Solo Notes: Becoming the Boss
POB: Why did you decide to launch your own business?
Snoke: I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in Geomatics Engineering. In a school of 40,000 undergrads, my graduating class had only three other surveyors. I see that, and I see the average age of a professional surveyor today is the late 50s, and what it tells me is that there’s a tremendous opportunity coming. Supply and demand are going to kick in eventually, and I wanted to be positioned to take advantage of it.
POB: How did you develop your business strategy?
Snoke: Having been at a large geospatial firm for the last eight years, I really saw a need for a qualified, efficient subcontracting survey firm that is willing to travel anywhere. My business strategy is to provide services to larger firms that need to meet certain small business contract requirements and do it to the quality standards that larger firms expect. We’re currently seeking HUBZONE certification and can be contracted as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) to maximize the contractor’s credit. I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects, everything from aeronautical obstruction surveys to GIS utility inventory projects, and I think there’s a need out there for a small business with our unique skill set and willingness to travel.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?
Snoke: I thought that being my own boss would be a freeing experience. I thought that if I wanted to take a day off, I wouldn’t have to call in. If I wanted to knock off early, no problem. It hasn’t been like that for me. There’s a lot of internal guilt for me about taking an easy day. My biggest challenge has been convincing myself that it’s okay to take an occasional day off.
POB: What has been your biggest success so far? What are you most proud of?
Snoke: When you work for a large firm that has business developers, you get kind of lackadaisical. My job before wasn’t to meet clients and find opportunities, so I didn’t do it. The thing I’m most proud of is the discipline I’m learning and contacts I’m making. As my old boss told me “There’s no such thing as a job fairy.” You just have to get out there and pound the pavement. Learning to do that has been a very rewarding experience for me. I’m proud of every job I’ve won because I’m the person who has won it.<
Snoke: The only way to serve a diverse market without stretching your resources too thin is to use a wide range of technology--whether it is a robotic total station, cellular RTK modems, or custom software development. I have to make the most out of every hour. In order to do that, I have to make sure that I have a large tool set that can satisfy all of my clients’ needs.
POB: What marketing strategies have you found to be the most successful?
Snoke: If I said “social media and web marketing,” I’d be lying. I’ve yet to win a single project by using LinkedIn or updating my Twitter status. I believe web marketing is important and can work--one should probably have a presence there, just as you should have started a website 12 years ago. But there's clearly a social media bubble right now. I prefer the old-fashioned one-on-one marketing. It's making phone calls, meeting people and buying an occasional lunch that has worked for me.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
Snoke: A lot of people get all worked up about the impact of technology on our profession--GPS, GIS, Google maps, smartphones--but those things don’t concern me. At the end of the day, our profession is going to continue to be what it is today: a mix of field time, office time, and history. It doesn’t matter how many points you can measure per second or what the latest app can do; the surveyor’s job will continue to be the same. I love my job, so for me, that’s very exciting.
Chad T. Snoke, PS, owns Oakwood Survey & Mapping LLC headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, which he launched in January 2011. He worked at a large geospatial firm for the last eight years, managing a team who performed more than 300 aeronautical surveys since 2004. Oakwood Survey & Mapping offers surveying services, software development, GIS data services, and drone-based aerial photography and mapping. For more information, visit www.oakwoodsurveying.com.
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 email@example.com.