Taking the Leap: How to Decide If Starting Your Own Business Is the Right Move

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This is the first in a three-part series on starting and growing your own construction business. Here, I’ll discuss how to determine if running your own construction company is the right decision for you. In the following articles, I’ll discuss how to start your business and how to keep it prosperous and growing.

Have you ever wanted to take charge of your work life, have more say in your schedule, and have more control over the quality of your work? Maybe you believe you have a better way of doing things, want to increase your income, and want to create something that’s all your own.

All of these are good reasons to consider starting your own construction business. Before you take the leap, however, take a moment to understand what you would be getting into and evaluate if it’s the right move for you. Try to judge just how well you fare in the key areas of experience and personal characteristics.


Background and knowledge in your proposed work area are absolutely key to getting your business off to a good start. Specific training, certifications, and work experience, along with solid estimating skills, can mean the difference between success and failure.

Training and certifications: Before you go out on your own, make sure you are trained in the construction skills you’ll need. Whether the training is formal or informal, it must be effective so that you can demonstrate your skill. Certifications will help too, so seek to complete all those that are appropriate for your specialty. You will be a better contractor for it — and your clients will gain more confidence in your abilities.

Work experience: Your on-the-job experience should be sufficient to allow you to handle all aspects of your trade and make the decisions necessary to complete projects satisfactorily. Working for yourself, you will likely encounter potential work involving tasks you have never done before. You will have to decide how far you can go outside the comfort zone of your normal work scope.

Estimating: Accurate estimates require comprehensive knowledge of a project’s process and a complete listing of all tasks required, along with the associated labor, materials, and any specialty tools or machinery required. To successfully start your new business, you must have estimating knowledge and experience — or acquire it quickly.

Personal Characteristics

There’s no doubt about it: starting and running a business is difficult and stressful for most people. While your work skills and knowledge will serve as the foundation for your business, your personal character and traits will influence your success and satisfaction significantly. Take a look at these nine traits and see how you stack up:

Professional conduct: Once you become a business owner, much of your work will entail dealing with a wide spectrum of people who can influence your company: clients, prospects, employees/subcontractors, inspectors, suppliers, and others. The nature of the dealings will range from pleasant and friendly to angry and confrontational. Learning to consistently handle all dealings in a professional manner by communicating effectively and objectively is critical. You’ll find it is important to try to interact with all your business contacts in a positive manner. If you know how to disagree with someone without being disagreeable, you’re on the right track.

Strong work ethic: Expect to work 60 hours a week, and more when unexpected problems or issues arise. You’ll likely spend a significant portion of your time on support tasks such as making supply runs, maintaining records, and fielding incessant phone calls in addition to actual construction tasks.

Fiscal maturity: Disciplined money management is necessary to avoid cash shortages. First and foremost, anyone starting a business must establish a healthy cash reserve; common practice is six to 12 months’ living expenses. Until your business develops a backlog of jobs, you will likely have times when you are not generating any income and will need to rely on your reserves. As your business grows, depending on the jobs you generate, you may be dealing with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at times. You need to have the fiscal maturity to plan both jobs and expenditures to avoid cash-flow problems and debt. If you have a history of credit problems, you also will find it more difficult to get business loans when needed.

Ability to see the big picture: The ability to keep the end product in sight, keep goals in mind, and focus on long-term plans is an important trait. The most successful contractors pay attention to the details but don’t lose focus by immersing themselves in them. Similarly, successful contractors are able to think their way through setbacks, seek out multiple options for acceptable resolutions, and make adjustments along the way.

Stress management: As with any business, owners of construction companies will have stress. Successful ones learn to manage it well and avoid making mountains out of molehills. Separating personal life from business life is imperative. If you cannot do this, problems with one will cause problems with the other.

Staying power: The ability to stay with a job until it is done, and done correctly, is an essential trait in developing a reputation for quality work. Contractors cannot afford shoddy work or unfinished tasks. Making every effort to always show up for work will pay off too. Never endanger your health, but don’t let minor illnesses or bad weather become excuses. Your clients and employees will notice.

No addictions: You cannot run a successful construction business if you are plagued with an addiction — to any substance, legal or illegal. This includes nicotine and caffeine. If you have problems, deal with them before you consider going out on your own. You can’t expect to manage an entire business until you’re able to manage your personal life.

Comfort level with risk and uncertainty: Lying awake at night worrying about inevitable risks, problems, and uncertainties will leave anyone exhausted and highly stressed. Before taking the leap out on your own, make sure you can effectively deal with risk and uncertainty.

Promise-keeping: Can you guarantee your work and be certain you can and will correct any problems for which you are responsible? Standing behind your work will build your reputation. Can you commit to jobs and schedules, say ''no'' to unrealistic schedules, and communicate effectively to keep your clients informed of any changes or delays?

Think seriously about how you perform in these areas. Objectively evaluate yourself to help decide if you’re ready to strike out on your own. If you are deficient in any area, make a resolution to improve your performance before taking that big leap.

About the Author

Dean Bennett is president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction Inc., a design/build firm based in Castle Rock, CO. Specializing in custom residential design and construction, the firm’s projects include remodeling, interior and exterior additions, conversions, basement finishes, landscaping and fencing, and custom finish carpentry.

Dean Bennett Design and Construction offers concept-to-completion design, including working drawings, blueprints, securing of permits, and inspection coordination. Working with a business model of a single principal on site throughout the project, from architectural design through final construction, Bennett effectively integrates design and construction while eliminating the need to hire separate general contractors, subcontractors, and architects.

Bennett has worked with a national client base, including many clients for whom he has worked for multiple years, since 1996. He holds Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Environmental Design degrees from the University of Colorado. Bennett is also an accomplished fly fisherman, golfer, skier, and snowboarder and enjoys swimming, running, cycling, cooking, and photography.

He can be reached at 303-513-2065 or dean@deanbennettdc.com.
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