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How To Become a General Contractor: The Complete Guide

How To Become a General Contractor: The Complete Guide

If you enjoy construction work and have great problem-solving and business skills, general contracting may be the career for you. Not only can general contractors earn around six figures on average, but they can also enjoy the benefits of being their own boss.

Considering this career path? Here’s how to become a general contractor (even with no previous experience).

What Does a General Contractor Do?

General contractors oversee construction projects from start to finish. This includes scheduling the project, hiring the necessary subcontractors, obtaining permits, purchasing materials and communicating progress to the client. General contractors can oversee a variety of construction projects— from residential homes to commercial office buildings and more.

General contractor responsibilities include bidding on projects, scheduling, hiring a team, managing the project's budget, complying with regulations, and communicating with the client.

Along with foundational knowledge of construction, a general contractor should also:

  • Bid on projects to obtain work
  • Schedule construction timelines
  • Manage a team of subcontractors
  • Budget projects and maintain proper accounting
  • Complete project paperwork and obtain the necessary permits
  • Provide construction equipment for the project
  • Ensure sight safety and OSHA compliance
  • Ensure building compliance with federal, state and local codes
  • Properly dispose of construction waste
  • Communicate with clients and manage their expectations

How To Become a General Contractor in 7 Steps

Becoming a general contractor usually involves a combination of hands-on work and higher education. Your path will depend on your state laws and career goals.

Not sure where to start? This timeline can provide you with a framework to help build your goals — even if you’re starting from scratch. Here’s how to become a general contractor with no experience.

Following these seven steps can help you become a general contractor.

1. Determine Your Career Goals

Before applying to apprenticeships or educational programs, decide on your career goals. This includes choosing a trade to begin in. Many general contractors begin as carpenters, but this isn’t the only path. Some begin as electricians, HVAC technicians or plumbers.

While it’s important to have foundational knowledge in construction skills related to carpentry — like operating equipment — pigeonholing yourself to this one craft isn’t necessary. If working in another field excites you, you can begin your career there. Just remember that if your goal is to ultimately become a general contractor, you’ll need to be well-versed in a variety of skills.

2. Gain Hands-On Experience

After deciding on your career goals, you can start looking for hands-on experience in your desired field. This often involves completing an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are structured programs that usually combine coursework with on-the-job training. Many apprenticeships can be paid.

By beginning your career path with hands-on experience over pure coursework, you can start to see if your career goals feel right. Would you be happy working in general construction? Or would you rather specialize in the electrical field? Would you rather be a general contractor or subcontractor?

Additionally, many states require construction experience in order to gain a general contractor license. The sooner you gain this experience, the sooner you can reach your goal of becoming a general contractor.

3. Get the Necessary Education

If you complete an apprenticeship, you’ll likely have already completed some coursework. It’s still a good idea to further your education if you want to become a general contractor.

General contractors usually need a combination of hands-on experience and higher education to succeed.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), construction managers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in construction, engineering, business or a related field — like construction management. At the very least, you’ll need a high school diploma in most states before you can apply for your general contractor’s license. Some states may require additional certifications or training, like a prelicensure course.

4. Earn Your General Contractor License

With the appropriate experience and education, you can work on earning your general contractor license. Start by researching how gaining licensure works in your location. Granting licensure is often done at the state level, but it may also be at the city or county level. In some areas, you may not need a license at all. A quick Google search should help you find what government offices you’ll need to apply to within your area.

Licensing requirements will vary by location, but some of the most common ones include:

  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Being able to legally work in the U.S.
  • Having a high school diploma or GED
  • Having a clean work record
  • Having previous construction experience
  • Passing a contractor’s license exam
  • Providing proof of insurance or bonding

5. Create a Business Plan

After earning the required licensing for your area, you can begin working on your construction business. As with any business, it’s a good idea to start with a business plan, which will serve as a roadmap for your business goals and growth.

Some considerations to include in your business plan include:

  • How you’ll register your business (limited liability company, S corporation, partnership, etc.)
  • What types of contracting projects you plan to accept (residential construction, electrical, HVAC, etc.)
  • How you plan on obtaining work (ads, social media, referrals, etc.)
  • Financial planning (cost of renting construction equipment, worker’s compensation insurance if hiring employees, marketing expenses, etc.)

If you need financial support to start your business, many banks will require you to submit a business plan, so don’t skip this step!

6. Build Your Reputation

With a business plan in place, it’s time to build your reputation as a general contractor. A good reputation can help you obtain work for your company. After all, clients can’t work with you if they don’t know about your business!

Here are a few strategies you can use to help get your name out there:

  • Network with other companies and vendors. This can help you create professional partnerships, which can lead to referrals. For example, say a homeowner who recently completed electrical upgrades is looking for someone to help with renovations. Knowing the electrician who worked with the client may help you snag the job.
  • Prove yourself with excellent work and customer service. The more clients are satisfied with your services, the greater chances you have of gaining referrals through word of mouth. So double-check that even small details are up to par, like clean paint lines and drawers that close smoothly.
  • Create a positive work environment. Employees are another way you can gain referrals, so try and make a positive impression here as well. Additionally, maintaining a happy workforce can reduce turnover and make your job easier in the long run.

7. Continue To Grow Your Skills

As your business grows, don’t forget to grow your professional skills as well. This includes:

  • Keeping up with industry trends. The construction industry is always changing. Understanding new industry developments can help you pivot your business strategies or financial plans when necessary.
  • Learning new hard or soft skills. This can include learning a new trade, like plumbing, to expand your general knowledge. It could also include taking courses to up your communication and leadership abilities.
  • Maintaining up-to-date training per your area’s license requirements. Some areas require continuing education to stay licensed. If you’re not sure whether your area requires this or not, double-check with the government offices that processed your general contractor’s license.

You can enroll in university programs, online certification courses or government continuing education classes to help expand your knowledge and skill set. For example, the North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) both offer educational training.

The more you increase your knowledge and skill set, the more you set your business up for success.

Average Salary of General Contractors

According to the BLS, the average salary for construction managers is $98,890 per year ($47.55 per hour). The top-paying states for construction managers are Alaska, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and California.

The average general contractor makes $98,890 in the U.S.

Career prospects look promising for general contractors — employment is projected to grow 8% by 2031, which is a growth rate that’s faster than the average job.

Keep in mind that as a general contractor, you will be in charge of the business. Much of your salary will depend on you: Are you able to win bids? Does your business have good profit margins? Can you keep operating costs low? Be sure to ask yourself these questions and any others that come to mind.

Depending on your area, the snow in the wintertime can bring construction projects to a halt. Plan ahead for slow times like these so you aren’t caught off guard when revenue coming into your business slows or stops.

FAQs About Becoming a General Contractor

Have other questions about becoming a general contractor? Here are the answers to some common questions.

How Long Does It Take To Become a General Contractor?

The length of time it will take to become a general contractor will depend on local requirements. For example, at the time of this writing, Utah requires two years of previous construction experience for licensure; however, Floria requires four years of previous experience or college education for licensure.

A good rule of thumb is to start planning to become a general contractor about three to five years in advance.

How Much Does It Cost To Become a General Contractor?

The cost of becoming a general contractor will also vary by location, as well as your career goals. When financially planning your career path, be sure to consider the costs of:

  • Apprenticeships. Many apprenticeships are free (and even pay you!) but some could come with additional training costs. This could include costs of required coursework enrollment or purchasing your own tools and materials.
  • Higher education. According to the BLS, construction managers often need a bachelor’s degree in construction, business, engineering or a related field. Some states or counties require certifications or courses for licensure, which can come at an additional fee.
  • Application fees. State application fees to become a general contractor can range from $50 to $300. Some areas also require proof of insurance or bonding in order to apply, costing anywhere from a few hundred dollars to upwards of $1,000.

Do You Need a License To Be a General Contractor?

You may or may not need a license to become a general contractor.

At the time of this writing, the following states require licensure or other granted authorities: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Floria, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The following do not require licensure at the state level but may have city, county or other licensure requirements: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming.

Always check your location’s licensing requirements before beginning work as a general contractor.

Becoming a general contractor takes industry skills and business savvy. You’ll need to know how to manage a team, supply construction equipment, win client bids, comply with local regulations and more.

No matter where you decide to become a general contractor, make your job easier by using BigRentz’s national construction equipment rentals.

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