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The Business Side-Spring Planting

February 1, 2007
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I know most POB readers are in the throes of winter. But as always, spring is not far away. Many farmers take the winter months to plan for the spring thaw, deciding on the types of crops to plant for a better harvest next fall.

The colonial surveyors did much the same thing. While waiting for the spring thaw, they made plans for the surveys they needed to complete in the coming spring, summer and fall. So this winter, when the phone is not ringing off the hook and construction has slowed down, take some time to catch up on your reading and ponder how you can change your company to better reflect your long-term life goals.

What should you be reading? Start with some of the back issues of POB that have been waiting patiently on the corner of your desk. Are you keeping up with the technical articles on the rapidly changing profession of surveying? Are you current in your knowledge of the readjustment of NAD 83 horizontal survey control in all of North America? You might search for Dr. Jim Reilly’s “GPS Observer” columns on this topic. I also recommend searching online for an article published in the June 2005 issue of Surveying and Land Information Science titled “The National Spatial Reference System Readjustment of NAD 83,” written by Chris Pearson, the NGS geodetic advisor for Illinois. This adjustment is leading many state departments of transportation to establish a statewide system of CORS that operate 24/7 year-round. These systems are for their own staff and contractors using GPS machine control equipment, but are also available for use by the surveying and engineering community. Are you aware that the satellite constellation will contain 72--and maybe as many as 80--total satellites in the very near future? Make sure any new GPS equipment that you purchase is expandable to include all available satellites.

By now, I think everyone knows that the economy is starting to slow down, particularly in the housing market. I don’t think that 2007 is going to bring companies the total amount of work experienced in previous years. This would be a good time to rethink many of the ways your company does business, from the equipment to employees and business practices. Let’s wipe the slate clean and reinvent a company that will fit the future by providing quality services while still making a profit.

The following is a list of things to consider in your business review for 2007.

1. Regulation compliance. Most, if not all, professional surveyors are licensed by a state board. Many of these boards have standards that outline what constitutes an acceptable survey. Make sure you are practicing according to the standards for your state. If you are working in multiple states, have a final checklist of what is required by each state. If the states you practice in have a continuing education provision, don’t wait until the last couple months of the year to get the necessary training. Maintaining compliance is required for keeping your license--losing your license means you’re out of business. If you do not have your yearly renewal in your hand by December 31 of the previous year, you are practicing without a license in January. All boards of licensure/registration take a very dim view of your signing a survey after the expiration date of your license.

2. Business structure. One of your goals should be to structure your business in a way that maximizes your ability to save tax-free for retirement. In many cases, your company may need to be an LLC or Limited Liability Company. Also, as the title implies, an LLC structure reduces your liability.

3. Employees. Make a commitment to employ the best available people and continue to keep their training up-to-date. Many states have mandatory continuing education for the registered surveyor. But are you providing educational opportunities for your other employees? A well-trained staff is the pathway to profitability. Don’t just promise rewards for performance--pay a livable wage with benefits and bonuses when deserved.

4. Crew safety. Many companies have been slow to react to safety issues for employees. A few states have enacted regulations that mandate safety training to work on state rights of way. Except where required on some construction sites, many companies ignore safety training. Your employees desire a safe and clean work environment. Remember, they are earning you a living.

5. Fee estimation. The way to make a profit has always been to contract the work for the right price, then complete the job in the most cost-effective manner. Estimating the right fee is the work of the professional. Don’t take jobs for less than an amount that will allow a profit. Don’t bid against other companies on the Internet for work. Find your own clients who will pay a fair fee for your services. You can survive with fewer clients paying a fair fee for your services than just turning out more jobs. As you become older, you start to realize how true this axiom is for becoming profitable.

6. Marketing. Plow some new ground, plant some different crops. Clients need many different types of services. If what you are now doing is not working, make some changes to the services you offer.

7. Job satisfaction. If you have lost the enjoyment of being a surveyor, roll the clock back to the time you first got your license. Remember how much fun being a surveyor was because you got to do your own fieldwork and enjoy interacting with fellow employees and other surveyors. Don’t be afraid to make changes that will restore your soul. Being a surveyor throughout the centuries has always been more than a job--it is a calling. Have you lost the calling?

Remember, we all need encouragement in our lives. You can’t change everything at once. Plot a course you want to take for the remainder of your life. It doesn’t matter if you are 30 or 60, take control of your life and your company. Associate with your fellow surveyors, discuss mutual problems. Go fishing together, work together on jobs. If you can satisfy yourself, your improved attitude will have a positive effect on your company, your family and personal life. Remember that spring always follows winter. Will you be ready for it?

One last thing: I have been visiting the graves of famous surveyors (must be a sign of old age). I find few that reference the fact that the person enjoyed the greatest profession given to man: land surveying. If you are truly proud of your chosen profession, instruct family members that you want your gravestone to reflect that you were a “Professional Land Surveyor.”

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