Monthly Archives: September 2023

How To Work On Government Contracting Projects: A Deep Dive On The Government Contractor License

If you’re a contractor, you might often find yourself asking: “How do I get my hands on one of those lucrative, long-term, often-over-budget government contracts?”

You may see contracts for bridges or tunnels or a number of other federal or local public works projects out there on jobs boards or you may hear about them through your local trade union. But how exactly do you get these jobs? And what kind of work do you need to do to even get your foot in the door?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about locking down those lucrative government contracts – so you can start bringing in those dollary-doos from Uncle Sam!


The End-All, Be-All: The Government Contractor License

To begin, you first have to establish yourself as a verified contractor who can take on jobs for the federal, state or local government by obtaining a government contractor license. Just like the CSLB, this is a process that requires verification and certification by a regulatory body.

The way to do that is through the United States Small Business Association (SBA) – this is the federal organization responsible for providing resources and regulation for small businesses across the nation – including issuing federal government licenses.

If you want to work on government contracts, you’ll need a federal government license, just like you’d need a CSLB contractor’s license to do any construction work over $500 in California.

Keep the SBA’s website in your back pocket. As you continue down the path of getting your government license as a contractor, you’ll be constantly in contact with the SBA, and constantly visiting their website over and over again as you jump through the endless hoops of paperwork and bureaucracy.


The Steps To Getting Your Government Contractor License

To be completely honest, the process of obtaining a government contractor license is long and arduous. This is the tradeoff of working with the government – everything takes much longer and requires a lot more work than it should.

Step 1: Establish Your Business

The first step on this journey is to establish your business legally. In most cases, you’ve already gotten this taken care of – these are all the basic elements of forming your business in the state of California.

This involves several sub-steps, including registering your business with the appropriate state agency (in this case, the California Secretary of State and the CSLB), obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and setting up a DUNS number through Dun & Bradstreet. 

As we’ve said, most of these are basic steps of owning a business, and in many cases, you will already have done these.


Step 2: NAICS and PSC Codes

Once your business is legally established, the next step is to identify your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes and Product Service Codes (PSC). 

These codes are part of a database that the government uses to categorize the types of products or services that businesses offer. In our case, we’ll be submitting construction-related services, including sourcing, engineering, and general contracting. 


Step 3: Register Your Company With SAM

You’ve done it – you’re now ready to start winning some business! With your NAICS and PSC codes in hand, you’re ready to register your business with the System for Award Management (SAM). 

SAM is the sole system where companies can bid for contracts – and the sole way that the government awards contracts. Once you’re in the system, you’ll be able to start bidding on and winning contracts with the government. 


OPTIONAL STEP: Get Certified 

While not strictly necessary, obtaining certain certifications can significantly increase your chances of winning government contracts, especially in the realm of construction. 

If you’re a minority-owned business or a woman-owned business, for example, you can get certified as a disadvantaged business, which means you’ll have a better chance of winning contracts over more established competitors!


Step 4: Start Winning Government Contracts!

With your business established, your codes identified, your SAM registration complete, and your certifications (if any) in hand, you’re finally ready to start searching for contract opportunities.

The king of all websites when it comes to finding and bidding on government contracts is, as you probably guessed, the SAM website. Visit to find federal contracts that fit your area of expertise – then start bidding on them!


Why Bother With A Government Contractor License?

There are so many incredible benefits of being a contractor who has worked and continues to work on, government jobs.

Here are just a few benefits of working on government contracts as a construction contractor:

  • Dependable – government contracts will always pay out according to the terms
  • Lots of work – there’s always work to be done for the federal government. 
  • Good pay – the government is notorious for paying way over the odds for routine work
  • Reputation boost – working for the government automatically stamps a seal of approval on your work. If the government trusts you, people will trust you, too.
  • Networking – working on government contracts opens you up to a whole new world of work opportunities. 


Is It Worth It?

Getting your government contractor’s license is no walk in the park – it can take months of paperwork wrangling and bureaucratic navigation to get your license for federal work.

But the objective reality is that getting your government contractor’s license is absolutely worth it to any contractor. Not only do you get access to more, better-paying jobs, you significantly increase your chances of booking other work with an increase in your network and in the trust your current network will have in you.

If you’re on the fence about whether it’s worth it to take the plunge into government contract land, stop sitting up there and jump on in! It’s worth it on the other side!

How to Skip the CSLB Exam: Can You Get A Contractor’s License Without Testing?

For many contractors (most contractors), the most difficult part of getting your Contractors State License Board (CSLB) contractor license, so you can start working as a licensed contractor in California. .

The 200+ question, 3+ hour CSLB exam is a notoriously difficult examination designed to test the skills of even the most prepared and experienced construction professionals. That’s why we always recommend leaning on the expert guidance of a trusted contractor license exam school – through proven courses, these classes can make taking the test much, much easier.

But let’s say you don’t have the time nor the money to take a contractor’s license course from a trustworthy school. Is there a way to get your license without taking the CSLB exam? Let’s find out.


First Off, What Is The CSLB Exam Like?

To California contractors, taking the CSLB exam is like taking the SAT or the LSAT or MCAT exam for prospective college students, lawyers or doctors – this long, arduous trial decides whether or not you’ll be able to work as a contractor in California.

Clocking in at around 200 questions and taking up to 4 hours, the CSLB exam is, by design, not a joke. It’s meant to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to contractors and will test even the most seasoned construction expert if they’re not prepared.

 The CSLB requires most applicants to pass two examinations:

  1. Trade Examination: Tests your knowledge of your chosen license classification.
    1. This can be either a Class A, Class B, Class B-2, or specific Class C speciality license – like plumbing or electrical.
  2. Law and Business Examination. This part of the exam covers California’s contracting laws and business management principles.

See our comprehensive guide on the CSLB exam for a deep dive on what you can expect from the CSLB exam process.


Is It Possible to Skip the CSLB Exam?

The short answer is no

The majority of applicants must score a 72% passing grade on both the CSLB Trade and Law and Business exams to obtain a contractor’s license in California. 

However, there are a few exceptions and alternative paths to explore:

1. License Reciprocity Agreements

California has reciprocity agreements with Arizona, Nevada, and Utah for certain classifications, allowing licensed contractors who currently hold a valid license from those states to bypass the Trade exam and only pass the Business and Law exam to get their California contractor license.

Contractors who qualify for the reciprocity agreement still have to take the Business and Law exam, which covers – you guessed it – California-specific business and law. You know, stuff like construction codes and financial obligations for contractors in the State.

To qualify, applicants must:

  • Hold an active license in good standing for at least five years
  • Submit a Verification of License form from the reciprocal state
  • Pass the California Law and Business exam


Keep in mind that not all classifications are eligible, and applicants are still required to meet the basic experience and financial requirements put forth by the CSLB and the state of California.

2. Waivers for the Trade Examination

The CSLB may grant a waiver for the Trade exam in specific circumstances, such as:

  • Adding a new classification to an existing license (if the qualifying individual has the required experience)
  • Replacing a qualifier in an existing license (if the new qualifier meets the experience requirements)
  • Applying for a license within five years of the expiration date of a previous California contractor’s license in the same classification

Note that like those who are able to take advantage of California’s reciprocity agreement with other states, applicants still have to score a 72% passing grade on the Business and Law exam.


You Can Never Skip the CSLB Law and Business Exam

You’ll notice that in both of the scenarios where you can skip the CSLB trade exam – via reciprocity agreement or waivers – you are never allowed to skip the Law and Business portion of the CSLB exam.

We repeat: there are no ways – we’ve checked – to skip the CSLB Law and Business exam. It is not worth your time to even pursue a way of skipping it. Just study and pass it – you need to know the information anyway!


Alternative Paths to Working in the Construction Industry

If skipping the CSLB exam isn’t an option for you, consider alternative paths to work in California’s construction industry:

  1. Become a construction laborer. Gain hands-on experience in the field without obtaining a contractor’s license. If you work on jobs less than $500, you can gain experience toward your CSLB exam. It can also help you build valuable skills and industry knowledge, so you’ll be more prepared when it comes time to take the CSLB exam.
  2. Find a Sponsor: Find a mentor or senior person to help you gain the necessary work experience in your classification. These experienced, CSLB-licensed professionals can not only help you acquire he skills and experience needed to get your CSLB license, they can help you learn all the other soft and hard skills associated with construction.
  3. Get A Degree or Certification: Obtain a degree or certification in a field related to your specialty, like construction management. This education can sometimes qualify you to be waived for the exam or to waive other CSLB requirements.

While facing the CSLB exam can seem like little David facing up a 50’ tall Goliath, it is well within any dedicated contractor’s reach to pass the exam and get their contractor license.

Unless you’re an out-of-state contractor that can take advantage of the reciprocity agreement, or you can find another exemption, you have to just bite the bullet. With a good plan and dedication, anyone can pass the CSLB exam