Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Starting an Independent Contracting Home Based Business.

Major cable and satellite dish companies will outsource what amounts to a majority of their installation and / or service work to large contract companies that in turn employ the services of independent contractors. The work is seemingly endless and the demand for quality work and workers is high.

Starting an independent contracting home based business is relatively easy, offers a good working wage, and allows for certain entitlements afforded every business owner. Anyone interested in becoming an independent contractor needs to be in overall good health in order to handle the physical demands of the job and own a reliable "work" truck, van, or SUV that will accomodate materials and supplies, tools and equipment, and the rigors of everyday use.

There are several ways to find a contract company and here are a few to get started:
  • Look in the classified ad section of the local or city newspaper.
  • Ask a technician that is already working in the industry for the name and number of their contract company. Look for trucks or vans that have magnetic signs identifying them as independent contractors for a particlular company.
  • Do a search online using appropriate keywords such as independent or subcontractor, jobs or work, and for the closest major city.

Once a contract company is found, make an appointment for an interview with a supervisor. The supervisor will issue a folder and explain the various handouts included which will list necessary paperwork, installation tool and equipment requirements, pay ( billing sheets ) and benefits, and training agenda.

Necessary paperwork is ( and may not be limited to ):

  • Commercial Auto or Business Rated Insurance Certificate listing the contract company as additional insured and certificate holder.
  • General Liability Insurance Certificate listing the contract company as certificate holder. This covers damage to a customers home which may occur during installation.
  • Occupational License
  • Valid Driver's License

In order to insure that all installation and safety requirements are met on the job it is required that each independent contractor be responsible for obtaining and maintaining a minimum complement of tools and equipment. Relatively inexpensive handtools needed include hammers, hand saws, nut drivers, pliers, razor knives, screwdrivers, tape rules, wrenches and job specific tools. Equipment needed includes a cell phone, cordless drills, drill bits, flashlights, ladders, shovels, tool belts, and safety and test equipment. Job specific tools, cell phones, extension ladders, and safety and test equipment can often be issued by the contract company and payroll deducted. Having the "right tools and equipment" ensures the job will be completed safely, relatively quickly and efficiently, and to the customers satisfaction.

Pay is accrued on a per job basis ( with billing sheets - jobs / tasks are assigned a billing code and the amount paid for completion ) that is added daily over a weekly or bi-weekly billing cycle with checks being dispersed the following week. Paychecks are , in turn, a direct reflection of the independent contractors' experience, efficiency, days worked, and total number of jobs completed.

Benefits may or may not be available depending on the contract company. If not offered, health insurance can be obtained at a relatively reasonable rate from a number of reputable companies according to the situational needs of the individual who may or may not have a dependent (s) and need a "family" plan. The supervisor giving the initial interview may have the names of some of these companies to follow up with. Occasionally representatives from different companies may set up a display at the contract company office and offer information and handouts describing the plans available.

Training agendas include two weeks of "riding out" with an independent contractor / trainer during normal working hours and obtaining "on the job" experience watching and performing various tasks and having each one checked ( by the "trainer" ) as completed on the training handout. During this time it is highly recommended to ask questions, take notes, and perform as many tasks as possible. Occasionally, structured classroom training is available to enhance installation and product knowledge. The more that is learned and understood in these first weeks equates to being more efficient and productive in the future and ultimately a higher income.

During the interview, inquire about overall company expectations, days and hours of operation, quality control ( QC ), on-call opportunities, courtesy accounts, filing taxes, and workers' compensation.

Company expectations are normally the same as with any employer and include being on time for scheduled work days, providing good customer service, completing work within scheduled time frames / tables, and working with dispatch, other independent contractors, and supervisors as a team.

Days and hours of operation will vary as many contract companies work a minimum of 6 and sometimes 7 days a week providing appointments to customers for installation and / or repair during all hours of the day from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. Independent contractors are paid on a per job basis so it is not necessary to keep track of hours worked or use a time clock. Work days are agreed upon ( and vary ) when the initial contract is signed. Unpaid time off is available upon request ( usually at least 48 hours in advance ) of the assigned supervisor.

Quality control is maintained for all work and jobs are checked regularly by employees from the cable company or supervisors from the contract company. It is important to remember that any work done is a direct reflection of the independent contractor and contract and cable companies respectively. If jobs are not completed according to specifications or to the customers' satisfaction the independent contractor responsible for the work may have to return ( unpaid ) to complete the job. Worse yet, if the work is completed by another technician, a back-charge may be incurred and pay deducted from the next or subsequent checks. "Doing it right the first time" will ultimately save time and money.

On-call opportunities, for extra pay, may exist at or during many holidays and involves being available to a dispatcher continuously during a designated amount of time and possibly being sent to a customers' home needing repairs of one kind or another. Repairs may be simple and quick or difficult and time consuming. On-call techs may not have any "calls" or may spend the entire day making customer contact and necessary repairs.

Courtesy accounts are sometimes provided by cable companies ( to independent contractors ) through the contract company. If available, courtesy accounts will be set up after 90 days and are for free or discounted cable TV, high-speed internet, and telephone services. Additionally, since a cell phone is required for communication with dispatch, supervisory staff, and other independent contractors and is helpful when dealing with various office personnel and customers, many cell phone companies will often offer a discount to anyone employed directly ( or indirectly ) by a major cable company.

Independent contractors will have to file incorporation papers for their new business. Incorporating is made easy with the help of the contract company and is relatively inexpensive. The registration process involves filing the proper paperwork with the state government and paying an incorporation fee. Once the new business is registered a licensed CPA or reputable accounting firm should be consulted as to when and how often taxes need to be paid and what is tax deductible. There are many "costs of doing business" that are tax deductible and will lower the amount of taxes owed. Work clothes and boots, tools and equipment, cell phone bills, and either gas or mileage are all tax deductible.

Workers' compensation may be accepted or refused depending on the number of employees the business will have. An Independent contractor as the only employee may accept ( resulting in a percentage of pay being deducted weekly or bi-weekly ) or refuse coverage. Workers' compensation is mandatory if the business owner hires any number of employees.

At the end of the initial interview a tour of the facilities will be given. Most contract companies will have general office space, conference and training rooms, a payroll department, a warehouse, and parking areas. General offices include dispatch employees, supervisors, a project manager, owners / partners, and supervisors. Conference and training rooms will have tables and chairs, dry erase boards, and "hands on" training boards and / or displays. The payroll department may or may not be in the same building as the general offices. The warehouse will carry all of the necessary materials and supplies and job specific tools and equipment.

Upon completion of the initial interview, Q&A, and tour, an invitation to return and commence training may be offered and a start date agreed upon. It will take time, a concerted effort, and a willingness to learn, but independent contracting as a home based business can be very rewarding not only professionally but monetarily, may lead to other opportunities, and produce lasting business relationships.

Tom Castro - Webmaster/Author
Visit Home Theater to use home theater design ideas, installation techniques, and product resources and learn DIY home theater with step by step tutorials, detailed examples, and closeup images.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Starting your own business can be one of the wisest decisions you would ever have to make in your life.