Michael Connolly is the owner of Western Survey based in Dubbo NSW.
After graduating from the University of Newcastle in 2007, Michael worked for a number of survey practices in the Dubbo region while securing his registration and learning his trade.
Despite the presence of a large number of competing businesses in the Dubbo market, Michael believed that he could offer something new and different, and in 2018 he established Western Survey.
We asked Michael to talk about some of the challenges he faced in starting his own business.
Michael said, ‘as an employee in a business, you spend most of your time doing field work and you’re not exposed to business development, client management and business administration. It’s not until you start your own business that you realise how time consuming these things are, and of course, you’re only earning when you’re doing field work.’
‘Finding business is tough and involved a lot of cold calling. Not everyone is comfortable with cold calling but it was the only way to build contacts and find work’. Michael noted that, ‘the first 2 or 3 months were difficult and it took 9 or 10 months to be working regularly and get a buffer’. Michael said, ‘timing of jobs never seems to work in your favour! You spend a lot of time quoting for jobs that are often some time off’.
In the early days, cash planning was critical. Michael said ‘apart from the initial purchases of equipment and kit, there are not a lot of business outgoings, but you still have to support yourself through the process’ and added ‘you need to carefully manage payment terms and standard terms, such as 30-days from the end of the month in which the invoice was submitted – from government and corporate clients can be very onerous for start-ups’
In terms of equipment set up, Michael noted ‘there’s not a lot of decent second-hand equipment available’ so he purchased new Topcon equipment from Position Partners. His decision was principally driven by the integration of Topcon hardware and MAGNET software, and the workflow efficiencies and productivity gains that offered him.
Michael commented that ‘being in regional Australia makes service a challenge. I either have to drive the equipment to Sydney which is costly or I have to freight it which is time consuming’ and added, ‘it doesn’t need much maintenance, but worst-case, I could be without equipment for a week’.
One of the major challenges for Michael was calculating charge-out rates, saying ‘at first you’re looking at what other people in the industry are charging and fitting-in, but until you understand your hard costs – vehicles, licenses, insurance and your costs of business development, field work, office work and administration, you’ll always be basing your fees on someone else’s business model’. Michael added ‘You have to quickly learn to be very efficient with your time – you have to build job templates, prepare standardised documents and reports and be really good at just getting things done. You have to look for efficiencies everywhere, and the better you are at finding them, the more control you have over costs and ultimately, your income’.
Looking back, Michael said ‘the first 12-months were tough but overall it was the right decision. I’m happy I’ve done it and I’m looking forward to the future with confidence and enthusiasm’.
Position Partners is committed to supporting start-up survey business in Australia. Our charge-rate calculator helps you to factor in the costs of running a business and how to optimise your hourly rate for your company, not someone else’s. We also offer the industry’s first fixed-price survey instrument solution, covering all your equipment and maintenance costs over a 3-year term to eliminate surprise costs and de-risk your business. If you need more information about how Position Partners can support your start-up journey, please call your local State Manager on 1300 867 266.