Question for all solo operatorsPosted by Solo Adventurer on August 2, 2019 at 6:28 pm
I am licensed in several states with 15+ years of experience. I am currently working as a Project Manager with a large national firm with minimal stress and a six figure salary. While this seems ideal, i find myself staring out my office window daydreaming about going solo.
Am i crazy to leave a 40-50 hour work week for the trials and tribulations of running my own outfit?
For you guys that have been successful as a solo outfit, would you recommend a relative youngster give it a go? I think i’ve got a pretty good network of connections that could give me some inroad to landing work and the market i am in seems hot. For instance, we had an older gentlemen approach one of my crew chiefs in a hotel lobby practically begging him to perform a small boundary survey as everyone else he tried was booked out 6 months.
- 54 Replies
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 6:45 pm
If it’s the stress you are looking for I can offer 5 figures and plenty of stress. ???? ???? ????
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 6:51 pm
I find myself in the same position. I’m relatively young, working with a good company, yet I feel insecure about going solo for some reason.
Perhaps I should start networking more efficiently. You probably know this, but this is the only piece of advice I can give.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 6:52 pm
I know it is different based upon what you want to survey and where you are and if you already have clients of your own that support and follow you where ever you work.
I’ve been solo for 30+yrs and I’ve never been able to do all the surveys that people wanted me to do for them.
They either wait or someone else will call wanting something done.
The advantage of being solo is that you decide what to do every day and are not under somebody else giving you a folder to take care of or send you somewhere at a minute’s notice.
You must do what you want to make yourself happy.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 7:31 pm
Going solo is a big decision.
I would suggest 4 prerequisites:
-enough experience to be competent in the service you provide, and more importantly, experienced enough to know when you don??t have enough knowledge in a particular niche.
-A reasonable expectation of the work you can get from the connections you know.
-a good work ethic to complete projects on your own.
-Most importantly, money. Do you have enough capital backing for at least 1 year?
Going solo was the best decision I ever made in my career. It made me love my job again.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 7:33 pm
If you make over 100K then that just makes it easier to eliminate you when the work gets slow. I started my business out of necessity in 2009, I stay hungry. I ll be eating what I kill until they put me in the ground. If you want to work for yourself then there is not a better time than two years ago, hurry up.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 7:40 pm
Good point on the startup capital. While i don’t have a years worth sitting in my savings, i’ve had some preliminary discussions with a local bank regarding a startup loan. When you ventured solo, is that the route you took or did you self finance?
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 7:44 pm
I did a combination of saved money and secured credit in the form of a HLOC on my house as well as a great deal on new equipment financing.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 7:47 pm
I grow closer to making the jump everyday. My big concern and my wife’s is i am setting myself up for a pay cut. She is a stay at home mom and my income is our only support for our two boys.
Its an exciting notion to work for myself but terrifying at the same time, i don’t want to do anything that will negatively affect my family’s future.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 8:09 pm
“She is a stay at home mom and my income is our only support for our two boys.”
To much risk there, what happens if you break an ankle in the first year? no income for your family
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 8:24 pm
Those are definitely items to consider. My wife can cover the mortgage with her income and she provides me the medical insurance.
You are definitely in a higher risk situation.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 8:40 pm
The biggest difference is you will be running the business. If you don’t run it well you won’t make much $$. Working for a poorly run company sucks. I wish I was a good at business as I think I am at surveying.
You should get satisfaction from being the business owner and you may get more or less stress, depending on your success and your attitude.
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 9:03 pm
i spent a dozen years running big projects and big jobs at a big engineering/design company. then i quit and spent a few years building up a department in smaller civil company. met tons of people and made tons of connections over two decades.
been well and truly solo for 18 months now. and i didn’t start with any reserves. well- a little, but certainly not a year’s worth. borrowed 60K, bought the gear, and got after it (i find debt to be a great motivator). all i did was send out a couple emails to the diaspora of former coworkers and clients, many of whom have also moved on to different things in the meanwhile.
i’m not a gambling kind of guy in life. but if i’ll bet on anything, it’s myself. i knew all i had to do was start working and it would feed itself. and has it ever. to the point where i’m running a little threadbare right now and am in need of a few days off. about 6 months ago i had to face the music regarding my lackadasical bookkeeping habits (let’s just say the IRS sent me a box of chocolates as a thank you gift…), and the things that constantly cause me headaches are the non-survey parts of running the deal. and probably my weakness when it comes to saying “no” and/or turning down work.
yes- i work all kinds of hours. yes- i have to do all kinds of things i’d rather a secretary or a runner or a helper could do. yes- it can be stressful.
BUT- i dictate my schedule (yes, girls, dad can pick you up from school today). i dictate my attire and my haircut how much b.s. i want to take off of somebody just because “he’s a good client.” (hint: good clients don’t get in the habit of shoveling you under with it.) and one of the nicest BUTs- because i’m working from home and don’t have any payroll (i do sub out a buddy’s crew for help here and there), my overhead is like a 20th of what it was at the last place. in other words- my income over the last 18 months surpasses anything i’d personally made in any THREE years combined previously.
ed: how’d i forget?: single best part of it, though, is being a SURVEYOR. every last thing i send out the door is the result of MY work. just this week i got hired to revisit a title survey i did a decade ago at the big company. big shock when i walked up on all the pipes and monuments the crew supposedly couldn’t find way back when. somewhat relieved to find that my 10-year old calcs were almost right on the money, but conversely feel like an ass for having documents out there calling for set corners.
the sun is shining and i’m shoveling hay. as a matter of fact, i was just about to close quickbooks after doing today’s invoicing.
you probably have a decent idea of what your peers and clients think of you. question is: do you believe them?
- MemberAugust 2, 2019 at 11:41 pm
If you’re making a 6 figure salary in a secure job man I don’t know.
You are at a cross roads and I can offer a few suggestions. If you are considering making the jump go slow and begin writing down every single idea or random thought that pops in your head. You will fill up several sheets with those and don’t forget supplies, nails, flagging rebar, stakes, etc.. you are going to require a lot of stuff.
Don’t buy anything until you have a business incorporated. Don’t go out on your own unless you have all the supplies and equipment and a good work space. Also, recall that as far as websites go it will take a year or two for your website to work it’s way through the search engines and consistently show up.
Also you company name should be intuitive.
It is hard work and not for the faint of heart but I don’t play well with others.
- MemberAugust 3, 2019 at 5:09 am
Yup, I’ll second that.
There are two ways to start a survey business: lease all your equipment and have monthly payments forever or buy used stuff for cash and carry no debt. I did the latter. There’s a good argument for both methods.
No stress and six figure salary? Which means you get along with your boss and the people around you? I’d stay. Solo is for guys who don’t get along with authority, Like me, and some others around here.
- MemberAugust 3, 2019 at 12:25 pm
well, i reckon if i was a better bookkeeper i could go and change the setting on that or something. truth is all but about 500 bucks of that is at like 33 days, and it’s divided between two of the most solid clients one could want- utility companies with really slow AP.
which raises a good point- the first 6 months or so i did find myself worrying a bit about when the money was going to show up. i was working like crazy and knew my clients and had confidence it was coming, but it got a little nerve wracking at times. but having confidence in your clients would be another thing to consider when trying to decide to go solo or not. 98% of my work is split among 3 main groups- all of whom happen to be about as reliable for paying their bills as you’ll get.
that 500 bucks i mentioned- that’s about the extent of bad debt i have so far. and what is it from? house lot survey done as a favor for a friend of a friend. (which i knew better than to say “yes” to before i was even asked).
and i get that i’m both fortunate to find myself in the scenario i’ve described, and also that not everyone would be comfortable waiting on the cash to come in. but i know my clients, and i know i’ll get paid, and in some ways it seems nicer when a big check shows up in the mail a month or 6 weeks down the line- almost feels like a bonus when you’re 6 or 8 jobs down the line and come back to a big check in the mailbox.
- MemberAugust 3, 2019 at 1:49 pm
You say 15 years experience and licensed in several states. You do not say if you have a degree in surveying or not. Unless you start your own business out of necessity for a job, you should not leave a job to start on your own without a years salary in the bank. You don’t spend that money on equipment. I would assume you have a fixed job location and the commute is not unreasonable. Being solo means you get to spend a lot of your new time driving to places you have never been, farther from home. Having survey and project manager experience does not mean you have business running experience.
Consider getting a survey degree if you don’t already have one as well as taking business courses at a community college before you make the jump. Is your wife in agreement and is she ready to help if necessary? Can she, will she, handle a rod, handle a phone, do the paperwork? Consider education for her if she is.
I suggest you study what it takes to go solo, and acquire enough information in your heads and low cost, low maintenance equipment in your garage that you could do a job tomorrow if it becomes necessary, but do not make it necessary. You may never have much need for that minimal equipment, but it is there if and when what you use regularly is not working.
When I decided to go from full time engineering to surveying 20 years ago I figured it would cost me $50,000. Well it cost over $100,000 but I would not turn back and do not regret it. I had two children, both out of college I thought ( one extra year’s tuition), but he is now a PE, so no regrets there.
Paul in PA
- MemberAugust 3, 2019 at 4:52 pm
Many good thoughts here, but I disagree about the degree. If you’re mid-career and already a competent licensed professional, I don’t think it would benefit you much at this point (and the opportunity cost makes it prohibitive). I say this as a graduate of Penn State’s 4-year program, which I think is an excellent way to enter the profession.
- MemberAugust 3, 2019 at 10:14 pm
In your current situation you know when and how much money will appear in your next paycheck. You must abandon that luxury, even if the annual net income is doubled. As has been mentioned, many of your best clients are slow to pay but definitely pay what is due. Having a significant fraction of your new income from such clients is hard to swallow when you have a monthly mortgage payment due tomorrow and you don’t have enough on hand. Watching the mailbox and making rapid deposits can take away from your income-producing time. This gets really fun when you have six such big payments each month on different dates. Been there, done that.
There is no such thing as sick time, vacation time, bereavement time and Holiday pay. Only billable time results in pay. And, sometimes that pay never comes no matter the amount of extra time you put into attempting to collect. You can’t get blood out of a turnip, and the world is loaded with turnips. Some turnips have names ending in LLC, for example.
Being able to have the flexibility to attend to various domestic and family chores is wonderful. Being expected to ALWAYS be the one to handle such chores is not so wonderful. I spent a decade as a single dad with three school-aged children.
You must be very self-controlled, in several ways. One, you must be able to make yourself do work even when nothing is stopping you from procrastinating. When you are on a job site you have no one else to use as an excuse for any faults that are being pointed out to you by a less than content client. When some little piss ant behind a desk somewhere is holding up your ability to get a job done you discover how little power you really have…….and the mortgage payment happens tomorrow! It is easy to make great decisions when everything is going your way. There will be days when you can not seem to make any good decisions on any subject. You are the only person who can turn things around.
You now must be the expert in all things, from taxes, insurance and record keeping to investments in software, equipment and extra hands, as needed.
- MemberAugust 3, 2019 at 10:35 pm
Do it. Jump. Go!
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