How to Start a Small Construction or General Contracting Business
by Caron_Beesley, Community Moderator
- Created: January 4, 2012, 7:40 am
- Updated: March 5, 2012, 7:34 am
Interested in getting into the construction business? Now might be the time, with market forecasts (courtesy of IBISWorld) predicting a steady rise in the value of the construction industry over the next five years – 12.5 percent annually for residential construction and 13 percent for private non-residential construction.
If you’re interested in starting a construction, home improvement, or contracting business, here are some business and regulatory basics you need to be aware of.
10 Steps to Starting (any) Business
Start by familiarizing yourself with the basic steps involved in planning and forming any kind of business, including planning your business strategy, incorporating and registering with the right government agencies. Read these essential 10 Steps to Starting a Business from SBA.gov.
Get Licensed, Bonded, and Insured
Protect yourself, your business and your clients by ensuring you have the right licenses and permits, business insurance, and surety bonds. Here are three reasons why and information on how to obtain them:
1) Business Licenses and Permits – In addition to a general business license, most construction or contracting businesses need specific licenses to operate legally. For example, a tradesman license is required for electrical, plumbing, HVAC, gas fitting, and other construction trades.
Use this handy SBA.gov search tool – “Permit Me” – to identify the exact license and permits you'll need. Just enter your zip code and business type. Local government websites also list this information and can guide you through what you’ll need.
2) Surety Bonds – A surety bond is not something many business owners think about, but in almost all cases, construction businesses need construction bonds in order to operate legally. You arrange for a surety bond from a third party who promises to pay your client if you do not fulfill your work obligations under a contract. Bond regulations vary by state, so research your state’s requirements or speak to a reputable surety bond agent. If you are unable to secure a bond through a commercial channel, SBA offers its own Surety Bond Guarantee program that can help.
3) Insurance – Depending on the nature of your work and whether you employ workers directly, you will need several types of business insurance. Consider getting general liability insurance as well as vehicle and property insurance. This will protect you against claims for personal injury and property damage, and cover the costs of legal proceedings. Individual states also require businesses to carry specific insurance, such as workers' compensation insurance, unemployment and state disability insurance. Read this article for more information on business insurance: Business Liability Insurance – Tips for Protecting your Assets with the Right Coverage.
Remember: jobsites won’t do business with you unless you can prove you have the right coverage.
Familiarize Yourself with Construction Industry Regulations
From energy efficiency standards to workplace safety regulations, the construction industry is heavily regulated. Read SBA.gov's Construction Industry Guide, which compiles everything you need to know in one place.
Develop an Occupational Health and Safety Plan
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires that construction workers are provided a safe workplace free from recognized hazards. Fortunately, the OSHA.gov website offers a variety of tools and services that can help you comply and develop a safe workplace. These include on-site consultations, training, and more. Read more in SBA’s Workplace Safety and Health guide. Check out these quick reference resources, too:
- OSHA Construction e-Tool –This interactive, web-based training tool guides you through common construction hazards and how to prevent them.
- Construction Safety Video
- Safety and Health Regulations for the Construction Industry
Finding and Hiring Labor
The construction industry generally secures labor from four sources – subcontractors, hired employees, labor brokers, or independent contractors. Of course, the law differs in how you work with each of these. For example, when hiring employees, you’ll take on additional obligations such as withholding taxes, paying wages, benefits, complying with employment law, and so on. To get you started read, 10 Steps to Hiring your First Employee on SBA.gov.
While there are no specific laws governing how you work with subcontractors, you may wish to draw up a contractual agreement and ensure that they, too, are licensed, bonded, and insured.
If you engage a broker to find labor, you will pay the broker directly. If you hire independent contractors (self-employed individuals), you will pay them directly but, unlike employees, you are not responsible for paying benefits or withholding taxes. There are strict tax reporting requirements for working with independent contractors. Read about them here.
- Building Trades Association – Includes resources to help you start and expand your construction, home improvement, or contracting business.
- Associated General Contractors of America – Find your local chapter for advice, networking, seminars and training.
- Energy Efficiency for Construction Contractors
- Information about Energy Efficiency Tax Credits for Home Builders and Deductions for Commercial Buildings
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