Top 6 Business Mistakes Made by Professional Land Surveyors

Here's a list of the top 6 business mistakes made by professional land surveyors. Of course, you or I have never made these mistakes!

Top 6 Business Mistakes Made by Professional Land Surveyors:

  1. Not analyzing or estimating the project cost prior to pricing the job. Too often I see professional land surveyors take a job without looking at how much work is involved or estimating the total cost to complete a project. Then, if they actually keep track of the time and materials used while carrying out the survey they try to cut corners when the costs exceed the agreed upon fee, or equally bad, they track nothing and have no idea as to if any project was/is profitable or not. Both scenarios involve a certain amount of self deceit on the part of the professional land surveyor, who either is sure, upfront, that he/she knows what the total cost should be, or a certain amount of project specific amnesia/revisionist history is employed to obtain a "feel good" fantasy that the survey, or project, was profitable and made money. With no connection to reality, the process is then often repeated.
  2. The wrong fee is quoted and is usually too low. Charity does not begin to describe the fees I've seen charged by some professional land surveyors. There are many professional land surveyors that are too eager to "give away" their work for pennies on the dollar, or are just plain low-ballers. It is difficult to assign value, sometimes, but what I've seen is that they're uncomfortable with money and therefore are uncomfortable with standing behind the value they add as professional land surveyors. Their "inner voice" convinces them to continually lower the price because they are afraid that by quoting a fair price for their professional land surveyor services they will offend their client. On the other hand, occasionally you see where a professional land surveyor will lose work because they have completely overestimated the amount of work, or value for a service - these are usually simpler survey services that lend themselves to having lower fees in exchange for increased sales volume.
  3. They act as if they're a bank. Professional land surveyors should never be in the business of loaning money for services rendered. Banks, as it turns out, are not very good at assessing the risks of loaning money, so why would you think that you can do it successfully? Worse, is that the banks are at least smart enough to collateralize the loan, where professional land surveyors will do it sometimes only on a handshake! You say, I don't lend money, but you do. Every dollar you end up borrowing or loaning your professional land surveying business because you worked on a survey that the client hasn't paid you for yet, is a free loan to your client that you are paying the interest on. A great way to make an unprofitable job lose even more money on is to spend additional money on the fee you did or did not collect!
  4. They start a survey without a contract or before receiving a retainer. It happens. A potential client will be in a mad rush to get their survey started and you'll be eager to get going, too, and you'll start the survey before you have a signed contract and retainer. Then the client changes his/her mind, maybe their deal fell through or they were using you to negotiate a lower fee with one of your competitors (that never happens, does it?), and now you've spent time, money and materials with very little chance of getting paid. Also, be very leery of a client that is unconcerned about what you fee is - the reason is that no matter how high the quoted fee, if he or she has no intention of paying you for your work, then that's why he or she was unconcerned about your fee to begin with. No contract, no sympathy! A signed contract spelling out the scope, fees and terms protects everyone.
  5. Their survey work is released without payment or is billed too late. Like the advantage of receiving a deposit and getting a contract signed because the "iron is hot" at the beginning of a project, take advantage of timing at the end of a project. Releasing any work before being paid reduces or eliminates your chances of ever getting paid. You can't walk out of the supermarket with your groceries unless you've paid first. Take this example to heart and get paid when your client needs the work and is more motivated to pay you. The other problems I've seen, and have actually heard better clients complain about this, too, is professional land surveyors that bill too late or after forgetting for some time, send tardy bills and then complain about not getting paid. Make sure that for long term ongoing projects requiring regular (monthly) billing that you calculate the materials used and work completed to date and send an invoice in a timely manner. Lateness in sending bills to clients, particularly forgotten ones, lessen your chances of getting paid and only make your work and bill seem suspect. Now we all forget some things, sometimes, so if it happens that you overlooked a legitimate expense, then by all means bill for it. But, make sure that you contact your client to apologize for the late billing and to explain what it is you are billing.
  6. Bad Habits. When we think of bad habits, we often think of smoking, the lack of exercise or unhealthy eating habits. And, by all means, these apply and are bad habits to be eliminated or changed for the better. Additionally, I see bad habits in many professional land surveyors work. Whether they are bad business habits such as not returning phone calls or poor project management, everyone will do better by putting additional emphasis on having good business practices and becoming more disciplined in their daily work habits. Take one bad habit at a time; write down why it's a bad habit and what negative consequences it has for you. Then start another column and write down specifically how you are going to change this bad habit. In a third column, write down the positive outcome you will receive when this bad habit is eliminated. Once you've identified a bad habit, recognized its negative consequences, identified an action plan to eliminate this bad habit and you've given yourself the incentive of obtaining a positive outcome, you can then begin to work on changing this bad habit. Do not expect a change to happen immediately. Most bad habits take several weeks, if not longer, to change or eliminate. Please stay strong, it's worth it!



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Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

Posted in Associate Membership, Business, Land Surveying Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments on “Top 6 Business Mistakes Made by Professional Land Surveyors
  1. You’re right on target with the mistakes you list. At one time or another, we’re all guilty of making them, intentionally or not. Of the mistakes on your list, some are business mistakes, which hurt us individually, but others are professional mistakes, which hurt us all. I do believe – I know – there are those out there who make a conscious decision to make those “mistakes”. As such, they cease to be mistakes and become Acts of Un-professionalism.

    In past months, I’ve become aware of many surveyors who have intentionally make some of these “mistakes”. Due to the economy, many surveyors have left their places of employment (by choice, or other) and decided to go out on their own. In order to get business for their new start-up, many of them cut those corners, low-ball their bids, and throw their professionalism out the window by whoring themselves out to get the job at all costs. They get work, but the costs are farther reaching than the the beginning of the next project. One person who low-balls a project is an anomaly, when others begin to do it, it justifies the act and that act becomes expected. These unprofessional acts reflect on us all as professionals. They will be remembered for a long time, and when the economy picks back up (it will) the cheap quotes and low-ball pricing will be still be expected of all of us.

    As the President of the local Chapter of the California Land Surveyor’s Association, I hear much about these “mistakes” and “acts” in my area, and it’s been a topic of discussion for months at our meetings. We even had one local unlicensed individual advertise survey services on Craigslist: Lot surveys for $400 and ALTAs for $1000! Those who act unprofessionally to get the next project, rarely, if ever, attend our meetings. Or read trade magazines or blogs either. We can only hope that these people realize what it means to be a professional before there’s no more profession.

    – Kevin Nehring, PLS

  2. Roger W. Hart says:

    I tend to fall into Number 1 myself. It’s easy to think, hey I’ve got a lot of experience in that area, this is similar to work I’ve previously done there, and just rattle of a fee without taking the time to really evaluate the work involved. I’m working on that.

  3. Profile photo of admin admin says:

    I agree with Kevin Nehring that these mistakes can be both business and professional blunders. What I’ve seen, is when these mistakes become commonplace and companies (and professionals individually) become numb to these issues and bad habits, not only do their businesses suffer, but their (un) professional work suffers, too.

    And in case I wasn’t clear enough, as Roger Hart alludes to, to some extent and at certain times I’ve made some of these mistakes, also. Unfortunately, the best learning for me sometimes has been the school of hard knocks. While I want to help everyone learn from my mistakes please note that I am far from perfect and have made many mistakes in business. What I am good at, however, is learning from my mistakes and trying harder each and every day.

    Oftentimes, you have to stop and really analyze what your doing to see your mistakes and change your behavior. Other times it hits you square in the face like being whacked by a 2×4.

    One suggestion I have is to schedule “thinking time” into your weekly, if not daily, routine. Stop, think, learn and change what’s not working.

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