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Running a small business is an arduous process in itself, but finding the money to jumpstart that business can be the biggest challenge of them all. Cotton D. Jones, owner of Jones Land Surveying, shares his experiences in an exclusive interview with POB.
Compiled and edited by Alexis Brumm
POB: Why did you decide to launch your own business, and how did you develop your business strategy?
Jones: With a surveying license and a degree in business administration from the University of Wyoming, I had often thought about running my own business. In May 2006, I incorporated my business, but didn’t formally launch it. Then, in February 2009, the firm I was working for closed their doors and laid everyone off.
I already had a good amount of knowledge about the surveying business, so creating the strategy was rather simple. However, putting the financial part together turned out to be somewhat of a challenge.
It was hard to get a bank to lend the money so we could purchase survey and office equipment. Most of the banks wanted anywhere from 10 to 20 percent down to even entertain the loan, and there were no guarantees it would go through. Finally, we got together with Jonah Bank in Cheyenne, who used the Small Business Administration to grant the loan. They wanted someone to co-sign, which my parents were willing to do. With the help of my family and a local lending institution, the dream became a reality in April 2009–Jones Land Surveying was open for business.
Once the loan was approved, I bought the necessary equipment and software, and started looking for clients. Fortunately, we had a few projects already in progress or ready to go.
Now, over three years later, my original loan is over half paid off and the business is thriving in a tough economy.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner, and how did you overcome it?
Jones: So far, the biggest challenge has been trying to manage the financial end of things. Getting invoicing out is the easy part, but getting some of the clients to pay in a reasonable amount of time is tough. Most of the larger companies that are subcontracted tend to live by the paid-when-paid clause and refuse to remove it, which means we just have to take it as is or they find somebody else. It’s definitely a rock-and-a-hard-place for the small business owner who has limited reserves.
To overcome this challenge, we strive to be diverse in the types of surveys we perform. When dealing with paid-when-paid contracts, we try to have additional work lined up to maintain a steady cash flow. Having money in the bank and a good line of credit are necessary to maintain day-to-day operations and monthly obligations.
That first year, I wasn’t sure whether we would make it, but once it was under our belt, things started to take off and we haven’t looked back.
POB: What do you believe is the key to running a successful surveying firm?
Jones: The key lies in hard work and dedication; it takes long hours and commitment to make a business successful. You can’t be afraid to take some chances. Ultimately, you have to be aggressive and willing to go the extra mile as a business owner.
POB: What technology over the last few years has most benefited your business, and what development do you hope to see in the near future?
Jones: GPS and robotic survey equipment are probably the most important technologies to my business. They allow me to compete on a larger stage with bigger companies for bigger contracts. I think scanning technology is going to be the tool of the future just as GPS was some 20 years ago. With GPS and scanning, the attention to detail in plans and drawings will give the designers, builders and developers unlimited amounts of information for design and construction.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
Jones: I am just fascinated with the scanning technology and the potential it brings to surveying as well as the amount of data it can provide. With tools like this, the days of big survey crews are disappearing because one- or two-person crews can do just as much in a single day as the three- or four-person crews used to handle with traditional equipment.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cotton D. Jones, PLS, is president and CEO of Jones Land Surveying, Inc. in Wyoming. He has been in the survey field for more than 19 years, beginning his career as a survey technician at Intermountain Professional Services in the Cheyenne, Wyo., area. After that, he moved between multiple companies where he was a survey manager, city surveyor and survey operations manager. Jones can be reached at email@example.com.