Prime and Subcontracting for Small Businesses

prime subcontracting business

Prime contracting and subcontracting opportunities for the federal government are now available to small businesses. Prime and subcontracting allow small businesses to work on large projects and obtain a fair share of the contract award.

Suppose you want to be a government contractor. In that case, this article will give you insight into whether your business fits to be a prime contractor or subcontractor.

What are a prime contractor and a subcontractor?

Prime contractors are individuals or companies that are working directly with the government. They look after subcontractors and make sure the work will execute as agreed in the contract.

When a project needs to be done, the prime contractor is the person who handles it first. The prime contractor is in charge of the whole project. Prime contractors must ensure that the project will finish on time and stay under budget.

On the other hand, subcontractors are hired by the prime contractor or person in charge of a project. They are primarily engaged in doing a specific job that depends on their expertise.

What is a prime government contract?

A prime contract is a legally binding agreement between a contractor and the federal government in federal government contracting. You can enter into one or more contracts with other contractors under the prime contract to get goods or services from them.

The general, principal or prime contractor is the person or business who is paid to ensure that the task is done.

Small business signing federal contracts on a government agency.

Legal requirements and processes for prime contractors

Small business administration prepares specific processes if you want to get government contracts or if you want to be a prime contractor. These three steps will make your government contracting easier:

Step 1: Register with

To work for the government as a prime contractor, you first need to register your small business with the System for Award Management (SAM). Take note that the new Unique Entity ID from will be the official governmentwide identifier for federal awards beginning on April 4, 2022.

Step 2: Look for federal contracting jobs

FedBizOpps and GSA Schedules are two places where you can look for federal contracting jobs.

With long-term contracts covering the entire federal, state, and local government sector, the GSA makes commercial products, services, and solutions readily available to government customers at pre-negotiated prices.

Step 3: Post your subcontracting opportunities

There is a Subcontracting Network database that you can use to post subcontracting jobs. Small businesses looking for contracting work and small businesses looking for hiring work can reach each other in Subcontracting Network.

Large businesses and small busnesses as contractors and subcontractors.

Subcontracting as a small businesses

Subcontractors do not work directly for the government; instead, they work for another company’s clients or prime contractors.

Federal contractors may outsource some or all of their federal contracting expenditures to small businesses using small business subcontracting agreements.

To supply the federal government, these small firms partner with contractors rather than working directly with it. As a result, small firms will have more opportunities to participate in federal contracts.

Restrictions on the use of subcontractors

Under the U.S. Small Business Administration, small business prime contractors must perform minimum work levels on a federal contract under set-aside award criteria.

Because of these restrictions, businesses that would otherwise be ineligible for set-aside contracts cannot utilize small or disadvantaged businesses as a vehicle to gain access.

The subcontracting limitations are:

  • For service contracts, contract set-asides for small businesses are limited when the contract amount is more than $150,000.
  • For supply contracts, the small business prime contractors must pay for at least 50% of the cost of hiring people on the job.
  • Unless qualified as a non-manufacturer, the small business prime contractor must provide work for at least 50% of the manufacturing cost.
  • For general construction contracts, mall company prime contractors must undertake at least 15% of the contract’s costs, excluding the cost of materials, with their staff.
  • There must be at least 25% of the contract cost performed by small business prime contractor personnel for specialty construction contracts, excluding the cost of materials.

What is a subcontracting plan?

Subcontracting plans inform your customers that you plan to outsource some or all of your work to a smaller company. Subcontracting plans are often included in your contract with your customer.

There are four types of subcontracting plans:

  1. Individual subcontracting plan

    1. For the duration of the contract, this subcontracting plan comprises goals that are based on the offeror’s anticipated subcontracting in support of the particular contract. Indirect expenditures incurred for common or joint purposes, on the other hand, will be charged to the agreement on a prorated basis.
  2. Master subcontracting plan

    Except for the objectives, the vendor’s strategy has everything requested.

    Contracting officers from any federal agency can sign off on the plan, which has a three-year duration. This master plan is then submitted along with the contract supplement by any contractor who wants to bid on a particular request. It must be authorized and signed by all parties involved.

  3. Commercial subcontracting plans

    The commercial subcontracting plan covers the whole production of commercial items sold by an organization for the entire fiscal year of the offeror. A commercial subcontracting program is usually recommended by contractors who supply commercial goods.

    The commercial subcontracting plans should include a list of commercial products.

  4. Comprehensive subcontracting plan

    A comprehensive subcontracting plan is a Department of Defense (DoD) test program. Subcontracting plans can only be negotiated, administered, and reported on a plant, division, or corporation basis for all DoD contracts rather than for each contract.

Benefits of hiring a subcontractors

Subcontracting is a popular method of working together with other companies. Large businesses might profit from arranging for independent or small business subcontractors to accomplish portions of the work contracted to complete.

Here are some factors responsible for why you should hire a subcontractor:


Subcontractors are more cost-effective than full-time employees when you need extra help on a vast project. Most of the time, contractors receive higher compensation per hour than employees.

It is also good to hire a reputable and reliable subcontracting company with much experience. After all, financial savings is always the first benefit of using contractors.

Provide resources and expertise

There will likely come a moment when your company needs to take on more excellent jobs to grow. With the help of a subcontractor or team partner, you can expand your client base and work with more people.

You can achieve better productivity by bringing together resources, information, and expertise. Your subcontractor can provide professionals and other resources for your big project.

Elevate your competence in the market

Subcontractors may be able to deliver a higher level of service and knowledge than your employees. These subcontractors can elevate your competence in the market by providing their expertise and tools to your company.

Subcontractors are also more likely to have performed similar work in the past, which means they can complete the project more rapidly.

Boost productivity

Working with a subcontractor is a great way to boost production. Instead of burdening your employees with menial chores, consider government contracting them out to a third party. Suppose your subcontractor has experience in this field. In that case, this will free up your employees to focus on other essential aspects and core activities of the firm.

Short-term commitment

It’s easier for your business to hire subcontractors than to hire new and full-time employees. Instead of hiring them for long-term work, you hire them for a few short-term projects and then break up. Sometimes, they become a long-term business relationship.

On the other hand, full-time employees make ending a relationship more complex, taking a lot of time and expenses and ending in legal fights. Even if you don’t need their help anymore, you might still have to pay them a salary.

Federal agencies provide assistance to small business.

Hire the right small business subcontractor

Finding the correct subcontractor for your project’s objectives and criteria can be challenging. Choosing a subcontractor involves taking into account the following factors:

Ability and expertise

When looking for a subcontractor, the first step is to assess their competencies. To ensure you get exactly what you’re looking for on time and within budget, ask yourself if they have the resources, skills, tools, and equipment.

Always look for subcontractors whose skills complement those of our in-house team members.


Experience matters as much as ability. Many projects benefit significantly from the expertise of the subcontractor’s team. They may be able to help you improve the quality of your product or save you money by having a better grasp of your business.


The contract should specify the terms of payment. It includes the amount due per hour or project and the date and method.

Regardless of the size or complexity of your project, you should feel like you’re receiving the best value for your investment.

Subcontracting best practices

The best small business subcontractors are those who know what they’re doing, have a solid track record, and consistently deliver high-quality results.

Do not forget these two powerful tips to be a successful small business subcontractor:

Create a detailed subcontractor agreement

Make a written agreement with your partner contractors that serves as the basis for a successful working relationship. Everyone’s expectations, goals, and plans must include in the contract.

It’s fair to take responsibility for damage that you might do, but don’t sign anything that makes you fully accountable for damage others might cause.

Understand the scope of the project

A subcontractor can show off their skills and knowledge by describing a project in great detail and explaining how they plan to do it. Having a lot of information in their final estimate is very important.

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Written by Dawn Pamulaya

Dawn is a professional writer who formerly worked on different websites across Asia, Europe, and America. Today, she focuses more on creating informative content, helping people find their source of business news through GovCon.

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