If you have solid experience in the construction industry, striking out on your own can be hugely tempting. Here are the main issues to consider before you can begin trading.
As with any business venture, how much you plan in advance will be the biggest determinant of your new start-up’s prospects. We’ll take you through the basic steps of starting your own construction business, especially regarding qualifications and funding.
What it means to be a “small builder”
Unless you have access to rather significant sources of funds, it's best to start your company at a small scale. This means you will likely start as a small builder: a sub-contractor and/or self-employed worker undertaking primarily domestic projects and minor commercial projects.
Do note that small builders are required to demonstrate their competence according to fairly stringent standards, especially where health and safety are concerned. This is due to the disproportionately greater risks involved with smaller-scale projects. While it might be counter-intuitive, there are actually more accidents and injuries among smaller builders, their employees and their clients than on large-scale construction projects.
Experience is the foundation of your construction business
If you are thinking of starting your own construction business, you most likely already got solid experience in the trade. A few years of construction work will have given you the skills you need, but also, and more importantly, a practical understanding of what a construction business needs to be successful.
Do note that, as a small builder, the viability of your construction business won’t just depend on the level of skill and knowledge you actually have, but also the level you can prove. This is where training and certifications come in. While you could, technically, try to start a business without the usual formal qualifications, you will struggle to gain momentum without the licensing and accreditation required for many construction projects.
If you're currently working in construction, you should be able to arrange an apprenticeship fairly easily; this is your route to an NVQ/SVQ.
Proving the skills you have with certification
While it's not technically an essential requirement, your Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card will show your clients you've received complete and up-to-date health and safety training. Due to the risks involved in construction, CSCS cards are becoming increasingly important and can even determine your access to work sites, whether you're working for a public or private client.
Obtaining a CSCS card requires attaining a certain level of training beforehand, usually an NVQ/SVQ. You will also need to pass the Health, Safety and Environment Test. If you don't meet the requirements for the CSCS, you could consider the alternative SKILLcard – though note that it is less widely accepted.
There are different kinds of CSCS cards. If you’ve already been employed on-site as a builder, you may already hold a blue card showing you are a skilled worker with an NVQ at Level 2. It is generally recommended to try obtaining a gold card, which indicates an NVQ/SVQ at Level 3 or higher before you seriously consider setting up a business.
Specialist qualifications and additional requirements
Some types of work will require additional certification, especially when dealing with potentially dangerous materials and/or equipment. These include:
- Gas appliances
Becoming a competent person
Before it can start, any construction work must be certified according to building regulations. This is done either by applying to a public or private “building control body” (BCB), depending on the specific job, or by using a “competent person” scheme. Competent persons are listed in the Competent Persons Register, and are formally qualified to evaluate proposed work and determine whether it's in line with regulations. Another option is to become a competent person yourself by undertaking a scheme in the relevant fields, such as insulation work, roofing, and others. The major benefit of becoming a competent person is that you will save significant time and money when starting a new project.
Obtaining funding through private and public channels
If you're prepared to start small, your initial outlay might be fairly modest. This is especially true if you've already acquired your own equipment and vehicle. Whether you are starting from scratch or already have assets you can rely on, you will need to run through the basic steps of how to start a business, which includes drafting a budget and planning your business strategy.
Writing the perfect business plan will be a great help in accessing finance. Besides credit from your bank or building society, government loans and grants are often available for those setting up a small business, especially for skilled professionals such as yourself. You may be able to access more funding if you offer in-demand services and/or have specialist training in fields such as green renovations. Your local small business advisor will be able to help you further.
Being a small builder on the move
As a construction expert on the go, you'll need to carefully consider your choice of transport. Finding the van that’s right for you will depend on the work and services you're planning to offer, the type of equipment and materials you need to carry, and the areas where you'll be working.
If you're planning to offer smaller jobs or work that doesn't require large amounts of material or large pieces of machinery, you could consider the Renault Kangoo – especially if you plan on navigating busy urban settings where a larger van could be harder to navigate or park. For a good compromise between ease of driving and storage space, the Renault Trafic offers capacious storage while still being low-slung and easy to load and unload. You also have a choice between low-roof and high-roof versions if you need to consider headroom or extra space, respectively. In either case, make sure to check out some smart interior storage solutions to maximise your business van’s capacity. And, of course, with load volumes going up to 17m3 and a maximum payload of 2,167 kg, the Renault Master is the ideal choice if your nascent business is ready to tackle large-scale jobs.
Mobility isn’t just a question of having the right van, however. On top of road tax, you'll need to think about commercial vehicle insurance, van security and security for your tools and equipment. If you're going to keep your van at home, as many do, you should inquire with your local council regarding any local restrictions on commercial vehicles in residential areas.
Building towards long-term success
To ensure your firm's success, you must take care to comply with all the regulations and licensing that applies to your business. If you fail to do so, you may face additional charges and fines that can dramatically affect your profitability. Your local authority and the HSE will be able to advise you on regulations and licensing. You can obtain more in-depth information about the latest qualifications and requirements from the National Construction College. They will also be able to give you free professional advice regarding your construction business.
One final point to consider is the likelihood that the construction market will fluctuate. Changes in the property market, which can be very sudden, can affect the demand for construction services. If your business is over-extended and there's a downturn in demand, this can create financial stresses. Despite the vagaries of the market, however, it's possible to run a very successful construction business even in adverse economic conditions.