Solo Notes: Solo Surveyor Originally Planned to be a Farmer
Matt McCrory, PLS, started surveying in the spring of 2007 as a rodman. Within two weeks, he was running a two-man crew and hasn’t slowed down since. He now owns Volunteer Surveying LLC, located in Paris, Tenn. October 2017 marked the two-year anniversary of his role as a solo surveyor and business owner. Services include boundary surveys, topographic surveys, subdivisions, ALTA surveys, FEMA flood elevation certificates and construction layout. Most of McCrory’s work, about 80 percent, is residential at this point. He says it has been challenging trying to get into government projects, but he has landed a job at an Air Force base.
McCrory graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture business in 2006. He then moved to Paris so he could commute to Murray State University and take the additional course credits necessary to achieve a land surveying license in Tennessee. He now works in west and middle Tennessee.
Growing up on a more-than-600-acre farm in rural west Tennessee, McCrory always wanted to do something with agriculture. He initially wanted to be a seed, chemical or equipment salesman of some sort for an agriculture business. But, as he approached his junior year of college, he noticed there weren’t a lot of job opportunities for him there.
Back in high school, he was a part of Future Farmers of America (FFA). He was chosen to carry out the differential land leveling for his team. Math and the running of bench loop came easy to McCrory, so he always thought of land surveying as a noble profession.
“After contemplating on what I wanted to do as a career, I decided to take some classes and try surveying. I was lucky enough to have worked for Larry Smith. He gave me enough experience in many of the different forms of surveying and I will always be grateful for that,” McCrory says. “While I was working for Mr. Smith, I traveled a great amount, all the way from San Antonio to West Palm Beach, Fla. I completed boundary surveys for residential and commercial property, and completed boundary surveying and line marking for government contracts. We also worked on topo surveys, ALTA surveys, construction stakeout on highways, bridges, and airports. Doing this vast amount of work has given me the knowledge and confidence to perform most any task that a land surveyor may be called upon.”
POB: What aspect of the business do you enjoy most and why?
MCCRORY: The different types of work that can be done surveying is what I love the most. You can go from working on a construction layout project on Monday, an elevation certificate on Tuesday, field work for a boundary survey on Wednesday, office calculations on Thursday, and accounting and business development on Friday. There is always something that needs to be done and if you get tired or bored of one job, as soon as it is over you are usually guaranteed to be doing something different. Another thing about surveying that I enjoy is retracing old surveys, I am currently working on a 102-acre survey that has not been surveyed since 1910. It is truly amazing that something surveyed 107 years ago was measured correctly and agrees with methods and technology that are used today.
POB: Do you have any memorable stories from field work and/or a favorite project you worked on?
MCCRORY: I was the onsite project manager at an explosive ordinance disposal site for a couple of years. I would have to say that was one of my favorite projects. Never would I have thought that I would be doing anything of that caliber, nor magnitude.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
MCCRORY: Working as a solo surveyor, the biggest challenge that you can face is getting overwhelmed with the current workload. As a solo surveyor, everything must be done by one person, from answering the phone and talking to potential clients, deed research, field work, office calculations, billing and keeping the business side of things running smoothly. Sometimes it is stressful to make sure everything is done correctly. If the workload continues, hopefully this spring I will be able to hire some help to speed up the fieldwork process.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
MCCRORY: Reading magazine articles, attending continuing education conferences and checking online forums. I also rely on Troy Deaton at Geo-Tronics to keep me up to date on any of the newest technology. Obviously, if there is equipment available that will help me be more efficient in my daily operation, I need to be utilizing it the best I can to meet the client’s expectations. As a solo surveyor, you do not have a team of people that can help each other through problems that arise with the equipment, so it is imperative to have a dealer that you can call and get tech support from within minutes.
POB: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get into the surveying business today?
MCCRORY: Be willing to work, work and when you think you are finished, work a few more hours. It’s not easy and nothing in life that is rewarding will ever be easy. Anyone can give up, anyone can give in and settle for a sense of security, but not everyone can keep going through the highs and the lows and still have fuel to keep going.
Never make excuses. People make mistakes and you will make a mistake; it is just a matter of time. When those mistakes are made, it is better to own them and admit it then to do whatever is necessary to fix them. Your reputation will travel farther and faster than you can.
Being honest is another attribute that is helpful. I have literally referred other surveyors in my work region because I may be backed up and would not be able to meet the client’s deadline. I always let them know I would rather have someone else complete the work than me commit to a job knowing I cannot perform it in a timely fashion. Once word gets out that you operate as such and do as you say, there should always be plenty of work. As long as a person is honest and willing to work hard, they should be able to succeed.
Another piece of advice is buy the best equipment you can afford. You will be working with this equipment on a daily basis. There is no need to skimp here, it may cost more but it will help you be more efficient in the field and office. As a solo surveyor, you will need to be as efficient as you possibly can be.
POB: How has the surveying profession changed since you started and where do you see it heading in the future?
MCCRORY: As they say, time flies when you’re having fun and it doesn’t seem like a long time, but I have been in the surveying industry for only 10 years. There have not been too many changes in those 10 years as many of the older surveyors have seen in their time, but as technology progresses I cannot even dream of what will be available in the future. Never would I have thought that we would see drones flying around to help gather information for topo surveys, or machine control on dozers and graders. Technology will always be progressing and if you do not accept it and adapt, you will be left behind.
Matt McCrory, PLS, is owner of Volunteer Surveying LLC, located in Paris, Tenn. McCrory can be reached at email@example.com.
Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB magazine and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story in a future issue, please email Perry A. Trunick at firstname.lastname@example.org.