Top 10 Tips for Effective Subcontracting in Agency and Consulting Projects

Samantha Bustamante

Subcontracting allows many consulting agencies to increase their revenue, client base, and experience without directly competing or leading a project. Frequently, business leaders and agencies leading significant contracts started growing their client rosters by subcontracting. However, subcontracting can be complex if not managed well, leading to issues for subcontractors, prime contractors, or clients.

If you’re thinking of subcontracting or hiring subcontracting, here are ten indispensable tips for effective subcontracting in the consulting space.

1. Assess Project Scope for Rate Determination

Before setting rates, thoroughly evaluate the project's scope. Consider factors like complexity, duration, and required expertise. This assessment will guide you in choosing the most suitable rate structure, whether a flat rate, a percentage of the total project cost, or a retainer model. Tailoring your approach to each project ensures both fairness and profitability.

Try to find information on the budget from the project lead so you can ensure effective hiring practices, which we go into detail below.

2. Balance Expertise with Budget

Finding a balance between the subcontractor's expertise and your budget is crucial. While higher rates often correlate with more experience and better quality, aligning these costs with your project budget is essential. Striking this balance ensures that you maintain quality without compromising your financial goals.

If budgeting is done improperly, contractors may lose money on a project after factoring in subcontractor costs and other expenses related to client work.

3. Consider Subcontractor Value-Add

Subcontractors can offer expertise, experience, or other benefits that may not be available to you and your team.

Geography is a key element that a subcontractor can help, especially when it is part of the evaluation criteria for an RFP or project. For example, if you are a business based in the Southeast but the project requires experience or on-site services in New England, a subcontractor can help you fulfill that need. This can often be a standout element for subcontractors in offering their services.

Lastly, you should consider experience when determining compensation. The experience level of your subcontractors can significantly impact your project. Experienced professionals may have higher rates but can offer efficiency and high-quality work. In contrast, less experienced subcontractors might be more budget-friendly but could require additional guidance and time.

4. Prioritize Transparent Communication

Clear and honest communication with subcontractors is key. Discuss budget constraints and project expectations upfront. This transparency fosters trust and can lead to more effective negotiations, ensuring a mutually beneficial agreement and a smoother project flow.

5. Aim for Fair Compensation and Profit

While maintaining a healthy profit margin is essential, ensure subcontractors are compensated fairly for their work. A general guideline aims for a 50% profit margin, which can vary based on project specifics. Fair compensation motivates subcontractors and contributes to the overall quality of work.

Like consultants, subcontractors can vary in how they prefer to price, from hourly to project-based fees. Communication is key to understanding how this impacts your project.

6. Choose Between Hourly and Project-Based Rates

Decide whether hourly or project-based rates are more suitable for your project. Hourly rates offer simplicity but can lead to billing complications, whereas project-based rates align better with deliverables and outcomes. Consider the nature of the work and the preferred billing method of your subcontractors when making this decision.

7. Negotiate Rates Effectively

Effective negotiation is crucial in subcontracting. Be open to discussing rates and understanding the subcontractor's perspective. Sometimes, offering a slightly higher rate can secure a more skilled professional, which can benefit your project in the long run.

8. Ensure Legal and Contractual Clarity

Make sure all rate agreements are documented in contracts. This step is essential to avoid misunderstandings and provides a reference for both parties. Clear contractual agreements ensure legal compliance and protect your interests and the subcontractor. Intellectual property is one of the most critical legal elements for both sides. Read more information about how to protect your intellectual property as a consultant.

9. Stay Informed About Market Rates

Keep abreast of the current market rates for subcontractors in your industry. Offering competitive rates will help you attract high-quality professionals. Understanding market trends also assists in setting fair and competitive prices, ensuring that you are neither overpaying nor undercompensating. For the current rates, review Prosal’s Consultant Survey and the average cost to hire a consultant in 2023.

10. Be Flexible and Adaptable

The business landscape is constantly evolving, as are consultant rates. Be prepared to adapt your approaches to subcontractor rates as market conditions and project requirements change. This adaptability ensures that you remain competitive and efficient in managing your projects.

Closing Thoughts

Navigating subcontractor rates in agency and consulting projects requires a strategic approach. By following these top 10 tips, business owners, freelancers, and contractors can establish effective, fair, and mutually beneficial relationships with their subcontractors. This not only ensures the smooth execution of projects but also builds a foundation for long-term professional partnerships.


Samantha Bustamante

Alfredo is the COO and Co-Founder of Prosal. He has over ten years of experience working in the nonprofit industry and previously founded a successful digital strategies business, winning over $2 million in RFPs throughout his career. He is an avid mountain biker and snowboarder and enjoys anything that takes him outdoors.

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