We spend years honing our skills in complicated mathematics, improving our ability to interpret a deed to establish intent and location, and developing the fortitude to withstand the physical demands of hauling heavy equipment in all types of weather. But we also have to remember that we are the sole representatives of our businesses.
Following are six marketing strategies that I have found successful over the past eight years as a solo surveyor.
1. Your existing clients are your best clients, and your most important marketing strategy is to service those clients.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you communicate with these clients throughout the project and even after the project is completed. I like to follow up with a thank-you note and give my clients the opportunity to critique my performance. I also enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with my invoices and proposals. I cannot say that this has much influence on my success rate with proposals or speeds the receivables along. However, I can say that in the past eight years, I have had only one client that I had to sue for payment, and my receivables are rarely more than 30 days. The only clients with which I don’t require payment upon completion are government agencies and professional clients that bill third party for my services.
Be honest in your dealings, and keep your current clients happy. If you can provide an extra service, then do it. For smaller projects, or for individual homeowners that I might never see again, I put together a folder in which I include a copy of their plan as well as an aerial photo of their property with the property lines overlaid. Try to think of something that the average person would like and that would help them remember you the next time a neighbor asks them for a reference for a surveyor.
2. Diversify your services and let your existing clients know when you add service offerings.
After being in business for several years, I made a huge investment in GPS equipment and was among the few in our area that used it on a regular basis. I can already see a portion of that market slipping away as GPS has become commonplace, but one of the benefits of this investment was that I expanded my client base to include a few local surveying firms that have an occasional need for network control. These are peers that I have known since I started working back in my hometown, and I find it exciting to be working with them instead of competing against them.
3. Get involved in your local community.
Even though I am only 53, I feel like an old-timer in my basic philosophy. Maybe being a baby boomer and growing up with John F. Kennedy’s admonition to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” made me more aware of the need to volunteer in my community, or maybe it was the profession and the belief that we work for the public good. We are public servants in private employ. I believe that we, as a profession, do have special knowledge and a good ability to digest complicated material and then form an intelligent opinion, and that our municipalities need us to volunteer our time and knowledge. I have served on various committees for the past 20 years that I have lived in my town.
The side benefit of this community involvement is that people know me and respect me and often are willing to recommend me for work. I don’t volunteer for the purpose of gaining marketing exposure, but my involvement does work in my favor.
4. Join an association (or several).
As a past president of our local surveying chapter, I was searching for a candidate to serve as president for the customary two terms. One potential candidate asked, “What’s in it for me?” I was speechless. My first thought was, “If I have to tell you, then you’re not going to get it.”
By joining your local, state and national societies (and participating), you become a part of something much larger than yourself. If you work alone, just having the opportunity for peer contact is refreshing, and it gives you a chance to see how you fit into the larger picture. However, the most important reason is that you are the profession; by taking a leadership role and joining and participating in surveyor groups, you are giving back to an honorable profession that is providing you with an income and livelihood.
The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to give back in some regard. Sponsor a Trig-Star exam, go to your child’s school and give a demonstration, write letters to the editors of trade magazines--do something! You really are not in this profession by yourself.
5. Use targeted direct marketing.
Direct marketing can include mailing notices to neighbors that live near future scheduled projects or sending simple surveys to other professionals. I like the latter method because it allows me to ask questions and learn more about what the market may need. I have prepared questionnaires for town employees, architects, attorneys and engineers. This makes them aware of my services and makes them think about answers. I’ve had a pretty good response rate--generally better than 50 percent. However, I know most of the recipients and I think they respond out of courtesy. I do include unknowns in these mailings but not many; the questionnaires are very carefully focused.
6. Consider underwriting public radio or public television.
For the past several years, my firm has underwritten National Public Radio. As with my volunteer efforts, this support isn’t something I provide for the purpose of marketing; I just believe it’s the right thing to do. However, I like it when clients mention that they’ve heard my spot, and I do know of one project that I received because my spot reminded a future client that she had to hire a land surveyor to convert her property to condominiums.
So, get out there and get involved in your community and your profession. Make people aware of you, and present yourself professionally. Make yourself proud of our profession, and our profession will be proud of you.
Considering a Solo Career?If you’re currently an employee and are considering launching your own surveying business, make sure you’re aware of all the challenges that come with being a business owner. During my 18 years with Coastal Engineering Co., I was fortunate to work under Thomas W. (Will) Joy, who emphasized furthering education and made sure that all the company leaders (I was on the board of directors) had an opportunity to explore various business seminars. I have put this knowledge to good use in my business and owe a debt of gratitude to Will Joy.
The bottom line is that being an expert surveyor does not necessarily make you a good businessperson. Be sure to learn about the business side of surveying before heading out on your own.
Solo Notes will soon be a regular feature in POB and will highlight the experiences and perspectives of solo surveyors. If you have a story that you would like to share, contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.