Solo Notes: Balancing Act
October 27, 2011
Owning a business is often a balancing act between field work, office work, marketing and other tasks. Many surveyors are tapping technology to help them walk the tightrope and maximize efficiency. They’re also finding new ways to stay connected with clients and improve their time management. David McCrary, owner of Surveyors LLC, shares how he stays successful while maneuvering the multiple aspects of business ownership.
POB: Why did you decide to launch your own business?
McCrary: I was once a true believer that working for a large corporation would be the only way to have a secure future, so I took a position with one of the largest surveying firms in Florida. But I kept asking myself, What is wrong with this picture? I was in an environment that controlled my creativity, my initiative and my finances. Finally, I desired to make choices that best served me, my family and my clients.
I wanted to grow and explore, to see what I was made of. I am now in charge of my life and I love it. Each day is different from the day before; each project and each client has its own challenges and rewards. Every now and then I take a look at my life and I’m amazed that I’m so fortunate to truly enjoy what I do for a living.
POB: How has the profession changed since you started?
McCrary: First, the technology: Where do you start in describing technology changes in the past 30 years? With wireless technology, smartphones, email, Internet, computer drafting and robotic instruments that never call in sick?
Now, a typical day can start with a client entering a request for a survey online. From my office, I can log onto my laptop and connect to the online public records database and do plenty of research. An hour later, my robot and I go out and complete the field survey. This technology allows me to do solo what took three to four people to do just a few years ago, and [I can do it] in a fraction of the time. While in the field, I transfer my data to my laptop and check the drawing for additional data before leaving. In a matter of hours, I complete the survey drawing, email the survey with an invoice attached and mail hard copies to the client.
Second would be accuracy. Land surveying results were once less accurate due to the tools land surveyors had access to. Today, we use more accurate tools such as GPS and robotic total stations.
Lastly, educational requirements have significantly increased since I entered the profession. Three of the four states I’m licensed in either require, or will soon require, a four-year degree.
POB: How did you develop your business strategy?
McCrary: I have always been intrigued by the business aspect of the surveying profession. Over the years, I attended business seminars and classes, read books, and networked with other business owners. I took advantage of every opportunity to attend meetings or sessions offered by an employer, listening to what was said and how people reacted and responded to situations. I would take what I learned from each and apply it to surveying.
I met with other solo professionals who were in similar situations. We discussed our objectives and goals, compared notes on potential clients and discussed how our different services could be combined to best serve the clients. Once I had the business aspects worked out, it was time to begin the technical side of the business and acquire equipment. I utilized the funds I had available, negotiated a deal with an equipment dealer, and invested in a robotic setup. My primary advertising is my website, social networking, local business groups, client referrals and other surveyors.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?
McCrary: Balancing everything! As a true solo operation (besides occasional help from my wife), I do everything--website management, marketing, networking, meetings, project research, field work, office work, invoicing, etc.--so time management is of the upmost importance.
To maintain a high level of productivity, I have developed techniques and routines to minimize time and maximize my efficiency in the field and office. This is a prime benefit to my clients; they have a PLS involved in every aspect of the project. In managing my business, I also use the services of an accountant and attorney as needed.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
McCrary: A successful technique I use to stay current with technology is to offer some of my time to a fellow surveyor on one of their projects in exchange for some training on new equipment and technology. I did this on an airport project last summer and received some valuable LiDAR training!
I also network with my peers as often as possible and subscribe to several professional newsletters, journals and magazines. And the survey message boards and professional online communities are a wealth of information!
POB: What software development over the last few years has most benefited your business? What developments do you hope to see in the near future?
McCrary: I would have to say CAD and data collection software. The CAD program I use today is much more complex but also has many more features than 20 years ago. And the data collection software today is fantastic. I utilize MS Office to create and maintain spreadsheets and databases that manage my files. Although not software specific, another development that benefits my business is my Blackberry; a client being able to contact me and have me respond to their needs in an efficient and punctual manner is what sets me apart from the larger firms.
It’s difficult to envision improvements on today’s technology. I can research a project from the comfort of my office or home; I can work solo in the field with a robotic instrument; I can draft a survey and email it to the client from any location; and I can communicate face-to-face with my client from the jobsite on my tablet, smartphone or laptop.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
McCrary: The ever-changing technology! I enjoy learning about new technologies and find it exciting to think about what’s next for the surveying profession.
David McCrary, PLS, owns Surveyors, LLC. McCrary is licensed in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and has more than 32 years of experience in large-acreage boundary surveys, ALTA Land Title surveys, wetland surveys, subdivision design and subdivision layout, as-built surveys, construction layout, hydrographic surveys, topographic surveys, condominium surveys and land planning. McCrary is a past chapter president in FSMS and currently serves as a chapter vice-president. McCrary also owned McCrary & Associates, P.C. from 1993-2003. For more information, visit www.SurveyorsLLC.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.