· gospel according to dan · 4 min read

Surveyors don't charge enough!

If your customers are not complaining, you're not charging enough. How to not feel bad about making a good profit.
Photo by Jp Valery / Unsplash
💡The following is an excerpt from Dan Beardslee’s “The Management Handbook for Land Surveyors”.

Rule No. 1: If your customers are not complaining, you’re not charging enough.

How often have you given someone an estimate and have them say, “That sounds fair, when can you get started?” If you’re like me you get this uneasy feeling that something was left on the table. There is no moral, ethical, or rational reason for charging less than the product is worth.

Let’s say, for instance, that you are surveying the boundaries of a lakefront home valued at a million dollars. Let’s further assume that you have surveyed lots of property in the area and have good control and the survey will really be pretty easy. Does that make it worth less? Everyone would agree that it’s not. So why do we typically charge as if it were? We almost all do it because we fear that someone else will if we don’t. But that doesn’t make sense.

Remember that no one wants to hire a surveyor, just like no one wants to hire a dentist or a lawyer – we’re just a necessary evil. In property boundary surveying we are nothing more than an insurer. We are paid to accept liability, and nothing more. If folks knew where their property boundaries were, they could set monuments themselves.

We are, in fact, a single premium, lifetime (of the surveyor), unlimited liability insurer. That sounds like it should be worth something doesn’t it? And it sounds even more valuable for a valuable piece of realty. And of course it is. So charge for it.

One of the most common themes I see on discussion groups among surveyors is the concept of charging a percentage of the value of the property, much as one would expect to be charged by a realtor, a title insurance company, or a casualty insurer. Maybe someday that will happen, but that’s a way down the road.

For now, I see have no better way of testing the market than to make sure that our clients squirm when they hear the price. Sure, some of them complain whatever the price, but I’m talking in overall terms. Watch how your clients react to your pricing and make sure that a good number of them complain. Sure, you’ll lose a few clients, but you will anyway, and it’s worth it to get an adequate fee. How else can you test the market?Remember, it is impossible to charge too much. If a client accepts your price, it must be worth it.

Make your customers complain - it won’t hurt them, and it will help you.

How to not feel bad about making a good profit.

After reading this Beardslee rule, I realized how many different businesses have this exact problem. I think this is what happens when any skilled technician starts their own business after spending years trying to prove themselves working for someone else.

Consider this: when we were employees, our sense of value and accomplishment was tied to how quickly we could complete a job. Our egos are all wrapped up in this. We knew if we worked hard and got a job done under budget, management would be happy and our worth would be realized. Finally, someone would recognize how good I am at this!

Here’s the problem: When we go out on our own, we haven’t changed our perspective about what value we are providing, all that’s different is instead of selling our labour to the old company we are now selling it to a client and hopefully we’ll get a larger cut of the rates.

Stop selling your hours! What you are selling might be totally different than you think it is. You are not selling hours to do a survey, you are allowing a real-estate transaction or construction project to continue. If you think surveys have already been commoditized, maybe you are selling a great customer experience, or a turnaround time of a week instead of a month.

Ask yourself: Who benefits from you charging an hourly rate instead of a lump-sum for a job? Who benefits from that expensive new piece of equipment you bought to let you complete a job faster? If the answer is ‘not you’, something has gone wrong and you’re back to that scared little employee trying to impress someone and feed your ego, instead of building a profitable business that delivers value to your customers and provides wealth to the profession.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Mark Taylor from Extreme Aerial Productions, from Episode 119 of The Geoholics Podcast:

Don’t judge me on the time it takes me to acquire the data, judge me on the quality of the data I deliver.

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