#232 More Companies, More Changes

This is my Day of Archaeology 2014 post. Click HERE to go to the DayofArch page and see hundreds of great posts about the day in the life of archaeologists across the globe.

First, a big thanks again to the organizers of this event! It’s a lot to put on something like this. Go and buy something from their store to support this for many years to come!

Welcome to my fourth Day of Archaeology post! Hard to believe this has been going on for four years now. Every year, so far, I’ve been at a different stage in my life. Nothing stays the same around here, ever! Here are my last posts: 1st year here and here2nd Year, and 3rd Year.


When I wrote my 2013 Day of Archaeology post my new CRM company was just seven months old. I had done a few projects, but, I was mostly focused on the arduous task of business development (BD). I’ve never been good at BD. It seems that no one actually teaches you how to do it. So, I never really learned the ins and outs. I do have some networking skills, which helps, but that’s not all BD is about.


I’ve got a few more contracts down, but, I seem to have put the CRM side of DIGTECH on the back burner. That’s not to say I would turn down a contract if I were approached, I just don’t have time to go seek them out right now. What I’m really focusing on is my other company, Field Tech Designs.


This is what I’ve been working on for much of today’s Day of Archaeology.


I’ve been subcontracted to do the excavation for a project in Lake County, CA and the fieldwork starts next week. It’s actually a pretty sweet gig. DIGTECH will do all the fieldwork, but, we aren’t doing any of the artifact analysis and report writing. While I do enjoy those phases of work, I don’t really have the time for it right now. So, this gets me out in the field, shovel in hand, and then allows me to get back to other tasks.

For the fieldwork, we’ll be using iPads rented from my other company, Field Tech Designs, to record the shovel tests and excavation units we’ll be digging. I’ve created custom forms for the shovel tests and spent a portion of today creating the excavation forms.

Working digitally will allow us to transmit the completed paperwork (should digital forms be called, electrowork? digiwork?) to the PI at his office 200 miles away every day. With cell service, we can transmit the forms as we finish them.


I’ve also spent some time coming up with the various pricing models we’re going to have for our tablet rental program. Over the last few months I’ve gotten the sense that some companies are a bit apprehensive about buying a fleet of tablets for their fieldwork. I don’t know if it’s the upfront cost of the tablets or the thought that they could easily break (which isn’t true). Either way, I thought that since they are used to renting things like Trimble GPS units anyway then a tablet rental would just make sense. Renting the tablets allows Field Tech Designs to assume the burden of keeping them maintained and updated while always giving the client the latest and greatest.


For the custom forms we are creating for our clients I always make a video detailing the use of the form and how to turn the digital data into a CSV file and then a Word Document. It’s pretty straight forward, but, if you’ve never done it there are a number of steps that just make more sense when you can see them.

Working on video editing this afternoon made me realize just how old my MacBook Pro is getting. I could really use an upgrade soon!


I spent some time thinking about, and taking notes on, some things we’re going to talk about in the podcast we’re recording on Saturday. The CRM Archaeology Podcast is up to episode 38 and we’re still going strong. We’ve released an episode every other Monday for the last year and a half and we never lack for things to talk about. That’s why I’ve come up with another idea…


I feel that the current podcast could really be split into a bunch of other shows. The shows would be essentially single topic shows that focus on really digging into whatever issue they are concerned with. I’m not going to go into too much detail right now, but, stay tuned for a lot more content about CRM Archaeology in the coming months.


The last thing I did today was some research for a new company. This new entity will have something to do with aerial drones but I’m not going to go into it right now. We’re in the research phase right now. Since the FAA here in the U.S. is still up in arms about using drones for commercial purposes, we have some time. I’m a licensed pilot, though, and that might go well for me if the regulations go the direction I think they are going to go based on some information I recently received from an FAA official here in Reno. Interesting times are ahead in the world of Drones.

So, working on tablets with Field Tech Designs, researching a new drone company, and trying to, sort of, find more work for DIGTECH so I can test out all my ideas…busy day. Unfortunately, nothing I did today directly made me any money. One thing you learn while you’re indulging your passions and chasing your dreams is that money isn’t always the reason to do things in life. If you keep doing what you love and work hard at it then the money will come.

Oh, I also turned my popular series of blog posts, the Shovelbums Guide, into a helpful guidebook for CRM Archaeologists at any level. The book was published by Left Coast Press in April and is called the, “Field Archaeologist’s Survival Guide: Getting a Job and Working in Cultural Resource Management”. You can find it on Amazon and at the Left Coast Website.

Enjoy the other posts for the 2014 Day of Archaeology!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

#230 - Bad Businessman

So, I might be just a bad businessman, or, I’m going to change the world. Either way, here are some thoughts on business and pricing in CRM and, really, everything.

There is a pretty good chance that DIGTECH is going to be merging with another company soon. We’re joining forces because the leadership of the other company are getting on in age and are looking to keep their legacy going. First, I really respect them for making this decision. There is no reason to let something you’ve built for the past 30+ years just die. That being said, there are some decisions that will have to be made.

DIGTECH Pricing Schedule

When I first started my company I was really stressing out over what to charge for my services. There are essentially four levels that need to be priced: Principal Investigator, Project Manager, Crew Chief, and Field Technician. The price you put on proposals is called the billable rate and it’s intended to cover all of your operating expenses (overhead) and is the source of your profit.

A number of companies I’ve worked for have a billable rate for PI that ranges from $85 to $150 per hour. I’ve seen an average for field technician of about $50-$60 per hour. Some companies charge more, some less. The rate is often decided by using a multiple of 2.0 to 3.0. For example, if you want to pay your field technicians $18 per hour, then multiply that by 2.5, for example, to get the billable rate ($45 in this example). Again, that rate should cover overhead and give you some profit at the same time.

Of course, I don’t really have much overhead. I’m completely digital and don’t have offices to pay for. So, do I use a multiplier that’s under 2, or, do I use a standard multiplier so I can stay up with everyone else and just make more money? That’s the big question, isn’t it?

Undercutting, or, Efficiency?

My big question is: what is the price point I can choose that pays my people well, gives the client a fair price, turns a profit, and is respectable? That last one is tricky. If your prices are too low you won’t be taken seriously; too high and you won’t win any projects.  The prices need to be somewhere in the middle.

If my prices are too low I could also be seen as undercutting by the competition. That’s a sore point with me too. Is it undercutting to work more efficiently by completely rethinking the entire business and how we do it? I don’t think so. If I’m paying my people well and growing the company while giving my clients a fair price then I’m happy. If other companies can’t compete with that then that’s not really my problem. Sounds harsh, but, times are changing and you either adapt and overcome or move out of the way.

Joint Venture Pricing

So, If I join forces with a company that’s been in business for 30+ years, what do we charge? Also, we’ll be working in both California and Nevada. Do multi-state companies have different pricing structures for different areas? You would think they do to remain competitive, but, they still have the same overhead to pay. Bringing in another, established, company will give me some of the experience I simply don’t have.

I’ve been building DIGTECH by the seat of my pants. In reality, I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to business development. I’ve simply never done it before. What I do have is drive, ambition, and a desire to do things better and more efficiently than they’ve been done in the past.

On the last episode of the CRM Archaeology Podcast (Episode 36) we interviewed firm owner Sonia Hutmacher. Sonia said that she recommends you start a company with $30-$50k. I started with $7k and a credit card. Still in business, though.

Anyway, we have some decisions to make over the next few months. In the end I think it will be great for both companies.

That’s about it for now. I’ve been a bit absent since my other company, Field Tech Designs LLC, has been taking up a massive amount of my time. We’re creating digital field forms for other companies and our application for Android, and eventually iOS, is well underway with development. Since the dev company is in India there are a lot of late night calls so I can work with the development team. There will be many more details to come.

Also, I'm likely starting a new business for aerial drone surveys. We'll be taking aerial photos for large mine complexes, pipelines, utility lines, archaeological excavations, road surveys, and everything else. Sure, it's illegal now, but, hopefully the FAA gets their head out of their collective...well, you know.

From XKCD, of course.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

#214 ArchAerial vs EVERYTHING ELSE

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with drone legislation and the use of drones in the United States. I’m just assuming that it will all work out and that people won’t be dicks about letting other people use drones for work purposes. I’m also hoping people will stop being so damn paranoid that someone is going to spy on them in their backyard. Most of us are not interesting enough to be spied on anyway. Chances are that if you are interesting enough for a drone attack, you’re doing something illegal. Enough of that rant…on to the post.

I saw a news article on Live Science about the use of drones supplied by ArchAerial for archaeological photography. The drones don’t seem expensive since, according to the founders:

"We use a lot of 3D-printed parts," founding member Ben Martin, 25, said. "It's really useful to be able to go from design to implementation within a few hours, which is something that wasn't possible until recently.”

ArchAerial also uses an open-source flight software. So, why are their drone packages so expensive? From the Live Science article:

“Right now ArchAerial is selling their archaeology drone kits for $3,800 and leasing them for three-month field projects for $1,800.”

My guess is that they are playing on the technological insecurities inherent in most archaeologists. Many archaeologists either don’t understand most technology or don’t choose to understand it. Either way, when something tech-related needs to be done we hire a specialist and get price-gouged along the way because there aren’t very many of them. If we would just take a little while to learn about new and emerging technologies we could save our projects a lot of money, academic and CRM included.

I understand that you get a lot with the ArchAerial package, including technical assistance. If, however, all you want to do is take some good photos of your excavation or site, there are way cheaper ways to do it.

AR Parrot Drone 2.0

This inexpensive ($300) drone would be great for a large number of projects. It’s a robust flying platform with a 720p HD camera on the front that you can record video on and take high-res JPEGs. There is also a downward-facing camera for taking shots straight down. It’s also used for navigation and stabilization. The Parrot Drone is controlled with a smartphone or tablet by watching the screen like a video game.

You can even program the Parrot Drone to fly a route with GPS accessory:

The Phantom costs more than the Parrot, but, you get greater range and a better camera. At 1000m, the range of the Phantom is more than you could ever need. If you go out of range, or, the radio stops working for some reason, the Phantom is programmed to use GPS to go back to its original location. That’s pretty cool.

Without the GoPro camera (buy it separately) you can get the Phantom for under $500.

There isn’t an onboard camera (see below) that ships with the Phantom. There is, however, a GoPro mount that you can use to attach the latest GoPro camera too. GoPro’s are great for HD video and high-res photos. The one downside, as compared to the Parrot Drone, is that you can’t see what’s on the camera. You have to either set it to record at take-off or set it to take pictures on an interval prior to take-off.

The Phantom 2 Vision. At $1200 you get the new Phantom 2. This quadcopter has the onboard camera but reduces the range of video transmission to 300m. You can still fly further, you just won’t be able to see what’s on the camera.


So, why is ArchAerial so expensive? As I said above, you get a lot more than just a quadcopter with your purchase or lease. You get support and education. If you don’t think you can figure this stuff out, or you don’t know a 13 year old that can show you, then this is a good option. If, however, you aren’t intimidated by technology that’s designed to be easy to use, go with one of the options above. Also, maybe their operating costs are really high and will come down as more orders come in. In the mean time, I’d go with something that’s already established and works very well for a fraction of the cost.

Either way, field survey will be a thing of the past as soon as we can develop software that can “see” artifacts. Don’t say it won’t happen because it will. It might take a few more decades, but, it will. Adapt and overcome.

Have you used any of the drones above for field survey or site photography? What about other options? Some people use kites, but, you don’t have as much control and there needs to be wind, of course. Comment below.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!