The Business of Surveying

April 30, 2002
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Mind your own business!



When I attended my first surveying conference, I looked around and saw several different types of surveyors: the government surveyor, the engineering surveyor, the self-employed surveyor. It was the last type that I took interest in. They were self-employed, looking forward to the lunch and seminar, telling tales of the 100-year-old bearing rock they found—and proud of it. I also observed others who surveyed to survey, not worried about budgets or deadlines, but mostly concerned with doing it right.

As I contemplated what I just experienced, I resumed my daily controlled chaos working for a large western U.S. engineering firm, and continued to manage my five crews that worked in Arizona. However, a seed was planted in my brain and started to grow. When a few of my co-workers informed me they were leaving the company to pursue their own, I could not blame them. Deep inside I wanted to do the same. But how? I felt that I had the surveying knowledge, but I also had a sense of business that many surveyors lack. As surveyors, we climb into a mold of being transient nomads that tend to come and go where the money or work is. I think that most of us care about the “art” of surveying. I knew there had to be a way to combine art, the passion for surveying and business—and make it a success.

Formulating a Plan

My head was filled with all sorts of thoughts. Who would my clients be? Should I try to buy out existing contracts? Do I try to save the jobs of my workers who have been loyal to me? Where would I get the money for that? At what level would I start? What types of work would I do? The list was endless; I had to get a handle on my thoughts and ideas.

The way to get focused was to write a plan. A business plan works best and can be used for evaluation with lending agencies. My plan was simple; my mission was to deliver quality, timely work. Many times I read about or hear people say business plans are centered on money. Don’t get me wrong; I care about money, but I try to not allow it to control my marketing. I believed if I delivered quality work on time, two things would result. The first and most important result was that I would please clients. They would then return and reduce the need for marketing. The second and almost equally important result was that they would pay for that quality and timeliness if they were pleased.

Looking to the future

With the advances in technology, the business of surveying is a challenge. If you choose a path and stay focused, keeping up will be kept in check. You will only need to stay current with things that directly affect your plan, leaving you time to learn other things. The evolution of the surveyor is at hand. We are approaching this new century with an opportunity to once again be key in the formation of the future. With the advances of GPS and robotic instruments, and the implementation of GIS and new software, our role is evolving daily. It gives us, the surveyors, the ability to choose what path we take.

This is an introduction to a five-part series to be published in future issues.

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