Communication during Pre-proposal Meetings

By Bill Beardslee, PLS, PE, PP

In journalism, the concept of the five w’s (who, what, where, when, why) is about research, information gathering, and reporting. Surveyors should use this tool in business to ensure you collect all the necessary data during the most important proposal-writing phase: the client interview.

The meeting or telephone conversation the surveyor has with a client should determine all the basic contract requirements for a proposal.  In addition to opening a direct and critical communication link, it will define the most important written part of a proposal: the scope.

In every seminar I have had the pleasure of providing for the great surveyors of this country, I ask for the class’s opinion on the most-important items in a proposal. The universal majority response is the scope. This usually leads to a discussion of scope creep, a topic on which I will elaborate in a future article.

Let me take a walk through the five w’s in a pre-proposal client discussion.


Having the correct spelling of a client’s name and his or her accurate address seems simple, but it’s often assumed in error.

An extremely important issue to discuss is ensuring that the person who will ultimately sign the proposal has the authority to do so.  This is very important with groups, such as homeowner associations or churches.

Also keep in mind that the builder with whom you have a long relationship  may not have the signature power for the corporation he represents.


Be sure that all necessary identifying characteristics of the property are known. Many properties have different street and mailing addresses, and many jurisdictions have similar or identical street names. Obtain as many identifiers as possible.


Discuss all necessary time frames and make sure you are comfortable that they are attainable. Now is the time to discuss that issue, not in the middle of a contract.
Not coming to terms on a proposal and losing a potential client is far less damaging to your firm than not meeting contract deadlines. Bad news travels fast.


Discuss the client’s need for the project.

  • Why are they doing what they are 
doing when they are doing it?
  • Are they having money issues?
  • Are they not pleased with a previous surveyor?
  • Is the project in response to a violation?

The answer to these questions will give you a better understanding of the client and the value of your services to them. It may even cause you to say, “No, thank you.”


Discuss the specific items you will include in the proposal: not only what is needed, but what might be needed.  When this item is completed, the scope for the proposal should be easily derived.

This is also the time to discuss the future elements of the project or its successors. It is an opportunity to secure an inroad to future projects without your competition even knowing of their existence.

A properly conducted client discussion is an opportunity to create a long, successful, and profitable relationship. Keep in mind that 80% of the complaints against surveyors to state boards across the nation are on business practices, most often for not meeting time schedules, not doing what was promised, and overcharging. Those complaints would never have existed if the surveyor had a thorough, honest, pre-proposal meeting with the client.

While this article concerns the client meeting and proposal preparation, it really is about the essential lines of communication, which must be maintained before, during, and after every project. If communication is always first and foremost in the concept of client satisfaction, your firm should enjoy a consistent—and growing—client base.


Bill Beardslee, PLS, PE, PP is the past president of the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors and their 2006 Surveyor of the Year.

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