On most construction projects, a general contractor is the person in charge on the day-to-day level. Sometimes, general contractors do hands-on work, but they’re also in charge of calling in other professionals, coordinating between them, and making sure they all have the supplies they need. The general contractor is the person responsible for bringing together the big picture and the small details. It’s a job that demands professional skills, broad knowledge, and an ability to communicate with all types of people.
How to Become a General Contractor?
Figuring out how to become a general contractor is a personal question. First of all, it depends where you live and work. Second, you'll have to meet the general contractor license requirements in your state. In some states, you may not even need to pass an exam or even register for a license. In others, you may need to pay a fee, prove a certain amount of experience and education, and then take a variety of licensing exams at different levels, depending on the kind of work you want to do.
Keep in mind that in addition to state regulations, there may be local county or municipal regulations that require you to be registered or to file a contract for each job. The requirements may also be different for residential and commercial jobs, or for jobs worth different amounts of money.
What is On the General Contractor License Exam?
The general contractor license exam varies state by state. Usually, these exams cover a combination of legal, financial, and safety regulations, along with professional topics like construction materials, HVAC, and plumbing. How you go about preparing for the exam depends what’s available near you, how much time and money you want to invest, and your personal strengths and weaknesses.
Becoming a Contractor Through Apprenticeships and Work Experience
Apprenticeships are one of the most common ways to prepare for the license exam. You can work with an experienced contractor for 3-5 years, learning the necessary skills and getting an idea what the job looks like in the field. Professional organizations can help set you up with someone. Alongside the work experience, you’ll probably also have to do some amount of coursework to help round out your training.
How to Get a Contractor’s License with No Experience
People trying to figure out how to become a general contractor with no experience often want to skip the training and go straight to work. That’s not impossible but you’ll have to find a different way to learn the material you’ll need for the licensing exam. There are a number of ways to do that. If you’re very confident in your independent study skills you may be able to gather all the information you need from the local licensing board and professional organizations and study on your own. If you’d like more guidance, you can participate in training programs run by professional organizations like the Building Trades Association and Associated General Contractors of America. You can even get a bachelor’s or master’s degree in construction management, which can highly improve your prospects for industrial contracting jobs.
What Would I Learn?
Whether a college degree or an online certificate, general contractor school will combine some amount of structural and engineering training with business and management. However, some programs are much more in-depth than others. A degree program includes general contractor classes on design, safety and building codes, construction materials, inspection procedures, cost estimation and finance, and much more. However, even the most basic course will cover all the general contractor license requirements.
Pros and Cons to Keep in Mind
Replacing experience with coursework can be a great way to become a licensed general contractor on your own terms. However, it’s not the same as hands-on experience and you’ll have to find ways to make up for that. You will have to work harder to get your name out there and prove your credibility, rather than gaining a reputation gradually. There are a few ways you can work around these obstacles.
Know your limits. If you haven’t done a particular kind of project before, do research before you agree to take it on. You don’t have to announce your lack of experience but you do have to be honest about it. Acknowledge it up front and then find other ways to make your clients feel good about it: explain what safeguards you have in place, show them your formal training credentials, or even refer them to a specialist. It may lose you the job now, but you’ll earn credibility in the long run.
Even if you’ve studied the legal and financial steps to becoming a general contractor, putting them into practice all at once can be overwhelming. Consider hiring a lawyer or accountant to help you get the ball rolling in the right direction so that you can focus on the work itself. They can help you with all the technicalities from registering your business to tax deductions for contractors.
Create a Safety Net
Becoming a general contractor involves risk, especially if you don’t have experience. That’s why you need to be extra careful with professional details. Make sure you have the right general contractor insurance, which is often required to get a license. Your clients might also ask you to provide them proof of insurance before they’ll work with you.
You will have to network aggressively to get your name to potential customers but don’t forget about your professional community. Customers trust recommendations from other professionals and back and forth referrals can make up a big part of your business. Most importantly though, experienced contractors can be an important source of first-hand information you can’t get anywhere else.
Becoming a general contractor doesn’t necessarily require a lot of experience. With hard work, careful planning, and a good support network, you can build a successful business.