When you work for a construction company, it’s usually up to your employer to provide you with the tools and equipment you need. As a self-employed California contractor, however, you’ll have to decide on your own when to purchase different pieces of equipment, and whether or not an investment makes sense.

This can be more challenging than you might first imagine, especially since today’s contractors use everything from hammers and hardhats to electric saws and even iPads.

So, how do you decide whether or not to spend the money on new tools and equipment? Here are three good guidelines to follow:
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As a new contractor, you’ll quickly find that your schedule doesn’t always match the one your friends and relatives might keep. That’s because things like weather, workload, and project deadlines can all affect your decision of how many hours to put in at work, not to mention how many days you’ll want to work every month.

This can be particularly true during the holiday season, when a lot of businesses and industries slow down very noticeably. But, will you be taking time off during the time around November and December?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:
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As any experienced California contractor could tell you, even some of the most excited and enthusiastic potential clients are going to decide not to work with you, or at least to put off their construction projects until some other time in the future.

There are any number of reasons this can happen, and most revolve around things like funding, scheduling, the economy, etc., that are outside your control. But, while you can’t necessarily do anything about new clients deciding not to hire you at the moment, you can make an effort to win their business later and increase your odds of working with them at some point.

The best way to do that, of course, is simply by keeping in touch. There are a lot of ways to accomplish that, but here are a few of the best:
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For the majority of construction professionals who come to us because they want to become licensed California contractors, the dream is to start their own business and become a self-employed professional. That’s a great goal, since it can mean more money, control over your own time and work, and even the potential to build the life or career you want from the ground up.

One thing to remember, however, is that many of our students don’t take this step right away after passing their licensed contractor’s exam. In other words, it’s a myth to think that becoming a licensed contractor has to mean quitting your job and venturing out on your own immediately (or even ever).

A lot of our graduates wait to become self-employed, and a few never even go that far. There are a few good reasons why:
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Are you interested in becoming a licensed California contractor, but think there might be too many obstacles in the way? We hear about these kinds of situations every week, and in almost every case they can be overcome. The fact of the matter is that fear holds more construction professionals back than anything else – once they overcome their hesitation to get started, they quickly find that the “problems” they thought would keep them from going to school simply melt away.

To give you a sense of what we mean, here are three things that should never keep you from achieving your dream of becoming a licensed California contractor:
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Does studying for your California licensed contractor exam have to mean giving up your current job, or taking lots of time off? This is a big concern for a lot of construction professionals who come to us, especially if they have families who are counting on them to earn income.

The short answer is that you absolutely do not have to stop working to attend our school. Many of our students keep working regular hours while attending classes, and in fact this can be a better approach than trying to learn everything at once. And, contrary to popular belief, the amount of studying needed isn’t so overwhelming that you’ll have to concentrate on it day and night.

Here are a few other things to take into consideration:
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Occasionally, new potential students will meet with a member of the CSLS team and wonder if they have what it takes to succeed at our school and become a licensed California contractor. In almost every case, the fact that they’ve had enough drive and ambition to visit with us in the first place tells us that they have the skills they need to make it through their exam and in the construction industry.

Going a little bit deeper, though, there are five things that we have noticed can make our students more successful at our school:
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There are a lot of things in the California construction industry that are hard to learn without experience. That is, one of our instructors, or an experienced construction professional, can tell you all about something, but it isn’t until you go through it firsthand that you really understand.

What sort of things can the right insurance protect you against? We could give you a list that is dozens of pages long, but here are a few of the most important situations:
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When it comes to the California construction industry, the high level of competition in every city means that contractors are always looking for some sort of marketing edge – something that won’t just set them apart from all the other professionals in the area, but that will allow them to find new customers and projects inexpensively.

Because we know those answers can be hard to come by, today we’d like to share four unconventional but potentially effective ways contractors can find new business quickly:

1. Team up with real estate agents and other professionals. Often, people who are selling homes want help adding to the property’s “curb appeal.” Alternatively, new buyers might want to make improvements so that the home will better suit their needs. Either way, you can probably help. Over time, having just a few Realtors®, home inspectors, and other professionals in your network can give you a big boost in referrals.

2. Hold workshops highlighting your specialties. By showing attendees how to do things like make a kitchen more modern, give their guest bathroom a friendlier look, or choose a contractor for outdoor deck repair, you can help inform the public and get them thinking about your knowledge and specialties at the same time. At the end of your presentation, you can invite interested attendees to follow up with you for more information.
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If your contracting company gets big enough, there will probably come a point where you will have to hire other construction professionals to work for you. That can be a great thing, since it means your company can tackle bigger projects, but you also have to be very careful. You might not realize it in the beginning, but anyone who represents you is your business, and you’re always going to be liable for what they do.

That means that, if they do great work, show up on time, and treat customers respectfully, then you’re leaving a great impression. On the other hand, though, if they use foul language, show up in a condition that isn’t safe for work, don’t finish projects to your standards, or otherwise offend customers, that’s going to reflect poorly on you and cost you more projects in the long run.

So, how do you make sure you have the right people on your side? Generally speaking, experience and careful screening processes are the best guide, but here are a few tips to get started:
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When construction professionals turn to CSLS, they usually have one thing in mind: growing a successful contracting company. It doesn’t matter whether they are just taking the first steps toward earning their California contractor’s license, or are seasoned professionals who want to improve their skills – they are dreaming of the day when they can take on more projects, earn more money, and possibly even hire some new employees.

Those are all great goals, but let us give a word of caution:
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    As we noted in a recent newsletter article, success as a licensed California contractor can be two-sided. It sure is great to finally make it to the top, but there are also new problems and issues that have to be dealt with as your career and company progress. One of those – and one that few contractors ever …
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Most construction professionals who come through CSLS for the first time are simply concerned with passing the two major portions of their California state contractor license exam: the law and trade section, and the section for individual classifications. What many don’t realize at the time, however, is that your career can keep growing from there – in fact, by earning an additional l license, you can add new specialties to your permit.

Why would you want to “go back to school,” so to speak? Each construction professional has his or her own motivations, of course, but here are the three best reasons to add an additional license to your business:
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Safety and accident prevention are big topics in the world construction, and for good reason: The combination of long days, hectic job sites, and high-powered tools can be a dangerous one.

At CSLS, we emphasize safety on construction job sites as a top priority for our students. Once you graduate, though, it’s up to you to ensure that the risk of an accident is low. Here are two important things to remember about construction safety and job site accidents:
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There probably aren’t a lot of things you can get nearly every contractor to agree on, but experience has taught us that most construction professionals simply hate one part of the job – doing paperwork.
There is no escaping it: Once you become a manager or business owner, there are lots of forms and office activities to stay on top of, from taxes and billing to things like insurance, payroll, and new project bids or proposals. If you let them, these details can quickly get out of control, and either take up a lot more of your time than they should, or stop your company from growing because it isn’t as organized as it should be.

If you are dreading the stack of paperwork in your office, or feel like you’d rather spend the day on a job site than sitting behind a desk, you’re in luck. Here are our top five tips contractors can use to reduce their paperwork burden:

1. Batch your projects to finish them together. In other words, don’t pay bills or complete other office work one at a time. Instead, put aside an hour or two each week where you can complete everything. You’ll go faster if you don’t have to start and stop, or keep finding things like pens and paper.
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Not long ago, we provided some tried-and-true tips for taking courses and becoming a licensed California contractor. Today, we’d like to do something similar and share something that experienced construction professionals know, and a piece of advice that could help you do more in your contracting career while avoiding some of the biggest sources of stress.

What is this magic piece of information and insight? To always spend a little extra time getting to know about a project, and ask a few more questions, before you put in a bid or get started.

In other words, slow down and take your time, especially at the beginning of any new construction project. Although you might feel like you’re just taking longer than you should – a lot of new contractors like to rush into jobs – you’ll get a few important advantages and benefits:

You’ll get better at bidding on construction projects. The more you know about the project, the better you can estimate how much it will actually cost to finish. Be careful about rushing through this step in the process, because the assumptions you make now can be expensive mistakes later.

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A lot of new students and potential students come to CSLS with one specific question in mind: “is it hard to pass your exam to become a licensed California contractor?”

Of course, there isn’t any answer that will work for everyone. A lot depends on your professional background, confidence as a test-taker, and even your available study schedule. As a general rule of thumb, though, it isn’t incredibly difficult to get a passing score on your exam – as a school, we have a 99%+ first-time passing rate, so it’s definitely something you can do.

For a lot of the men and women who come to us, the key to passing the exam can really be broken down into four pieces:

1. Recognizing that preparation is everything. Passing your California licensed contractor exam isn’t something you actually do, but more of a process that ends up in a certain way. In other words, it’s all about the preparation, not the actual exam. By the time our students sit down to take their tests, they feel very ready for any kind of question that will be thrown at them; the hard work was already done in the classroom.
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If you were to ask CSLS students what they thought the biggest obstacle to successful contracting business might be, their answers would probably revolve around the economy, the challenges of finding good employees, or maybe even the competition they get from other contractors and construction companies.

These are all good answers, but there is an even tougher obstacle that’s usually in the way – ourselves.

Why are you your own biggest hurdle, when you so obviously want to succeed? Typically, we tend to be our own biggest enemies for a number of subtle reasons:

A fear of success or failure. Sometimes, the fear of feeling something can be so paralyzing that we fail to take action in the first place, or set goals for ourselves that are much lower than we really deserve. Alternatively, psychologists say that many people are afraid of success, feeling on some level that they either don’t deserve it can achieve it. Make sure that neither belief holds you back.

A tendency to procrastinate. The idea that you’ll do something “later” is the basis for an unfulfilled life. Learn to become an action-oriented person, rather than putting things off, and the small steps you take towards achieving your dreams will start to add up – and eventually pay off.

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Obviously, we can’t give you unbiased opinions about whether you should sign up for classes with our school or become a licensed California contractor. What we can do, however, is encourage you to take a step that you have probably already been dreaming about for months or years.

In fact, we can even give you seven good signs that you should probably get in touch with us right away:

1. You’ve been looking at our website and trying to make a career decision. If you’ve been to our website several times, you’ve probably been thinking about taking the next step. Why wait any longer?

2. You don’t know what you’re going to do in the construction industry going forward. If you’ve hit a roadblock, then it could be the perfect time to sign up for a class and see what sorts of options are available to you, and what kinds of construction specialties you might prefer.

3. You’ve hit a plateau in your career and don’t seem to be moving ahead anymore. Sometimes, you like what you’re doing but there just isn’t any room for advancement. So, getting an education – and eventually becoming your own boss – could be the perfect answer.
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To get the best advice on anything – especially in the California construction industry – you have to find the men and women who have been there before. They know what it is you’re going through, what still lies in front of you, and the best ways to overcome different professional challenges.
With that in mind, we want to pass along five pieces of advice that you might get from an experienced contractor:

1. Don’t wait to take action on your dreams. There are always going to be obstacles in front of you, or excuses not to take action. But, the sooner you get started on your dreams – and especially your dream of becoming a licensed contractor – the sooner good things can start to happen for you in your life. Don’t procrastinate on the things that matter most.
2. Your California construction career will always be what you make of it. Although people may like to talk about contracting as a “good” or “bad” career choice, the reality is that it’s almost always going to be whatever you make of it. If you put a lot of time, energy, and focus into your work, then you’re always going to be able to enjoy the rewards.
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