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Subcontractor vs Contractor and Their differences

Even though many people often confuse them, contractors and subcontractors operate very differently. Understanding the difference is crucial if you're about to get involved in a large-scale construction project. It will provide you with a deeper insight into how different tasks are handled and delegated, and will help you figure out what to anticipate during the project.

The main difference between subcontractors and contractors is that a contractor is hired to perform specific tasks, while a subcontractor is hired to provide services to contractors when they don't have the corresponding qualifications or experience. Contractors hire subcontractors to bridge gaps in the project when the contractor's own skills or team members are not sufficient.

What is a subcontractor?

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Subcontractors perform a variety of tasks, similar to contractors. The main difference is that subcontractors work exclusively for contractors and are generally not hired directly by project managers.

Some subcontractors might have ongoing relationships with different contractors, while others are available on the open market. They often specialize more deeply in their main duties. Many subcontractors offer just one service, but they typically perform it better than most general contractors.

Subcontractors may either work through the entire project, or could be hired for a specific, limited set of tasks. The modern construction industry is very flexible in this regard, and some subcontractors are only brought on for very brief durations.

However, it's also possible that subcontracting work may be required throughout the entire project. It's not rare for some subcontractors to participate in a building job from start to finish. Especially ones that regularly work with the contractors that hire them.

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What is a contractor?

An independent contractor is hired directly by managers of construction projects. They may be tasked with a variety of duties. In some cases, those duties might extend beyond the main scope of the contractor. This is the point when a primary contractor typically hires a subcontractor.

Contractors may be experienced in a wider range of areas, or they might specialize in a few select skills like subcontractors instead. Many contractors attempt to build a broad range of skills, as this allows them to be more flexible in their own work while also understanding the requirements and abilities of the subcontractors they hire.

A self-assessment tax return is usually expected from contractors. Subcontractors can sometimes enjoy the benefit of having taxes automatically deducted by the contractors that hire them, but that's not always the case.

Subcontractor vs Contractor



Hired directly by the client

Hired by a contractor

May specialize in a variety of different skills

Usually specialises in one skill

Responsible for the full scope of the project

Only responsible for their own tasks

Typically does their own taxes

May have tax withheld by the hiring contractor

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Subcontractors are exclusively hired by contractors to perform specific tasks when a contractor is unable to provide all necessary services to the client. Contractors are generally hired directly by clients and may work on a wide range of tasks.

Experienced contractors try to maintain good connections with a number of different subcontractors. This allows them to easily compensate for any shortcomings as the project moves forward.

Clara Annesley

Clara Annesley is an interior design and construction content writer. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Architectural Design Technology from the University of West London. Clara specialises in residential construction for topics like health & safety, architectural design and writing cost guides for renovation and remodelling projects.