In Canada, close to a quarter of all roofers work for themselves. If you want to join the ranks of self-employed roofers, however, it’s going to take more than excellent roofing skills. You’re going to have to be an entrepreneur.
Knowledge is the Key
Being an entrepreneur means you’re going to have to be knowledgeable. While you might be the best roofing contractor in town, you have to know more than how to perfectly patch bits of flashing. Before even considering buying a new truck and equipment to start working for yourself, you’ll have to start by doing some serious thinking.
Start by being honest with yourself. How good of a roofer are you? If you don’t understand your own industry, you’ll definitely run into some problems. Owning a roofing business means you’ll be accountable for the business expenses and for the safety of yourself and all those who may work for you.
If you’re cool with the idea of being responsible for yourself and for others, and have been working regularly as a roofer for some time, you should already have some idea of what the market is like in your area. It’s important to be familiar with the type of work that is in demand – and that will continue to be in demand – in order for your business to run and to potentially grow. If you don’t think your area has opportunity for growth, then it probably isn’t a good idea to start a new business.
The other side of this is knowing the level of competition you’re going to face. Ignorance is never bliss, and you need to know where you’ll stand if you start a business, especially if the competition is stiff. This will help you to think about how you’re going to make yourself visible from the rest in order to attract clients – and keep them.
Business Planning 101
After you’ve scoped out the playing field and you decide that your area can use another roofing company around, it’s time to sit down and write up a business plan. Try to find yourself a mentor, and attend a business planning workshop, which you can often find for free at a public library or other similar institutions.
Business plans need to be extremely detailed, and you don’t want to leave anything out. This is one of the most important steps to making sure your business starts out on the right track. Marketing, sales, operations and administration plans should all be thought of before you’ve even purchased a new hammer.
Don’t take on more than you can chew. Small operations are often much more successful than larger ones, simply because you can make sure everything is done to your specifications. On that note, you should have a mission statement and goals to help you make sure you’re where you want to be as your business grows. Think about pricing, marketing and hiring strategies well in advance. You’ll even want to know exactly what forms of payment you’re going to accept, and how much deposit you’ll be taking. You’ll also have to think about financing options, and this can vary depending on your current status, which is why you should know where you stand financially at all times.
Once you’ve got your business plan written down, get somebody (whether it’s a mentor or a paid business consultant) to look it over and confirm that it’s ready to go. This is because your next step is to legalize your business. This shouldn’t be a big deal if you’ve done a good job on the business plan.
For example, you should already know what your business name is going to be. You should also have done the appropriate research to decide if it’s going to be structured as a sole-proprietorship, a partnership, a corporation, etc. Legalizing your business simply then involves filling out the appropriate paperwork to register the name and business, which can sometimes be done online.
You may also have to register as a roofing contractor and/or obtain specific licenses, permits and certificates depending on your region. Oftentimes, you’ll be required to renew these on a regular basis, so plan accordingly for any recurring renewal fees.
Shop around different banks to choose the best place to open a business account. Think about the pros and cons of each institution, from pricing to whether or not they’re open on a Saturday. Depending on your budget and your abilities, you may have also decided to hire an accountant to do your taxes, whose fees should have been included in your business plan.
Similarly, shop around to pick the best liability and health insurance for the lowest price, though you should have already thought about this in the business planning step so that it is included in your budget. Insurance is an absolute must, given the dangerous nature of the roofing business. If you plan on having employees, it will be your responsibility to make sure they are also insured.
Shop ‘til you drop
When you’ve finally got all the paperwork out of the way, you can now start to purchase some equipment. First and foremost, you’ll need to grab the right safety gear. Don’t even consider skimping here – injuries may put you out of business for life, and can put you at risk of being sued by employees or by your clients. Safety gear can include anything from ear plugs and Band-Aids to roof fall protection. Since you’ve been in the roofing industry for a while, though, you should already know this.
You’ll also need to grab some other supplies and equipment. Hopefully throughout your time as a roofer, you’ve accumulated some good gear. That said, if you’re missing anything, consider buying used when possible. For instance, there’s no point in buying a new truck when you can get a used one at a better price. Renting bigger equipment that you don’t use on a regular basis is also a good way to save money.
You don’t want to throw yourself too deep into debt immediately, so purchasing what you need and when you need it is a good way to slowly build your toolkit. However, make sure you have the basics like a solid ladder, caulking guns etc. so you aren’t running around trying to pick things up last minute. Being consistently late for gigs is a good way to earn a bad reputation and lose customers. Finally, try to buy your equipment directly from suppliers at a warehouse rather than from big-box consumer stores to save some extra dollars.
Some Final Advice
Once you’ve got all this done, you’re pretty much ready to go. Just make sure to keep yourself organized so that you’re always on time, and keep your finances in order. Also, don’t forget to be friendly and informative! You might only have a couple clients at first, but all the marketing in the world isn’t going to save you if you’re constantly late, missing equipment or just plain rude. If you treat your clients right, they’ll spread the word, and marketing will only help add to your success.
Revisit your business plan regularly so that you know you’re growing in the right direction. Expanding can be tough, but if you do it in small increments and with a plan in mind, it should go smoothly. The bigger your business gets, the more important it is to spend time on the business and rather than on roofing, which is why you should hire solid, responsible employees with talent and the ability to learn.
With the right people under you, you’ll be confident enough to start expanding other areas of the business, be it marketing, sales, operations or administration. Plan to grow slowly and dedicate equal efforts to all four areas, setting out a timeline and milestones to test and measure your changes to see if they amount to success. Equal effort doesn’t mean spreading yourself out thin. Small, measurable changes in each area are the keys to successful growth!