I require, except for title companies, a credit card number to hold the estimated balance of the quoted fee, for smaller lot surveys. Nobody gets and signed and sealed copy of my survey until the charge clears. The title companies I work with have been great and send me allot of work in volume, because they know it will be turned around quickly. I also do allot of large commercial projects and large construction layout projects, the initial cost for title and topo is discounted if we have a written agreement that our engineering staff will be doing the design work and we will be doing the layout work for construction. My set up time is free, but, they pay hourly for crew time to layout the construction. Our pricing is unique, fair and has been a game changer in the area we work in. A title survey for a property up to 1 acre has a set fee, higher than the competitors, and we we require a full title search and report before even scheduling the work. We have been doing well in using that model and tweaking it, and, we don't advertise at all.
I've been getting a $1000 deposit to calendar the project (CC web page)
ps... in my area this is about 1/3 of of the cost
I recent completed the renovation of my house. Every one of the contractors we had in expected, and got, a big up front payment before beginning work, and regular payments in advance for work that was going to be done.
Don't be shy about getting your money up front.
Depending on the laws in your State and the total amount owed you can go the route of Small Claims or Limited Liability Suit. It takes time but can be very effective for those with assets and/or a job where notice of a judgement leading to garnishment of wages can lead to them becoming unemployed.
However, there are some people who have no money, no real assets and no job. I went the limit with one old heifer and came within one day of selling the tract I surveyed before she found an attorney and found enough cash to cover ALL of my expenses over and above the original fee and court costs and interest and my attorney fees. She had to sell the land but I was going to get it for a fraction of what it was really worth.
I don't require money up front, but then I don't do much work for homeowners -- most of my work is for commercial and governmental entities. I've had 4 problem clients in 27 years: 3 small-time developers and 1 long-time colleague and friend, all of whom I sued in Small Claims Court.
The colleague situation -- a good surveyor who got super busy and hired me to do several small jobs for him -- got in over his head with payables and wouldn't return phone calls, emails or mailed invoices. Once I sued he got embarrassed enough to pay. We've been on good terms ever since.
2 of the developers paid after I got a judgment, though one of them -- a Planning Commissioner for a nearby city -- didn't see the light until I threatened to garnishee his wife's wages.
The third developer saw me coming from a mile away. After having no success contacting him for several months I turned it over to a collection agency. They got back to me and said the guy is judgment proof, owns nothing in his own name, and never intended to pay me. I blame this one on the Small Claims Commissioner (who wasn't a real judge), because she only awarded the judgement against the individual and not the LLC he's with, despite the fact that both names were on the contract. Had the LLC been named on the judgment I could have liened the property I surveyed (a hotel). That was in 2006, and it cost me about $6k. I still have occasional daydreams about breaking the guys knees with a baseball bat.