5 Things to Know if You Want to Become a Contractor

There are over 30 million small businesses in the United States, and contractors are counted among those small businesses. Becoming an experienced contractor is a long process, but if you have the right information and the right passion, you can become your own small business doing something you love.

If you are looking to become a contractor, there are five key things you’ll want to learn about. They include: Educational requirements, experience requirements, how to get a license, what continuing education you’ll need, and salary information.

These things are no guarantee of success, but they can help you along your way as you pursue this field. As a contractor, a lot will fall on you as an individual. You will have to be responsible for your own schedule and work, rather than having an organization around you scheduling your time.

This can be a challenge, but for the right sort of person it is also a tremendous opportunity. An experienced contractor is often good at managing their time, communicating openly and clearly with clients, and promoting their skills. Some of these skills can be learned, but some simply take time and experience.

No matter how you plan to go about building your career as a contractor, you can get a little boost by doing everything you can to position yourself as an expert. You might be able to find a niche in the market and meet clients who will rely on you for years to come.

Learn more about the five areas you should look into to kick off your career as an experienced contractor.

1. Education

Whether you plan to become a plumber, an electrician, or any other type of contractor, you’ll need to start by investing in your education.

A bachelor’s degree is generally recommended as the first step for anyone hoping to become an experienced contractor. However, it is not absolutely necessary. If a college degree isn’t for you, you can still pursue your dreams, you just might have a tougher road than those with degrees.

The alternatives to education are work experience and getting licensed, but we will discuss those in more depth later. Even with an education, those two bits of information will be necessary for you as a contractor.

experienced contractor

At a minimum, you should have a high school diploma or equivalent to become an experienced contractor, but, again, that bachelor’s degree can be very handy if you have the means to get it. Your degree will probably be in a field such as construction management, civil engineering or building or construction science. This encompasses far-ranging fields like commercial roofing, general construction, and much more.

One reason an education can be helpful to become a general contractor is because it can help hone your communication skills. There are a lot of contractors. You can stand out from the pack by having good oral and written communication skills.</p.

Because you will interface with customers one on one quite a lot, being able to communicate is a must. This may also assist you if you need to put up a website or other type of promotion for your business. Customers will be more likely to hire you if you can express yourself clearly, including your rates and the types of services you can offer.

In contracting, you will often be the expert compared to your clients. Good communication skills can also help you explain the work ahead to your clients. They can rest easier and be more certain about hiring you when they understand the kind of work you’re about to do.

But it isn’t just your customers you’ll need to talk to. As a contractor, you’ll rely on many suppliers for the tools and materials you need as well.

For example, you might need to talk with concrete suppliers to complete a job. Now you’re in the middle, communicating with both your customer and the concrete supplier. Keeping communication clear and concise will be invaluable in this kind of scenario.

2. Experience

Whether you go to school or not, experience will be critical to you as a contractor. People want to hire the most experienced contractor they can find. If you can provide clients with a resume of past work, that will go a long way, regardless of your educational history.

experienced contractor

It’s also important that that experience is relevant to your current work. If someone is looking for glass doors contractors, they won’t really care about your experience as a roofer. It can be tough to find a niche in the contracting marketplace but make sure you have relevant experience to show to clients.

Your experience can be broad or specific. If you are a generalist, you can still certainly market yourself as an experienced contractor by showing your range of expertise and experience. This can definitely be a bonus to clients who have multiple jobs they need to have done.

On the flip side, if you know you have a passion for a particular specialty, pursuing that can have tremendous value. You might have specific experience as a plumber, electrician, carpenter, or supervisor. All of these fields can be very valuable as you pursue a specialty. Electrical contractors, in particular, should have robust experience as an electrician to be able to show clients.

When pitching your experience to a potential client, think about what makes you stand out compared to other experienced contractor businesses in the area. Skills like leadership, communication skills, time management, and creativity when solving problems can give you a boost compared to others. Don’t be shy about talking about your experience and achievements!

3. Getting a License

Getting a license is absolutely crucial if you want to become an experienced contractor. You will need to take an exam in order to get your contractor’s license.

You might be tempted to try to get by without this license but you shouldn’t. Consumers want a licensed experienced contractor because they know that is someone they can trust. Whether they are a business that needs a major remodel or a homeowner who just needs assistance with residential cooling, they want to feel safe in hiring you.

A contractor’s license allows you to provide physical proof that your customer is making a smart choice choosing you. That makes it one of the most valuable things you can obtain for your contracting career.

The requirements for the contracting exam will change depending on where you live. You should spend some time looking into the types of things covered and required by the exam in your state.

experienced contractor

For example, in Massachusetts you have to be registered and licensed, even for ordinary repairs to a residential home. There are even different licenses for specialties versus family dwellings. But in Delaware, you don’t need a license at all.

In addition, taking the test isn’t free. You don’t want to waste exam fees because you weren’t ready for what was going to be on the test. You don’t want this to be a waste of your time and money. It should boost your career as an experienced contractor, not take away from it.

4. Continuing Education

Your education as a contractor never truly ends. Whether you get a license or not, whether you get a bachelor’s degree or not, you will constantly be learning. It doesn’t matter if you are a super experienced contractor, there will always be something new to learn.

It’s, therefore, important for people looking to become contractors to be adaptable. You may need to change with the times. One time, a simple plunger might be enough to stop that backflow issue but in other cases, you might have to engage in flood water cleanup. You might not be able to simply rely on the same old tried and true methods for your entire career. New techniques, materials, styles, and trends can all dramatically change the type of work you end up doing.

One thing that can help you with this is investing in your continuing education even while working as an experienced contractor. This might be a formal class or it might just be knowledge sharing among your peers. There are many forms that continuing education can take. It’s important to just stay open to information and curious about changes in the industry.

As you progress in your career, you might find you discover niches you’d like to learn more about. For example, if you already have years of experience with expert installation, you might like to learn more about construction methods or materials. This can make the type of installation work you already do even more valuable to your clients.

There are many, many, many more fields you might invest in as a contractor. Just a few of those include things like:

  • Design
  • Site planning
  • Inspections
  • Safety
  • Accounting and finance
  • Building codes and standards
  • Administration
  • Project development
  • Engineering
  • Architectural sciences

Some of these fields are highly specialized and may require formal education. Things like engineering and architectural sciences could require additional degrees and schooling. If you see yourself going down that path, there may be a point in your career where going back to school becomes an attractive opportunity. You can always decide to go back to school as your business and budget allows if you think another degree can help your career.

On the flip side, things like building codes and construction materials can be topics you learn about without any formal education. This is part of your work as a contractor, in fact. When a client talks with you, they anticipate that you are an expert. If you aren’t up to date on things like materials and building codes, that could reflect poorly on you and your business.

There are many things that fall somewhere between these extremes. When considering continuing education, think about what would be most valuable to your business. Maybe you need to focus on personal injury and workplace safety. Maybe it’s more valuable for you to start thinking about accounting, costing, and finances. Wherever you find gaps in your knowledge, you may want to invest some time and possibly money patching those up.

5. Salary Information

So what’s the bottom line? How much can an experienced contractor expect to earn for their work?

Well, that depends.

We know that’s not the most satisfying answer, but the bare facts are that an electrician will be paid differently from someone doing dock repair services or roofing or HVAC repair. These different fields and specialties mean different expected salaries as well.

experienced contractor

Your educational history, level of experience, location, and track record can also have a big effect on how much you earn. Those with a bachelor’s degree can typically expect to earn more, but having a strong track record and lots of experience can swiftly close this gap.

There will also be differences depending on where you are located. In some areas, contractors are simply paid more. This might be because wages are higher in that area or property values are higher.

There is a wide range of factors that can go into how much you end up earning as an experienced contractor.

The good news is that there is more and more need for contractors every year. The field is expected to go on growing for a long time to come. This is especially true as businesses and individuals alike move toward more energy-efficient structures and systems. This has created a whole brand new need in the industry.

As a general guideline, in 2020 general contractors earned roughly $71,000 per year. Meanwhile, construction managers earned a bit more, getting about $93,000 as of 2018.

Again, it’s good to take these numbers with a grain of salt. Being a construction manager is very different from installation storefront awnings, even though both tasks generally fall to contractors. The specific tasks you are taking on, your years of experience, and where you’re living can shift these numbers quite dramatically. Additionally, as a contractor, you will often need to advocate strongly for yourself when it comes to getting fairly and promptly compensated for your work.

How much you earn and how successful you are will depend a lot on you. To become an experienced contractor you need to have a strong internal drive. It is hard going it alone, but it is also deeply rewarding. You will need to be adaptable and tenacious in order to thrive as an experienced contractor.

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