How to Become a General Contractor

Here’s how to get started, the different types of firms, and what Sweeten looks for in a contractor

Contractor with helmet at the renovation site

Why be a general contractor?

If you’re ambitious and have experience in the construction industry, general contracting offers a unique career path from a worker to a business owner. Interested? We hope you’ll find Sweeten’s following guide helpful.

Sweeten matches general contractors with high-quality home renovation projects, vetted for readiness and appropriate budget. Contractors pay only when they win a project. Budgets start at $15,000 and average over $67,000.

What is a general contractor?

A general contractor is a person (and company) that coordinates and supervises construction projects, including renovations. This includes securing required permits, and hiring, scheduling, and overseeing all the subcontractors (masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, etc.).

In most areas, general contractors are required to be licensed, and to carry worker’s compensation insurance, as well as specialized liability for construction. The general contractor is financially responsible for any injuries or property damage at the job site. 

Are there different kinds of general contractors?

Yes. Contracting companies can offer a range of services. Some are “build-only” firms, which only work from drawings provided by the client. Others are full-service “design-build” firms, which will have designers and possibly even architects on staff. And there’s a spectrum between these extremes, including firms that can offer advice on materials and finishes, and firms that make architect referrals. 

There’s also a range of firm sizes. Some are sole-proprietorships or 2-person partnerships. Others have many employees, including front office staff. As you’d expect, most general contracting firms start small and grow over time. 

What does Sweeten look for in general contractors?

Sweeten expects professionalism, great communication skills, an outstanding portfolio, and the following objective qualifications:

  • All required general contractor licensing for your service area
  • A certificate of insurance for General Liability coverage

  • A business registered under the same name for at least 6 months 

Who can become a general contractor?

The field is open to anyone; there are no specific physical or educational requirements. However, your chances of success will be greatest if you have experience in the construction industry. This can include a construction trade, design, project management, estimating, or property management.

Be aware that the job is mostly about management and running a business. Your knowledge, administrative skills, and people skills will be more important than your ability to swing a hammer. 

How to become a general contractor

There are two common paths to take. Each can prepare you to get licensed and registered, so you to can take on jobs that require hiring subcontractors:

  • Work for yourself in your trade (as a carpenter, plumber etc.)
  • Work for another company, and work up to a supervisory role 

What’s the worst way to become a general contractor?

Start out as a designer, and hire subcontractors to complete projects—even though you don’t have a general contracting license or construction insurance. Unfortunately, this is common, and is a recipe for disaster. 

How do I become licensed?

See the following resources for licensing in regions served by Sweeten:

California Contractor Licensing

California State Licensing Board Forms and Applications 

Connecticut Contractor Licensing

Connecticut State Home Improvement Contractor Registration 

Florida Contractor Licensing

Florida State Contractor License Application

Illinois Contractor Licensing

New Jersey Contractor Licensing

New Jersey State Home Improvement Contractor Application for Registration

New York Contractor Licensing

    Pennsylvania Contractor Licensing

    Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

    Have questions or comments about this post?

    Join the conversation

    You may also like

    Start renovating

    Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering guidance and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

    Start your renovation
    Connect with Sweeten contractors
    no-cost-blue

    Subscribe to our
    renovation newsletter