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Hey all, just found this place in my internet/soul searching, hopefully some of you can give me some good advice. My question probably isn't quite what you're thinking, though.

Right now, I'm doing the desk job thing, working as an engineer in the defense industry, been here since I graduated college. Without getting into a political discussion (that's a good first post!), let's just say that I'm not really getting much personal satisfaction out of the work I'm doing, on several levels. Pay is good, but I'd rather make less and enjoy what I'm doing.

Over the past 18 months, in my spare time, I have been working to remodel my kitchen. What started out as a low-key project to freshen up a tired old kitchen in my nice but unimaginative house turned into a massive remodel. I ripped out about half of the existing drywall, new cabinets, appliances, floor, low-voltage recessed and rail lights, countertops. I think I ended up rewiring probably close to half the house to correct a lot of problems that I didn't know were there (one single breaker must have had at least 40% of the house on it, including fridge and microwave :eek: ). Then, since the kitchen and living room have an open wall between them, well I couldn't have this great kitchen and terrible living room, so that became part of it. In went more recessed lights, wiring for home theater, new carpet, etc. Yeah, it took 18 months, but most of the time it was just me working, and I'd only work on it maybe one day on the weekends, and even then I'd take months off to let the bank account come back up. About halfway through this project, I discovered that I really enjoy doing this kind of stuff. Unlike my current work, where I'm in a windowless computer lab 90% of the day, and the bureaucracy (sp?) means progress is charted on a yearly basis, I can spend a Saturday installing and wiring my lights up, and then sit back, have a beer, and see what I accomplished. I'm sure this is at least part of what drew many of you to this type of work in the first place.

As a related matter, I was also a music major in college (saxophone), and I am feeling the bug badly to get back actively playing again. In order to do this, and to get to the level music-wise that I need to be at, I have sorta already decided that I need to take around 6-9 months off from work and practice a lot. Not necessarily 8 hours a day, but 4 wouldn't be unreasonable.

So, I'm toying with this idea of rather than 9 months, extending that to say 2 years and in parallel trying to make a go of doing kitchen remodels (maybe other stuff too). If it didn't work out, or I hated it, I could always go back to engineering. But, being my own boss and succeeding/failing on my own merits has a very strong appeal to me.

Before I truly tried to go out on my own, I think it would be wise to try and work in the trade. Not so much as a drywall guy or a <insert specialty>, but to try and get some experience with all the aspects of the business. I really have no idea how this would work exactly. I wouldn't want to commit to working 50+ hour weeks every week (remember, part of my motivation is the music side), but maybe seeing one ~3 week job all the way through from start to finish, then skipping the next, then doing another job all the way through. Is this insane? Would anyone agree to anything like this?

Wow. That was long. Congratulations to anyone who read that whole thing. If I had some digi pics of my work, I'd post them, but right now all I have is before pics. Thanks for any advice!
 

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Well you learned the first rule of contracting in the remodeling world: Expect the unexpected :)

One thing I learned a few years ago when I decided to turn my web design hobby into a business was that slowly I began to no longer enjoy what once brought me tons of joy.

You could always try to find a part time job as a laborer for someone who does kitchesn and baths in your area. Be upfront with this person. They won't be too happy knowing they are training a competitor.

If you do decide to go into business for yoruself remember that it's a business and there is a whole hell of alot involved other than just the hands on stuff. Be prepared for paper work, permits, estimates, paper work, and then the hands on stuff. If your going to do it, do it right. Find out about licensing and insurance. I speak for myself and many others on this board when I say we hate trunk slammer contractors who own a hammer and a truck and think they are a contractor (not a knock on you.) There are alot of these guys out there they give the legitimate contractor a bad name.
 

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Great info Grump. Tis true, sometimes the joy gets sucked out of it for a couple of reasons. It is not your house your working on, and once you dive in and handle the business end, it could take away from the joy part. But that is what starting your business is about, taking a calculated plunge and putting your heart into it.
I will say, that I know that if you study other contractors in your area, and you really have enthusiasm and self respect, you will find multiple ways to blow the competition away with quality and service.
I have been a sales guy for years in the flooring industry. I would hope that installers go to bed and pray I do not decide to install. Cause I know about 50 different things that will set me apart from them and make me the top installer within very little time.
And I would make a ton of money.
Knowledge is power, and sometimes it's better to know what the other guys DON'T do, rather than what they do.
 

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Florcraft said:
Cause I know about 50 different things that will set me apart from them and make me the top installer within very little time.
You're hanging with the wrong crowd.
Or I should go to Alaska. :)

Seriously though,

Big E, these guys are right, doing a job as a "hobby" or for yourself can be very different from having to please someone who's paying you to do it. You could get plenty of joy working as an employee of a contractorwithout the headhaches of being a business man. There are awesome tradesmen, hell, artists in their feilds who are horrible contractors. Soon the quality of their work is overshadowed by missed schedules, over-budget jobs, unhappy customers.
Many top contractors are such because of the craftsmen they employ. Their ability to attract and retain quality people(some of whom may not make it on their own) is a major factor in their success.

I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Michael Gerber's "The E-Myth Contractor" Many contractors don't really own their own business. They work for them. Or,worse, their business owns them. It's not a big book, a real easy read. But the things Mr. Gerbers says will allow you to really think about this Entrepreneurial Siezure that you're now having. You may still decide to go into contracting. If so I say, "congratlations!" and welcome. It can be a very rewarding path. And as hard as being a businessman is, and it's harder than the craft sometimes, I would not trade the satisfaction I get knowing I've done a top quality job for someone who would not have gotten any better work anywhere, not even from Flor. :eek:

with best wishes,
Don
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for the advice. An hour or so after I wrote all that, I realized that I might have sounded like since I did something once, therefore I know everything the pros know. Definitely didn't mean it that way, sorry if I offended anyone.

I have already made some cursory looks into the licensing aspect of it, that's where working for someone would definitely help. I can appreciate the "training a competitor" aspect, but at least in my area right now most of the contractors are so busy that they are picking and choosing their work, and I know that finding good help can always be a challenge.

I think one of the things that appeals to me actually is handling all the stuff over and above the hands on, rip out that sink stuff. I get the biggest satisfaction from seeing something all the way through, from the original idea to the planning through actually building it and then having it turn out.
 

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Benhamcarpetguy said:
It's not a big book, a real easy read.
Hey, wait a minute...are you implying contractors need "see spot run" books? :)

Just kiddin :)

Well, I do know that if your self esteem is high enough, and your confident and detailed, it really doesn't matter how good the competition is, you can invent new ways and improve old ways to be on top.

Drive a clean vehicle, wear clean nice clothes, have a smile on your face, show enthusiasm, communicate well, contact the client after install to see if all is well, treat the customer with respect, thank them for the work, reasure their decision.....ect...ect...ect...

Lots of other ideas too, that ALOT of contractors cut corners a bit on, no matter where you live or what you do.
 

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i dont know what part of the country you are in but here in california and az you need years of experince before you can become a contractor. 5 years in california you can substitute some education credit if you have a degree in a construction related field.

another option you might want to look into is buying a house a fixing it up on the side, and then reselling the house for a profit. it will allow you to do things as a hobby still and get more experience under your belt as well as you might want to sub out some work on the houses and gain that knowledge of dealing with contracts and subs and paperwork etc etc. i know a guy that is all he does now he buys a house lives in it while he works on it, he gets up and if he feels like working on it that day he does and after a year or so of fixing it up he sales it and makes 100-250k profit, he buys another house fixes it, gets construction loans and lives off the profits he made from the last house. and he takes weeks off at a time cause it is by his own timeline no one elses.
 

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ABA has an excellent point! Rehabbing, or even building, for ones self weeds out the sales and some of the paper work and puts you on your own schedule.

I also know a few guys that build from scratch or do MAJOR remodelling and make about 100k per hour and do about two houses per year. Not bad eh? This is part of my long term goals for retirement. If I can do one house per year for 50k profit in addition to my existing job I will be very very happy.
 

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If you said you wanted to do contacting as a career change, I would say go for it. But when you say that you want a career change so you can play music every day, then stick with your current job. If you go into contracting you are not making a move to create more free time to play your music. Your nice 9-5 job is boring, but is going to pay you more right now, give you vactation time and more free time then what is going to happen when you move into this business. With time you are going to move up in your field and get more money with a lot less work, which equates to more freedom to play music.

As mentioned there is a HUGE difference in working on your own home opposed to working on someone elses. You are going to have a giant reality check when you realilze that your tools on the job are not as close as just going out to the garage to get something you need. You aren't going to be able to go to Home Depot to buy just what you need for the work you are doing today, you are going to have to plan out the project from start to finish, figure out exactly everything you will need in advance, every tool, every piece of wood and every nail and figure out a cost. Believe me there is a huge hill to climb and you might not realize how much you don't like climbing it compared to the no pressure, what I don't get done today in my kitchen I will just do next week work schedule you can follow. Think about how much satisfaction you get doing nice work for yourself, then think about the satisfaction of installing some awful, cheap, crap project for someone else who's taste is in their butt. Good luck.
 

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Big E, I'm a fellow engineer and I think that you will find the transition into the construction industry time consuming but rather easy.
Construction put me through college (M.E. Hydrodynamics, P.E., P.H.D. Fluid Dynamics). I only worked in my field for 12 yrs. before returning to construction. In ref. to your exp., I specialized in high speed hydrofoils and did some work for Lockheed/Martin Marrietta.
I concentrate on kitchen and bath remodels, I find them the most challenging and most contractors hate them.
Kitchens are the best. I just finished one that was over $200K, worked with the husband and wife and managed to incorporate everything they both wanted including the indoor gas BBQ! Nothing better than getting stoked, stroked and walking away with a big check!
Go for it! :Thumbs:
 

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Big E, find what you want and do it.
I know Im just a dumb painter. But I found great satisfaction in what I do.
When I came home from the military, I started in working for a PI agency, doing security consulting, then moved to heavy equipment sales(loads o' fun), then to roofing, and siding, then to industrial power washer sales. Painting is where I found my home. But in truth, you will fail more than you succeed.
As far as for the size of you business, I work alone and I enjoy it. Plus I do alright. I also no a GC who's been working alone for 40+ years, and has made and incredible living and name for himself. Each of his customers understand that he works alone, and each remodel will take longer (kitchen and baths being his specialty), but they are more than willing. He probally turns down more jobs in a year than painting jobs I do.
But you may end up having a dozen employees and enjoying the management side of it. I dunno <---dumb painter
But all and all, I would say go for it. Get your feet wet, if you fail, try it again or go back into the rat race.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thank you all for your insight. This is something I've been playing around with in my mind for quite a while. Here in MD, the licensing req'ts are 2 years, but classes and such can reduce that, so I think that part of it may actually be workable.

ABA, I had not thought of the home rehab idea, but that really has me thinking now. That would allow me the flexibility to both work and do the music, as well as providing the opportunity to do all sorts of different projects, from kitchen and bath to home theater to landscaping, etc. That kind of diversity is something I really enjoy, it's a big reason why I love owning my own home.

I think the challenge of the paperwork/planning aspects as well as the customer service aspects of being a contractor actually appeal to me right now because they'd be a new challenge. I think part of why I'm considering this is that I find work right now to be a bit boring, and looking around at my coworkers who are higher up the ladder, I don't see that improving - likely getting worse. At least right now I do real engineering-type things, if I move "up" I'll get to spend the day going to meetings and working on performance specs. Whoopee. So the challenge definitely appeals to me. And I have been kind of looking around, taking notice of things that I see contractors do that are good / bad for business.

Oh, and Josh - I worked at Sherwin-Williams all through college, I think its the fumes!
 

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Could be
 
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