Ready to be your own boss and put your skills to use? Starting a general contracting or handyman business is a great way to take control of your career.
As Australians get busier and lose touch with their hands-on skills, the demand for handymen and women is on the rise. Working as a general contractor, you’ll have the chance to help people with small tasks around their homes and businesses. You’ll also be able to earn good money while you’re at it. The best part is that it’s easy to get the ball rolling!
In this article we’ll look at how to start a handyman business in Australia, as well as the skills and qualifications you will need along the way.
What Does a General Contractor Do?
A general contractor – or 'handyman' (regardless of gender) – is a skilled professional that helps with small maintenance and repair tasks around your home or commercial property. Unlike tradespeople that specialise in one particular skill, general contractors can work on almost any project. This is especially useful for customers because you’ll be able to handle everything on their to-do list.
Handymen offer a huge range of services in Australia. Some of the most common ones include:
- Home maintenance – e.g. cleaning gutters, restoring furniture and connecting appliances
- Minor repairs – e.g. fixing doors, windows and fences, repairing flooring or replacing broken roof tiles
- Carpentry – e.g. building cabinets, installing cabinets, installing shelving or furniture, and small construction jobs
- Installations – e.g. putting up a shed or pergola, installing carpets, replacing minor plumbing fittings
- Painting and plastering – e.g. small plastering or painting jobs, like repairing a hole in the wall or repainting a bedroom
- Tiling – e.g. repairing a section of cracked tiling or replacing crumbling grout
You don’t need to be able to do everything to be a general contractor. Tasks like tiling and plastering require practice. If you aren’t comfortable charging for services you aren’t practised at, feel free to leave those off your list.
In some cases it can actually be beneficial to specialise in particular services. Developing a specialisation helps to streamline your work and allows you to increase your profits as your skills improve.
For example, you could specialise in installing sheds. As you get better you’ll learn tricks that allow you to complete each job in less time. That means you can book more clients each week, reduce your materials costs, and deliver higher quality services.
Pick a few of your best skills when you’re getting started. Include those in your initial service offering, and then make time along the way to practise new skills so you can expand your business down the line.
Do I Need Any Qualifications to Be a Handyman?
You typically don’t need any qualifications to be a handyman. In fact, one of the main drawcards of starting a general contracting business is the low barrier to entry. If you’re handy with basic carpentry, plumbing, building and installation work, you already have the skills you need.
With that said, there are a few limitations on the types of work you can do as an unlicensed handyman or general contractor. In Australia, electrical, plumbing, building and engineering work can only be handled by licensed professionals. As a general contractor you won’t be able to tackle many of those tasks yourself, although the regulations vary from state to state.
How to Start a Handyman Business
Starting a general contracting business doesn’t need to be complicated. You’ll need to do your research, scope out the competition and check local licensing requirements. Once that’s done you can get straight to work!
If you’re thinking of offering services as a general contractor then you should:
1. Confirm Licensing Requirements
You typically don’t need a licence to work as a handyman in Australia. That’s convenient, but it does put a limit on the amount and types of work you can handle yourself.
Each Australian state has its own licensing requirements for general contractors:
- Queensland: No licence required if the value of the job is less than $3,300. Source: QBCC
- New South Wales: No licence required if the value of the job is less than $5,000. You can undertake jobs valued at more than $5,000 if you hold a Minor Maintenance and Cleaning licence and a relevant qualification. Source: NSW Government
- Victoria: No licence required if the value of the job is less than $10,000. Source: Consumer Affairs Victoria
- Western Australia: No licence required if the value of the job is less than $20,000. Source: WA Government
- South Australia: You may not need a licence to carry out some types of “minor building work” valued up to $12,000. Source: Legal Services Commission SA
- Tasmania: No information available on handyman licence requirements in Tasmania – contact your local government for more information. Source: TAS Government
- Northern Territory: You may not need a licence to carry out minor building work valued up to $12,000. Source: Licence2Trade
- Australian Capital Territory: You may need a Class D Builder Licence to carry out basic building work. A Class D Builder licence doesn’t require any qualifications, but it does require 3 years’ experience in the building industry. Source: PlanningACT
It’s critical you don’t perform any work that requires specific qualifications or a licence.
These types of work are heavily regulated to protect tradespeople and homeowners from accidental damage and injury. If you perform work you aren’t licensed for, you could be liable for any injuries or damages you cause, and you may even be criminally prosecuted.
A good alternative to taking on these jobs yourself is to build relationships with qualified trades in your area. You can connect your customers with licensed professionals to handle the technical side of projects. In return, the trades you work with may also pass on small jobs that fall outside their scope.
Networking like this allows you to find customers and supplement your other marketing efforts.
2. Register Your Business
If you’re working as a general contractor you need to register your business. Registering your business ensures you are meeting your tax obligations. It also allows you to obtain insurance, pay for business expenses and reduces your personal liability.
Most Australian general contractors choose one of four business structures:
- Sole tradership: A sole tradership is a structure where you own and operate the entire business. Registering as a sole trader is simple and free. It can be done online while applying for your Australian Business Number (ABN). As a sole trader you’re entitled to keep all the profits of your business. You are also liable for any losses the business incurs. For example, if you accidentally damage a customer’s home, you would need to pay for repairs out of your own pocket.
- Partnership: A partnership is a small business that’s run by two or more people. If you’re working with someone else then a partnership allows you to share the profits and losses. Registering a partnership is a little more complex, but it can allow you to protect yourself from business losses and liabilities.
- Private company: In Australia, a company is a distinct legal entity that’s different from a business. Establishing a private company costs more up front, but it offers the best level of protection for the business owners. For example, if you damage a customer’s property, your company would pay for repairs, but you wouldn’t be personally responsible for the expense.
- Trust: Setting up your handyman business within a trust is one of the most tax effective ways to run your company. But, establishing and running a trust is complicated, and the ongoing fees can be high.
We recommend talking to your accountant before registering your business. They’ll be able to help you select the business structure that suits your needs and minimises your tax obligations.
3. Purchase Insurance
Working on other people’s properties comes with the risk of causing damage and injury, both to yourself and to other people. Insurance protects you from those risks and ensures you aren’t personally liable for business expenses.
As general contractor you will need three main types of insurance:
- Public liability insurance: Public liability insurance is the most important type of insurance for a handyman. It protects your business against damage or injury claims made by your customers, suppliers or the general public. For example, if a customer trips over your tools and breaks an arm, public liability insurance would protect you from having to pay for their medical expenses. Public liability insurance cover starts from about $60 per month for $5 million of coverage.
- Tool insurance: You’ll need plenty of tools to get your work done. Tool insurance covers the cost of replacing tools that are lost, stolen or accidentally damaged. Tool cover starts from about $30 per month, depending on your location.
- Income protection: Your income as a general contractor is dependent on your ability to work. If you are sick or injured, income protection ensures you can keep up with your expenses while you aren’t working. Income insurance pays up to 75% of your normal income and costs between $60 and $100 per month.
4. Market the Business
Working as a handyman has the potential to pay handsomely. You’ll need a steady stream of customers to be successful, and marketing your business is the best way to get there.
Marketing a small business is a huge topic and there’s lots to cover. When you’re starting out there are 4 major things you’ll need to do:
1. Design your branding: Having recognisable branding (such as logos, colours and slogans) makes it easier to get your name out there. The more memorable your business is, the more likely you are to get repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals.
There’s nothing stopping you from developing branding on your own. Tools like logo generators can handle the difficult design work. You can also hire a designer through websites like Fiverr to ensure your branding stands out.
2. Build a website: A website is essential for your handyman business. Having a website makes your business look more professional and can help you connect with customers. You can work with a professional web development company, but you can also tackle the project on your own using a platform like WordPress.
3. Get active on social media: Being active on social media is the best way to get your business noticed, especially if you rely on local customers. Posting a few times each week to share updates and photos of your work can go a long way to establishing your business in the local community.
4. Reach out to your customers: You can’t rely on word-of-mouth to keep your business afloat when you’re starting out. Chances are that you’ll need to reach out to your customer base to grab their attention.
There are lots of ways you can do this. Traditional methods like flyers, business cards and letterbox drops are still effective tools for drumming up business. You can also explore newer options like Google Ads to help you connect with customers who need your services.
5. Set Up Your Bookkeeping System
One of the biggest challenges of working for yourself is managing your money. That’s why many general contractors choose to let a professional accountant handle their books. This is a great option if you’d rather spend your time on the tools, but it does cost more than looking after your own accounts.
The good news is that there are plenty of tools that can help with your DIY bookkeeping efforts. You don’t need a complex system or expensive software – simple programs like MYOB or Xero can help you manage quotes, invoices, receipts, wages and tax payments.
As long as you’re keeping track of the money that comes and goes, ou’ll have all the information you need to meet your personal and business tax obligations.
6. Consider Franchising Options
Starting your own handyman business is always a challenge. Not only do you need to spend time on the tools, you need to keep up the business side of things too.
If that sounds daunting then you don’t need to build a handyman business all on your own. You could also consider taking on a franchise with an established brand. Established handyman franchises are a great option if you have money to invest and need help running your business.
Most franchises work by charging an upfront fee that ranges anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. Buying a franchise gives you instant access to training, customers and the brand power (and marketing power!) of a much larger company. That’s a great deal, especially if you’re new to running a business. You can check out options like Jim’s Handyman or Hire a Hubby to find out more.
How to Write a Handyman Service Agreement
The best thing you can do to protect your general contracting business is to sign a service agreement for every job you take on. A service agreement is a simple, written contract that includes:
- Names and contact details of both parties
- The scope of the services you’re providing
- The payment you’ve agreed on (such as an hourly rate, flat rate or the corresponding quote number)
- Insurance information
- Any other terms and conditions (such as what happens if the job requires additional work that falls outside the normal scope)
- Signatures of both parties
Getting this information in writing protects you and your customers. It also provides a clear record of your work that can be used at tax time or if you need to make a claim against a non-paying customer.
What Do General Contractors Charge in Australia?
Handymen in Australia charge anywhere from $40–$60 an hour for their services, although some may charge up to $120 an hour for small jobs. The following table shows the average hourly rates charged by handymen in Australia:
- Queensland: $55
- New South Wales: $60
- Victoria: $50
- Australian Capital Territory: $54
- South Australia: $53
- Western Australia: $57
- Tasmania: $60
When figuring out how much to charge for your services, you need to think about more than just your time.
Your hourly rate needs to account for:
- Time spent completing the work
- Time spent assessing the job and issuing a quote
- Wear and tear on your tools and equipment
- Travel time and expenses
- Loading fees for after hours work
It’s also common for handymen to charge a call-out fee. This allows you to recover costs like travel expenses, even for small jobs that may only take an hour or two. Your call-out fee should be approximately 1–2 times your hourly rate. Similarly, you can charge 2–3 times your normal hourly rate for jobs that occur after hours or on short notice.
Get Your General Contracting Business Off the Ground with Courses from MiTraining
Working as a handyman is a fun and rewarding way to put your skills to good use. While there is lots of information to wrap your head around, starting your business doesn’t need to be complex. If you have an ABN, a stack of business cards and a few tools, you have more than enough to find work as a local general contractor.
When you’re ready to take things to the next level though, it’s worth investing in a few courses from MiTraining. MiTraining is an RTO that specialises in helping you learn new skills and grow your business.
Whether you need support for marketing, bookkeeping, networking or anything else, our courses can equip you with the skills you need to get ahead. You can browse our course catalogue online at any time, or get in touch if you need help selecting the right training for your business.