Let me pause for a moment to give you some background information that will help you understand my predicament. I was 28 years old with a one-year-old daughter and had just borrowed $25,000 collateralized by my 15-acre blueberry farm, which was the only real property I owned. I used those loan proceeds to purchase a 45 percent stake in an almost brand new corporation, M&R Soil Investigations Inc. Though formed as a C corporation, it was basically a partnership except for a small percentage held by my partner’s secretary. My partner was a local water well driller who wanted to jump onto the environmental drilling train that had pulled out of the station and was starting to gain momentum.
I had been a social studies teacher and one national debate topic in the 1980s was groundwater quality. Having been raised on my grandfather’s farm on sandy South Jersey topsoil and coming off of the droughts of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I could appreciate the value of groundwater. Many days of my youth were spent moving aluminum irrigation pipes through fields of tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and other crops that were typical of a small truck farm. Many times, the ponds would run dry and crops were near ruin by the time groundwater would recharge them or a chance shower would pop up to bring a bit of respite to the drought conditions. We would drive point wells or bucket down casing using primitive equipment in order to get a bit of groundwater that could be pumped with a small centrifugal pump to help recharge the watering hole.
I went off to college, earned a bachelor degree and teaching certificate, and returned to teach at a local rural high school. Attending college in south central Pennsylvania, I still had a taste of the droughts working as a crop surveyor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture disaster relief program.
Let’s circle back to January of 1987 and we find a 28-year-old boy who has literally bet the farm on a venture that probably should have been thought out a bit more. Two jobs are completed and invoiced. Anyone involved in the environmental industry should know the next line: Neither had been paid and no work was in sight. My partner, the successful local well driller, had dutifully placed an ad in the yellow pages and was content to sit and wait for the phone to ring. That strategy was producing zero results. After a few weeks, a lump was forming in my throat over the thought of this business dying before it had ever come to life.
Fear being a great motivator, I started thinking, what can I do? The business had been named prior to my joining, which is a whole other story. M&R Soil Investigations ... hmm ... I knew someone who worked at the Soil Conservation Service so I made a call to see if maybe they had some work for a soil investigator. They didn’t. However, my friend had a friend from college that worked for a geotechnical environmental engineering firm and was glad to make an introduction. That introduction led to hundreds of jobs and instilled in me the value of networking.
After our first job, I spent a few minutes talking (actually, now I realize I was networking) with our inspector and simply asked if she worked with any other people who might use our services. After securing a few more referrals, we returned to our shop where my helper washed the truck and I went in to make a few more phone calls to introduce our company. Within months, we were on our way and 27 years and whole lot of stories later, I now find myself at the end of this one.
Think about how important referrals and networking are. Pick up the phone, shake a hand, send a letter, email, tweet, etc. and make it work. ND
Doug Walker, MGWC, is known as “The Happy Well Driller.” His business, M&R Soil Investigations Inc., is based in New Jersey. Contact him at email@example.com.
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