Knowing surveyors and their approach to business, some of you are going to say, “I don’t have a business plan.” Well, everyone in business has a plan, whether written or not. Some people may say it is my approach to business; well, that is your plan. Most companies in different market segments have a written business plan. How well written and carried out may determine their success in the marketplace.
My only brother recently retired to Phoenix, Ariz. During a visit earlier this year, after a busy day of sightseeing we stopped at a restaurant well known throughout the country, but not in Alabama where I reside. I welcomed the opportunity to acquaint myself with the pie and dessert menu. Things started off well. We were seated and a young waitress introduced herself to us. After taking a few minutes to review the menu, we were ready to order. The waitress had a small notebook on which she recorded our orders. We all ordered coffee and pie, some with ice cream. This is where the story starts going downhill.
We were having a good time telling stories and joking, so we hardly noticed it had been about 20 minutes and we had not yet received our coffee. After a while, a man who could have been the manager appeared from the back to ask if we had been served. We told him we had not and he took our orders again. Awhile later, our original waitress delivered us our coffee, followed by our pie. The pie orders were all wrong as to what person was to get ice cream. We decided this was the best we were going to do and ate what we were served.
The best part of the story was yet to come. We asked for separate checks for each couple. My check was triple what it should have been and my brother’s was less than half. All the time this scenario was playing out, a young man was at the cash register. When I told him about the problems with the bill, his reply was, “Just pay me what you want.” I gave him the amount I had taken from the menu. My brother wanted to be fair and was trying to show the young man his bill should be more. We waited outside while my brother negotiated. I don’t think the young man was impressed.
When I returned to Alabama, I looked up the restaurant chain on the web to see if these were common problems or just at this location. Most of the reviews were great. It seemed to be only at the Phoenix locations where there were issues. What is the lesson to be learned from this story? Being in business is the same if you are a restaurant chain or a survey or engineering business. Over time, each person in his or her business can experience problems. What separates those of us who succeed from the others is how we handle the problems.
Let’s look at the necessary steps:
- Clients' Expectations
I believe clients all expect about the same level of services from any business they spend their money at. The reasons people come to your business may differ, such as a survey required by a lending company, or to just know where the corners of their land are located. Whatever the reason, the client deserves the same treatment and service each time. Your business plan, whether written or not, needs to address these expectations.
- The Business Statement
Many companies describe the goals of the company in an opening statement. Sometimes, they may post it so that it is available to the public. Many may call this a mission statement. It is a good exercise to develop a brief statement that reflects your goals and defines what the company is and the services offered. Anytime you stop and focus on developing a mission statement, it’s a good thing for your business, whether you post it for the general public or not.
- Marketing Segments
The next step would be to decide the market segments in which you want to deliver services to clients. The neat thing about surveying and engineering is you can provide services in so many different markets. The most successful companies do focus on just a few; trying to do and be all things to all clients can result in loss of profitability.
- Delivery of Products
The keywords here are quality and delivered on time. This says about everything that can be said about this issue. I am a firm believer in having a contractual agreement with the client spelling out the details of the delivered product and, most important, the timeframe for delivery. Work should then be scheduled and the delivery targeted. Most complaints received by the Board of Licensure in most states has to do with the product delivered being not the product the client expected, or the timeliness of the product not meeting the time requirements of the client.
- Personnel Management
A well-trained staff takes time and effort on the part of management. Your people are the key to delivering quality products in a timely manner. This is also the most difficult part of managing a successful company. It requires direct involvement with employees on an almost daily basis. Modern technology just makes employee training more important and a continuing cost to every company. A part of your plan should address issues dealing with employees, including the development of a personnel manual (a topic for another time). Remember, your employees are your company.
- Equipment and Technology
Keeping the right pace in replacement of equipment is an art. Spending money on new equipment when the existing equipment is still serviceable can be a waste of money, while waiting too long to upgrade can also be costly. These are the things that business people learn from experience.
- The Business Plan
The above items would make a good framework for a plan to guide a company. While you may not commit them to paper, they are the backbone of any good company.
- When Things Go Wrong
The signs that product isn’t being delivered properly are in profitability or dissatisfied clients.
Things going wrong show up in a company in at least two different ways: The first would be the quality of the product; the second, timeframe or meeting delivery dates. A third problem, while not as big of an issue, could be related to equipment or technology.
Let’s start with quality of product. The product is directly related to the work of the employees. Development of the final deliverable is dependent on the employee following the instruction outlined in a contract or verbally given by management. This can be a communications problem that can only be solved by better defining the project management process. Signing off the final documents by the professional should be the final check of the product. If your employees are not doing the job, you should look in a mirror. Either you are not training properly or you need to replace some of your people.
Timely delivery is the result of having a well-managed company scheduling everything from the field work through CAD drafting to the final product. If you cannot meet deadlines, research the weak link and make the proper corrections. Working some overtime at key junctions in the delivery process may be the answer in some cases. Delivery dates are only second to quality of services.
I am sure that restaurant chain with the unfortunate pie has a company plan with a mission statement stating how much management and staff care for their customers. Then, what went wrong? It was a total lack of management supervision and training. We as customers can vote with our money and just not return. Just make sure this is not happening to some of your clients.