Solo Notes: Drafting a Business Plan

May 2, 2012
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Launching a new business requires vision, determination and a lot of hard work, especially if you’re branching out into a new area of service. Justin Ehster, owner of J-Squared Design Studios, shares how he’s moving from field work to drafting and design with his new firm.

POB: Why did you decide to launch your own business?

Ehster: I’ve been involved in the surveying profession for the last 14 years, serving as a field technician, party chief and project manager at various points in my career. I have always wanted to run my own business, but it wasn’t until I began pursuing an associate degree in Drafting and Design in March 2009 that I began seriously contemplating the idea. I was working full time in the field and enjoyed the field work, but I wanted to expand my knowledge of CAD and drafting so I could be as balanced as possible. I also wanted a business I could launch gradually while still working another full time job.

POB: How did you position yourself financially to launch your own business?

Ehster: Once my wife and I started planning for this business, a flood of ideas came to us, and we decided to document everything that came to mind. The first thing we did was write out a business strategy and research all the software we possibly could. I had the advantage of being able to explore several software programs through my classes; I was using Autodesk Revit, Inventor, Studio 3ds Max, AutoCAD and Civil 3D at the time. I decided that I wanted to have the ability to work in any field, from mechanical drafting to drawing up topos for surveyors or engineers, and assist with building information modeling (BIM).

We wanted to limit any expenses or loans, so we used the money from our savings account to begin purchasing the necessary software and accepted that it would just take as long as necessary to acquire all the software we needed. Lately I’ve been researching Carlson software and hope to add that to my list of capabilities very soon.

POB: What changes within the surveying profession have influenced the direction of your business?  

Ehster: The information technologies, including GIS, have enhanced my ability to research and recover extensive amounts of information. Immediate access to title documents, high resolution aerial imagery and historic survey records have allowed me to expand my research to include a much larger “picture” of the area I’m surveying. I can more easily develop a chronology of the history of the property and get a better understanding of how and why the boundaries are located as they are. I see GIS as a great resource that allows me to provide a better service.

The development of Civil 3D and Revit have been very beneficial tools for me. I have taken a lot of time to develop my skills with both so that I can implement them to the full extent of their capabilities. I am really looking forward to working on some projects that combine Revit and BIM.

Site plan by Justin Ehster; image courtesy of Barton Surveying Inc.

POB: Where do you see your business in five years, and what steps are you taking currently to realize your vision?

Ehster: My goal is to focus on keeping everything in perspective and not get too far ahead of myself. I want to do everything to please my clients and maintain a strong grip on technology and software. I am constantly researching and subscribe to as many trade publications as I can. I love Linkedin and use it to my advantage at every possible moment; I have been focusing on expanding my network and developing relationships with possible clients. Through LinkedIn, I have connected with architects, land surveyors and engineers. With all these connections, I have had prospective clients contact me directly as well as people inquiring on someone else’s behalf. To keep my business at the forefront of the industry, I have three main goals: Always make sure my client is satisfied, network relentlessly and research software and equipment.

POB: What do you see as the most important part of your job as a business owner?

Ehster: I am always planning and researching. I have to constantly network and stay in contact with former, current and potential clients and try to come up with new options for them. I spend a lot of time looking for potential clients on various websites and making new connections on LinkedIn. Once I connect with key individuals, I believe I’ll have a better chance of acquiring their business. One of the best aspects of my business is the lack of boundaries in the markets I can serve. I am not limited by state certifications or licensing; therefore, I can market my services to clients in any state from Alaska to Florida and even internationally.

POB: What most excites you about the future? 

Ehster: The technology is what excites me the most. I am looking forward to seeing how BIM and laser scanning develop and advance in the future. Laser scanning in particular is really interesting to me, and I have been studying it carefully.

I used to be intimidated by all the advances in surveying, but I have really tried to change my attitude and approach. I have embraced the latest trends and am trying my best to not only keep up, but to stay ahead of the curve. I love surveying, and I can’t wait to see what the manufacturers and software developers come up with in the coming years.

Justin Ehster owns J-Squared Design Studios in Gulfport, Fla. He was a project manager at Barton Surveying, Inc. in Canton, Ga. and currently works as a party chief at UC Synergetic in the Tampa, Fla. area. J-Squared Design Studios provides drafting services for the production of plats, including topographic, ALTA/ACSM, title reports, landscaping topographic, boundary, residential/commercial design, construction and staking plans. Ehster can be reached at

Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story for a future issue, e-mail

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