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Starting a business in GIS/Cartography


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#1
madmax64

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I have been thinking about starting my own GIS/Cartography business. I have 20+ years of experience in GIS at the County government. Now, I'm unemployed thanks to the County's irresponsible budgeting.

Anyway, is it possible for anyone, like me, to start a GIS business? I looked up in local yellow pages, I don't see GIS business in there. I found only one "map sales" business. I know that GIS is excellent for government agencies, but what about private-owned business?

If you think it's possible to run a private-owned GIS/Cartography business, what are my target audience (who are my clients? who are my consumers?). For example, a soccer-mom isn't interested in GIS/cartography products.

I need your expert opinion about private-owned GIS & Cartography business. Thanks!

-charles

#2
Matthew Hampton

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I will pass along some sage information I recieved when I asked a successful cartographer (Stuart Allen) a similar question about getting into the business.
His reply?

"Marry someone rich."


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Good luck! :D

Oregon Metro - Portland, OR
www.oregonmetro.gov


#3
natcase

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If you think it's possible to run a private-owned GIS/Cartography business, what are my target audience (who are my clients? who are my consumers?). For example, a soccer-mom isn't interested in GIS/cartography products.

There are plenty of privately-held, smaller GIS consultancy groups. Many specialize in particular industries. The fact that you are asking this question implies you haven't had much exposure to GIS outside of government. There are consultants who hire themselves out (much as engineering firms do) to governments, to provide contract services so the government doesn't have to maintain its own system and have its own full-time employee. You don't say where you live, but this is certainly a possibility to explore.

What are your general areas of expertise and of interest? If you're an avid butterfly collector, you may be able to develop a business devoted to mapping butterflies. Likewise for maost any interest with some sort of geographical component, and most fields of interest can have geography woven into them. The question is, can you get either (1) paying customers or (2) grant money?

Also, who says soccer moms aren't interested in GIS/Cartography products? See our Twin Cities Youth Sports Atlas.

The most important part of being in business, to my mind, is to stop thinking like an employee. This is really hard for many people; I'm lucky in that I (who do not think entrepreneurially by nature) found someone with good business sense to work with. I think this is true of several other firms of my acquaintance; it's part of the theory behind Derek Tonn's campus-maps empire! :)

Hope this all helps and good luck!

Nat Case
INCase, LLC

Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#4
Derek Tonn

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The most important part of being in business, to my mind, is to stop thinking like an employee. This is really hard for many people; I'm lucky in that I (who do not think entrepreneurially by nature) found someone with good business sense to work with. I think this is true of several other firms of my acquaintance; it's part of the theory behind Derek Tonn's campus-maps empire! :)


Ha! Yep...making maps is only MAYBE half the battle. People have to know how to sell themselves. Not just the map designs they produce, but themselves...as people are buying into us as much as anything we are producing. More than anything too, it also takes an ability to recognize where we personally excel, and when to admit we're beat and subsequently having a willingness to bring in people who can do it faster/better/cheaper than we can on our own.

I get in trouble in CartoTalk/NACIS and in other design associations on a semi-regular basis...because I can't resist commenting on the irony of people complaining about others "daring" to develop maps or ??? without any formal training, education or expertise. Yet in those same circles, people with little/no formal training, education or expertise have zero qualms about developing their own brand/identity and marketing campaigns, design/build their own website, doing all their own books and legal filings, etc. I don't understand how people don't see that we are doing the same exact thing to other individuals in other professions as we complain about people doing to us (making maps without the expertise).

Short story long (as is my nature, I apologize), if you're not the type of person who will practically view your business as one of your children...working however many hours/week are necessary to keep that "child" happy and healthy, I'm not sure I would recommend that you do it. Self-employment is incredibly tough...and if folks think it is going to be all the good things of working for "the man" on a 9-to-5 (the check every 2-4 weeks and all the benefits and company hardware/software), only with flexible hours and no clueless, evil overlord ruling over you, there's about a 99% chance it's not going to end well. ;)
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

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

#5
Gretchen Peterson

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Hey, I'm a mom, my kids play soccer, and I happen to own a GIS business and wrote a book on making maps! Imagine that.

#6
Bryan Krouse

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Nat,
I like your Youth Atlas. Do you have much purchasing interest for something like this?
Bryan

#7
Kathi

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There are plenty of privately-held, smaller GIS consultancy groups. Many specialize in particular industries. The fact that you are asking this question implies you haven't had much exposure to GIS outside of government. There are consultants who hire themselves out (much as engineering firms do) to governments, to provide contract services so the government doesn't have to maintain its own system and have its own full-time employee.


Here in the "Old World" there are certainly quite a few such companies, and I doubt government would be able to to its job without them. At least in Switzerland parliament regularly cuts funding for government jobs or similar "long-time" investments like computer infrastructure. To get the work done, loads of money are regularly spent on projects given out to consulting companies. (I guess a project of maybe several ten thousands to hundred thousands of Dollars/Euros/Franks seems less of a "long-time" engagement than hiring someone...)

I happen to work in such a consulting company. Although we are geologists and geotechnical engineers, we also do GIS work, usually involving geological/geotechnical knowledge as well. For example we develop maps showing which parts of certain roads are in danger of avalanches or rock falls, or where you are allowed to drill a hole for a geothermal heat pump and where not etc.

So I'll second Nat, you need to figure out what other marketable expertise besides GIS you can offer. And I agree with Derek: Unless you're a bit of a workoholic, selfemployment probably won't work...


As to the soccer moms: I'm not one yet, but I could well imagine becoming one in a few years. and I'm not planning on losing my interest in maps or GIS in the meantime...
Cheers,

Kathi

#8
CentralAmericaExpe

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'So I'll second Nat, you need to figure out what other marketable expertise besides GIS you can offer'

I agree with Kathi & Nat, too...

You have to focus on a niche; doing pure (technical work) processing/cleaning up of vector data sets, processing or cleaning of raster data sets, digitizing/creating vector themes from topo maps not generally available from traditional sources, etc, etc. Or, if you have a specialization and credentials (P Eng; geographer, ecologist, epidemiologist, biologist, etc, etc), you could focus on that discipline primarily, and provide (back end) your analytical results through GIS...

My model is: strictly contract work....every GIS output/data layers are unique and original. Roughly 90~98% of my contracts is leg-work (field collection of data and ingesting it all in GI system), and 10~2% of my work/time is cartographic output (eg. a project could be 1~3 months to any number of years out collecting/digitizing/GPSing data, and 1 to 3 days presenting it via cartographic output) ...

...I am nearly entirely retired now from GIS/cartographic endeavors (working in extremely harsh jungle environments with absolutely no amenities for many, many years takes it's toll on your health). So my "next career phase" is to package some of tropical America's unknown parks/protected areas I'd been active mapping for many years and that no one has ever heard of (outside of academia, the parks I'm talking about have never been published in cartographic format), and producing cookie-cutter maps of said for consumption via Web portal: guidebooks; birding books; eco-travelers; journals; etc...

Good luck!
Derek-
"I do recognize risk, and having recognized risk, I spend a lot of time minimizing it." Tim Severin




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