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The Business Side: The big picture.

May 1, 2010
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For well over 100 years, the National Bureau of Standards calibrated steel survey tape.

However, as with many things in life, technology moves on. A few years ago, I read that the NBS had discontinued this tape-calibration service. Have any new services been implemented to address our current needs?

If a steel tape was a little short or long, it probably didn’t matter much. But consider the modern GPS unit, which stores a digital file that you process into the final product. Many states are setting up CORS that are open to the public. In some cases, it is quite simple to get the access codes from a state agency such as the highway department. But how do we know the results are accurate?

Taking this discussion one step further, how do you know your equipment is working properly or in calibration? In almost all cases, we are collecting data in meters but delivering the plat in the U.S. survey foot. Many software products make decisions on your behalf without your knowledge. How do you know these are the right decisions? I have documented situations where the wrong standard was used in a bridge design project resulting in an erroneous position. It’s very embarrassing to have the completed bridge misaligned with the constructed roadway by 4 feet.

I remember many years ago buying a new instrument and entering all the correction factors, such as prism offset, etc. When the new instrument crashed on the first day of use, we returned it to the dealer for repair. We received it back from the dealer and used it for three months before realizing that he had sent us a different instrument. He could not repair it, so he had sent us a replacement. Unfortunately, the prism offset was not set in the replacement instrument, so the company had to go back and calculate the final dimensions on a number of survey plats.

Taking Control of Your Resources

What does this discussion have to do with business? Like technology, business gets more complex every day. Just when I think I have heard everything, along comes new considerations.

One area of concern for today’s business owners is investments. Benjamin Franklin is well known for his statement, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” The problem today is knowing what to do with the saved penny. It is very difficult to earn more than a few percentage points of interest on money in a bank savings account. Options that promise returns of six to 10 percent are tempting, but the only place to get this kind of return is from uninsured high-risk brokers. If you pursue this path, you are putting your money at great risk.

I started Denny Enterprises LLC about five years ago as a way to manage funds developed from seminars and other streams of income. I learned that one good way to reduce tax liability was to establish an SEP retirement account, and I chose a friend who had a decent record and the right credentials to manage the funds. For the first few years, the funds grew nicely.

Then came the stock market crash. Like many other people, I took about a 40-percent hit in my portfolio. I insisted on meeting monthly with my broker and reviewing my portfolio. As I did this, I started noticing that some of the funds were going nowhere, so I asked for other options in international funds or other ideas and began moving my money around. Since then, my portfolio has done very well to recover the lost 40 percent.

I recently received a call from my broker asking me to stop by and see him. When I did, he put a form in front of me. He was leaving the bank and wanted to take my account with him. I think he was a little shocked when I would not sign. I wanted a little time to look around. A few weeks later, I received a letter from a young CPA saying he was going to take over the accounts from the bank and needed to meet with me. Once again, I was asked to sign a letter giving someone else permission to take over my account. Once again, I declined.

Instead, my investments are parked in a large mutual fund company where I can easily add, withdraw or make changes. My tax accountant, who does not manage funds, is helping me move my SEP IRA to an online service so that I can manage my own money.

Why am I telling you about my funds? Technology and business present us with similar challenges. Just because your computer produces a set of coordinates does not mean they are correct. Likewise, don’t assume that all financial advice is sound. Take control of all aspects of your work and life. You have more power than you think.

Planning for the Future

I’m sure I have written about this subject before, and I hate to have to bring it up again, but it bears repeating. Not long ago, I received a call from family members of a deceased surveyor asking for help in selling the company. This is about the fifth or sixth call like this I have received in the last 10 years. I always ask two very important questions: 1) Is there another licensed surveyor in the company? and 2) How long ago did the owner die? In most cases, the deceased was the only surveyor, and he has been dead for a number of months. In one case, I was told the surveyor had signed a number of plats before he died, but the family members who had taken over the business were about to run out of signed plats and needed to sell the business quickly.

Listen very carefully: If all you have are months-old records and files of past clients, there is no business to sell. The company will disappear the day the licensed surveyor dies. Today’s surveyors work over large geographic areas, and the records have little to no value by themselves.

If you are a business owner, be sure to make a plan for how your business might be continued or sold in the event of your death. You owe this to your family.

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