What’s it like to be a self-employed surveyor?

Nov 1, 2021 | Eyesurvey

When starting any new career, you often wonder if you’d be better off working for yourself or getting a job at an already established company. So, I thought I’d break this down to help you get an understanding of what it means to be a self-employed surveyor, because while it works for me, it might not be a viable option for everyone.

There are pros and cons to both career paths, with the key tipping points being when it comes to work-life balance, job security, income and job satisfaction.

If you’ve recently completed your studies and are new to surveying, you’ll be eager to get started. If this is your first step into the field, finding permanent employment with a reputable organisation is usually your best bet for gaining expertise. Starting your own firm, on the other hand, will appeal to you if you have a business background, have previously operated a business or been an entrepreneur, and know how to build successful companies from the ground up.

While there is more job security with joining a long-standing business, not to mention less responsibility, it can often be difficult to have a work-life balance. Your time isn’t your own as an employee, you are likely to have targets to meet, and it can make it difficult to spend time with family, have time for yourself and your hobbies or see friends.

You are also constrained by the policies and procedures of your employers, which can prevent you from using your talents and offering a service that you believe most accurately reflects your skills and work ethic. You can’t then provide your clients with the support they need to progress successfully.

This isn’t necessarily saying that having an employer is bad, just that some companies have a singular approach that doesn’t fit everyone.

Having said that, you hit the ground running with a salary, which isn’t necessarily the case if you’re self-employed – as with any start-up – but that doesn’t mean that you should shy away from the opportunities available by going independent. You might be able to buy-into a running firm, or take over that is one well-established.

Being “self-employed” is not the only option, you could decide to operate the business as a Limited Company. You will need a good Accountant to guide you, in both cases.

What about taking on part-time staff to help you operate, say to do the books for you?

Organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) can provide you with support and many other services at low cost, and give you sources of new business contacts.

A lot of people may enter surveying thinking that it is a secure profession – people will always want to move home – but you will find that residential surveying and valuations can be seasonal, as there is a seasonal cycle to the property market. However, there are ways to combat that by looking into other areas of practice such as Commercial property work, expert witness, “Party Wall” work and boundary disputes among others. Clearly, you must have or gain additional expertise and knowledge to cover any of those areas – more studying.

Taking on other jobs such as these means you will need to manage your time, but as a self-employed surveyor, you can put boundaries in place to ensure you keep a work-life balance. You can also set your hourly fee rates, and develop a respected brand off the back of your service and reputation.

There is the possibility of getting a lot of work, which is both a positive and a negative thing. Because you work alone, surveying can be extremely solitary, and if you find yourself drowning in paperwork and working long hours, you may find it difficult to stay motivated, which can have a bad influence on your business. This can lead to additional claims if your work isn’t up to par, or if you’re taking on more than you can handle, your lead time will lengthen and you’ll lose business.

It’s best to keep in mind that while a lot of surveyors love what they do, being a competent and passionate surveyor doesn’t mean you’ll be a successful business owner. You need to be resilient for the weak times – there are always some, and must be a competent administrator to keep the business going. You must build, and maintain, all the contacts you can find – any acquaintance might be able to send you a client.

Fully-qualified Chartered Surveyors will always be in high demand, especially with the increase in high-tech, sustainable cities that are emerging throughout the world, the need for specialised knowledge, and the increase in properties that popping up everywhere in the UK.

According to the NHBC, over the next 20 years around 86,000 to 140,000 new homes will be needed each year to helping with the Build Back Better scheme put in place by the Government. Meaning in the coming years, positioning yourself as a self-employed business could be very lucrative, especially if you are in an area where there are plans for additional properties, such as Birmingham.

It’s necessary to weigh up the pros and cons against your expertise, and not just go off of motivations alone. Wanting to be in control of your work-life balance or wanting to be your own boss, and financially free, shouldn’t be the sole reasons for taking the leap into being self-employed.

Really, it boils down to if you have – or can develop – the business know-how then it can be a great opportunity and open a lot of doors.

Les Long FRICS FISVA Principal, Eyesurvey

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