A general contractor (GC) is responsible for supervising and coordinating the construction of a building or property. They hire subcontractors, obtain permits and licenses, and ensure compliance with local building codes. These multifaceted projects offer lucrative compensation, with the average GC earning more than $90,000 annually.
Achieving the role of a General Contractor (GC) entails significant responsibility, which may not necessarily demand extensive prior experience. With dedication and diligent effort, individuals without any prior background in the field can establish and manage their own prosperous construction companies. Follow these essential guidelines to transition from a novice to a capable contractor.
Learn Construction Basics Thoroughly
Before taking on a management role or engaging in project bidding, you should develop a comprehensive understanding of all key trades and skills. Enhance your expertise in various areas such as:
Carpentry and Framing
Take classes at a nearby trade school or community college for a period of 6 months to a year to gain knowledge of standard construction techniques. Acquire skills in installing floor and wall framing, working on a heavy-duty workbench, constructing interior walls, and attaching roofing components. Proficiency in carpentry will enable you to carry out essential tasks on the job site and effectively troubleshoot any issues. Ensure compliance with local building codes by thoroughly reviewing guidebooks to guarantee that your theoretical projects meet all necessary requirements.
Electrical Systems and Lighting
Electricians are responsible for managing crucial systems such as wiring, lighting fixtures, breakers, outlets, and switches. A comprehensive understanding of electrical work ensures that projects stay on schedule and meet the requirements of state electrical codes. Familiarize yourself with the principles of current, voltage, resistance, and NEC standards to effectively communicate with subcontractors and demonstrate your expertise in the field.
Plumbing, HVAC, Appliances
As the General Contractor (GC), it is crucial to effectively coordinate with plumbers, HVAC technicians, and appliance installers during fast-paced construction projects. Get familiar with introductory courses covering topics such as water supply lines, drainage systems, heating and cooling equipment, ventilation, as well as common household appliance specifications and connections. Identify the interdependencies between different systems and ensure proper installation sequencing.
Gain Valuable Hands-On Experience
Before becoming a general contractor, gain valuable experience working alongside experienced construction professionals for a period of 1-3 years. Get hands-on experience on construction sites by:
Paid Entry-Level Roles
Consider pursuing a position as a carpenter's helper, material mover, demolition crew member, or construction laborer. Many paid apprentice programs in trades such as carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing welcome beginners for training. These full-time roles provide firsthand exposure to the construction process, offering valuable experience from beginning to end.
Skilled tradespeople often mentor apprentices for extended periods, providing them with technical training while actively participating in real projects. For information on available apprenticeship opportunities, consider contacting local trade unions or licensing boards.
Informal Volunteer Work
If multi-year apprenticeships are not feasible, consider volunteering for local Habitat for Humanity or church construction projects on weekends. Collaborate closely with the site supervisor to acquire hands-on experience while making a difference. Volunteer involvement adds value to a GC resume when seeking state licensing, showcasing practical skills and community engagement.
Earn Proper Licensing and Certifications
Construction regulations establish the professional prerequisites for general contractors (GCs). Moreover, specific advanced certifications serve as evidence of expertise to prospective clients and contractor teams.
Almost every state mandates that general contractors (GCs) fulfill specific requirements, including passing exams and providing evidence of 2-4 years of experience as a foreman or journeyman, prior to applying for GC licensure. The exams cover a myriad of topics such as technical concepts, codes, safety regulations, lien laws, contracts, and business practices. Note that these license exams can be quite challenging, with only 60% of first-time test takers successfully passing.
Although not mandatory, certifications such as LEED, Certified Construction Manager, and OSHA 30 showcase ongoing education and specialized skills that leave a positive impression on prospective clients. Certain states and cities may mandate LEED certification for participation in green building projects.
Build and Grow Your Business
With proper licensing, financing, and a solid reputation, you are prepared to autonomously manage construction projects of various sizes. Maintain your expertise and assemble a skilled team of subcontractors and staff to tackle increasingly intricate builds.
Secure Financing and Insurance
Consult with business attorneys and accountants to determine the optimal business structure for tax and liability considerations. Obtain thorough general liability insurance, builders risk coverage, and other essential policies to protect against crew injuries or construction mishaps. Explore options such as SBA general contractor loans, private investors, and lines of credit to acquire top-notch equipment.
Cultivate a Strong Reputation
Ensure that you carefully choose your initial clients and projects, delivering exceptional service to generate positive word-of-mouth. Keep a record of favorable client reviews, referral contacts, and before-and-after photographs in your portfolio to increase your chances of winning bigger contracts. Consider joining local home builders associations to connect with key individuals in your area.
Assemble Talented Subcontractor Teams
Having a dependable team of skilled electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and other specialized tradespeople simplifies the execution of intricate projects. Cultivate relationships with qualified subcontractors who are open to contracts during their less busy periods. Steer clear of subcontractors known for taking shortcuts or engaging in unsafe practices.
FAQs: Becoming a General Contractor
1. Do I Need to Be Good at Math?
To estimate materials, scale drawings, and budget projects, one requires fundamental math and geometry skills, rather than relying on advanced mathematical knowledge.
2. How Much Money Do I Need to Get Licensed and Start My Business?
You should budget $2,000-$3,000 to cover the expenses of licensing exams, application fees, insurance, basic tools, and equipment, as well as operating costs for a minimum of 6 months until income starts to increase.
3. How Many Hours Per Week Do Most General Contractors Work?
Working 50-60 hours per week is common for construction managers who are striving to establish new businesses. Initially, get ready to invest long hours in learning the ins and outs of the industry.
Achieving the title of general contractor without any previous experience demands years of dedicated effort. However, the time invested yields substantial rewards for individuals willing to acquire trade knowledge from the very basics. By engaging in apprenticeships, preparing for licensure exams, and gradually establishing your own business, you can effectively oversee fulfilling construction projects that offer lucrative compensation. Seek guidance from experienced contractors who can serve as mentors on your journey toward achieving this objective.