A Pocket Guide to Business for Engineers and Surveyors

Reading A Pocket Guide to Business for Engineers and Surveyors was a real pleasure for me, not only because the book is well written but also because I am passionate about this topic.

I began my surveying career as the low man on a surveying crew; I knew absolutely nothing about surveying and had never been exposed to it. In fact, the night before my job interview I looked up the topic in an encyclopedia to see what I was applying for. As I worked and learned, I fell in love with surveying. I spent my lunch hour practicing setting up a total station and holding plumb bobs with peanut prisms. I became involved with the local surveyors’ society chapter and listened to the veteran surveyors tell their stories about the old days and incredible challenges they had faced.

Most of the training I received and the college classes I began taking were focused on the technical aspect of surveying. However, I watched senior surveyors in my company spend much of their time dealing with personnel issues, writing proposals and project budgets, creating and managing project schedules, following up on invoice collections, and tracking department profitability. Wow, what a real eye opener! Much of a surveyor’s time is spent managing business, not just surveying.

If your bookshelf looks like mine, you may have acquired many of your books when you were taking classes and preparing for licensure exams. These books focus on technical topics, calculations, and applicable state laws and standards. Bergeron has managed to cover just about every other topic relevant to surveyors and engineers in this one reference book that is smaller than the average textbook.

H. Edmund Bergeron is a professional engineer and also a licensed land surveyor in New Hampshire. He holds a master’s degree in business and is the president of H.E. Bergeron Engineers, Inc. He is also a staff member of the University of New Hampshire. Bergeron draws upon his years of experience to present his information in a practical manner. The book’s title lets us know that it is a reference book to be used to handle situations as they occur. While this is correct, the style of the book and arrangement of the chapters flow well enough to be read from beginning to end.

Bergeron starts with professionalism, defining what it means to be a professional and how that differs from being a non-professional. He also discusses the dual-career path. Some surveyors love the technical aspect of surveying and believe that day-to-day business tasks should be handled by someone else. Just because someone excels technically does not mean he or she will excel at management. By the same standard, someone very good at managing projects, schedules, clients, work scope, and invoicing may not possess the skills needed to produce deliverables. Also discussed is the question of going into business for yourself or climbing the corporate ladder, and Bergeron explains several different business structures.

I should probably read the second chapter several times—it deals with self management. In fact, this is one area of our professional lives that I believe most of us would love to improve upon. The chapter starts with a great quote from Sally McGhee, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Theories of why we are who we are, hierarchy of needs, motivators, and management styles are discussed. This sets the stage for time management, setting goals, and productivity.

Chapter 3 deals with the many forms of communication. Some people are drawn to surveying and other technically based professions because they prefer dealing with numbers and data rather than with people. I firmly believe many problems we encounter could be avoided with better communication. This book discusses many types of communication, including presentations, reports records, memos, meetings, emails, reviews, work scopes, and agreements. This chapter, as well as many others throughout the book, provides examples of forms, documents, and flow charts to illustrate the principles and concepts described, and it does a great job relating the material to useful application.

The fourth chapter covers leadership, managing, and motivating. Theories of human behavior are revisited as they apply to leading and motivating others.

The fifth chapter focuses on managing projects, examining the project lifecycle in detail from beginning to end. The author tackles the problem of finding yourself in a management position when you lack business skills and reminds the reader that it is unprofessional to recognize a shortcoming but do nothing to correct it.

Whereas Chapters 1 through 5 deal with management of ourselves, our projects, and our personnel, Chapter 6 looks at professional ethics. Bergeron discusses examples of ethical and unethical behavior as well as different hypothetical situations to define professional ethics, values, and obligations to our clients, to society, and to ourselves. Mentoring is discussed at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 7 is excellent for surveyors who are opening their own businesses, with accounting and financial analysis as the focus. The author does a great job of covering various bookkeeping methods, reports, and statements. By the end of the chapter you may not be an accounting expert, but you should have a better understanding of how various aspects of accounting work together to manage and measure the financial health of your company and help you make better decisions for your company’s future.

The eighth chapter covers legal issues and begins with an anonymous quote: “You’re not a professional until you’ve been sued.” Although the quote is funny, few of us enjoy dealing with legal matters. Yet we must understand them if we are to protect ourselves and our firms. This chapter provides an overview of many different legal situations and discusses how they affect our practice.

Chapter 9 discusses marketing. When the economy came to a screeching halt and took our seemingly endless flow of projects with it, many of us found ourselves scrambling to sharpen our marketing skills. Bergeron explores marketing from the surveyor’s and engineer’s perspective, including how to develop and implement a marketing plan, prepare presentations, and negotiate the agreement.

The final chapter deals with ownership transition. This topic is of least interest to me and I knew the least about it. By the end of the chapter I actually was very interested and had a better understanding of how decisions that we make when starting and running a business can have a big impact on transition options and success.

While this book is primarily intended for young professionals who have recently achieved licensure, I believe it belongs on the bookshelf of every practicing surveyor and engineer. Whenever we are faced with new challenges and decisions, a second, fresh perspective from someone who has been there helps us all, young and experienced alike. Refining our business and management skills will directly benefit us as individuals as well as help our profession move in the direction of greater sustained respect.

About the Author

  • J. Craig Brewer, PLS
    J. Craig Brewer, PLS
    J. Craig Brewer, PLS is owner of Brewer Land Surveying in Savannah, Georgia. He has over 15 years of experience and is a licensed professional surveyor in Georgia and South Carolina.

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