Many businesses in our society take a speculative approach, in which the originator actuates the effort, creates a result and then hopes to find a buyer. Why don’t surveyors take advantage of this business model?

I was recently speaking with Vickie McEntire, LS, survey director for Fairfax County, Va., about a variety of issues pertaining to surveying. McEntire noted that surveying is a service task performed, for example, to accomplish someone's vision of a money-making project or an infrastructure improvement, or as a gift from parents to children. A survey is generally performed under contract, which means something is already happening that requires the survey to be done. “We don't just go out and survey the world to have it on file," McEntire said.

This led to a discussion, partially in jest, about why surveyors take such a passive approach compared to other businesses, in which the originator often actuates the effort, creates a result and then hopes to find a buyer. Consider home building as an example. The builder builds a “spec” home, advertises it and sells it (albeit not quickly in this economy). Many small business startups speculate that they will produce a product or offer a service that people will want to pay for. Developers buy land and contract engineers to develop infrastructure and then sell that developed land to builders often based on the speculation that someone will purchase the resulting property.

Going further, retail establishments purchase their inventory based on speculation, and restaurants do the same with food. In fact, there are many areas in our society that speculate that customers will ultimately purchase their wares and services. So here’s my question: Why don’t surveyors take advantage of this business model?

When work gets tight, a surveyor could perform some field work or perhaps boundary work on the speculation that they’ll be able to sell it to someone. Obviously, these suggestions are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but consider the possibilities!

For example, you could put your field crews on the highway near where you know a road widening will occur in the spring and survey the area. This would keep your staff employed, sharpen their skills and lead your competitors to think you have a lot of work. When the survey is completed, you could take it to the DOT who will bid the work, inform them that you already have the survey complete, and then sell it to them-leaving your competitors to wonder how you got the job.

Or perhaps while performing a survey of a large land tract, you capture a good piece of the adjacent properties. After completing the job, you could walk up to the homes or businesses on these adjacent properties and inform the owners that you are in the area doing a survey. Tell the owner that since you are already mobilized and initialized that you could survey their property for a steeply discounted rate. Ask them when they last had a current survey performed on the land, and explain why it would be beneficial to have a current survey. Perhaps you could point out that they do not own up to the road in front of the building and that a right-of-way exists, and then explain that they could verify how much property they actually own and can develop or improve.

So an idea born in jest could possibly have real-life implications. Could some form of “speculative surveying” work for your firm? Hey, this is the “Great Recession”-we have to think out of the box!

What do you think? Please post your comments below.