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#1
ELeFevre

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We spend a lot of time talking about the technical aspects of building maps, but I'm not sure we've discussed the market-research side of cartography; the activities that take place before you build anything. How do you know you're making something useful? Do you call or email former customers (or coworkers) who bought previous editions and ask for feedback? Do you talk with industry experts? Do you follow the lead of your competitors and make a similar map (feature/design war)? Online keyword research? Do you start by seeing what kind of datasets are available? Are most of your map requests custom projects where the customer decides what goes on the map? et cetera et cetera.



#2
Hans van der Maarel

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Are most of your map requests custom projects where the customer decides what goes on the map?


That's the one for me, although I have been considering doing a map for sale. Small, low-cost, run first to try it out.
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
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#3
Jean-Louis

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In my experience there are 3 and only 3 ways to make money with maps
1. You create and sell custom map illustrations for individual clients or map publishers
2. You create your own maps and retail them
3. You create your own maps and sell advertizing on them.

I have done all three and each of these is a completely different kind of business with advantages and disadvantages.
Jean-Louis Rheault
Montreal


#4
Derek Tonn

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How do you know you're making something useful?


I guess for me, a ten-second pen sketch on the back of a napkin can be VERY useful! What I think you're asking though is:

"How do you know you're making something that will generate a worthwhile financial return on the investment?"

With what our firm does, we generally let clients tell us what they want...not generate solutions that we think will be of interest to them. We also constantly analyze previous projects we've done so that we generally know how long any new project should take. Take that hourly total, multiply it times the amount we feel we need to make to have the project generate a worthwhile return per-hour, and that's our bare-minimum quote to a prospective client.

To produce something on your own (without client funding and direction) and then HOPE it sells is an entirely different animal. You can make the most beautiful, functional map designs on the planet and still wind up going out of business if you don't have your branding/identity, promotions, market research, legal, financing (cashflows), distribution channels and several other factors in-order.

When I was going through my undergraduate graphic design coursework, the six seconds they spent talking to us about marketing ourselves to prospective clients was "If you build it (well), they will come." That whole concept does SUCH a disservice to aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners out there though. Yes, you want to have a high-quality, affordable product...but that's only half the battle. It's the same reason we all lament when we see "crap" driving quality firms out of business. The services of Maps 'R Us might pale in comparison to others we know/like, but they've got their branding/identity campaigns, niche marketing, web site, distribution networks, etc. down COLD...and end up driving better quality competitors out of business.

I guess my very-best advice would be to keep your eyes and ears constantly open to what is happening in the industry, as well as what consumers are buying and using, to see if there is some type of gap or niche that has not yet been filled out there. I would also focus on something that is particularly close to your heart (hiking? SW Oregon? Maps for ESL users? whatever)...because if it's something that is important to you away from work, putting in the extra time doing sales and research doesn't seem quite as painful. :)
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#5
James Hines

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When marketing your products there are many factors that determine how many projects you get how good you are at the job.

First off experience -- unless you have no other choice never freelance yourself out if your an entry level cartographer, it's always best to work under a company so that you find your niche, & gain advanced abilities such as scripting & analysis.

Niche -- find your niche, normally the skills you get from your previous jobs related to what you are trying to do factor into your day to day work. Which brings this back to experience, if you enter as a freelancer at the entry level be prepared to find yourself soul searching, self training, & sometimes frustrated with the amount of work it will take to get there. It doesn't take just 6 months to become successful, it takes years of hard experience & learning

Who do you know? -- do you know any freelancers or perhaps on the outside chance you left on very good terms with your former employer & they may want to outsource some work to you. Connections are always critical in this field because what I have been learning from marketing is the fact that while many methods that you have been failing on could work if you something else. Always keep in mind that as a cartographer or a GIS technican taking bidding sites for example don't even list a GIS, or a geomatics category. From my own experience I find that there are many projects that a cartographer can do but they can't even bid on it unless they have enough of a budget to add additional categories. As others have stated the Geomatics freelance industry is about connections rather then those other methods that work for other freelancers such as pure graphic designers.

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#6
François Goulet

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All my freelance jobs where from mouth-to-mouth contacts. I workeg for a publisher for 2 years who had the "If you build it, they will come" phylosophy and it's was my best job ever because it was only for the love of books and maps (and the result is incredible, see here). They don't do it like that anymore and that's what always pull me back from creating my own maps and trying to sell them myself.

#7
Derek Tonn

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François,

I'm just curious to learn why that publisher abandoned the "if you build it, they will come" approach. I assume it was related to financial reasons, but that might be an incorrect assumption.

ALL of us would probably be developing even more beautiful, engaging designs if we didn't have clients or publishers constantly looking over our shoulders saying "I love it....but can you do it in green?" ;) Every now and then, those dream clients come along and basically say "I don't care about sweating the details...just make us look GOOD!" For every one client like that though, there are probably 50 who police or micro-manage at least certain aspects of style/design.

Before we (map designers) get TOO high and mighty though, we need to remember that we do the exact same thing to many of the peripheral service providers we rely upon as well. Web developers are a good example. No matter how nicely they try and tell us that _________ will be a train-wreck from the perspective of cross-browser compatibility or accessibility, we insist that they do it OUR way...because we're writing the check(s).
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

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#8
François Goulet

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François,

I'm just curious to learn why that publisher abandoned the "if you build it, they will come" approach. I assume it was related to financial reasons, but that might be an incorrect assumption.


That's quite correct. When I started there, in Fall 2005, the primary field of the international division was to create beautifully illustrated referenced books. Literally "if we create it, they will buy it". We were more of a content provider and looking for partner publishers to publish translated versions of our books in more than 50 countries in about 30 languages.

Our prime product was the Visual Dictionary and it's now available online. In fact, we are supposed to be the first to have published this kind of dictionary about 25 years ago. They were also working on a visual encyclopedia of the human body and a "Health" dictionary and the president of the division wanted an atlas, so he hired a cartographer, me, alone, but very motivated. I took 2½ years to develop 2 versions of the product, but by the time we were done, the direction staff has changed. Of course, by creating new content and trying to sell it afterward, of 5 products, 3 would not be successful, one would just pay what we had pay to create it and maybe only one would be very profitable.

The entire company wasn't in deficit. The "litterature" division is still one of the most renowned in Québec and quite profitable, but the goal in dividing a company in two part is for both to make money, not one covering for the other. So, with the ancient international division president gone (he resigned, because he was doing it for the love of the books and not for the money), 1/3 of the staff too (the people he hired to help him create beautiful book and didn't like the new management), they started to stop the creation of new content and concentrating on the updates of existing one and customizing some for clients. The new "way" was to not create new content if we weren't sure to sell it which mean having partners for the beginning of a new project. And, in that perspective, a full time cartographer wasn't very profitable neither so they cut my job. I just think about all the great project I was supposed to work on after the Atlas and I have a chill down my spine...

Oh well, there's nothing I can do about that and I'm still glad to have been a part of it...

#9
MapMedia

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Great topic. I didn't get into this profession for the money :D and I have not gotten myself into the map publishing side, so I can't answer too many of your ideas.
I think a good way to get feedback is to ask retailers what they think or what their customers are saying about your maps - just bring it up into your normal conversation with them.
Or have an online form you can provide a link to in your email signature - so when you correspond w/clients and retailers, they might get the hint.




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