A small business is defined by the amount of “receipts” a year the business does and by the number of employees the business has. By these definitions all but the largest engineering firms in archaeology are small businesses. That being said, I’m truly running a small business. Not just one that’s small on paper.
Here are some of the lessons I learned last week and some of the things I had to deal with. I’m not complaining or making excuses, in case anyone thought I was. What I’m doing is just documenting my process so others can learn from my mistakes and successes.
Unless you own a truck already then you’re likely going to have to rent one. That’s not as bad as it sounds since the cost of the rental is included in the contract so the client is paying for it. From what I’ve seen companies charge the client similar daily rates for vehicles they own and that are paid for. My philosophy is that if the client is paying for it, whether it's owned or rented, why should I worry about upkeep and maintenance? Might as well just let the rental company pay for the upkeep and I can take out a new vehicle every time. That ensures that your client is not going to be paying for your crew to stand around while you try to fix your 20 yo truck that you got a "really good deal" on. Sounds like a good plan to me.
Four Wheel Drive
When getting a rental, make sure you are very specific as to what kind of vehicle you need. If it’s a pedestrian survey off a busy highway you might only need a sedan or an SUV. Save your money and get a fuel efficient car. Most of the time in the West we need 4WD vehicles because we’re always driving on back country gravel roads. I always turn on the 4WD when I’m on a gravel road because I feel the vehicle is more responsive and more stable with it turned on. Some people don’t do that because they feel that if they get stuck while the 4WD is on then they have nothing to turn on to get out of it. I feel that if you’re a good driver you won’t get stuck. Well, you're less likely to get stuck. I never have and I’ve driven thousands of miles of sketchy roads.
On my last project I asked for a 4WD vehicle just in case we needed it. The company asked if I’d take an SUV. I told them, sure, as long as it has 4WD. When I got there they had a Jeep Patriot waiting for me. It was a 2014 with 1,400 miles on it. Pretty nice. Well, the vehicle was not a 4WD. I was in a hurry, though, and I didn’t check. It almost got us in trouble on a couple of steep hills. Luckily, I know how to drive and we made it up. It was touch and go for a while, though.
Yeah. Reports. As a “small business” I’m responsible for the report template, the report content, the background information, the research design, NRHP recommendations, the management summary, the recommendations, the references cited, the graphics, and the printing. So, everything. I don’t mind, for sure, I just have to plan for that. If I get a couple projects in a row it can quickly get out of hand and I won’t have time to finish. Time management is very important.
So far I haven’t had to use a GIS consultant. I have access to at least 40 companies and people that just do GIS. Since I’ve only had small projects, though, I’ve tried to do the GIS myself. It’s only bit me in the ass once. The Lit Search project I did had way more GIS than I’d planned. Most of the time for that project was taken up creating maps. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get a map saved in QGIS and when I had to change one little thing I had to go back and recreate the entire map. It would have helped if I’d not made the mistakes in the first place, obviously, and if I’d learned how to save a completed map within the program.
An Army of One
What I’m getting at here is that I’m currently doing everything myself. In a way it’s very liberating. I have no bosses and no one to be responsible to except myself. That’s an amazing feeling. It’s also incredible terrifying. I have no one to help me and no one to bounce ideas off of. Well, that’s not true. Linked In has proven very helpful for asking questions.
I’m not above asking questions either. I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t know everything, despite what my over confident demeanor might suggest. In the words of the douche bag real estate agent in the movie American Beauty, “In order to be successful, one must project an image of success”. True story. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions from people that are willing to answer them.
Tell me about your small business mistakes and successes. We can all learn from each other.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!