Hands-on experience and a true talent for construction are important assets, but that's not all you need to run a successful construction business. Just as on a construction job, you need a strong foundation to build something that lasts.
Survey the Terrain
When you’re starting a new building project, you don’t just plant yourself in the middle of a plot and start. You gauge the terrain first. You study the conditions, see what the landscape is like, check out the resources available and consider anything that might hamper your progress. You perform a site survey.
You do the same when starting a business. First, gather as much information as possible. Do you actually know what’s involved with being a business owner? Will you be out in the field working or inside running the company? If you can’t hire someone to run your office or site operations, how will you manage both? Will you hire full-time employees or make use of freelancers and subcontractors? And what’s the competition like?
There are so many questions to ask and decisions to make. Even knowing all the questions is a difficult task! Fortunately, there are many ways to learn about running a business before you actually hang up a sign and open your doors. Here are some places you can get started with your research.
Spend some time online.
The website for the government’s Small Business Administration has a multitude of articles on starting a business. Publications like Entrepreneur and Inc. have hundreds of pieces of advice, even down to how to choose the best name for your business.
Most of us aren’t huge fans of the IRS, but there’s a lot you need to know about taxes when you own your own business, and its website is a great place to start learning. (Remember to find out about your state and local regulations, as well.)
Hit the library.
There are many books devoted to business startups in different industries, from the “Dummies” series to those specializing in selling, marketing and financing. Lifehack.org has a list of 20 recommended books specifically for startups. Reading even a few will be helpful.
Talk to professionals.
This can be your own team, which should include an accountant and attorney at the very least, to other professionals in your industry. Attend building and construction industry trade shows, join the related organizations and associations, network with peers, suppliers, and yes, even competitors. Every conversation will teach you something.
Visit City Hall.
Don’t stop at City Hall. Plan on visiting the offices for the towns and counties where you’re planning to work. Get to know the players, and learn how to secure the building permits and inspections you’ll need for your projects. Make sure you understand the licensing and insurance requirements to do business as your own company.
Do a credit check.
Make sure your credit is in good shape before you start. If it isn’t, take the time to fix it. Starting a new venture is hard enough with good credit; it’s exponentially more difficult without it.
Write a Business Plan
You wouldn’t start a building without a full set of blueprints, and you shouldn’t start your company without the business equivalent, which is a Business Plan. We’ve put together a step-by-step explanation of what to cover and why it’s important.
You’ll need the business plan if you’re going to approach a bank or other lender for some financial help in getting started. Potential investors will also want to see your strategy and financial projections.
The Market Analysis section of the business plan will help you figure out your niche and what areas you might specialize in, like Green Building, Fine Homes, Restaurants, Basement Remodeling, etc. Entrepreneur Magazine has an exhaustive list of specialties you might consider. Think about areas where you’re most comfortable and capable, what kind of projects you’d excel at, and where you’d be likely to have the best return given the current conditions.
Also plan to have the following ready to go:
Every startup has costs associated with it, from legal to operational. A construction business will also likely need vehicles and basic tools, and the money to rent things you might not own. Even if you don’t prepare a full business plan (which we still highly recommend you do!), cost out everything you need to get up and running, and make sure you’ve got enough working capital to keep you going for at least six months to a year—or possibly longer.
You’ll need funds to be properly licensed in the areas where you want to work, and you may need a background check. Your business will have to have liability insurance, and possibly disability insurance. Your workers will need to be covered by workers compensation insurance, and you’ll have salaries to pay, along with the cost of marketing, advertising, and general overhead. Remember that you’ll also have living expenses during this time, probably without a salary or other money coming in.
If this all sounds daunting, if not downright impossible, remember that many start-ups get funding in the form of a loan or money from investors.
Anyone who’s built so much as a treehouse, much less an actual building, knows you need the right people to help you. That means employees who are proven professionals or a great lineup of freelancers and subcontractors—or possibly a combination of the two. You won’t get far if you haven’t assembled a solid team.
If you’re planning to work from home, make sure you have a proper setup where you can be professional and won’t be disturbed. You’ll also need a separate business telephone line, whether landline or mobile, and office equipment. If you’re renting or buying office space, you’ll usually require furnishings, as well.
A Professional Network
You don’t always need to know the answers, but you have to know where to go to find them. Before starting out, put together a list of suppliers, trade associations, and local organizations that can help you. Identify where to turn for help with writing the business plan, getting small business financing, and the technical aspects of your job.
A Personal Network
Starting a business is a major commitment and can be very stressful at times. It’s helpful to have the support of family and close friends, even just to listen when you have the inevitable bad day. It’s also important to have someone to share the equally inevitable successes!
Build Your Foundation
Once you’re confident in your plan and the resources you have available, you’re ready to get going. Here are six steps to take to build your business.
1. Incorporate or set up a partnership, limited liability corporation, or sole proprietorship. Enlist the help of an attorney and/or accountant to figure out which way to go.
2. Take care of all the necessary licensing and paperwork, register with the appropriate federal, state and local agencies. Consider purchasing industry-specific software that will help with budgets, scheduling and estimates, along with accounting software to keep the books straight.
3. Open up a business bank account and get a business credit card. Get a D-U-N-S number from Dun & Bradstreet, especially if you hope to do business with the federal government.
4. Buy a domain name and get a website up and running, or at the very least, set up a Facebook page for the business where you can feature photos of your work and other content to help promote yourself.
5. Network, both within the construction industry and outside. You never know where the next lead will come from! Tell everyone you know you are in business for yourself, and you’d appreciate any and all referrals. Be impeccable with your word and your reputation. Word of mouth is particularly powerful in this industry.
6. If you are a woman or a minority, get your business certified, which can help you with financing and special opportunities to bid on contracts. The Small Business Administration has certification programs for Minority Owned Businesses and for Women Owned Small Businesses. Also check out the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and the National Women Business Owners Corporation.
Framing Your Business
Not only is framing one of the most important steps in building a structure, it’s also how your business will take shape, and it all starts with you. Remember that attitude is everything. There may be setbacks along the way, but staying positive is key, for you, your customers and your employees.
Working in a business is very different than owning one, and you will have new skills to learn and master. Be open to the fact that you won’t know it all at once, even though you may be quite accomplished in some areas.
Be patient, and understand that sometimes, the only way to learn is by actually working through a situation and getting the experience under your belt.
Of course, making money is your ultimate goal, but it may not happen as quickly as you would like. Especially at first, you may have to reinvest much of what you make to continue to build and grow the business.
Give yourself the time you need. With a solid plan and a strong foundation, you can build a construction business that will be profitable, successful and sustainable.
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