A construction worker or architect reviewing blueprints and making notes, with a hardhat and various drafting tools laid out on the work surface, suggesting active planning for a building project.

If you’re planning a commercial construction project, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is when to bring a commercial building contractor on board. The earlier you involve a contractor, the more value they can add — but the right timing depends on your project size, scope, and goals. 

In this article, we’ll explore when to involve a general commercial contractor in your commercial project, the pros and cons of involving a contractor at different stages, and what to know before signing a contract with a contractor.

Early Involvement: Design Development Phase  

Engaging a contractor as early as the design development phase for major commercial projects has some significant advantages. At this stage, the project’s overall size, layout, and scope begin to take shape. 

An experienced contractor’s input on budget, constructability, materials, and more can help you avoid issues later down the road. They may spot problems in the design, find ways to optimize efficiency, and provide valuable cost-estimating insights. This allows the design to progress with the final construction in mind.

Early involvement also allows you to take advantage of the contractor’s relationships with subcontractors, which can help lock in favorable pricing and availability.

The downside? Bringing on a contractor this early increases upfront costs. And on the off chance the scope changes dramatically, you may have spent time and money on unnecessary contractor services.

Mid-Point Involvement – 50%: Construction Documents Phase

A good middle ground is engaging a contractor when construction documents are roughly 50% complete. This allows them to weigh in on systems, materials, and details while major design changes are still possible. 

At this point, contractors can provide a more accurate construction cost estimate and advice on value engineering to reduce expenses. They can also start developing and managing a construction schedule, including line items like:

  • Milestones. Major project milestones like start/end dates, groundbreaking, topping out, occupancy, etc.
  • Activities. Individual construction activities and tasks required to complete the project.
  • Activity Sequence. The order and interdependencies of activities. Critical path is identified.
  • Activity Durations. The estimated timeframe to complete each activity, with contingencies built in.
  • Assignments. Resources, tradespeople, or subcontractors are assigned to each activity.
  • Early Start/End Dates. When activities can start/end based on preceding tasks.
  • Late Start/End Dates. The latest an activity can start/end without delaying the project.
  • Total Float. The leeway available in start and end times for each activity.
  • Critical Path. The sequence of dependent activities with zero float that determines the overall project length.
  • Gantt Chart. Visual bar chart showing activities over the timeline. A Gantt Chart helps make the sequence clear.
  • Phase Schedule. Detailed schedule for each construction phase.
  • Procurement Schedule. Timeframes for procuring equipment, materials, and rentals.
  • Inspections Schedule. Required inspections and certifications.
  • Contingency Plans. Backup plans to mitigate risk of delays.

The contractor updates the detailed schedule throughout construction to track progress and adjust timeframes as needed. A comprehensive schedule is crucial for keeping commercial projects on time.

You still reap the benefits of a contractor’s input before the final documents are complete. And while there is less upfront cost than early involvement, you do miss out on gaining the contractor’s knowledge and wisdom during the design process.

Later Involvement – 95%: Construction Documents Phase 

Some owners wait until construction documents are nearly complete to bring on a contractor. This minimizes upfront costs and only seeks the contractor’s input on minor outstanding decisions.

The benefit is you have a comprehensive set of plans for the contractor to review and base their pricing on. But you lose their valuable perspective during design. And changes at this late stage are very costly.

In most cases, the advantages of earlier contractor involvement outweigh the costs. But for small-scale jobs, it may make sense to wait.

Two professionals fist bumping in an office or workshop setting, symbolizing agreement or a successful negotiation. Documents and office supplies are visible on the desk in front of them.

The Benefits of Involving a General Contractor for Commercial Construction Early In the Process

Bringing a contractor on board early in the design process offers several key benefits.

#1 Save on Costs

Contractors can provide accurate budget estimates and advice on value engineering from their experience. This allows you to optimize design to reduce expenses. For example, a contractor might suggest using precast concrete over poured-in-place concrete to save on labor costs for a large project. 

According to a recent construction industry survey, projects designed without contractor input average 18% higher costs overall.

#2 Avoid Issues

Contractors may identify flaws in plans —like impossible angles or impractical material choices — before they become more significant problems. An experienced contractor can spot potential issues that an owner may not be aware of. 

A recent report showed 55% of architects say collaborating with contractors during design helps minimize errors and improves project outcomes versus designing in a silo.

#3 Gain Efficiency

Contractors can recommend ways to improve workflow, construction sequences, and site logistics that make projects run more smoothly. This build efficiency expertise can help speed up overall schedule timelines. 

Having a contractor advise on efficient equipment usage and site plans early on can shave weeks or months off a schedule.

#4 Access Relationships

Contractors have existing relationships with subcontractors, vendors, and tradespeople that they can leverage to get the best teams in place for the project. Bringing a contractor on early in the process allows you to take advantage of these relationships to get quality subs at favorable pricing and availability.

For example, a contractor can call on a trusted electrical subcontractor they’ve worked with for years to take on a project at a reasonable rate based on their ongoing relationship. This provides an advantage over finding subs as an owner through a bidding process.

#5 Enhance Build Quality

Construction knowledge during the design process means more coordinated plans and less need for changes later, resulting in a higher-quality build. In a survey of commercial building owners, 86% who engaged a contractor early in the process reported greater satisfaction with the finished product versus just 61% satisfaction for those who didn’t involve a contractor until bidding.

#6 Reduce Delays

With the contractor’s input on realistic timelines, coordination planning, and site logistics, costly delays from last-minute changes or rework can be avoided. Industry data shows only 24% of commercial projects report delays when a contractor is brought on during the design development phase, compared to 69% reporting delays when contractors are only engaged right before construction.

#7 Leverage Experience

Seasoned commercial building contractors have years of real-world experience building all types of commercial projects. They can foresee risks, optimize budgeting, provide value engineering ideas, point out gap areas missed by owners and architects, and bring an invaluable construction perspective. Tapping into this experience early on provides immense value.

By partnering early with an experienced contractor, commercial project owners set their builds up for success from both a quality and financial perspective. The data clearly shows that early contractor involvement leads to better outcomes across the board.

Looking to involve a commercial general contractor early on? Contact us today.

The Commercial Contractor-Subcontractor Relationship

General contractors frequently collaborate with specialized subcontractors to complete different elements of large commercial builds. Understanding this key relationship is important for project success.

Definition of Roles:

  • The general contractor oversees the entire project, including scheduling, budgeting, compliance, and managing subcontractors. They are your primary contact.
  • Subcontractors are hired by the general contractor to perform specific construction work like electrical, plumbing, or concrete work.

Typical Relationship:

  • The general contractor vets and selects qualified subs for the project scope. Subcontracts are legally binding agreements.
  • The general contractor schedules and coordinates the sequence of subcontractor work on site. 
  • Subs are required to update the GC on work progress and any issues. Communication is crucial.
  • GCs review and approve subcontractor invoices and manage payments to subs.
  • GCs monitor subcontractor work quality and safety compliance continuously. 

Best Practices

  • Frequent communication and collaborative problem-solving lead to the best outcomes.
  • GCs should build relationships with subs over multiple projects and provide fair payment terms.
  • Clear written subcontracts prevent misunderstandings down the road.
  • Well-qualified subs with proper expertise and resources should be prioritized.

Professionally navigating the contractor-sub relationship is key for keeping commercial projects on time and within budget. Strong collaboration, communication, and planning make construction projects run more smoothly.

Construction workers reviewing plans together on a job site. They are wearing hard hats and safety vests, examining documents related to the construction project.

How to Choose the Right Contractor for Your Commercial Build

Selecting the right commercial contractor is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for a smooth, successful construction experience. Here are tips for thoroughly vetting and choosing the best commercial contractor for your upcoming build:

  • Ask Around. Speaking with business owners and developers who have built similar commercial projects can provide great insider referrals to vetted contractors they’ve worked with successfully. Word-of-mouth referrals and reputation are very telling.
  • Check Credentials. Always verify that a prospective contractor has all the required state licenses, bonding, insurance coverage, and other credentials legally required for the scale of your commercial project. Unlicensed or underinsured contractors are risky.
  • Review Experience. Look for a contractor with extensive hands-on experience, specifically in commercial construction projects similar to yours in size, budget, and type. For example, if you’re building a medical office complex, seek contractors experienced in healthcare builds.
  • Request a Portfolio. Ask for a portfolio of past commercial projects, including images and videos, project details like square footage and budget, and client testimonials. A strong portfolio demonstrates proven experience.
  • Interview Thoroughly. Have an in-depth discussion with prospective contractors about your project requirements, goals, potential challenges, and their proposed approach. This helps identify the right fit. Come prepared with questions.
  • Verify Availability. Confirm ahead of proposal submissions that the contractor has the bandwidth and resources to take on your project within your established timeline before moving forward.
  • Compare Bids. For a major project, solicit competitive sealed bids from a shortlist of qualified contractors. Review details closely and have discussions to clarify. Be cautious of extremely high or lowball bids.
  • Assess Responsiveness. Note the contractor’s timeliness and clarity of communication from your very first interactions. This is indicative of their focus on customer service throughout the build.
  • Check References. Speaking to past clients about their firsthand experiences is invaluable. Ask direct questions about work quality, timeliness, responsiveness, and communication.
  • Trust Your Gut. Consider going with the contractor you simply feel most comfortable with and confident in after doing your due diligence. Working together smoothly requires good rapport.

Taking the time to vet and choose your contractor carefully is an investment that pays dividends in the long run with a smooth construction process. Prioritize factors like experience, reputation, responsiveness, and instinct in your decision process.

Project Planning In Cold Weather Climates

When partnering with a commercial general contractor, it’s best to find one that specializes in your area and understands the ins and outs of the local climate and geography. 

This is especially important when undertaking a commercial build in cold weather climates — when equipment performance, concrete pouring, and material storage and handling can all become more difficult. When undertaking a commercial build in a colder climate, it’s essential to find a trusted commercial partner and do the following:

  • Schedule extra contingencies for probable weather delays that can slow projects in winter months. Allow flexibility for tasks like excavation or concrete pouring that require suitable temperatures.
  • Utilize frost-protected shallow foundation designs that prevent frost heave damage. This typically involves insulating foundation walls and footings.
  • Schedule masonry work appropriately and have protections like heated enclosures for any masonry that will be done in winter temperatures. This prevents frost damage.
  • Account for increased snow loads and lateral forces in structural design. Adhere to any heightened snow load building requirements for a particular jurisdiction in NH or Maine.
  • Ensure adequate protocols are in place for the safe removal of snow and ice from the worksite as needed to allow construction to continue through the winter safely.

By planning for items like potential weather delays, frost considerations, and snow removal, commercial builders can overcome the challenges of construction in cold climates.

At Ganneston Construction — we specialize in general contracting in Main and New Hampshire. We’ve managed countless commercial builds during cold weather, and we handle everything from pre construction services to general contracting and design build construction.


What does a commercial general contractor do?

A commercial general contractor oversees all aspects of a construction project, from planning to completion. They manage subcontractors, procure materials, handle permits, and ensure compliance with building codes and regulations. Additionally, they coordinate schedules, budgeting, and communication between stakeholders to deliver projects on time and within budget.

Do you need a general contractor for commercial builds?

Yes, hiring a general contractor for commercial builds is essential. They streamline the construction process, manage subcontractors, handle permits, ensure compliance, and oversee every aspect of the project. Their expertise minimizes risks, ensures quality, and keeps the project on schedule and within budget.

Is a General Contractor Required for Small Commercial Work?

No, a general contractor is not always legally required for small commercial projects. However, hiring a general contractor is highly recommended. They bring expertise in project management, coordination, and oversight, which is crucial for ensuring the success of any construction endeavor. 

Even for smaller projects, a general contractor can streamline processes, manage resources efficiently, and ensure compliance with regulations, ultimately saving time and money.

The Takeaway

Every construction project involves trade-offs. As an owner, deciding when to hire your contractor is one key consideration. 

While early involvement has advantages, even bringing a contractor midway through design can improve the outcome versus late engagement. Focus on choosing the timing that provides the maximum construction insights while controlling costs.

At Ganneston Construction, we handle all aspects of your project to ensure that it is completed on time, within budget, and to the highest quality standards. Contact us today to learn more and get started.

How Can We Help Make Your Project A Success?