The Pros and Cons of Self-Employment in Construction In 2024

The construction industry is a large one in the UK and one which attracts workers of all talents and skill levels. It is an eclectic industry in this regard, and just as much with regard to work arrangements as with skill sets.

If you’re considering a career in construction, without the rank-climbing as expected by new apprentices, you might be considering freelancing – which, by many accounts, is a golden opportunity to grow a business and retain autonomy. Registering and organizing one’s own tax affairs is a small price to pay for a potentially lucrative new career path; but what are the major pros and cons to freelancing in construction? In this article, we’ll be taking a close look at both points to analyze whether going solo could be for you.

The Pros


There are numerous benefits to freelancing overall, as a framework for employment, outside of industry-specific benefits. These benefits include, amongst other things, the complete freedom to schedule one’s own week of work and to choose what their work-life balance looks like. Freelance tradesfolk are also able to set their own rates, which allows greater control of both income and clientele.

With regard to the construction industry in particular, freelancing can be a liberating alternative to working as a contractor with a firm. Freelancing can play to their strengths, picking projects and tasks that suit their skills and pique their interest. If you are skilled in more than just one department then this will reflect positively in the eyes of your clients and will likely help you get recommended to other people.

On a more logistical level, self-managing projects can be a rewarding and lucrative ambition. There are overheads, but the rolling nature of work means that excess building materials you order for a job can be re-applied to the next – saving time and money, which wouldn’t really benefit you should you work for a firm instead of yourself.

The biggest upside to working for yourself will be your earning potential. As mentioned above, if you are skilled in more than bricklaying, let’s say, and you can work your way around electrical wiring and or roofing, you’ll be able to take on more work than you otherwise would and thus earn much more in the process. You could also charge more per job than your competitor for this reason as your level of experience and or expertise can be a valid reason for you to demand more, especially once you start working for more clients than you can handle by yourself.

The Cons


Freelancing in construction is a double-edged sword, though. In some cases, the same things that are merits, on one hand, are demerits on the other. For example, forging one’s own supplier relationships and managing stock can be conducive to better pay, but can also be extensive administration that larger firms would handle on your behalf. The same can be said for time and schedule management.

Speaking of administration, going into self-employment will mean that you must file your own tax returns and keep your affairs up to date to avoid getting in trouble with HMRC. You will need to work out what your gross and net profits are as well as keep receipts of purchases made in relation to your business, such as drills and or building materials so you can claim VAT back on the costs down the line. This can be a stressful process if you’re new to it and don’t like admin work so it’s worth considering approaching an accountant who can help you get your business in order. After all, this is a busy and demanding career so you will need all the help you can get.

The major elephant in the room for freelance contractors or sole trading businesses, though, is the state of the construction industry as a whole. Recent economic instability has shocked every industry, but construction – having been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic – is on particularly shaky ground. This, coupled with the continuing increases in wholesale material costs, could make new freelance enterprises much less profitable than otherwise.

Another downside is simply the level of extra responsibility and accountability you will need to run your own business. Health and safety will be more of your responsibility as well as the potential liability should an accident occur. You will therefore need to ensure you have an adequate level of insurance for your business and work equipment as that too will be your responsibility. Failing to do would leave you completely open to potential ruin should some unforeseen event occur and it’s worth highlighting that the construction industry is the most prone to accidents and injuries than any other industry to workers in the world.


Key Conclusions

From the above factors, we have learned some key things about the nature of the construction industry as a whole, as well as the separate benefits and challenges that freelancing brings to that same industry. But what conclusions can budding contractors draw from the merits and demerits of freelancing?

Financial concerns are the primary concerns plaguing potential freelancers, with the market as it stands is shaky ground on which to build a profitable business. But, for the prospective freelancer with enough seed capital to get started, the freedom and control could be well worth the risk.

The best thing to do is to self-reflect and acknowledge your level of experience and connections you have in the industry. Depending on where you sit and how confident you feel about your situation, make the best choice for you but as with anything in life – risk must be calculated before it is taken so make sure the odds are in your favor.