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#1
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From Derek Tonn

Seriously though, there is SUBSTANTIAL power in numbers. The more we all can unite and share resources, expertise, marketing campaigns, legal advice, etc, etc, the stronger ALL of us will be...both as individuals AND as an industry. CartoTalk has helped us move another several steps in the right direction, but I would love to see even MORE collaboration in the months and years to come.


... seems to be worth a topic of its own.
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#2
MapMedia

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Interesting. I know a few law firms that do the same thing (share paralegals, etc). Yet, my initial though is that these collaborations are more organic than plan/execution. What I mean is
the parties involved are either friends or, by happenstance, work together on a project, and the idea to keep working together becomes a no-brainer. Building trust, either
through a few good work experiences, or by an existing friendship, is the ice breaker. Cartotalk is a great shared resource, like a carto-gis cafe at the corner that I can
stroll over, take a break, and talk shop.

#3
Jean-Louis

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Personally I would favor an association of small -Cartographic- firms and FULL time freelancers to achieve what Derek mentioned


I've always thought that was a good idea too, Jacques.
Jean-Louis Rheault
Montreal


#4
Derek Tonn

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This is really a potentially "touchy" subject....as I am sure that our great friends at NACIS already feel as though they ARE our "association." There has been debate/discussion about that very subject in the past (NACIS and how it relates to the "custom cartography" industry). That whole issue aside, however, what I was MORE getting at was the idea of working together as a more formal brand or identity....retaining much of our independence/autonomy, but sharing many of the common costs that we all incur in order to be in business as freelancers.

mapformation, the company, is essentially just two employees and eight freelance designers who have "mutually exclusive" agreements with one another. We all market ourselves under one banner/umbrella, with one web site, have one booth at tradeshows, one set of legal filings/requirements, etc., while any/all sales that come through our door are funneled to the particular specialist who would handle the particular tasks being requested. We operate as a "collective," making hiring decisions, major decisions regarding marketing allocations, etc. Our group also essentially places me in charge of marketing, "tech" and operations...since that is my forte (in addition to vector map design).

My "dirty little secret" and the primary reason why mapformation has been highly successful over the past several years is the fact that there are a lot of very talented cartographers and map designers out there, but precious-few who know much/anything about marketing, branding, web/tech, etc. Our designers come to us with great talent, and are ecstatic to turn over all of the non-map design essentials to me. It has been an incredible win/win scenario, one which has caused our firm to nearly triple in size in a short amount of time.

Our "collective" would like to add even more talent and diversity of services/styles to the mix...and are seriously considering making an entrance into the GIS and CAD services area. We do not currently have the in-house personnel to pull that off, but rather would be seeking 2-3+ individuals who might fill that role for us, with us (me) being responsible to effectively promote their services to our target markets.

It's almost "artist's repping" for map design. That's the marketing end of things. However, why not also consider having many of us share other costs as well? That's the core of what I was trying to say in my previous post....so I hope no one from NACIS lobs any grenades at me, thinking I was trying to push for a second mapping "association." Professional associations are nice, but what I am after is more of the "operational" collaboration.
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

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#6
erik

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Are there any listings of cartography/map-making collectives in the US? I've been curious if such a beast exists.

erik

#7
Derek Tonn

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Erik,

The only two that I am aware of are mapformation and Maps.com (both are "sort of" collectives...if you know what I mean). Seeing a list of others though would be very helpful to us all.
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#8
David T

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My "dirty little secret" and the primary reason why mapformation has been highly successful over the past several years is the fact that there are a lot of very talented cartographers and map designers out there, but precious-few who know much/anything about marketing, branding, web/tech, etc. Our designers come to us with great talent, and are ecstatic to turn over all of the non-map design essentials to me. It has been an incredible win/win scenario, one which has caused our firm to nearly triple in size in a short amount of time.


Derek - I'm glad to hear of your success. Your experience is similar to the idea I was going to post in this thread.

Last week, I had to review a number of proposals for a rather big GIS contract that the Marine Corps put out. As part of the Scope of Work, because of the broad range of tasks that could be tasked under this contract, we asked that companies look at teaming agreements. In the end, we received proposals that identified a 'prime' contractor, and outlined the teaming agreement with a number of sub-contractors.

The important part to this was the identification of how each of these subs would interact with the team. What did they bring to the team to make the team, as a whole, a good choice for selection? While one firm (typically the prime) might be an expert at all things geospatial, they lack the expertise to fly aerial photos. One of their team members would be identified as the aerial photo 'part' of the puzzle. Another firm might be responsible for all things IT (running servers, setting up networks, etc). Another firm might be responsible for training, or data collection.

The important part here was the team structure. If you can identify what individuals bring to the team, and how they make the team strong - those unique parts - then you can have success (much like Derek described!)
David Toney, GISP
GIS Manager
United States Marine Corps
West Coast Installations

#9
natcase

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Erik,

The only two that I am aware of are mapformation and Maps.com (both are "sort of" collectives...if you know what I mean). Seeing a list of others though would be very helpful to us all.


There was at one point maybe 10 years ago The Wisconsin Cartographers Guild based somewhere near Madison WI. As I recall, they specialized in editorial maps for textbooks and the like; they did a Wisconsin historical atlas in 1998. They appear to have dissolved sometime around the turn of the millennium. They included Amelia Janes, Zoltan Grossman, and Michael Gallagher.

Googling "Cartographers Guild" turns up this, an interesting place for game mapping.

Another small group of U of Minnesota set up a collective in the Twin Cities 15 years ago, which lasted a short while, maybe a handful of years; each one is independent now. Don Pirius, Phil Schwartzberg, and there was a woman I don't thin I ever met and whose name I can't remember.

Derek's operation is by far the most successful of its kind I've ever run into. I think it's for a couple reasons:

- Derek is good at pushing for clients. Every map company needs a pushy person. Cartographers don't tend towards pushiness. So a collective without a pusher is probably doomed. It helps to have a pushy person who isn't also aggressive and short-tempered with the other members of the collective...

- MapFormation is not a guild of independent artists each with their own public identity. It's not presented as an artist rep. It's presented to the public as one operation, and for all intents it operates towards clients as one operation. What goes on in the MapFormation black box is of little concern to most clients.

- Derek offers a one-stop shop for a clearly-defined set of problems, and has focused on a clearly-defined category of clients. "Cartography" is too general.

Where there is a clearly defined specialty within cartography, the players know each other mostly, and we do call on each other informally. I have folks I call on for particular specialties. In the last month I've put calls out to maybe 4-5 people and groups for work or quotes, all but one of them folks I've worked with before. A formal syndicate/guild it isn't, but a well-established network it is.

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#10
Derek Tonn

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Nat,

Thanks for the kind words....although I prefer to think of myself as "highly motivated" and "tenacious" (refuse to "lose")....rather than "pushy." :P

I know I come at mapping from much more of a graphic design bent than true "cartography." However, my assumption for the past 18+ years has been that, like with art and graphic design, most of the folks who go through and get their cartography degrees probably don't spend 30 minutes in the classroom learning anything about economics, marketing forces, branding and positioning, etc. They learn/perfect their trade, but then have practically no idea how to promote themselves. That, and worse, their instructors seem to reinforce the "if you build it (well), they will come" philosophy related to sales and marketing...which presents a false or, at minimum, incomplete reality to the students who are graduating from those institutions.

I graduated with a B.A. in Marketing/Management back in 1992. I had all but 3-4 art history courses I needed for a Graphic Design degree as well! However, I ran out of time/money to complete both degrees. All the other "art majors" thought I was a sell-out because I dared learn something about marketing and economics during my four years as an undergrad, but it was precisely that experience and education which helped me to realize just how much of a tremendous opportunity there was if someone could work to "organize" artists (map designers, in my particular case) without struggling for power or killing one another in the process. ;) My completion of an MBA program 7-8 years later only helped me to further refine and define how I wanted to organize our business plan and positioning strategies.

mapformation isn't about "I", it is about "WE." It has always been about "we." I end up getting a larger percentage of the face-time at conferences and the occasional article or press release, which is actually the result of the fact that most of our team members LOATHE sales and marketing! However, the reason why we have succeeded (so far) is:

1. It is about "we." All of us share in the process of making major decisions, and we keep little/no secrets from one another. We also will happily refer people to styles other than our own...as we know that "keeping work in the family" is better for everyone (all boats rise), and what goes around comes around.

2. Our designers set their own rates, knowing that the more they try to squeeze clients on price, the greater the downward pressure on demand will become. That, and they also make sure that their own prices are not TOO out of line related to other team members, so as to not lose a disproportionally large amount of work to other design styles.

3. All of us contribute 20% to our "marketing kitty" on every job we complete. Part of that 20% covers my time and expenses associated with marketing all of our individual design styles when I'm not doing design. However, that is the money we essentially use to keep our marketing engine running...and every dollar is stretched a LOT farther than if we were to try and spend our own money marketing only our own individual design style(s).

4. Teamwork. A LOT of our projects now are not completed by only one designer. Two or even three members of our team will each take a piece of a project that they are better/faster at completing than everyone else, with each of us getting paid proportionally for the amount of work we do on a project. When we were each operating independently, we couldn't do that...and/or would have to hire out sub-contractors to complete portions of projects and/or simply pass on a project if it required tasks outside of our own personal skill-sets.

I will also be completely honest and say that we are actively looking for another few 1-2 person shops (especially in Europe or with folks who have specialized in corporate/resort type of work) who we can effectively roll-into our larger collective marketing engine....particularly as it relates to GIS/CAD work, as well as other unique map design/illustration styles that we are not currently offering. It's NOT about power/control though. Rather, it is about synergy, efficiency and economies of scale. If Acme Mapping (fictitious example) does fine work but only is eeking out a living on its own, finding it difficult to impossible to find the time/money/expertise to market itself effectively on the web and at conferences and tradeshows, they are the PERFECT candidate for coming on-board with our team. They shift from worrying about running a business and promoting themselves to being able to focus again on design....letting others (me, primarily) worry about keeping them busy.

Long post (sorry). However, this kind of thing...the behind-the-scenes expertise which makes a small business run, is as much a passion of mine as is designing a wonderful map or an attractive and fast-loading web page. I could talk all-day about this sort of thing...... :)

Derek
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#11
burwelbo

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Basically your running it like a law firm. I think this type of professional collaboration is great. I was trying to get something similar going in Calgary before I took a job in the Middle East. My idea was a little different in that it was along more different disciplines in the Environmental and Natural Resourcces sectors. I had professional bioligists, Remote Sensors, Geologists, etc. What we didn't have was a marketing person which is the key to success.




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