Are you thinking of a career change? Many people shift from working for a boss to working for themselves as a way to increase their freedom and their earnings at the same time.
As a general contractor, you can be the boss and take charge. This is an extremely appealing prospect for many. If you have the skills and dedication, you can stop answering to someone else and position yourself as the expert on any job site.
There are many steps you have to take to become a general contractor. Besides the knowledge you already accrued in your career, there are also certifications and legal considerations to factor in when pursuing this course.
That isn’t to say it isn’t worth it. By all indications, we’ll only have more need for general contractors, especially as more and more business moves online. Being able to market yourself as a general contractor will be key to your success. COVID-19 has only accelerated this. About 75% of internet users reported that they intend to avoid shopping in stores due to the pandemic. That means online referrals are more important than ever.
If you want to become a general contractor, here are 7 things you need to know to be a success.
1. Find Your Field
The first thing you should know in order to become a general contractor is what field you are interested in. Perhaps you already have work experience in specific areas. Or perhaps you have specialized knowledge of certain fields. You can and should leverage this to your advantage when setting out as a general contractor.
While having a broad base of knowledge is certainly helpful, you should also know what you are especially good at. Maybe you have worked with HVAC contractors in the past, for example. That’s great! You can market yourself as a general contractor who knows a lot about HVACs in particular.
This is not just practical, but also lucrative. You might be able to charge more if you can position yourself as an expert in your field.
By the same token, it’s important to know what you aren’t as good at. While a broad range of knowledge is helpful, it’s impossible for one person to know everything. Understand that as a general contractor you will still need to rely on others. Being the boss doesn’t mean that you can go it entirely alone.
For example, you might know a lot about HVACs, but less about fences. In that case, talk to some fence contractors and get what knowledge you can. Trust their opinions and expertise when your own knowledge has gaps. This balance of leveraging what you do know and understand what you don’t know is important to learn if you want to become a general contractor.
2. Know What Basic Skills You’ll Need
Beyond the broad knowledge, you also need to honestly assess what skills you have and which you don’t. As a general contractor, you don’t need to be able to do every single job on a worksite, but a broad base of knowledge is certainly helpful.
One way to acquire these skills and fill in gaps is by spending some time on a construction site before setting out to become a general contractor on your own. In some states, this is even a requirement before you can apply to become a general contractor.
Required or not, spending time doing the work yourself is going to prove massively helpful if you want to become a general contractor. Commercial contractors need to be able to do a broad range of things, from HVAC to fences to paving to general construction. This best way to build such a diverse range of skills is simply by doing the work yourself.
When looking for construction jobs, try to find medium or large jobs. These jobs will have a lot more going on, which means more knowledge you could potentially soak up. Be a knowledge sponge: Soak up every aspect of the project and learn as much as you possibly can on your worksite.
You might also meet peers who can help you in your journey to become a general contractor. They might server as good references, helpful mentors, or just useful networking connections. Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.
3. Make Sure You Take the Contractor Exam and Get Your License
Most states will require someone who wants to become a general contractor to get a license to do so. That license requires an exam. What exactly is on that exam varies from state to state. Some states even require more than one exam. You should look up your state’s requirements so that you can be ready for your exam when the time comes to take it.
No matter where you live, you should look up how to become a general contractor in your specific state. Requirements and restrictions vary widely. The procedure to become a general contractor can be confusing if you don’t research it before you start the process. The best way to go into the process prepared is to know what the entire journey will look like before you even begin.
This isn’t that different from how other professionals are treatment. If you wanted to be an attorney or doctor you’d also need to take exams and get a license. Think of this as part of the ordinary process to certify that you really do have the skills you claim you have.
When it comes to the exam itself, you can expect a few subjects to be on the test. You will probably need to know about safety and risk, of course, as well as the law as it pertains to labor, taxes and construction in general.
The contractor exam also tends to ask questions about contracts, estimates, bids, business structure and financial management. All of these topics are crucial not just for the test, but also in your career as a general contractor.
You can prepare for the contractor test with online quizzes and prep materials. You may even be able to take classes that will help ensure you can pass the test and get your license.
4. Know the Law
As noted above, you will need to know a little about the law to become a general contractor. This isn’t just useful for the contractor exam. It is doubly important when you get out into the field and actually start doing the work.
It’s an unfortunate reality that construction sites are dangerous – very dangerous. There are a lot of accidents that can and do happen on construction sites. Sometimes these injuries are minor, but they can be serious and even life-threatening.
If you aren’t sure about how the law deals with construction site hazards, you may want to get in contact with a construction accident lawyer. Reading about construction site hazards and taking a test will help, but it is not as good as the kind of first-hand knowledge a lawyer would have.
The last thing you want as a general contractor is a lawsuit related to an injury. You need to know how to protect not just your workers, but also yourself. Health and safety come first, of course, but there is a certain amount of risk that is unavoidable when it comes to construction.
If you are having doubts, you might contact a law firm to see what kind of expertise they can offer in this field. You need to know about labor law, tax law, and construction law to even pass your contractor exam. Sometimes talking to an expert in the field is the most practical way of getting the information you need for both the exam and your career.
5. Protect Yourself and Your Workers
All of the talk about the law and legal matters really serves one purpose: To protect you and your workers.
There is a lot that can go wrong on a construction site, but there is also a lot that can be done to mitigate risk and keep everyone as safe as possible. This isn’t just a practical matter. It’s also the right thing to do. As the general contractor, you are in charge in many ways, and safety is definitely included in those responsibilities.
Personal injury law can be a tricky field when it comes to this sort of stuff. Workers might seek a personal injury attorney if they feel they’ve gotten hurt unnecessarily on your worksite. If the conditions were unsafe for them while they were working and they got injured, you could be liable for that.
Safety is a big part of the contractor exam and this is why. You can’t prevent all injuries, but you can control the risks your workers face. It’s absolutely vital that you do that for everyone’s sake.
In the very worst scenarios, you could even face a wrongful death case. It is rare but not impossible for a worker to die on a construction site. Obviously, this is a horrible incident that everyone wants to avoid. So ensure you are mitigating risks and making your worksite as safe as it can possibly be.
6. Build Your Brand by Building Your Reputation
Par to being a general contractor is building up your personal brand and reputation in your local area. Being known as a person whose work sites are very safe is certainly one way to do this. This not only makes your workers feel better – but it can also make customers feel more secure about hiring you for a job.
Safety is not the only way to build up your reputation, however. One of the best ways to build your brand is simply word of mouth. Even with the prevalence of the internet, a lot of people go to friends and family when they need to hire a contractor.
That’s why it’s important to establish good relationships with other contractors in your area. You can build your business without tearing theirs down. Perhaps they are roofing contractors and you are electrical contractors. Your fields might complement each other. If they trust you and you trust them, you can build each other’s good reputations and recommend clients to each other.
The relationship doesn’t even need to be that close, however. When you are striving to become a general contractor, you will probably work with a lot of other contractors on job sites. They can be some of your best references later on. Try to keep this in mind when you are starting out and doing the less glamorous jobs in hopes of building up your career later on.
7. Have a Business Plan
Finally, with all this said, one of the best things you can do is plan.
Having a business plan doesn’t just apply to the ins and outs of being a general contractor on a daily basis. This includes things like preparing for the exam, building up your knowledge base, networking with other local contractors, and all the rest. All of these things contribute to your larger goal to become a general contractor.
It’s a good idea to have both a short-term and long-term plan in place. Perhaps in the short term, you need to pass your contractor example, for example. Make a plan for what you need to do to accomplish that. These steps might be very clear and direct: Take a class about the law. Talk to experts in the field. Schedule a time to take the test.
Short term planning can often be very clear and concise like this. However, when it comes to long term planning, the list can get murkier.
Paving contractors, for example, might start out with a clear list of goals for passing the exam and doing that specific type of work, but what does the future look like? Do you think you might branch out into other fields? What would it take for you to do that as you work to become a general contractor?
It’s good to set lofty goals as well for the long term. Maybe you want to broaden your business or have a certain amount of customers in five year’s time. That’s an excellent goal and setting an intention for that right now can help you stay on track to achieve it.