Trying to find new business in a difficult economy can be a challenge. But what happens when the situation changes and there’s more business than time and employees? James (J.D.) Sherman of Metropolitan Land Consultants shares how his firm maintains client satisfaction.
POB: Why did you decide to launch your own business, and how did you develop your business strategy?
Sherman: In 2005, my business partner Paul Kinnunen and I saw that the bigger companies we were working for were slowing down. We decided to start our own business to service engineers and architects that have no in-house survey departments. We started off small with four employees and a few loyal clients.
We decided that our strategy would be to give the client the best product, on time, at the best price. We wanted to focus on the smaller jobs that the big companies did not go after; this led us to bigger clients and bigger jobs. I still believe that word-of-mouth from a satisfied client is the best advertising. We also have really gotten into networking with local groups, as well as social media.
POB: What has been your biggest success?
Sherman: Our biggest success was a 15-mile survey for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s transmission line in northern Oakland County. We were able to meet deadlines and stay on budget, despite having to coordinate and subcontract with other companies. We had to increase our staff to 26 employees and keep them all very focused. It was a challenge to complete this magnitude of a project and keep our other clients happy. Working on a project like that one was a great learning experience for our entire company.
POB: How do you devote a lot of time and effort to one project without compromising client satisfaction on other projects?
Sherman: It is increasingly difficult to keep all of our clients happy, but in this economy it is a necessity. We have scheduled meetings, and field work on evenings and weekends to keep everyone on schedule. Being able to split up using robotics and RTK GPS helps us do two jobs on the same day. If we run behind, we will subcontract another survey crew or CAD draftsperson to help complete the project.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner, and how did you overcome it?
Sherman: The biggest challenge has been surviving the downturn in the economy. We had to lay off all of our employees and make deep sacrifices. We began to branch out and network a lot more to get new clients; we have also subcontracted ourselves to other companies. However, this may also be our biggest success. By surviving the recession, we have made new contacts and learned to streamline our business.
POB: What technology over the last few years has most benefited your business?
Sherman: The first technology has been the MDOT CORS system, which easily allows us to utilize one man survey crews. The second has been the advancement of smartphones. This allows us to run our office from the field; we can send bids, check email and take calls as easily in the field as in the office. And of course, there’s the Internet, which allows us to research jobs without leaving the office. Google Earth, as well as online accessing sites, have greatly benefited the research process. In Michigan, Miss Dig has an online utility ticket program that puts you in contact with all of the companies that you need to request information from. I also like to read other surveyors’ blogs and websites to see what they are encountering.
In the future, I hope to see more integration between survey equipment and smartphones. It would be nice to directly upload and download data from your phone to your instrument. I would also like to see more research information become available online. Most of the bigger cities have their information available, but smaller communities are still not online.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
Sherman: I am most excited about the amount of infrastructure upgrades in the Metro-Detroit region as well as the whole country. I see great opportunities for growth and expansion in this area. I also see more people relying on technology to reduce cost and labor.
James (J.D.) Sherman is vice president and manager of survey operations for Metropolitan Land Consultants in Livonia, Mich., a firm that offers topographic services, boundary surveys, ALTA surveys, construction layout and plot plans. Sherman can be reached at JDSMLC@twmi.rr.com.