Surveyors Report: Making the Most of the Recession

A 623Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

The Barnett Shale, the second largest producing onshore domestic natural gas field in the US, stretches over North Texas. It is still actively being discovered. Young and Associates Surveying and Mapping, LLC was formed in 2007 as the Barnett Shale was booming for natural gas exploration. As land surveyors who specialize in this niche market, we were in an optimal position to step in and step up.

With the combined experience of our team and a vast "geospatial file cabinet," which is our geo-database of oil and gas related surveying projects that have been completed over 25 years throughout the state of Texas, we positioned ourselves as The Urban Oil and Gas Surveying Company. Combining our surveying experience with Digital Mapping Services, the home of our GIS technologies, helped create for us a recipe for success. We help our clients save time, money and aggravation by providing them with usable and timely data. We are always looking for new business, as that is how we grow in addition to keeping the present client needs met. Using our skills in urban oil and gas has created opportunities in rural areas as we are also active in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.

As I reflect over the past couple of years, and see that we are making progress for the first time since 2008 as a company, both good and bad decisions have come into focus. During this time of economic recession, I’d like to share four main reasons why I feel Young and Associates is faring well throughout this downturn.

The investment and effort involved in building and daily maintenance of our company GIS base map has been one of the main keys to our success in the oil and gas survey market in Texas. Back in the late 1990s, Rene Garcia and I began creating an intelligent digital map (database) with survey grade GPS from the 25 years of oil and gas survey data on Texas State Plane Grid Coordinates that had been gathered from nearly 120 counties. At the time, a majority of the employees were opposed to spending money to map jobs that were already completed, but it just made sense to me for the value we would get from having a database of all of our survey projects at our fingertips on a computer screen.

It took several years to get the jobs into a database, and to scan all of the field notes, maps, plats, and link all of the data files and project folders to survey grade data points on a digital map. Today, the result of the legacy data is the base map for the perpetuation of repeatable earth addresses (State Plane Coordinates with metadata) for all survey projects as they are completed. We know where we have been, and as we take in new projects, we send our crews to the field with the best information in order to maximize survey success. The map and database grow every day.

Measure Progress Weekly
I used to think that because we were busy and our accounts receivable were healthy that we were making money. The problem was, we were spending it as fast as we were making it.

No matter how busy everyone is, take time to look at the data on a weekly basis, discuss it with your core leaders, and make sure you are moving forward as a team. As owner or manager, you must have timely information to make sure you are profitable. No profit, no business. Our geodatabase, which is the backbone of our GIS, allows us to provide data to clients and create more value and be more specific about timelines. Being able to track the progress of our surveys and the timeliness of the maps, plats, and documents we produce is crucial in the energy business. Time is money for our clients, and we need to be able to give them accurate completion schedules and detailed documentation on work done and time spent on each project. The database is fed daily with input ranging from time sheets to materials used by each crew, and all sorts of information that helps us know our true costs. The office work is updated daily by each person involved in each project. As each project moves forward, the database reflects reality and provides an excellent communication tool, both internally and for our clients. Why not just enter the data into a digital file format once, store, share, analyze, measure, update, and utilize?

Find Your Niche
Before we opened our doors, we looked at our strengths and focused on a market segment where we excel. We specialize in all types of energy-related surveying and GIS. We have a lot of experience doing well location staking, lease and boundary surveys, and we excel in all aspects of pipeline surveying. It’s hard work and our crews are tough. No matter the weather, the area, or the timeline, we continue to come through for our clients.

Hire Great People
Our company motto is, "When it gets too rough for everyone else, it gets just right for us." Build a team that can help your company over-deliver daily for the clients, and for each other, to keep team spirit high. We don’t want to have people on our payroll who are only there to collect a paycheck. People will make or break your company. Without the right people in the right place, you do not have a hope in the private business world. As a small business owner-entrepreneur, it’s hard not to hire all of your friends, relatives, and acquaintances when times are tough. But as the owner or department head, in order for your company to grow you must surround yourself with people that will help meet specific needs in your organization. My father taught me that when you hire the right people up front, things work out much better in the long run. Who are the stars in your company now? What traits and talents do they have? Keep them in mind while interviewing potential new hires. Will the new hire fit in? If 20 percent of the people do eighty percent of the work (as the rule says), then why not only hire the 20 percenters?

I’ve had the privilege of being a part of many great teams throughout my survey career. When we formed Young and Associates, we selected people who were willing to constantly learn and adapt to the needs of our clients. Continuous learning is a way of life in the field and office.

Realistic Optimism
Like everyone else, I feel the economic pain as a consumer, business owner, and surveyor. If there were a magic wand to wave to solve all our business problems we would all buy it, rent it, or borrow it. But we all know the reality is that there is not. There are a lot of very hard working creative surveyors and leaders in our profession that will not just survive the current recession, they will even thrive. What can you do to make the best decisions in these uncertain times? The only source that can really impact change in our lives or businesses is ourselves. To end, I’d like to share a quote I heard recently: "Any genius will be lost in any country without a map. Any common man will stay true to his course with a map in any country." Let’s do our best to share what has worked, avoid the repetition of things that do not work, and open our minds to better ways to get our clients’ needs met, while maintaining profits and upholding the honor and tradition of our profession. It is my hope that this information helps you find your own path to profitability in this new economy.

Author Note: I enjoy feedback! Please contact me with your comments and success stories at Also, check out my blog (www.robertlyoung. net) where Rene Garcia and I have posted videos and other information, including specific steps to create your own GIS to manage your business. There are two free
downloads, a database template, and PDF manual of text and screen shots that correlate with the videos. It is based on the ESRI ArcView GIS program, version 9.3.1, MS ACCESS database, and really does not matter, as the steps will and have worked for others in different software applications. ESRI provides a plethora of free base map data to download for free. If you take the plunge into this type of business model, the software you chose will be based on your market niche and related needs.

Robert Young is president and principal surveyor of Young and Associates Surveying and Mapping, and co-owner and Senior Vice President of Digital Mapping Services, LP, a GIS company. He is actively involved in the Texas Society of Professional Land Surveyors and regularly conducts courses for surveying and GIS applications.

A 623Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE