Compiled and edited by Alexis Brumm
Passion for your business makes it easier to provide high quality services and accomplish jobs successfully. It also leads to a higher level of confidence from your clients. Bill Buntrock, owner of TRUE NORTH Surveying & Mapping, shares with POB how his passion for his work allows him to run the company using his core beliefs.
POB: Why did you decide to launch your own business, and how did you develop your business strategy?
Buntrock: I had an incredible desire to start a surveying business back in 2005, but at the time, it was financially impossible. So instead, I chose to take a director of survey/principle position in a multi-state engineering and land surveying firm that specialized in land development. In November of 2008, I was laid off from that firm and reality, in the form of the recession, told me I was not going to find a surveying position for the next few months. That was my opportunity; five days after being laid off, I founded TRUE NORTH Surveying & Mapping.
My business strategy was a recipe from past experiences--one part working with a successful transportation engineering firm that built its business on a realistic growth model, one part working with a firm that was loose with spending and that built its business on an inflated growth outlook, and lastly, one part staying on course (TRUE NORTH) with our core and passionate beliefs.
POB: What do you believe is the key to running a successful surveying firm?
Buntrock: I believe being passionate in what we do is the key to our success. I have turned down many projects in the last three years that didn’t fit our project business model. Sure, I could win more projects, but what would I get out of it? More money? If I do not believe in the project, how can I be excited about working on it? If I’m not excited, how can I motivate my team?
POB: Can you explain a little bit more about your company’s “rapid response” philosophy? How does it set you apart from the competition?
Buntrock: “Rapid response” started when I was an 82C Field Artillery Surveyor with the U.S. Army in Germany from 1988 to 1992 and was involved in fire missions. Sometimes clients also have fire missions--emergencies or urgent needs due to unexpected challenges or poor planning. I know that when a client calls, they are calling us because they have confidence in our team. And if they call, we make an effort to meet with the client within a few hours.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner, and how did you overcome it? What has been your biggest success?
Buntrock: Cash flow was the biggest challenge. As many of us know, after the project has been completed and the invoice sent, the 60- to 90-day waiting period starts, if we are lucky. Knowing what to purchase, what to rent, what to borrow and what to budget for comes second to cash flow. We chose to start the business without running a line of credit with the bank. It was tough at first, but it was a sound decision.
Our biggest success has been gaining the confidence of our clients. In the beginning, we won small corridor projects. With the success on these smaller projects, our clients started awarding us multi-mile corridor projects. In the end, the clients started recommending us.
POB: One of the areas your firm is passionate about is supporting local charities. Why is this an important part of your business?
Buntrock: Our country was founded on the philosophy of neighbor helping neighbor, and we at TRUE NORTH want to continue to strengthen that value by supporting local organizations that reinforce that belief. Starting in 2010, TRUE NORTH has donated a percentage of our annual revenue to Urban Peak, an organization that helps young people in Colorado; the Tennyson Center for Children, which helps with treatment and education of abused, neglected and at-risk children; and The Women's Crisis & Family Outreach Center, dedicated to reducing domestic violence and family conflict. My family, since 2007, also helps keep a portion of county roads clean by participating in the Adopt a Road program.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
Buntrock: I am an active member of our state and local survey chapters. The relationships I have built over the years with other professionals, including the survey vendors, have helped me stay on top of the latest trends and technologies. I suggest to all the readers who are not active members of their state and local chapters that they should be. The benefits, in the form of the relationships you build, will far exceed the effort you put into it.
POB: What technology over the last few years has most benefited your business? What development do you hope to see in the near future?
Buntrock: Scanners, robots, cell-based GPS RTNs, reflectorless total stations, Google Earth and smartphones. Reading articles on PPP (Precise Point Positioning) and RTK excite me. I would love to see robotic total stations that are faster and stay locked on target, no matter what.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
Buntrock: The digital world is exciting, along with the top-of-the-line survey equipment and licensed surveyors who have always used computers.
However, there is one thing that scares me. More licensed professionals are retiring than there are newly licensed professionals each year. The reality is we are not creating enough licensed surveyors to replace the ones leaving the profession. We have lost a lot of young surveyors over the last couple of years due to the recession. The laws of supply and demand could be a benefit for those of us who remain, but with recent attempts to limit licensing in some states, I fear that instead of supply and demand, just the laws will change. One thing I have made a strong effort to do since I became licensed is to hire surveying students from our local colleges to work part time when their schedule allows.
William “Bill” G. Buntrock, PLS, is the president and founder of TRUE NORTH. He has been practicing land surveying for over 24 years, and is licensed in Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, Utah and Idaho. He is currently on the board of directors for the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado and is the past president of the Central Colorado Professional Surveyors. Buntrock can be reached at billb@TRUENORTHsurvey.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.