Subcontractors play a vital role in construction projects by providing specialized services to general contractors. They can offer a wide range of services, such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, and roofing.

In this guide, we walk you through the process of becoming a subcontractor, from gaining the necessary skills and certifications to finding clients and establishing your business. Discover the steps you must take to embark on this rewarding career path.

What is a subcontractor?

Before we delve into the details, let’s clarify what a subcontractor is. A subcontractor is an individual or a company hired by a general contractor to perform specific tasks or provide specialized services within a construction project. They work under a contract with the general contractor and are responsible for delivering their assigned portion of the project on time and within budget.

What does a subcontractor do?

Subcontractors perform a range of tasks depending on their area of expertise. They can handle various aspects of a construction project, such as electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, HVAC installation, painting, and more. Subcontractors bring their specialized skills and knowledge to the project, ensuring they complete specific tasks efficiently and to high-quality standards.

How to Become a Subcontractor [in 9 Steps]

Becoming a subcontractor requires careful planning and preparation. Follow these steps to kickstart your journey.

1. Gain the right skillset.

The first step is to gain the skills and experience necessary to succeed at your job. Identify your area of expertise, and then invest time and effort in honing your skills. You can do this by earning a degree or certification in your field or working as an apprentice or helper for a qualified subcontractor. Then stay updated with the latest technology, techniques, and industry trends to remain competitive.

2. Become licensed and certified.

In most cases, you must become licensed and certified to work as a subcontractor. Check the requirements in your state or region, then obtain the necessary licenses and certifications related to your specific trade or service. This not only enhances your credibility but also ensures compliance with legal regulations.

3. Learn the tax regulations in your state and city.

As a subcontractor, you must collect and remit sales tax and other taxes to the government. Familiarize yourself with the tax regulations governing subcontractors in your area. Understand the tax obligations, reporting requirements, and applicable deductions or exemptions. Consider consulting with a tax professional to ensure compliance and optimize your financial planning.

4. Obtain insurance.

Insurance can protect yourself, your business, and your clients. Explore options like general liability insurance, workers’ compensation, and professional liability insurance. Adequate insurance coverage safeguards against potential risks and liabilities in case of accidents or damage.

5. Get a contractor license bond.

A contractor license bond guarantees that contractors and subcontractors follow industry rules, regulations, and building codes. The government may require the bond at the local or state level when you apply for a license or permit. Ultimately, it will protect your clients, the public, and the government – three parties that may be affected by your work if a project goes south.

6. Create your contract agreement.

Once you’ve found a general contractor interested in working with you, you will have to create a contract agreement with them. The agreement should outline the terms of your work, including the following: 

  • Scope of work
  • Price
  • Payment schedule
  • Start and end dates

Consider consulting with a legal professional to ensure your contract is legally binding, protects your interests, and establishes expectations for you and your clients.

7. Find new jobs and clients.

Building a client base is crucial for the success of your subcontracting business. You can start by networking with contractors, attending trade shows, and submitting project bids. You can also leverage online platforms to connect with potential clients. Establishing strong relationships and a solid reputation can help you secure new jobs.

8. Get the right contract bonds.

You may need to obtain various construction bonds to fulfill project expectations. 

  • Performance bonds guarantee you will complete the project according to the contract terms.
  • Payment bonds ensure that you pay your subcontractors and suppliers as promised.

Having the right contract bonds increases your credibility and gives clients peace of mind. The government also requires them in many cases.

9. Continue networking to build your business.

Networking allows you to stay updated on industry trends, gain valuable insights, and forge connections that can lead to new opportunities. Attend industry events, join professional associations, and actively engage with fellow contractors, suppliers, and industry experts. Additionally, seek referral partnerships with other subcontractors or general contractors who may require your specialized services. 

By nurturing relationships and expanding your network, you increase the visibility of your business and position yourself for long-term success in the construction industry.

Frequently Asked Questions

The cost of becoming a subcontractor can vary depending on several factors, including the industry you specialize in, your region, and the specific requirements and certifications required. Typical startup or ongoing costs include: 

  • Licensing fees
  • Certification courses
  • Insurance premiums
  • Equipment and tools
  • Marketing expenses
  • Business registration fees 

Make sure to budget for these expenses and consider them investments in your subcontracting career.

Subcontracting can be a rewarding career path for those with specialized skills and expertise. It offers flexibility, independence, and the opportunity to work on diverse projects. However, success as a subcontractor depends on factors such as market demand, competition, ability to find clients and secure projects, and efficiency in delivering high-quality work. 

Carefully assess the market, understand your strengths, and develop a solid business strategy to make subcontracting worthwhile.

The payment for subcontractors can vary significantly based on several factors, including the type of services provided, the project’s complexity, your level of experience, and the prevailing market rates. 

Subcontractors often have the potential to earn higher hourly or project-based rates compared to employees, as they are responsible for their overhead expenses and assume certain business risks. However, conducting market research, considering your costs, and negotiating fair payment terms with clients are essential to ensure you’re compensated appropriately for your skills and services.

According to Indeed, the average base salary for subcontractors is $130,000 per year (as of mid-2023).

Subcontractor salary in June 2023

The time it takes to become a qualified subcontractor can vary greatly depending on various factors, such as the industry, the specific trade or service you specialize in, the licensing and certification requirements, and your prior experience and knowledge. 

Acquiring the necessary skills, obtaining relevant licenses and certifications, and building a network of clients and industry connections can take several months to a few years or more. It’s important to invest time in gaining experience, continuously learning and improving your skills, and staying updated with industry best practices to establish yourself as a qualified subcontractor.

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