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Handyman vs. general contractor: What’s the difference?

Handyman vs. general contractor: What’s the difference?

By Matt Crawford
Dec 14, 2022
7 min read
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If you are considering starting a small construction, repair and installation business, it’s important to know the difference between a handyman vs. general contractor. 

Although both types of professionals can help with repairs and renovations, some key differences between the two can have an impact on: 

A handyman is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to home repairs. They are usually less expensive than a contractor and can do a wide variety of small jobs.

On the other hand, a general contractor is usually hired for larger projects, such as home additions or renovations. 

General contractors often have a team of workers that they oversee, whereas a handyman typically works alone.

So, when deciding whether to start a handyman or a general contractor business, it’s important to consider the scope of the projects you feel comfortable with. 

As a business owner, you might want to market yourself as a handyperson if you just do small repairs at residences or businesses. But if you’re planning on working on renovations and new construction, you’ll likely need to classify yourself as a contractor.

Using the right title can help you attract the right customers

Using the right title can help attract customers who are looking for exactly what you can provide. 

That’s why it’s important to decide what services you want to offer, who your target audience is, and which job title — handyman vs. contractor — best describes you.

Handyman meaning: What is a handyman?

A handyman is a skilled tradesperson who does small projects at homes or businesses. Their skill set can usually cover a wider range of tasks and jobs.

Handyman jobs might include home maintenance projects like fixing a leaky faucet, gutter maintenance or basic drywall repairs. But the exact definition of a handyman could also differ depending on the state where you work. 

For example, California state licensing law says a construction handyman “is someone who performs minor building repairs and odd jobs.” However, any job valued at more than $500 with materials and labor requires a contractor license.

A licensed contractor might also be required for specialized tasks such as electrical work, plumbing work, carpentry, roofing or HVAC.

Even if you have a contractor license, you can still market your business as a handyman contractor to attract clients seeking help with smaller jobs.

What is a general contractor?

A general contractor is a construction professional usually responsible for coordinating and completing a new project or renovation. 

The contractor could work independently or hire specialized subcontractors if a project requires more help to perform all or portions of the work. 

If the general contractor works with a team, they are responsible for the quality of the work performed by the subcontractors and the timely completion of the construction project. 

A general contractor is also usually responsible for the safety of the construction workers and the public and for making sure the project meets all building codes and ordinances. 

What are the differences between a handyman and a general contractor?

A handyman is a great option for smaller jobs, such as minor repairs and improvements to a residence or commercial building. 

A general contractor usually works on larger projects, such as remodeling buildings and new construction of additions. These projects are generally more expensive and time-consuming than handyperson jobs. 

Contractor vs. handyman: types of jobs

Many people call a handyman when they’ve accumulated a list of small repairs at a residence or commercial property. In contrast, they’ll call a contractor when they want to begin one large project. 

Take a look at the examples below and think about which ones seem more like your type of work:

Contractor Handyman
Kitchen remodel General building maintenance
Constructing an additional room Unclogging pipes
Rerouting wiring Patching holes in a wall
Building a deck Replacing/repairing locks or a door frame

What are the benefits of hiring a handyman?

A handyman is a great option for many home improvement projects. Here are some of the reasons why someone might want to hire a handyman vs. general contractor:

  • Often less expensive than a general contractor
  • Flexibility with scheduling
  • More familiar with the specific needs of a home
  • Ongoing, personal level of service
  • Able to complete smaller projects more quickly than a general contractor
  • Provides a wider range of services than a general contractor

What are the benefits of hiring a general contractor?

Since general contractor projects or often more complex, they are typically expected to provide more project management expertise and documentation for their clients, including:

  • Written estimate of the project cost and timelines
  • Knowledge of necessary permits for a project 
  • Staffing of subcontractors, such as electricians or plumbers, to complete projects on time
  • Scheduling different phases of a project

Contractor vs. handyman: Business insurance requirements

Regardless if you call yourself a handyman or a contractor, it’s important to make sure you have the right business insurance to cover the risks you face in your work. 

If you don’t have the right liability insurance, you could be responsible for significant out-of-pocket costs if there is an injury or property damage due to your work. 

General contractor insurance typically offers more coverage for higher-value projects and work with more risks. 

Handyman business insurance is only intended for those who work on low-cost projects that can be easily completed within a matter of hours.

Bottom line: Are you a Handyman or General Contractor?

Before you decide how to market your new business, here are a few simple questions to help guide you in examining the handyman vs. general contractor question:

  • What is the total value of the projects you are working on?
  • How much time and money do you want to invest at the beginning?
  • Do you like being independent, or do you prefer building and managing a team? Being a handyman could be right for you if you prefer independence, while general contractors often manage teams.
  • Are you willing to spend days, weeks or even months on each project, or do you prefer to finish a task quickly and move on to the next one? General contractors often spend a long time on each project, while handymen can finish multiple projects in a shorter period of time.

How NEXT helps construction pros

NEXT specializes in construction business insurance. Since we only work with small businesses, we understand your risks and can help you get tailored coverage for your business operations.

You can get a quote, review options, purchase insurance and access your certificate of insurance in about 10 minutes with our easy online process.

Once you purchase coverage, you’ll have 24/7 access to self-service options.

Start an instant quote today.

Handyman vs. general contractor: What’s the difference?

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About the author
Matt Crawford leads NEXT's content team. He's a small business insurance specialist and has worked with business owners throughout his career as a community journalist and content marketer. You can find him at one of his many favorite local restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area when he's not at work.
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