Library - The Pros and Cons of Subcontracting with Prime Defense Contractors

 Library - Five Cardinal Rules for Defense Contractors


The Pros and Cons of Subcontracting with Prime Defense Contractors

Each year, there are thousands of subcontracting opportunities with prime DoD contractors. For some small businesses, subcontracting to a prime defense contractor is a great way to "get a foot in the door" of government contracting.  These opportunities exist nationwide and overseas in support of our military forces and DoD operations.

Benefits to Partnering with Prime Contractors
There are several important benefits to partnering with prime contractors. These benefits include:

  • Prime contractors are frequently required to partner with small businesses when bidding on or performing contracts for federal, state, or local agencies. 
  • Thousands of small business opportunities with prime contractor exist each year.
  • Vendors to prime contractors forego the administrative overhead costs and resources necessary to manage execution of large contracts.
  • Small businesses can gain valuable experience within a new industry as an apprentice to a prime contractor.
  • Subcontracting to a prime can be a springboard to future direct contract awards within an industry.

Limitations as a Subcontractor
There are several key limitations (or offsets) associated with partnering with prime contractors. These disadvantages should be weighed against the benefits to determine whether a specific partnership makes sense.
Prime contractors will take a slice of your profit margin… sometimes a large slice!

  • Prime contractors often impose “non-compete” clauses to prevent your company from bidding on similar contracts. 
  • Prime contractors have proprietary rights to the work your company performs while under contract with them on a specific project.
  • On a day to day basis, your employees (working on a specific project) will be following direction from the prime’s project leadership. Often this creates a sense of divided loyalties. 
  • Sometimes subcontractors absorb a disproportionate amount of responsibility for projects encountering difficulties.
  • The low guy on totem pole (subcontractor) can become a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong.
  • Communication with the Prime Contractor’s Staff may not always 
  • be “Full and Open.”  Prime contractors frequently do not include subcontractors in all meetings with the Government because this is not always practical or possible. As such, often subcontractors may not receive all the facts, guidance, and feedback it needs on a project.
  • Competition to Partner with Big Prime Contractors Can Be Keen.  Prime contractors are very specific in their requirements for partners. Prime contractors want partners who give them a competitive edge over other prime contractors.  

Video 1 - Six Ways to Do Business with Military (2 May 2017)

"Six Ways to Do Business with Military Bases"

Download our helpful Defense Contracting Guidebooks: 


The Wait Can Be Long!
Often the waiting list to get into see a Small Business Specialist at a military base can be long... frequently very long. And when your appointment date finally arrives, you might only get a few minutes of consultation. 
Why Not Get the Help You Need Today!
You can download and use our helpful defense contracting guidebooks. They are easy to read and packed with valuable information you will find extremely helpful for doing business with the Department of Defense and with military bases.

Download and Use our Helpful Guidebooks 

 Defense Studies Institute Small Business Specialist 


   Defense Studies Institute Army Corps of Engineers

Defense Studies Institute Marine Corps Defense Studies Institute Government Subcontractor
What Do Military Bases Purchase?
Master list of products, materials, equipment, and services routinely purchased by military bases and DoD organizations. 
Doing Business at Military Bases
Small business opportunities and points of contact at military bases and DoD agencies across the United States.
Subcontracting Opportunities
Detailed step-by-step guidance for becoming a successful subcontractor or supplier to prime defense contractors.