How to Become a Contractor and Start a Rewarding Career

Craig Hoffman
Written by Craig Hoffman
Updated September 21, 2021
Man tiles backsplash in kitchen
Mint Images / Mint Images RF via Getty Images

The average salary for a general contractor is $70,000–$150,000.

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Have you considered becoming a contractor? Whether you're a home do-it-yourselfer or in the skilled trades, there may be a path to start a rewarding career as a contractor. It can be a challenging career move but also one full of rewards of growth and opportunity.

There's certainly room for contractors to thrive in today's home construction and renovation market. The home service market is a $506 billion annual industry that employs over 622,000 professionals in the U.S. It's a constantly growing industry with opportunities in the many facets of home building and renovation. 

But before picking up a hammer and beginning your new career, there are a few things to keep in mind. Learning the basics of a contractor career, including licensing, training, and opportunities can help determine the best path for you.

Determine Your Specialty

Entering the construction trades is a smart career move. But choosing the point of entry can determine your level of success. Are you a multi-skilled tradesperson who can work on a variety of construction projects? Or do you have niche talent in one particular area of construction, such as carpentry or plumbing? Let's take a deeper look. 

Becoming a Contractor

Contractors are a jack-of-all-trades in construction. They can be self-employed or work as part of a construction team at a larger firm. Whether working on a small renovation project or multi-million dollar mansion, contractors oversee the project from start to finish. 

Contractor responsibilities may include:

  • Design aspects

  • Project budgeting

  • Buying materials

  • Hiring labor

  • Customer liaison

The larger the project, the more complex those tasks become. Many contractors start their careers as self-employed handyworkers or sole proprietors. They may stay independent or advance into larger companies as their skills and experience develop. 

Becoming a Subcontractor

Many tradespeople enter the construction field as a subcontractor. They are usually specialists in a particular trade that a general contractor needs to complete a project. You can gain the skills and experience to become a subcontractor at a trade school and/or apprenticeship program. 

The U.S. Department of Labor categorizes "Construction Special Trade Contractors" as the following:

Plumbing, Heating, and Air-Conditioning

Subcontractors in this category are highly mechanical and require specialized training and a minimum number of hours as a journey-level subcontractor. Plumbers tend to be their own subcategory and work with water systems throughout the house. Those in heating and air conditioning, often called HVAC contractors, install and maintain the heating, cooling, and exhaust systems in a home. 

Painting and Paper Hanging

Those with a creative flair may consider painting and paper hanging. Although not as technical as some of the other subcontractor roles, house painters are an integral part of the design process to create the final vision requested by the homeowner. 

Electrical Work

Electricians are a set of subcontractors who wire homes for power, but can also install advanced home security, communications equipment, and backup power systems. This is a growing field as homes become "smarter" with sophisticated technologies, including sensors, speakers, thermostats, wireless connections, and other computer systems. 

Masonry, Stonework, Tile Setting, and Plastering

This is a broad category of subcontractors who work on home foundations and other surfaces like walkways, bathroom flooring and drywalled surfaces. More physical than other subcontracting roles, these specialties require niche skills often learned in trade schools.   

Carpentry

Carpenters build the support structure of a house and many sections within, including doors, cabinets and even fencing. 

Floor Work

Flooring subcontractors install tile, carpet and other coverings of the home's surface. 

Roofing, Siding, and Sheet Metal Work

Those who like working outdoors may lean towards roofing and siding. Roofers can also install siding on homes and other add-ons like skylights, vents, gutters, and even ductwork. Sheet metal work can mean the fabrication of custom pieces often needed outside the building envelope. 

Concrete Work

Mixing and pouring concrete has been around for centuries. Concrete subcontractors come into a project to pour foundations. Others may help build floors, walls, ceilings, or sidewalks. It's a position that needs manual skill and physical strength. 

Special Trade Contractors

This broad category includes subcontractors in glass and glazing work, excavation, demolition, and steel erection. These specialized tradespeople can have a profound impact on the quality of a home construction project.

How to Start Contractor Training

Entering the contractor field requires some forethought about the amount of training, education, and licensing that fits your lifestyle and schedule. Training can encompass job shadowing on a construction site to experience the role and to consider entry points as a laborer, handyworker, self-employed general contractor, or subcontractor. 

You may consider going to school to earn additional skills. Many education programs offer internships and cooperative education programs to gain experience. 

Here’s a look at your options:

  • Trade school: 1-2 years to complete

  • Associate degree: Up to two years to complete

  • Undergraduate degree: Four-year process

Also, you might want to consider certifications from building industry associations like the American Institute of Constructors or National Association of Home Builders. Subcontractors can become certified through their respective trade associations.  

Apprenticeships vs. Starting Your Own Company

Starting a contractor career can mean deciding whether to apprentice or start your own company. Construction apprenticeships are valuable because they can provide the skills and knowledge needed to advance a career and earn more money over time. 

Those with an entrepreneurial spirit and desire to be their own boss may want to start their own construction company.

Apprenticeships

One way to start a rewarding career as a contractor is through an apprenticeship. There are apprenticeship programs available through governmental agencies, trade unions, and construction associations. 

These programs can provide education and career opportunities to start or enhance your construction career as a springboard to becoming a contractor.  

Start Your Own Company

Depending on your level of initial experience, you can start as a one-person operation. If you're more experienced, developing a business plan and obtaining funding to start a small business may be the way to go. There are often local or state programs for small business owners to receive resources and education to help grow their company. 

Some states offer the ability to gain a contractor license as an RMO (responsible managing officer) or an RME (responsible managing employee). RMOs are licensed contractors who allow their license number to be used by an existing business to take on construction projects over $500.

Things to Consider

The construction business can be a rewarding career with good pay and challenging work. After all, contractors are the driving force of the building construction industry. 

But as you learn more about how to become a contractor, there are a few things to consider:

How to Become a Contractor With No Experience

Most states require some type of contractor license. This can be as simple as completing an online profile or more extensive. They're vital for securing work where licensure is required and when bidding on projects and obtaining insurance. 

Although experience is helpful for larger projects, starting with a small project, like installing a sink, can slowly build the skills and experience needed to grow a contractor career. 

How Much Contractors Make

As noted earlier, contractors can make some serious money. Average general contracting salaries (for established contractors) are in the $70,000 to $150,000+ range.

Experienced contractors may be able to charge upwards of $500 a day and expect about $125,000 or more as an annual general contractor salary.

How to Get Business as a New Contractor

Finding leads may be easier than you think. 

New contractors can find leads in many places through the following means:

  • Friends and family

  • Social media

  • Email newsletters

  • Networking in community

You can also increase your exposure to thousands of homeowners looking for local contractors just like you by signing up for Angi pro. You'll be able to feature your business to new customers, showcase your work, and build credibility. 

Getting to Work

Entering the construction industry as a contractor can be a great opportunity. There are many variations of contractor careers and responsibilities, depending on factors of education, training and experience. Those with a passion for the construction trades and working with homeowners can find a lifetime of career fulfillment. 

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