If you’re looking for a career that offers independence, opportunity, and the change to work on exciting projects, then becoming a contractor in Florida may just be your dream career. Between the booming construction industry and thriving real estate market, Florida is a fertile ground for contractors to build a successful business. To help get you started, our step-by-step guide will walk you through the process of starting your contracting career in the Sunshine State.
Step 1: Be Prepared
There is a lot involved with running your own business. You have to understand state and local regulations and ordinances, know how to stay up to date on business codes, plan the business itself, and find all the licenses, certifications, and insurance that you need.
First and foremost, you need to meet one of the experience requirements listed below:
- A four-year construction degree and one year of work experience
- One year of work experience as a foreman and at least three years of college credits
- One year of work experience as a laborer, one year as a foreman, and at least two years of college credits
- Two years of work experience as a laborer, one year of work experience as a foreman, and at least one year of college credits
- Four years of work experience, with at least one year being a foreman
- Military experience substitutes for college
The work experience requirements mean you’ll need to work under a licensed contractor, learning about the industry in the process. Be honest with your boss so that they can mentor you in preparation for your eventual branching off.
Next, you need to be studying. To become a contractor in Florida, you need to pass three exams to qualify for a license: a business and finance exam, a contract administration exam, and a project administration exam. Lucky for you, you can find a prep course for the Florida general contractors license to give you a solid start. Prep courses help you study relevant material, prepare references and study guides, and choose which license to go for.
Step 2: Get Licensed and Insured and Set Up Your Business
Before you fill out an application for a license, you will also need to obtain insurance and potentially a bond or letter of credit. Once you have both your license and your insurance ready to go, it’s time to set up your business.
Florida has strict requirements for contractors regarding insurance. You should work with an agent or broker to ensure you get all of the policies needed, including liability insurance and commercial vehicle insurance.
You’ll want to start by setting up a business plan. These serve many purposes, including acting as a roadmap as you get started, a guide as you run your business, and a tool to help you appeal to investors for financial assistance getting started. Your business plan will help you prepare for expenses like tools and equipment and set goals for growth and success.
Step 3: Set Up Records and Legalities
A big part of running a business is tracking profits and expenses. You have to keep records for anywhere from a year to the lifetime of your business in case you undergo an audit or need to supply documentation. You’ll want to create a system for keeping invoices, receipts, and other records. Certain bookkeeping software can help run the numbers, or you can hire an accountant (or accounting service). Even if you handle your own accounting and records, you should work with a tax agency the first couple of years to make sure you understand how to file properly.
In addition to records, you need to learn how to create and handle contracts. Contracts are legally binding agreements between you and the client that help establish expectations, lay out project specifications, talk pricing, and more. You should create a contract template and then have a small business lawyer look over the details and provide any advice. That way, when you take your first client, you can fill in the template and be confident that you and your client are protected.
Step 4: Market Yourself and Establish Your Services
To thrive in Florida’s competitive market, you need to make your services known to potential clients. First, you should set up a strong online presence with a professional website and active social media profiles. Your site should be clean and easy to navigate, with a portfolio to showcase your experience, a testimonial page that pulls from previous clients, a contact form to request an estimate, and a list of any accolades and certifications you hold. Your social media feeds can include before and after comparisons, in-progress photos, and discussions of industry trends or other fun tidbits.
Another important marketing tool is your business card. A business card is often your first impression and something you hope your clients will hold onto. It should have a clean, easy-to-read design with essential information about your business.
Step 5: Build Your Network and Reputation
A strong network is vital for growth and success in any industry. For contractors, there are three major networks to build: Peers, Industry-Specific, and Client networks.
A peer network means you’ve networked with professionals who may need to recommend your services to clients, and you do the same for theirs. These professionals could be designers, real estate agents, lenders, architects, and more— working professionals whose jobs are related but not directly competing with yours.
The industry-specific network involves befriending other contractors, subcontractors, and vendors. This helps establish your business but also opens the door to collaborative projects and high-quality materials at wholesale prices.
The client network is your word-of-mouth advertisements. Rather than having clients submit reviews directly to you, ask them to use objective third-party platforms like Yelp or Google. If they are extremely satisfied, they will likely return to you for future projects and recommend your services to others.
Step 6: Keep Evolving
The construction industry is ever-changing, with new technologies, regulations, and techniques being introduced frequently. Take time to attend workshops and seminars, or consider continuing education or master classes. This will keep you up to date on the latest industry trends so you can offer better service to your clients.
Becoming a fully licensed contractor in Florida is an exciting and rewarding journey. You have the freedom to set your own schedule and get to do something you love every day. And what’s more rewarding than helping your clients achieve their dream renovations? We hope this guide helps you establish your own contracting service and enjoy years of success to come.