Starting a Renovation Business

Marc Esposito is a 2nd year Building Renovation Technology student at George Brown College who is in the process of establishing his own contracting and renovations firm and submitted this article.
Starting Your Own Renovation Business

I always thought that learning the trade would be the hard part. I’ve been so preoccupied with being skilled enough and having the technical knowledge and know-how that I never put much thought into the business development side of our industry.

I wanted to own and operate a renovation and custom home building company. When I decided to make a career change into the trades, I went into the Building Renovation Technology at George Brown College and I am in my 2nd year, my focus was solely on acquiring the hard skills necessary to “do the job”. 

I focused on acquiring the skills I believed I would need to run my business.  I focused my energy on building techniques and theory, learning the Ontario Building Code and becoming familiar with the tools of the trade as opposed to figuring out what was necessary to start and run a legitimate construction business in Ontario.

With a university education behind me, a Recreation and Business bachelors degree, I figured that I had the necessary accumulated knowledge to work my way through starting a business.  What I’ve realized over the past year however is that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Contrary to what the cash economy and fly by nighters would have us believe, starting a construction business involves more than buying a pickup truck and a hammer and calling yourself a contractor. Many people pursue a career in the trades because they enjoy the physical and tactile nature of the work.  It may not come easily to everyone, but those who enjoy the work put the time in to learn the trade properly and in turn perform quality work.

There may be a shortage of skilled tradespeople in Canada, but there is no shortage of skill among our trades people.  Where there is a shortage is in the knowledge gap between being a skilled tradesperson working for a company and being a skilled tradesperson running your own company.  Trades people are inundated with education and credentials; apprenticeships, CofQ, RedSeal, which is great and a big reason why Canada has such high building standards.

However, throughout all of the hands on technical education that we pursue, when do we learn how to run a construction business?  Who teaches us what we need to know about starting a business?  Running a business? Who guides us? Who makes sure we’re set up legitimately and above board? Who ensures that we’re properly covered? Who makes sure that our clients are covered? Essentially, it’s our responsibility, and it should be, but at the same time, why are we left to figure this out on our own when the ramifications and consequences of not establishing a legitimate business are so huge? At a glance, the list of organizations, insurances and fees that tradespeople must pay into in order to be considered “legitimate” is overwhelming and can be defeating.  Hence the prevalence of cash work out there.

Overwhelming as it might be, all owner operators of construction businesses in Ontario should at a minimum have the following:

  • A registered business/HST number
  • A WSIB account
  • Liability Insurance
  • Personal insurance

But how are we to know that? Luckily, I happened to stumble upon CARAHS  (Canadian Association of Renovators And Homes Services) which is an organization that will help small business owners do exactly that; find out what we don’t know and tell us what we need to know. But if they weren’t around, who would small business owners turn to? College programs, even those that are more comprehensive than a straight up apprenticeship only just touch on the business side of the industry. Starting your own business isn’t easy and from what I hear, it doesn’t get much easier. However, it seems as though our industry is slowly starting to realize that tradespeople need a little help when it comes time to make the leap and venture out on their own to start a business. If we’re going to legitimize our industry and get out from under the cloud of the cash economy, we need to establish ourselves as legitimate businesses. For our sake, for our clients’ sake.


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