Hello!

I am interested in possibly starting up my own private land surveying business. I was just looking for some information and/or tips from some people that have done this and been through it themselves. With the amount of money needed to get into the business, i would hate to start off wrong. Some questions i would have are:

How much money would I be looking at to buy all the equipment and to get my business going?

How do I begin to determine what a person should charge when running a business to make a profit and cover the bills that go along with the business?

What all equipment would a person have to have to be effective and competitive in this business?

Any information would be appreciated!!

Thanks
Colby

 

This Content Originally Published by a land surveyor to Land Surveyors United Network

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Reply by Deward Karl Bowles on October 13, 2011 at 10:34am

Colby

It is hard to give you answers because you are not being specific enough about your proposed business details. 

 

Generally you can figure a field crew will run about 60 to 70 thousand dollars to outfit if you buy new equipment. It could go higher depending on what type of equipment you wish to deploy. A robotic total station could drive the cost up higher and if you add in a GPS setup, digital level, 4 wheel drive truck and other state of the art tools it could go even higher than that. 

 

If you buy a used truck and used equipment you can dig up on ebay, craigslist or a pawn shop you may be able to significantly drive the initial investment cost down.

 

My business model operates OK if a field crew can generate at least 1000 dollars a day in revenue. This model works for me and is based on running at least 2 field crews generating 1000 dollars a day apiece. It would depend however on your specific overhead costs like the rental of your office, fuel costs, employee pay rates for the region you are located in.

 

The type of equipment you need is based on the type of service and product you are offering and what kind of business you generally get. GPS equipment for example in the heart of a big city or in a forest is not really that useful unless you plan your use of this type of equipment well. Often however there is not much you can do with it in those environments. A robotic total station may not be a particularly good idea in a big city or suburban setting because of theft issues. You can't save money by eliminating a rodman by getting a robot when you have to hire somebody extra to watch the robot all the time to make sure it does not get stolen. 

 

Office equipment and software are another issue entirely. You can get by with a variety of different configurations but generally you want to stick with software and hardware that can be translated into future configurations. This means being careful about buying something like Autocad for example that seems to issue a new version every year and sometimes the new versions are not compatible with the old versions. Same thing for your cogo software and computer/plotter hardware. 

 

Generally I would recommend that you should try to stay on the edge of the technology when it comes to field/office equipment and software.

 

As far as how to build a long lasting professional business you must make integrity and professionalism the number one priority. Your reputation will grow and your customer base expand as long as you provide honest, accurate, reliable and researched opinions. If you do not engage in good professional ethics then you will have somebody like me breathing down your neck all the time trying to recover money from you for your mistakes or impropriety. 

 

Good luck.

 

 

Reply by Colby Jensen on October 13, 2011 at 6:11pm

Thanks for the information... it really does help. I would probably start with simple property surveys on the side and moving up from there if that works out well.

 

What computer softwares do you use personally? Are they easily to learn because I am only familiar aith Autocad?

I would not purchase a GPS as thats too much money for what I plan to start out doing. What would be your suggestions for equipment as far as property/lots/plats surveying? Would I need to have a robotics?

 

Thanks for any information once again!

Reply by Scott D. Warner, PLS on October 13, 2011 at 7:34pm

Colby, great questions!  Karl, great answers! 

Unless you have a ton of money, most survey companies start out with one guy - You - or in a partnership with a civil engineer.  I know plenty of survey companies which are a company of one person, a GPS setup, and a robotic total station.  This means that you are the secretary, the field crew, the president, the marketing department, the customer relations department and the accountant.  Without employees, you are an entirely different financial entity than with them.  Consider the fact that a robotic total station may need insurance, but not other benefits or burdens like workers compensation, FICA, professional development, etc.  This is not to dissuade anybody from hiring a good employee to help relieve some of the burden of day-to-day business responsibilities.  What if you were injured or sick?  Where would your clients go?  Perhaps a part time employee / protege would be in order.  What do you think?

Reply by Colby Jensen on October 13, 2011 at 7:48pm

Thanks for your information Scott!

Thats what I would plan on doing is starting off on my own and going from there. What else do you think I would need besides a Robotic total station and GPS? What kind of computer softwares would you recommend? Do I absolutely need a GPS or could I get by with just a robotic total station? I am still in school and graduate in May but am exploring my options and do plan to start a business at some point rather its sooner or later. What would your opinion be on start up costs for a single man (myself) business?

Thanks for everyones opinions and information!

Reply by Scott D. Warner, PLS on October 14, 2011 at 5:52pm

Colby, the absolute necessity of a GPS system depends on your market.  Will you be surveying exclusively in an urban environment on small tracts of land where tall buildings and traffic can actually impede GPS by blocking satellites and introducing a large amount of multi-path interference?  Then maybe you could get along without a GPS system for long enough to build your operating capital up enough to more easily afford one.  However, if you plan on working in almost any other market, it is my opinion that you will need the GPS system to be competitive, since it is a real time saver.  What will your business model include as far as a targeted market?

Reply by Colby Jensen on October 14, 2011 at 8:10pm
Scott, I am not sure what my business model would be yet. I am gathering information and opinions on how to start it up and build from there. I would like to do property surveys and creating topographic maps. Things of that nature. I would probably be a mix of rural and urban work. I am not sure how to start and what I would have to purchase to get going... it is a few months away yet and so I'm just trying to do my research now.
Reply by Keith Keppler, R.P.L.S. on October 25, 2011 at 5:12pm

Colby, you can always decide to rent a GPS unit if you land a job that is too big to handle with a robot. Once you set up your control and gather any other information with the GPS that is easily accessible, turn it back in and finish out with the robot. Just factor the cost into your proposal. My company owns a GPS unit now, but I have done the rental deal in the past, it is a viable option.

The best drafting software for me is AutoCAD only because this is what I've "grown up" with in this profession. I have also used TraversePC and do like what it brings to the table, but it is difficult to remove yourself from the ACAD mindset and I just wind up getting frustrated not being able to navigate through it fast enough. The cost, however, is significantly different. ACAD is absolutely out of their minds charging something like $7500 a seat for Civil3D, don't quote me on that, and TraversePC runs at most $2000 for the full blown version and always are running sales for 1/2 price and it does everything ACAD can do.

I am not in the ownership role at this present time, but I run a surveying department for a small firm that has decreased in size from 3 crews and a full office staff, to just myself, a civil engineer, and a secretary. By being a one man gang, the most important advice that I can give to you is to allot time to market yourself whether it be by social media or door to door, so to speak, etc. You will need avenues to get your name out there then, like Deward posted earlier, let your work speak for itself. 

Reply by Scott D. Warner, PLS on October 25, 2011 at 6:45pm

Keith, I'm glad you said it. Rent, or rent-to-own, are very good options and in my experience the first GPS system in any company I have worked for has been on a rent-to- own contract.  You will probably get the best customer service and technical support this way because the company really, really, really wants you to buy it.  Then you become loyal to the brand and future upgrades or promotions put you in their pocket.  This benefits both the user (you) and the vendor and the manufacturer in almost perfect harmony until the warranty on the equipment ends or there is no support available for the equipment, unless you are lucky enough (as you are) to be a member of Land Surveyors United, where we as a worldwide group of users have similar problems with older equipment and get answers on repairs, technical difficulties, etc., on equipment or software that is no longer supported by a manufacturer.  

Reply by Colby Jensen on October 25, 2011 at 10:12pm

I have been taught only AutoCAD so I am probably in the same position as you on that Keith. Renting a unit has never crossed my mind until you mentioned it. That seems like the way to go until the business can get up and going good. The hardest part that I think I will have is getting work at first. Also, deciding how to go about charging and how much I need to charge to make a profit. You guys have given me very good ideas and tips that I would have not thought of myself and I really do appreciate it. Thanks!

Reply by Keith Keppler, R.P.L.S. on October 26, 2011 at 9:04pm

In order to successfully price your surveys, you must know your competition. What market you will be in, such as title surveys. Call around to some of your competitors to see what they are charging for the same service. I have had many of those "just pricing" calls over the years and there is nothing wrong with it. When you have no idea where to start, they are your best bet to get a feel of what the market is doing in your area. Choose a few companies that are reputable and not considered a fly by night. Then decide what price is best for you. Take in consideration your operating cost and percentage of profit you would like to see out of each survey. Look at other companies websites. Some do post a generic price sheet on their services. Don't be afraid to be bold in how you find out information.

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