The Business of Surveying: Is Your Survey Practice Planning for Success?

While surveyors are licensed by each state to protect public health, safety, and welfare, in order to be in business a private practice surveying firm must also turn a profit.

The financial success of a firm does not come easily or naturally. It takes planning and execution.

There are several plans a successful surveyor firm should have. Such plans are essential to both a start-up, as well as an established enterprise. These include a business plan, strategic plan, marketing plan, and a succession/ownership transition plan. Regrettably, many surveyors don’t have them.

In the coming months, I’ll discuss the need for and content of each plan in more detail.

To start, here are two of my favorite “planning” quotes:

“Plan for the future, because that is where you are going to spend the rest of your life.”
—Mark Twain.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
—Benjamin Franklin

These pithy quotes capture the importance of business planning.

The aforementioned plans can be separate and individual, or combined into one document. The former may be preferable as each can be used for different purposes. For example, a business plan is useful as a stand-alone document as it is often required by a bank when applying for a business loan. While business, strategic, and marketing plans should be collaborative efforts, a business owner may wish to keep a succession plan more confidential.

These plans are not etched in stone. They are guides, not hardened rules. They should be periodically reviewed and updated as necessary. They should provide guiding principles to help navigate a firm and prevent lurching from one idea du jour to another on an ad hoc basis.

Throughout my career, I have had the honor of serving as Executive Director of several surveying and engineering related associations. One of my first tasks upon becoming the chief executive of each was to convene a strategic planning session with the organization’s leadership. My facilitation and drafting resulted in the adopted strategic plan of the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Moreover, I’ve also had the privilege of serving as an outside consultant and facilitator to numerous firms. My knowledge of the profession, combined with my independence of any single firm, has permitted me to provide informed, yet objective, assistance to my clients with their planning efforts.

Some planning charettes involve all members of a firm, or at least selected key staff. Rather than being expensive and time consuming, an outside facilitator can help a firm stay focused and complete the process efficiently.

Planning should come easily to surveyors. After all, a survey is a plan. The survey you provide is used by your client to plan future activities, be it design and construction, resources development, environmental protection, sale of real property, or many other applications and activities. The elements of business planning are as important to a surveying firm as a survey is to your clients.

A discussion of these planning elements will be presented in this column in the upcoming editions of The American Surveyor.