How to start a construction company
Whether your dream is to become a general contractor or an owner-builder, this guide covers the basics of starting a construction company in the UK
These are the key steps to starting a construction company:
- Decide which direction you want to take – do you want to operate as a general contractor or an owner-builder?
- Conduct market research, assessing local competition, and create a construction business plan
- Read up on construction industry rules and regulations such as CIS
- Understand start-up costs for starting a construction company, and how much you can earn
- Find industry contacts for construction training, regulations, and compliance
Many of us dream of starting a business however, it’s important to recognise that although owning your own business can be highly rewarding and extremely self-fulfilling, it can also be incredibly daunting and challenging if you don’t get off to a good start. When it comes to starting a construction company, it’s vital that you don’t cut corners at any stage of the planning process.
Whether your vision is to position yourself as the next big contractor in your local area, or you see yourself tapping into a certain building niche, there’s an awful lot to consider when it comes to starting a successful construction company.
From writing your business plan, getting the right training, through to financing your business, coming up with a name for a construction company and then registering that name, it’s important that everything is in place before you even think about trading.
If you’re considering, or you’re in the midst of, setting up your own building or construction company, you’re in the right place.
Here’s our guide to everything that you need to know to get off to a promising start:
What is a construction company and who is the business opportunity suited to?
First and foremost, you will need to fully understand the direction that you want to take, the niche you want to tap into, and what your target market is.
A construction company is not a single entity and can encompass a wide range of services and roles, in both private and commercial sectors. You will also quickly discover that there are lots of different types of construction companies including small renovation contractors, general contractors and owner-builders, and it’s important that you can recognise the difference.
“When I first decided to start my own construction company, I wasn’t really sure where to begin. I knew that I had the building skills but I wasn’t sure how to turn them into a business. So, I started by looking at the other construction companies in my area…this helped me understand who was doing what, and where my skills could fit in” – Peter
- Small renovation contractors
Small renovation contractors tend to work on projects that require small amounts of capital including jobs such as home alterations, office renovations, or small-scale commercial work. As a result, there’s no need for small renovation contractors to have an office or site base, as they tend to complete their paper work at home on evenings and weekends. The majority of small renovation contractors generally expand to general contractors, if they are good enough of course.
- General contractors
General contractors tend to be experts in building or alteration work. These companies provide a number of trades within their own workforce. Specialising in a wide range of trades and sectors, you will find that many construction companies operating as general contractors tend to deal with private and commercial work on a larger scale.
A company that operates as an owner-builder is not classified as a contractor. This is because this type of company only builds buildings for their own ownership in order to rent, operate, or sell on completion (there may be some overlap here with becoming a property developer). You’ll find that the vast majority of own-builders act as a construction manager or general contractor alongside their main business.
Once you've decided whether to become a contractor or an owner-builder, it’s also important that you recognise the differences between sole traders, limited companies, and partnerships as this will impact the type of construction company you start. Take a look at our guide to choosing the right business structure to compare the different liabilities, costs and tax issues you'll need to consider. Now is also a good time to assess good construction company names; read more in our guide on how to choose a business name.
Creating a construction business plan
“When I was told that I needed to produce a business plan, I didn’t know where to start as I’d never done anything like it before. But, with the help of a friend, I managed to do it and I’m so glad I did. It helped me to figure out where my construction business was going and how I could get it there.” – Eugene
When you’re starting your own construction business, thorough planning is essential and market research is an absolute must.
Your business plan is the perfect opportunity to outline your aims, goals and business objectives on paper, so that you can clearly see how your construction business idea could turn into a viable venture.
Before you even think about starting your own construction company, you should do your market research in order to determine the profitability of your business idea.
This process will also allow you to identify whether or not there are already construction companies operating in your area, providing the same services as you. Sussing out your competition will give you an idea of how your business will fit into the market place and whether it has the potential to thrive.
As part of your market research, it’s also worthwhile looking into what other construction companies are charging in the area you plan to start your business in, as well as what kind of reputation they have.
If there are already a number of credible construction companies offering the same services in the locality, and you cannot identify how your business will fit in, it might be worth rethinking your business plan and your business idea.
Of course, one of the most effective ways to find out whether there is a demand for your services is to get out into the community and speak to local residents. This will allow you to gain a first-hand insight into whether the target market you will be looking to engage with feel that there is a need for a new construction company or contractor firm.
Be sure to always consider the demographics of the area you are targeting, as people need to be able to afford the construction services that you plan to offer.
Writing your construction company business plan
The importance of a thorough business plan should not be underestimated. A detailed business plan will not only allow you to establish clear business goals and procedures, but it is also widely recognised in the business world as an essential step in getting your idea off the ground.
A business plan is a formal document that covers everything you need to know about successfully starting and running your business. If you are planning on approaching a potential lender, you will also be asked to provide your business plan so they can assess the profitability of your idea.
But what should your business plan contain?
Your business plan should be split into several sections outlining in detail how you plan to structure your business. It should explain who your target market is, the kind of construction services you will offer, how many employees (if any) you intend to have, and finally, how you will market your construction business and differentiate yourself from your competitors.
There should also be a detailed section that focuses on outlining how you plan to maintain your construction company, as well as a forecast detailing how much money you expect to make.
Download your free business plan template here.
Construction company rules and regulations
“Having worked in the construction industry for a long time, I knew there were loads of regulations, mainly to do with health and safety. Bu,t when it comes to starting your own construction business, there’s even more to think about – tax, insurance, CIS and more. Make sure you don’t miss anything!” – Martin
If you are planning on setting up a construction business, there are a number of industry specific rules, regulations and tax requirements that you should be aware of including The Construction Industry Scheme (CIS).
This scheme was set up by the government to create a payment handling system that contractors could use to handle payments made by contractors to sub-contractors.
Whether you are setting up your business as a limited, sole trader or partnership company, you will be expected to register under the CIS scheme if your business operates in any part of the construction industry.
According to the government, CIS covers most construction work for:
- A permanent or temporary building or structure
- Civil engineering work like roads and bridges
- For the purpose of CIS, construction work includes:
- Preparing the site, e.g. laying foundations and providing access works
- Demolition and dismantling
- Building work
- Alterations, repairs and decorating
- Installing systems for heating, lighting, power, water and ventilation
- Cleaning the inside of buildings after construction work
Construction health and safety regulations
It goes without saying that healthy and safety is important in all business environments, however it is particularly important within the construction industry due to the demands that come with the job role.
It is paramount that both you and your prospective employees have the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise to confidently carry out their day-to-day role in a safe manner. It is your responsibility to ensure that all members of your staff are up to the job and you will be expected to solve any skill gaps.
For detailed health and safety regulations you should visit the Construction Skills, the Sector Skills Council and the industrial training board as they help business solve skills gaps.
Prior to starting a construction company, you should have a solid understanding of building regulations as these are the standards of design and construction that will apply to the majority of commercial and private projects you will work on.
You should understand what building regulations cover, how they are enforced and who is responsible for them. The same applies for planning permission regulations.
The Health and Safety Executive offers a detailed breakdown of Construction Regulations here.
If you’re expecting your annual turnover to exceed £85,000, then registering for VAT is compulsory. If you’re annual turnover is lower than £85,000 then the decision is voluntary.
VAT is charged on the vast majority of transactions in the UK, especially within the construction industry. If you are VAT registered you will be able to charge VAT on all of the goods or services you provide, and then claim back the VAT on goods and services you purchase for your business.
You should be aware that there are three different types of VAT, standard, reduced and zero however, nearly all construction work completed within the construction industry is charged at a standard rate of VAT.
How much does it cost to start a construction company?
Despite popular belief, the vast majority of start-up businesses are now able to get up on their feet with relatively modest budgets, especially in more traditional sectors such as the construction industry.
In fact, industry estimates indicate that the average budget for a new construction UK start-up business is approximately £5,000.
This is because many construction companies do not require a base to work from as much of their manual labour is completed off-site. This means that business owners can complete much of their paperwork and communications from home.
If you are considering starting own construction company, it’s highly likely that you’ve already have worked in the trade, which means you will have the necessary equipment and maybe even regular clients to get your business off to a good start.
Of course, despite the low cost of starting your own construction company, you should still plan ahead and cut down on how much you think you will need to borrow.
How much can you earn by starting a construction company?
How much you will earn from setting up your own construction company is difficult to say, as every construction company is entirely different. However, as a general rule of thumb, you should expect to be paid around 8% of your total sales as salary – if you have been in business for less than five years.
Of course, if you survive the five-year point (which you should if you remain focused, motivated and driven!) your construction should continue to go from strength to strength.
As you gain more experience operating within the world of business, you will start to notice even more opportunities for growth and progression which should allow you to increase your salary to 10% of your total sales after year five. Going forward, you can begin to increase your salary steadily based on the income your construction company is generating.
Construction finance: cashflow solutions for construction businesses
Do bear in mind that you will need to keep a strict eye on cashflow as the construction industry as you may have high upfront costs for materials and labour before earning money from your efforts. One way to combat this is to use an invoice finance service, which allow you sell your unpaid business invoices to a finance company and free up most of their value to make new purchases and payments.
This is known as ‘invoice factoring', and it's so common within the construction industry that there are many finance companies who offer dedicated ‘construction finance' invoice services. Take a look at our dedicated guide to how construction finance works.
Tips and useful contacts for starting a construction company
- Consider your options carefully first when forming your company: do you want to be an independent contractor or are you looking to own a construction firm?
- Do your market research, analyse competitors in your local area and find a niche where your construction business will stand out to customers.
- Write a business plan to steer your construction company in the right direction – and stick to it.
- Adhere to the rules and regulations of the construction trade; make sure you comply to health and safety, building, VAT and CIS regulations.
- It’s possible to start a construction company for as little as £5,000 so do your research and you could well be on your way to making your construction company a success!