general

How to become a general builder

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Whether you’re adding an extension to an existing house, converting a loft into living space, or even building an entire house from the ground up, every project needs someone to coordinate it. This is the job of a building contractor, also referred to simply as a general builder or contractor...

To be a general contractor you need to have good management skills, a great team, know a fair amount about each trade, be very practical and most importantly be willing to be accountable.

The future looks bright for general contractors, with lots of planned home building schemes in the works, as well as plenty of people interested in maximising their existing space, adding extensions and renovations to their homes. To build a new home or construct a big extension, a full team of tradespeople is needed, from the groundwork to the roofing, and that team needs a contractor to manage it.

These new homes need to operate in an energy conscious way, so you’ll need to keep up to date with new developments in building materials, energy efficient technology and any other regulatory requirements on access and safety.

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A day in the life

Like many trades, you’ll probably have your fair share of early starts alongside evening and weekend work, especially when you’re starting out and growing your business.

Being on site you’ll get to experience a wide variety of different tasks, plenty of which are physically demanding, but generally enjoying the camaraderie that comes from working in a team. There’ll be lots of problems to solve and things to organise, whether it’s dealing with a client or arranging timings for subcontractors.

As a contractor you’ll also spend a lot of your time off site as well, dealing with admin and paperwork, sourcing and purchasing materials, creating plans, processing applications, liaising with Building Control and suppliers - all of these can be done from a desk.

Being a building contractor is tough, but you get out of it what you put in. The best part for many is the feeling of creating something new. Some days you’ll be driving to a building site, and on the way you’ll see a porch, an extension, or even a house and you’ll be able to say to yourself “I built that” - which isn’t a feeling you’ll get from many office jobs.

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Training and experience

In order to become a good building contractor, you’ll have to gain experience in various aspects of building work. For this, hands-on experience is unavoidable. Most people enter the trades via a particular specialism, and can build up knowledge of other trades over time.

Between developing your own knowledge and knowing enough contacts, you may learn enough to make the leap to being a general contractor. The important thing is showing that you’re willing to take on new responsibilities, and learn new things.

In order to develop into a building contractor or general builder, you will need to have expertise in quoting and pricing up processes, and gain experience managing other tradespeople. It definitely helps to develop good working relationships with merchants, and other tradespeople you know you can trust enough to hire on jobs you take on.

Many contractors have picked up their skills by helping another contractor run their own business, and have slowly acquired the required abilities. Expect a gradual progression, and only go at it on your own once you have developed enough, and can take on building projects on your own.

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Salaries

The good thing about being a general builder, or contractor is that you can set your own day rates. When starting out as a general builder or contractor, your hourly rate might range from around £130 to £180, but as you gain more experience and reputation you can easily charge upwards of £250 a day, though this will be affected by where in the country you’re working and the types of job you’re taking on.

General builders and contractors can make anywhere between £40,000 up to £1,000,000 in a year, though it is agreed that the majority will sit between £50,000 and £100,000, with higher earnings generally in the south east.

A career in the trades