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Home arrow Experts arrow Gretchen N. Peterson arrow GISuser Expert Feature (Tips) - Freelance Cartography Job Options     

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GISuser Expert Feature (Tips) - Freelance Cartography Job Options PDF Print E-mail
Experts - Gretchen N. Peterson
Written by Gretchen   
21 February 2011
This article is for those who want to explore options for creating a cartography firm, or sole-proprietorship, that occupies a very specific niche.

We often hear that in order for a firm to be successful it is best for it to focus on one profitable niche. If, instead, a cartography firm tries to do everything, the risk is that no one will notice as there isnít any one great thing that the firm does. In the case of a niche firm, however, it could be a lot easier to become positioned as the number one go-to for hiking book illustrations, for example.

Now, the GIS/cartography profession is mostly dominated by people who are working as employees for government agencies or private companies where they have to be experts in a certain field (e.g., oil, environmental management, real estate, transportation). If you want to become a freelance cartographer or start your own cartography firm your best bet is probably to market yourself as an expert in one of those fields and do contracting to those same government agencies and private companies.

However, if mapping is what you want to focus on then there may be some profitable options for you. Here are some ideas:

  • Novelty mapping - use places like etsy.com, ebay, and cafepress to directly sell products with a mapping component to the public. On these sites there are people who sell shaded-relief maps on ties and people who cut up old historic maps and make jewelry out of them, for example. Once, I sold t-shirts on cafepress with a map of the Hood Canal on them that said "HOME" underneath the map. Thinking up your product line is an important first-step but the biggest issue for you with this type of business will be on-going customer acquisition through blogging, getting featured in print magazines and newspapers, and other media marketing.
  • City mapping - create maps of major cities or even small towns, to be distributed freely through chambers of commerce and other such outlets. Make your living off of the advertising that you must feature prominently on the maps, often including the advertising for local businesses directly on the map itself. Expect to market these maps to real estate agents, local businesses, and other people who can both distribute and advertise. Consider yearly or bi-yearly updates to bring in new advertisers and provide a steady income stream.
  • Advert mapping - market yourself to small businesses who would like to give their customers a freebie that also advertises their business. For example, a bike store in Seattle distributes free maps of local bike routes to customers that has the bike store logo featured prominently on the map. As another example, a museum may want to commission you to map out local outdoor sculptures to provide a walking-tour guide for patrons. Expect to spend a lot of time identifying potential customers and marketing yourself to them.
  • Alliance mapping - form an alliance with other business people. With this type of job, you would focus solely on cartography, someone else does the marketing, someone else does the web-presence, and so on. In this way, it would be as if you were part of a large cartography production firm, except that each of you agrees on projects as they come. This allows you both autonomy and the ability to focus solely on cartography.
  • Web mapping - provide the development expertise along with the design skills to produce custom web maps for businesses. Expect your work to be highly variable with difficult to pin-down scopes, but with a high potential return and a potentially high customer base that may come to you, requiring less marketing on your part.
  • Book mapping - market yourself to publishing companies as a person who can create maps for books. You may focus on fictional or non-fictional mapping and may need to produce some of your work in black and white and in small formats. Payment could be offered in nominal terms (e.g., $400 for a set) but the best method would be to contract for a percentage of revenue / royalty on book sales. You may get this kind of work directly from authors but this would be more difficult than simply marketing yourself to the major publishers themselves, who could use your work in multiple books.
  • Graphic design mapping - align yourself with several large graphic design firms. They may need your help gathering data and getting it into graphic-design software in a usable format to ready a project for the design phase.

About The Author...

Last Updated ( 09 March 2011 )
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