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What Do General Contractors Do? Aspiring GC Guide

If you aspire to become a general contractor, read our guide to learn what general contractors do, how much they make, hours they work, job outlook & much more!

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A general contractor plays the leading role in a construction project, ultimately overseeing the entire process from hiring and managing subcontractors to ensuring a high quality build within the specified time frame and budget. 

So, whether you’re looking to enter the construction industry, or take a step up the construction career ladder, arm yourself with all the essential information about what it entails to be a general contractor, and you’ll be in a good place to make the right decision for your next career move. 

Read on to learn all about this fulfilling role and exactly what a general contractor is responsible for, the type of work they do, how much a general contractor makes, how many hours a general contractor works, and much more.

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What does a general contractor do?

A general contractor, also known as a GC, spends most of their time on site supporting the team, delegating tasks, and managing the overall construction process. The GC is the intermediary between the homeowner and everyone else who is working on the project. They will coordinate the different stages of a build and all the subcontractors involved, as well as feed back the progress to the client. 

Read on for a deeper dive into a GC’s main responsibilities throughout the entire construction process.

What is a general contractor responsible for?

  • Keeping the entire project on the specified timeline and within the allocated budget. The general contractor must be aware of any stock issues, labor shortages or weather conditions that may cause a delay to the build, and take fast and effective action to limit the impact to the overall project. 
  • Responsible for obtaining the necessary building approvals and permits, as well as scheduling inspections.
  • To hire, manage and coordinate skilled subcontractors, such as roofers, electricians and plumbers, during their portion of the project to ensure they can start work when required, that they complete the work to a good standard and that it’s finished within the allotted time frame. 
  • Liaising with vendors and suppliers to order all materials for the project, ensuring the correct quantities arrive according to the timeline and that they are in a suitable condition. The general contractor will need to stay focused on deliveries, logging what has arrived and effectively dealing with any delayed or canceled orders to keep the project on track.
  • Communicating the progress of the project to everyone involved, but most importantly the homeowner and design team. A construction daily log should be completed by the general contractor each day too to keep everyone in the loop. 

Why become a general contractor?

If you enjoy being hands on, relish leading a construction team and take pride in delivering high quality work that satisfies the client, then a career as a general contractor could be for you. With the recent boom in construction, it’s a great time to start your own construction company, and as a general contractor, you have the opportunity to choose the lucrative projects and increase your earning potential. 

Detriments and benefits of being a general contractor

So, think this career choice could be for you? Don’t do anything until you’ve read the benefits and the drawbacks of this profession:

Advantages of being a general contractor:

  • The potential to earn a high salary - As the manager of your own projects, you have the control of your project fee or daily rate, offering the potential to earn more than a regular employee of a construction company.
  • The flexibility to set your own schedule - General contractors have the flexibility to pick their own projects, choose a location that suits them and a size of project that they are comfortable managing. They also have control over their working hours, and taking time off when they choose.
  • The freedom to work with who you choose - Not only do general contractors get to choose the clients and projects they want to work with, but they also get to select the subcontractors and suppliers they prefer to do business with, making the process more enjoyable and ultimately creating a happier and productive work environment.
  • A more tailored career path - By selecting the projects you want to work on, whether they are large, small, residential or commercial, you can tailor your career path to suit your goals. As a general contractor, you have the freedom to make your own decisions without being tied to another company. 

Disadvantages of being a general contractor:

  • Less financial security - Building up a steady stream of projects and clients can be challenging when starting out, and income is less stable than when employed by a construction company. Being responsible for paying subcontractors and suppliers on time can also add extra strain and pressure. However, a successful general contractor who builds up a good reputation, has the potential to earn a high income over time and become financially stable.
  • Self-employment expenses - A self-employed general contractor must pay for licensing and bonding requirements, as well as business and personal insurance costs. By setting some income aside over time, you can help cover these costs more easily each year. 
  • Business challenges - Owning any business comes with its highs and lows, including responsibility for the accounts, managing employees and marketing for future work. Having experience in business management skills is crucial for the continued success of any company, or alternatively, these processes can be outsourced, allowing you to focus on being an efficient general contractor. 

How does a general contractor make?

According to Comparably, general contractors in the US make on average $69,731 a year, and receive an average bonus of around $2,500 a year. Of course, how much general contractors make on a house or project will obviously be impacted by the type and size, with large commercial construction projects offering a higher earning potential than small residential builds. 

It’s also worth keeping in mind that some states pay general contractors much more than others. For example, Comparably reports that in Los Angeles, a general contractor can earn around $100,000 a year, while in Charlotte a GC’s salary is around $80,000 per year. 

Here are a list of states that pay higher than the average general contractor  salary:

  • Washington
  • Montana
  • Minnesota
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida

Here are a list of states that pay lower than the average general contractor salary:

  • Kentucky 
  • Oklahoma
  • Kansas
  • Indiana
  • Idaho

For more useful information on how general contractor’s get paid, read our guide on How to Price Construction Jobs.

How many hours do contractors work?

The number of hours a general contractor works per day or per week can vary depending on the size and complexity of the project they are working on. For example, a residential project may have a tighter schedule than a commercial build, as the family may be keen to move in, and therefore the general contractor will be under pressure to work evenings and weekends to deliver the project on time. 

Other factors that have a impact on a general contractor’s schedule include:

  • Time management skills - A successful general contractor who efficiently manages their team and the construction site, will work less hours than a GC who is disorganized and chaotic. Having digital solutions in place, such as Houzz Pro, will help speed up business processes, such as invoicing, and ultimately help reduce a GC’s working hours. 
  • Project timeline - Every project varies depending on the size of the job and the wants of the client. For example, a house extension will take less time than a whole house build. 
  • Unforeseen issues - Unpredictable factors such as bad weather conditions or supply chain issues can affect the schedule of a project, resulting in a general contractor having to work over time to bring the project back on track.

Are general contractors in demand?

Following the slow down during the pandemic, the construction industry is now seeing an increased demand and as a result, general contractors are also sought after across the US, helping to complete projects successfully within their timeframe.  

The top three states that employ the most general contractors are District of Columbia, Delaware and North Dakota, while the top three cities employing the most general contractors are Liberty, Franklin and Jackson.

Who do general contractors work with?

While on-site, the most common trades a general contractor will work with include general laborers, plumbers, brick masons, electricians, roofers, scaffold builders, carpenters and machinery operators.

Off-site, a general contractor might work alongside the architect, a structural engineer and even an interior designer, to ensure the proposed plans are being achieved or to solve any issues. 

A GC will also meet with building inspectors on-site to ensure the build meets all the necessary building regulations and requirements. 

Traits of good general contractors

Take a look at this list of typical character traits, and see if you have what it takes to make an outstanding general contractor:

  • Good communication skills - A general contractor needs to be able to communicate with a wide variety of people across a construction project, from stakeholders to architects, homeowners to laborers. They also need to be able to communicate effectively by email and on the phone. 
  • Effective planning - Strong organizational skills are essential to manage the day to day running of a busy construction site. With subcontractors coming and going, machinery being operated and materials being delivered, the general contractor needs to have a well-planned site to maintain a safe and efficient work environment. 
  • A professional manner - Whether dealing with potential new clients or existing ones, a professional and courteous manner will help build a network of customers and retain them too. 
  • Integrity and transparency - Being the bearer of bad news, such as delays or issues with the project, is never a great job, however, by keeping everyone informed, problems can be solved together, saving time, stress and money.  When the GC is open and honest, the client and everyone involved in the project has respect and confidence that they will get the job done well. 
  • Willingness to learn and flex - Successful general contractors are humble and know their limitations. They are also willing to learn from others, acknowledge when they may be wrong, and flex as plans change. 
  • A good business head - It’s not only on the field that a general contractor must make effective decisions, it's back at the office too. Having a strong marketing campaign and online presence will help grow the business, while attention to detail when it comes to things like record-keeping and accounting will make budgeting and forecasting easier down the line. Successful GC’s also anticipate challenges and problem-solve, ensuring they make the best decisions for their construction firm. 

Should you become a general contractor?

Before making a decision whether or not to pursue a career as a general contractor, take time to evaluate your traits and skills, and if they match the characteristics that are most likely to help you succeed in this role. 

Also, familiarize yourself with the details around a general contractor's salary and hours, and whether this will fit with your lifestyle and career goals. Becoming a GC is a rewarding profession, yet it’s also challenging and demanding, so be sure you are choosing the right career path. 


Now that you know the many benefits of being a general contractor, how much they can make, and what they’re responsible for, consider whether this could be a career path worth pursuing based on your own individual passions and motivations. Continue your journey and explore our next guide on How to Become a General Contractor.

Both experienced general contractors and those who are just starting out use digital management software, such as Houzz Pro, to save them time, help their business grow, and boost their bottom line. Start a free trial to explore more benefits today.

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