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The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Respected Residential Contractor

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Are you good with tools? Do you like fixing things around the house? If you answered yes to both of those questions and you like the idea of taking on larger projects of this type, residential contracting might just be a perfect path for you.

Home repair guides are everywhere these days, and the prevalence of online tutorial articles is just as abundant. Just Google “how to change a lightbulb” or “how to install cabinets,” and see how many listings pop up. The results are astounding. 

Ever since information was made easy to access (right in the palms of our hands) people have tried to take on jobs and roles that don’t exactly fit in their wheelhouse. And, the end result of their home repair work might not exactly make it on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens. 

As such, if you’re the type that can perform this work with ease and skill, there’s a huge market out there for you to tap into. 

If you’re considering becoming a residential contractor, this guide will get you started on the road to becoming financially independent while doing the work that you love to do.

What is a Residential Contractor?

A residential contractor is somewhat of a specialty contracting role. While you’re not out there bidding on the bigger commercial jobs, residential contractors stick to performing work on residential homes. 

Some residential contractors do take on larger jobs like with apartment complexes, condominiums, and the like, but typically these contractors concentrate their efforts on smaller jobs located in residential neighborhoods.

Success with this type of contracting work relies heavily on your ability to build relationships within the communities that you’re working in. It’s relationship building that enables you to gain more jobs, get the word out about your business, and promote yourself through word of mouth. 

Residential contractors also have to be “people, people.” That is to say, you have to be good with people, be professional, and have your work speak for itself with any job that you decide to take on, large or small. 


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Education and Training 

Truth be told, in most states you don’t need four years of schooling to become a residential contractor. While you need only specialized training in the field of construction work (which often comes from on-the-job training), some residential contractors do take that extra step and attend college. 

If you’re interested in attending college to achieve a 4-year degree, consider a degree in one of the following fields: 

  • Business & Commerce
  • Operations Management
  • Construction Engineering Technology
  • Industrial Engineering 
  • Construction Management
  • Drafting 
  • Architecture 
  • Business Administration & Management

While the above list is only a small portion of the classes available, each institution will have different degree requirements that you must meet in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in a specific field.

It’s also good to note that there are many efficient 2-year programs out there that offer the same training applied to a lesser degree. 

Additionally, many certificate and trade programs can also be completed in even less time, often taking no more than 6 months to a full year of course work in order to pass the requirements needed to be given a certificate. 

Above all, you need to be knowledgeable of your state’s educational requirements. Some states require a Bachelor’s degree in a specific field in order to become a licensed residential contractor. 

Ideally, some residential contractors go the extra mile and obtain a Master’s degree in order to further their expertise and marketability in a specific trade, which gives them superior job-landing power and greater earning potential.

State Licensing 

Each state will differ regarding the requirements needed to obtain a license or certification to perform residential contracting work. In order to find out these requirements, you’ll need to contact your state’s residential contracting licensing board to find out the details. 

Many states also require continuing education in order for license renewal even after going through school, passing exams, and receiving your first license. In Tennessee, for example, you have to complete 8 hours of continuing educational training for license renewal every two years.

State licensing typically involves passing a rigorous exam. These exams all vary from state to state but usually include questions concerning architectural design, mathematics, safety, and a host of other subjects all directly related to residential contracting work.

Now, you might think that obtaining your residential contractor license is the last step on your path to becoming a contractor in your community. But, think again.

Create Your Business Plan

Here’s the good news; you’re now working for yourself. Yes, you’re your own boss, and with this title comes a great deal of responsibility. You not only have to take on the role of foreman, but you also have to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit, literally.

You’ll be in charge of ordering supplies, drawing up blueprints, acquiring funds, and paying employees if you’re working with a team. But, you can’t just walk up to someone’s home and tell them to hire you. If it worked that way, we’d all be residential contractors.

First, you need to formulate a solid business plan and weave in a marketing strategy as well. 

A business plan is often one of the most overlooked aspects of contracting work. Sure, you’re ready to get out there and get to work, but you’re not going to be successful without a solid plan.

To ensure that your contracting business is both proficient and profitable over time, consider the following elements when forming your business strategy:

Narrow Your Focus

Now, you might be a Jack of all trades, but when you’re first starting out you’ll want to focus on the work that you’re best at doing. Basically, this is what you’ll want your contracting business to be known for. 

If you’re the most proficient at carpentry, consider only taking on jobs that require intricate and specialized carpentry work. If demolition is your specialty, take on these jobs and destroy everything the best way you know how. If electric work is your trade, start with electrical repair or something similar. 

By starting with what you know, and with what you know your best work is, you’re more likely to create a respectable name for yourself in your community. And, your reputation will build from there. 

Think Financial 

Another yet overlooked aspect of running a business is figuring out all of the financial elements that you’ll need to get your contracting business off of the ground. 

As the head of your operation, you’ll need to be able to allocate funds in order to get your business up and functioning. This means that if you’re wanting to add an LLC or an INC to your name, you’ll have to figure out how to pay for it. Just the same, you’ll have to pay for insurance costs, surety bonds, and any local licensing fees that you’ll come across. 

Along with initial startup costs you’ll probably need tools, right?

Tools to perform the work required is an obvious expense, but you’ll also have to think in a broader structure. You may also need communication equipment, laptops, company vehicles, and maybe even an office in a commercial area if you want to get your name noticed.

If accounting isn’t your strong suit, hiring a private accountant or a business planner will ease your worries where applying finances are concerned. But, the bottom line is, get all of the funds you’ll need for your initial startup on paper, and then get to working on obtaining those funds. 

Market Yourself 

While as a contractor you might be great with tools, but you’re also going to have to be great at marketing and promoting yourself. If not, then you’ll struggle to find work. 

The competition in the world of contracting work is fairly high, so you’ll definitely need to stand out from the rest of the crowd if you’re going to place yourself above the competition.

While you might be inclined to use social media to market yourself, this will only gain a little amount of attention. Truth be told, your greatest asset for marketing yourself will be through the relationships you build within the community. However, you’ll also want to cover all of the bases.

You’ll want a professional website if anyone is going to take you seriously, and you’ll also want to use your local radio and television networks to get your name out on the airwaves. 

A few tricks of the trade are to hand out fliers, put up signs while you’re out on a jobsite, and get  a logo or the name of your business and place it on your truck. At the end of the day, any and every means for getting your name out there and getting noticed needs to be utilized.

Being your own boss is a rewarding experience, and if you’re providing quality service and developing a good reputation within the community, the sky is truly the limit.

Once you’ve established yourself as a proficient and respectable contractor in your community, you’ll be able to branch out, take on work in neighboring communities, and ready yourself for a life full of rewarding work relationships.


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