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!!



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


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.



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