I’m borrowing the premise for this article from two very good articles on Architecture Salary and Six Figures.
We all want to know how to make more money in the same amount of time, or less. That article spoke to employees of a firm, and not owners but I’m an owner and want to address that more. Read his article if you want to know about employees. Most of what he talks about would apply to you as a Land Surveyor or Engineer.
Firm Size and Specialization
Generally speaking if you have more people working for you, you should be making more money. Now I’m not talking about more revenue, I mean more profit and salary for you. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. You’re doing a lot of work, but you’re not making any profit on all that work. So, size alone doesn’t necessarily translate to more profit. But, specialization might hold the key.
By specialization I mean what service do you offer that makes you the most profit? Do more of that. It’s really that simple. Focus your marketing efforts on that service. Look for more opportunities to do that. Cut back, or stop completely, those services that you break even or lose money. Just say NO. Or go up on your price. Then, IF someone wants you to do a small lot survey for $850, you’ll make a little profit instead of doing it for $450 and losing money.
We all know though that we can make more on a larger job – like ALTA surveys, construction surveying, topo surveys, and large boundary surveys. So, look for more of this type work.
If you live in a rural area and just can’t get enough work to grow your business, then you may need to consider relocating. This is a big step, but it could make the difference in just getting by and running a real business. Let’s say you live a couple hours from a large metro area. Then, do some advertising in that area for the large jobs we talked about earlier. Obviously you can’t drive two hours for a lot survey, but you could for a $5000 ALTA survey, or a 100 acre boundary survey. And, you can do this without moving immediately.
If you want to move, look at places that are experiencing long-term growth. This information can easily be found from the Census Bureau. Or, just search for “fastest growing cities in Texas,” or the state you’re interested in. Don’t just look for the largest cities. A city of 40,000 that has experienced 5% a year for 5 years adds 2,000 people a year. This means something is happening that could help your business grow. Make sure that it isn’t a one-time event though, like a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) surge at a military facility. These are good but they may not mean future growth.
Personally, I like a city with good growth in the 60,000 to 100,000 population range. Growth of just 4% a year adds 2,400 to 4,000 people to the economy. See this Census article if you’re interested in Texas. Lots of opportunities there.
Skills and Qualifications
Personal skills and qualifications are important. If you haven’t done any of the high-profit jobs like topographic surveys or ALTA surveys, you should learn how. Work with someone else to learn. Attend some classes.
I learned a lot from a mentor early in my career and have since made many thousands from just learning how to do septic system designs. Take an older surveyor to lunch who knows what you want to know. Ask if they’re willing to work on a project as a joint venture for a few times. You bring the job, they help you with it. Now some may not want to help the competition so you may have to go to a different city to learn this. It will be worth it. If they’re in a flexible situation (like retired) they may be willing to come to you. (Heck, if you have an internet connection and cover my expenses, I’m willing to come train you.)
Another way to gain skills and qualifications for your company is to make a strategic hire. Finding someone who brings the right skills and qualifications is easier than you might think. The only issue here is paying them. Start out subcontracting with someone. Then, when your business grows, you can hire someone permanently.
“Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” Lou Holtz
But, you need to learn these skills yourself anyway. What if that person leaves? I believe that you should know how to do about everything that your employees know. That doesn’t mean that you have to do it, but you should not be put out of business by losing one employee.
Don’t forget the soft skills like communication, leadership, adaptability and flexibility, problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, team-working, time management, and being willing to learn. Those are all topics that you need to learn to grow individually and to be able to grow your business. A book mentioned in that article is “The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy”, which I also recommend.
Be the Best
This is related to Specialization but takes it a step further. “What do you do better than anyone else?” If there’s nothing, then do some training. Do your ALTA surveys look better than anyone else? If not, can you make them? Maybe you can add an aerial photo from a drone. I know, this costs something to learn but it might also catch the attention of the Title companies and Attorneys who then call on you more.
Your drawing is not only the record of your survey, but it is a lasting document that shows your professionalism. Most times I never meet my clients in person, but when they get my drawing they definitely get a sense of how professional I am.
Your communication is very important here. This is part of the overall customer service part of your business. You should have excellent customer service. It should be remarkable. If you’ve ever had a waiter or waitress serve you that you said to yourself “I’d love to hire that person” then you know what I’m talking about. Did they keep your water filled? Did they recommend something good? Were they great at conversation? You know what it takes, maybe you’ve just gotten lazy and only get excited about collecting the checks and not the idea of actually helping someone with a problem they’re having. Step up your game if you want to be the best.
“You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar
Do you keep your clients updated about how the job is going, or do you dread getting a phone call from them about why you’re not finished with the job. Be proactive. Most people will be patient if you communicate with them about any delays you’re experiencing. Your employees and subcontractors should also share this customer service philosophy. A good book on this is “Raving Fans” by Ken Blanchard.
This one also is similar to “Reducing the stress of others” that is mentioned in the article. This counts for your employees as well as your clients. People like working with people who are easy to work with and just get the job done without drama. Shoot for drama free projects. That will help you avoid burnout and increase your bottom line.
This is my addition to the list, not covered in the article for employees. I firmly believe that effectively marketing your company is one of the best ways to expand your business. I wrote an article recently on Ranking Your Professional Website but there’s so much more for you to learn about marketing. I’m going to try to do more articles about this in the future.
J. Keith Maxwell is a Professional Land Surveyor and Civil Engineer in Alabama. He has owned a professional consulting business for over 27 years. If he had it to do over again, he’d have learned more, sooner. Hindsight is 20/20.