliable network of subcontractors in unfamiliar territories. Traditional methods were too slow and often resulted in suboptimal subcontractor lists, making it difficult to meet the high standards required for luxury retail construction.

Our Solution in Action

Our tool was introduced to this general contractor as a means to streamline and enhance the subcontractor sourcing process. By utilizing our advanced technologies—web-scraping, machine learning, and programmatic emailing—the tool was able to:

  • Identify: Compile a complete lists of potential subcontractors in new geographic markets.
  • Vet: Programmatically analyze the online presence of these subcontractors to assess their relevance and expertise, particularly focusing on their experience with luxury retail projects.
  • Contact: Automatically reach out to the most promising subcontractors to verify information and gauge interest, ensuring that only the most capable and interested parties were considered.

The Results

The results were great to improve the project timeline. In no time, the general contractor could build a top-notch list of subcontractors that fit luxury retail construction projects like a glove. This allowed them to be really strategic with their bidding, zeroing in on the subs that were the right fit and actually wanted those types of projects.

  • Speed: Generating sublists went from taking several weeks to just a few days - a huge time-saver.
  • Accuracy: The sub info was current and tailored specifically for luxury retail, so the bids they got were on-point. No more wasted time with irrelevant subs.
  • Efficiency: They could drastically cut back on the manpower needed to find subs, freeing up the team to focus on other crucial project management tasks.

Time To Easily Find & Hire Subcontractors For Construction Projects Across The Nation

If you want to save time, find reliable subcontractors and grow your construction business, try out our software. Simply upload your plans, and let our AI tool dissect your plans, find important project details like the project scope of work, discover relevant subs or trades for the project and send bid invites in minutes.

Click here to upload your plans and try us out for free.

Written by Bridget CooperUpdated on May 21, 2024

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