From volunteering on projects in Haiti and India to working with his teenage son, Steven W. Carper is paving his own path in the surveying profession.
POB: Why did you decide to launch your own business?
Carper: My oldest son and the recession. After three whacks at the professional surveyor’s exam, I was laid off in 2011. If I couldn’t pass the PLS with unlimited study time while unemployed, I promised my wife I would abandon surveying and become a nurse, supporting myself as a bartender. With said ultimatum, I passed the exam that spring. However, I have been unable to secure full-time employment ever since. During a volunteer trip to Haiti in February 2013 (see below), I found my 15-year-old son to be a willing and competent survey tech whom I greatly enjoyed working with. Knowing he would only be under my roof a couple more years, I hired him as my first employee!
POB: How did you develop your business strategy? What makes your business unique?
Carper: As an employee of large firms and/or organizations over the years, I have missed providing the full spectrum of land surveying as a service. I desired to serve clients through all aspects of their project. I am carving a niche where many others cannot or will not compete: for the individual land owners and engineers/contractors/developers of smaller projects. Most firms have to chop at their profit margins in order to serve the small project clientele.
POB: Can you tell a little about the volunteer projects you’ve worked on in India and Haiti?
Carper: Mind-blowing. Imagine a simple topographic survey, as we typically produce in the United States. Take that same topo and place it in an earthquake-ravaged country, such as Haiti, or a poverty-stricken land, such as India. Now visualize this topo you produce will facilitate the design and master planning of a children’s village for orphans in Trou-du-Nord, Haiti, or a university for higher education in Berard, Haiti, or the master plan for water, wastewater management and facility improvements of a 123-year-old mission in Kedgaon, India, which currently serves 1,000 orphans, widows, and physically/mentally challenged residents. These types of projects strike at the core of the role we perform as surveyors: a service to people who NEED our profession!
I have served on all three projects with amazing teams of architects, engineers and interns for an amazing organization: Engineering Ministries International. Next up--another trip to northeastern India in late January 2014 with my 15-year-old son.
POB: I noticed that you have a large presence on Facebook. Has social media been beneficial to you and your business? Why?
Carper: The benefits of social media remain to be seen for my business. Between Facebook and LinkedIn, I hope to network and build connections with potential clients and corroborate with fellow professionals. There really is no replacement for traditional networking, i.e. face-to-face interaction.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?
Carper: Knowing how to reach potential clients is a real challenge. When you are a business owner and you possess the passion to provide the unique service we provide as surveyors, it is often difficult to connect that passion with clientele. As well, folks experience “sticker shock” when you quote a price to survey their land. How come a $300,000 house cannot afford the protection of a $2,000 boundary survey?
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
Carper: Honestly, I am not certain it can be done. Technology is changing at such a rapid rate. My focus is mastering the technology I currently own to provide a timely and accurate product to my clients. When I am curious about new technologies and trends, I explore them through contact with other professionals, survey equipment vendors, publications (such as POB!), and conferences. I am excited to deliver more dynamic surveying products to clients and the public as technologies continue to climb and evolve.
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?
Carper: Google Earth and the availability of digital imagery has been quite helpful to my surveying. When I am problem-solving issues on a survey, I find a rastered image sitting behind my surveyed data to clear up issues and questions. As well, I am able to develop a plan for how to bid or approach and estimate a project based on Google Earth imagery or Google street view.
The integration of GIS and surveying has proven to be not only exciting, but also quite helpful. As the accuracies of handheld GPS receivers has reached sub-meter qualities, surveyors have taken note. The data sets and classifications of GIS can teach us as surveyors a great deal about how to manage our own data. I hope to see more surveyors accepting and integrating GIS data and procedures in our profession. When our highly accurate survey data is combined with the dynamic imagery and flexibility of GIS, we possess the ability to provide excellent and easier to comprehend maps and products.
POB: What most excites you about the future of the surveying profession?
Carper: The youth. I believe the potential for surveying to continue to grow and morph into more than just a flat boundary survey on a stale background rests with young people like my 15-year-old son. People from his generation inherently understand the complexities of computer data and how the analysis of this data solves many problems and issues throughout our world. As I have traveled throughout the wealthy United States and impoverished developing nations, I long to see surveyors continuing to provide our skills and passion for more than just a paycheck.
Steven W. Carper, PLS, has been practicing the art of land surveying for the past 16 years. He is the president and founder of Field to Finish Land Surveying. Carper is a licensed surveyor in Washington state and a frequent land survey volunteer with Engineering Ministries International, www.emiusa.org, “designing a world of hope.” Carper can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook at “Field to Finish Land Surveying.”
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.