So you’re ready to ramp up your career in construction, and a general contracting business is the logical next step. 

Starting a general contracting business is a rewarding and exhilarating entrepreneurial venture. The Canadian construction industry is full of opportunities for anyone wanting to strike out on their own, and with a general contracting business, the sky is truly the limit. It is a competitive and dynamic industry with several paths you can take to provide a unique service, depending on the type of construction service your company offers. 

What Is a General Contractor?

Simply put, a general contractor is the main puppeteer of the many goings-on of a commercial or residential building project. They manage all vendors and tradespeople, finances, communication, and safety protocols, from the conceptualization to the closure phase of a construction project.

A general contractor discussing plans with a customer.

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What Does a General Contractor Do?

A general contractor wears many hats and is often held accountable for every aspect of a building project. 

They manage the logistics of a project while working closely with the client. In addition, they often hire subcontractors, such as carpenters or electricians for specialized tasks. Juggling many balls in the air at once, general contractors are tasked with managing risks at multiple levels, such as workplace safety, property damage prevention, renting vehicles, and preventing theft, to name a few.

What Skills Does a General Contractor Need?

General contractors need various soft and hard skills to succeed in Canada’s competitive construction market. These skills include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • People skills. Being a people person may be the most important skill you need to run a successful general contracting business. Contractors must communicate with clients, understand their vision, and manage their expectations. They then must share this with architects, subcontractors, city inspectors, and other construction professionals who will complete the project. Clear communication is necessary to finish a project on time and within budget.

  • Problem-solving. Even if you dot all of your i’s and cross your t’s, problems will arise on a construction project. Successful contractors have to stay calm when trouble occurs, keep a level head, and work out a plan of action to get everyone back on track.

  • Project management. You are the leader, and a good leader has to be organized. Budgeting and planning so that there are enough workers on a site, ensuring all guidelines are followed, and ensuring everyone is safe and protected are just a few of the many aspects a general contractor must oversee. It is a bare minimum expectation of clients for general contractors to have a contractor insurance policy that protects them.

  • Technology. Using technology is part of staying organized to avoid problems on a building site. In 2022, everything is online, and technology is an invaluable tool for your business’s success. Calendaring meetings, inviting other professionals on Google or Apple calendars to meet at certain times or locations, and having an email with an efficient website are all essential to a prosperous general contracting business.

What Types of General Contractors Are There?

Some general contractors are jack-of-all-trades, while others are specialized. While general contractors oversee the entire project, subcontractors run a more specific part. Specialized contractors, or subcontractors, include:

  • Design-build contractors
  • Artisan contractors
  • Excavation contractors
  • Plumbing contractors
  • Concrete contractors
  • Framing contractors
  • Masonry and stonework contractors
  • HVAC contractors
  • Plastering contractors
  • Electrical contractors
  • Carpentry contractors

What Licensing and Certification Does a General Contractor Need?

It doesn’t come as a surprise that you will need a few pieces of paper to start working, but if you know what’s what, it’s not as overwhelming as you may think. 

Construction and skilled trades are highly regulated, so you must know what licences and certifications you need. It usually depends on your province or municipality. Some credentials you may need include the following:

  • Certificate of Qualification. This designation communicates that you have the necessary apprenticeship and on-site training requirements for the trades your business provides, whether for building commercial or residential properties or renovating older buildings.

  • Residential builders’ licence. If you plan to build and sell new homes, you must hold a licence with your province, such as the Home Construction Regulatory Authority (HCRA) in Ontario. In Alberta, you will need a Certificate of Licence (builder’s licence) and an Approved New Home Registration for the new home to the permitting agency. Check your province’s website to see what you will need for building and selling new homes.

  • Electrical Safety Authority (ESA). If your construction site uses electricity or is installing electrical outlets, you will need to get a licence from the electric safety authority in your province.

  • Safety regulatory agencies. Safety standards are regulated provincially, and each has a different list of the licences and certifications you may need for a project. 

They include the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) in Ontario, the Alberta Boilers and Safety Association (ABSA), the B.C. Safety Authority (BSCA), Manitoba Department of Labour and Immigration, Mechanical & Engineering, the Service de l’inspection de la fabrication, D-appareils sous pression in Quebec, the Technical Safety Authority of Saskatchewan (TSASK), ACI Central Inc. in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon.

How Much Does a General Contractor Make? 

On average, general contractors make $131,284 per year in Canada. However, there are a few factors to consider when determining the salary a general contractor may make, including if they oversee residential or commercial projects and if they are specialized or more general contractors.

What Insurance Does a General Contractor Need?

You are providing professional services for a fee, with plenty of risks for injury, property damage, and things going astray. With all this information, it is clear that if you plan on pursuing a career as a general contractor, you will need a comprehensive insurance policy to protect you and your business.  

A comprehensive contractor insurance policy will cover all your bases and allows you to focus on running the business of your dreams. That policy may include commercial liability insurance to protect against third-party bodily injury and property damage, tools and equipment insurance to protect your property, pollution liability in case of an environmental mishap, and builders’ risk insurance, among others.

Protect Your Business: Get Insurance

Fill out an application for business insurance and get a free quote. Speak to one of our insurance experts to find the best policy that suits you and your business needs.

– Reviewed by Aharshan Thangarasa, Team Lead, Contractors, Zensurance.

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About the Author: Morgan Tomalty

Morgan Tomalty is a writer and researcher with two masters’ degrees in effective storytelling. She has been published in multiple publications and blogs and is endlessly curious about how stories shape our world.