Let's start off with two sides of the value proposition, external and internal. External value is what you're striving to provide your clients and the perceived value, in their minds, your clients receive from your services. Internal value is everything that improves and grows your professional land surveying company, which most of the time your client never sees and often doesn't fully appreciate, but is extremely important nonetheless and is often ignored.
Your Clients Want it All!
Hey, your clients just want their survey done cheaper, better and faster: That's not asking too much, is it?
The internal value of your professional land surveying practice needs to be cultivated and grown. I'm making the distinction, between internal and external value, but they're tightly connected and while the internal value at first may not be all too important to your clients, I still recommend that you include the benefit of this value when marketing and promoting your business.
The real value in any professional land surveying business is often overlooked. Too often we equate the procedures employed, the equipment we use and the paid for outcomes to completely define our value.
Much of What We Do Has Remained Unchanged.
Much of the mathematical concepts we use is ancient and hasn't changed in centuries. The equipment we use, while constantly being updated and improved upon, mostly reinvents solutions for largely unchanged tasks. The outcomes of our work or deliverables if you will, while having changed in format and medium are still, in the end, the expression and explanation of the professional land surveyor's opinion and judgments.
It's all important. You have to know the math, you will see improvements from using newer, more modern, equipment and using the latest and best CAD program to produce good looking quality work is very important. However, I believe that you need to look at your business from a different perspective that holds those core external values intact and transcends your current perception of your professional land surveying company's value.
Your greatest value is in your processes and in your data. Simple.
5 Business Value Concepts for the Professional Land Surveyor:
- Process matters. If you look at any industry, every player has access to nearly the same markets, information and materials. The difference between success, mediocrity and failure is what they do with those things. Look at how you get things done and improve, improve, improve. Define the process, develop metrics which measure success or failure, analyze the resulting metrics, change and improve the process. Then do this over, and over again, constantly improving the process. If you can't measure it, it can't be improved.
- Unify and Coordinate your data. Having every project on its own assumed datum, while quick and easy, is a recipe for failure. Not keeping all of your projects organized, both in hard copy and digital format, is a recipe for failure. Not coordinating, or linking, your data and files together is a recipe for failure. Your data, when unified and coordinated, provides your greatest business value. If possible, have your projects based in the same datum, like State Plane Coordinates, and all related data coordinated and geo-referenced, too. You could then use your data for making business decisions, geo-marketing, easily incorporating external data, building a database of monuments and boundary solutions which are all coordinated together and built upon each other, and not spending enormous amounts of time re-establishing lost control. Additionally, if more companies operated this way, your company would be more valuable to another like-minded company. Think of the ease and value if you purchased a company that also unified and coordinated their data using State Plane Coordinate Systems. Take the time and effort to make all of your data, field, office and business, unified and coordinated. Create a GIS for your business.
- Use GPS. This is a little redundant, building on the last point, but when possible incorporate GPS into your projects. I'm not talking strictly about equipment here, per say. I know that we need to use some form of GPS equipment to get a position, but what I'm really talking about is using the GPS system. If you don't currently have GPS equipment, and can't afford that sort of investment right now, then find a local professional land surveyor who has the equipment and hire him or her. I have survey grade GPS equipment and would be happy to locate four or five points for any professional land surveyor at a reasonable cost. I'm sure that you can find someone in your area, too. Additionally, whether you own, rent or borrow GPS equipment, use it for as much of the project as you can. Point & Click surveying, when done appropriately and with professional care, is usually faster, as accurate (if not more so) and is more easily incorporated into any project.
- Use the tools you have. Brent Jones of ESRI, at the Carlson Users Conference 2009, made an excellent point about how Sony revolutionized the music industry with the IPod by using existing technologies in a new way. I am always amazed at how much technology professional land surveyors use and have at their disposal. Think about different ways to use the tools you already have. Did your computer come loaded with Microsoft Office products such as; Word, Outlook, Excel, Publisher, Access and PowerPoint? I bet it did. Now learn how to use these powerful, and paid for, tools to improve your business. Have you leveraged the internet fully, taking advantage of scalable solutions and business networking options? Is your website working for you, or is it a static business ad, at best? Have you investigated the Map features in AutoCAD? This could lead to GIS implementation in your office. Digital Camera? Use it for research (you can get a good copy of everything from deeds to large maps), for documenting project monuments and control, for asset management and business marketing. I recommend taking a few hours to list every piece of software and gadget you use, summarizing their uses and features, and you'll be able to prepare a use plan for each item, I'm sure. Build in geo-referencing for all of this and everything will tie together neatly.
- Find more data, sell data, and market your internal value. Let's say you now have great processes in place, you've unified and coordinated your data and use GPS to facilitate your professional land surveying projects and have most projects on the same coordinate systems and datum and you've used all of the existing tools available to you to create a business-wide system of valuable and usable data. Now find external data (much of which can be free) to use seamlessly in your projects or develop new opportunities by marrying two data sources together. With a library of data available, sell it. Maybe you mapped a project and, being conscientious, you mapped areas beyond your projects limits for potential future development, if needed. This excess mapping has value and could be sold to adjacent owners wanting to develop their land. Or, if you mapped sewer manholes and other utilities, the local municipality might be interested in purchasing your data to incorporate into their municipal GIS. Start to think big-picture and I'm sure you can find ways to improve your bottom line and increase your sales. Now use this increased internal value as a marketing tool. The hardest thing for potential customers is to decide which professional land surveyor to hire. To them we all look the same and they believe they will get the same level of service and quality of product from each and every one of us. I wish that this wasn't true, but it is and in the end, they often make their decisions based on price alone. Use your internal value to market and promote your firm to potential and existing clients because this is one area where you can shine and differentiate yourself from the competition.
I hope that this has made you think about your business in a different way than before. I know that a lot of this is GIS oriented, but I assure you, that if you don't embrace GIS (and help to make it better) you are not going to survive in the post recession economy.
And, while the five business concepts I've laid out deal with improving the internal value of your professional land surveying company, I guarantee that you and your clients will reap benefits and added value on the external side when delivering your usual products and services.