If you enjoy working with your hands, leading teams, and completing projects large and small, you may find a career as a general contractor to be lucrative and rewarding. General contractors oversee small and large construction projects, including everything from adding an extra bathroom to a home to building shopping malls and skyscrapers. They’re involved when projects require multiple steps or many different trades to complete. If you think of a construction crew as a symphony orchestra, the general contractor is the conductor.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies general contractors as “construction managers” and says there are about 448,000 in the U.S. It also says that the field is growing faster than average, anticipating a rate of 11% growth through 2030.
If you find yourself asking the question, “Should I become a general contractor?” you should weigh the pros and cons of the position. Pros include things such as the variety of the work you can do, the physical fitness, and the self-employment opportunities. Some of the cons are that the work may be seasonal, you may have high overhead costs, and you may have headaches from being self-employed.
5 Advantages of Becoming a General Contractor
There are many advantages to becoming a general contractor. Here are five definite advantages:
- Self-employment possibilities: If you are a licensed general contractor, you could choose to start your own business. Doing so will allow you to set your own hours, decide how much you want to charge, and deduct business expenses such as licensing, continuing education, the cost of a home office, and mileage on your tax return.
- Variety of work: General contractors can work on a wide variety of projects. You could oversee the construction of a screened-in porch one week and be in charge of building a new freeway overpass the next.
- Career opportunities: Construction companies are a great place to work for general contractors. For example, you could go to work for Bechtel, the largest general contracting company in the U.S. According to Zippia, the firm employs more than 55,000 people and is known for having constructed the Western Hoover Dam and the London City Airport.
- No extensive education required: While some general contractors get started with a Bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field, a college degree is not necessary for this type of work. You can begin your career as a construction worker and learn more about the different trades, building codes, and the laws around contracting work. You can grow your knowledge, study for your license, and eventually become a general contractor.
- Gives you gravitas: As anyone in the industry can tell you, earning your general contractor’s license offers a significant challenge. You have to know about business, law, and building codes. Earning a contractor’s license offers
5 Disadvantages of Becoming a General Contractor
As many advantages as there are, there are just as many disadvantages. Here are five disadvantages you may want to consider:
- Self-employment headaches: When you’re self-employed, everything is on your shoulders. You have to charge enough to earn a profit, but not so much that you don’t get any work. You must choose how, when, and where to advertise your business. Networking is essential to find good subcontractors you can trust.
- Seasonal work: As a general contractor in areas that experience all four seasons, you may be busier in the spring, summer, and fall than during winter. You must adjust your finances to cover for the leaner months. If you want to avoid winter slow-downs, you may want to relocate to warmer climes, such as Florida or southern Arizona.
- High overhead: If you strike out on your own as an independent contractor, you may have high overhead costs, including liability insurance, workers’ comp insurance, and bonding. You’ll also be responsible for ensuring that your subcontractors get paid on time.
- Dangerous work: Even though much of your day will involve office work such as pulling permits, bidding on contracts, and handling accounts payable and receivable, you will still spend a large portion of your time on construction sites, which are well-known for hazardous conditions. You may even act as a foreman in charge of a crew working on the site in addition to your administrative duties.
- Long-term health problems: Doing manual labor such as construction work can take a heavy toll on your body. Repetitive motion injuries, falls, and accidents may end your career earlier than planned.
Can General Contractors Be Rich?
General contractors have the opportunity to earn good money. “Rich” is tricky to define; what one person may view as rich, another person may view as low income. The BLS states that the median wage for construction managers was $98,890 in May of 2021. That’s the number where half of general contractors make more than that, and the other half earn less. The bottom 10% of general contractors earn less than $60,050, and the top 10% earn more than $163,800 per year.
Is Becoming a General Contractor a Good Career for a Woman?
The BLS reports that women make up about 10.3% of construction employees. Construction is a rare industry where women make more than 94% of what their male colleagues earn. The national average across all fields is 81.5%. So long as you have the interest, the knowledge, the skills, and the paperwork, there’s no reason a woman couldn’t become a general contractor. The biggest concerns for women in construction are chauvinism and misogyny. Construction is a typically male-centered industry, and women may be subjected to catcalling or worse. However, that shouldn’t stop any woman interested in becoming a general contractor. As the boss of the job site, she will have the capacity to fire anyone who can’t respect a woman’s expertise and ability.
When you ask yourself, “Should I become a general contractor?” you should compare the advantages and disadvantages against each other to see which list comes out on top. We hope this guide has provided a good starting point for your decision-making progress in choosing the best career for you.
If you’re interested in becoming a general contractor, start with our Directory of State License Guides to learn about the license requirements for your state.