How to Start a GIS Company
Marry a database and a map, and they become a geographic information system (GIS) a powerful business intelligence tool. With computer skills, database training and GIS certification, opening a company to help businesses succeed can be satisfying and rewarding. Real estate agencies, delivery services, personal service business are just a few of the potential clients for a someone starting a GIS company. It's hardware and software heavy, but the new company can start at home and grow from there. It's a hands-on consultancy requiring attentive customer service and a commitment to timely, accurate work delivery.
Prepare a business plan defining the potential market, projecting revenue and expenses. Allow for necessary ongoing training and GIS certification. Prioritize and budget for hardware and software. Remember to include the cost of annual software maintenance for the GIS software.
Obtain GIS certifications in the chosen software: ESRI ArcGIS, AutoCAD GIS, Atlas, or DeLorme XMap. While other publishers ensure compatibility with ArcGIS, the ESRI software is the GIS standard. Courses in ArcGIS and sometimes AutoCAD GIS are offered at technical institutes, community colleges and ESRI classrooms in major cities. Atlas and DeLorme are less-used, and fewer training opportunities are available compared to the market-leading software.
Acquire necessary technical equipment and set up an office for the business. Ensure adequate space to roll out and work directly from large scale maps, typically size ARCH E, 48 by 36 inches. Wide-format plotters needs four to six feet of wall space and about two feet of floor space from the wall. Plotter paper must be stored vertically, requiring an area two by two feet for the storage box. Desk space around the computer requires room for the digitizer or pen tablet, as well as keyboard and mouse.
Acquire rights or access to public domain and subscription databases providing addresses, street information, property ownership, land constraints and market data for the prospective client niche. Network with other business-information companies to create or share data and market intelligence. Use network resources for referrals and cross-selling.
Establish a project management system to track progress on assignments and accommodate multi-task priorities. Increase efficiencies by cataloging data and maps into templates reusable with similar projects. Establish a system to protect and secure client data. Prepare and follow a written data security and recovery plan while maintaining on- and off-site data backup.
Implement a marketing and promotion program defined in the business plan. Begin making sales calls to prospective clients within the defined niche. Set aside specific days and times for cold call selling, networking and generating referrals.
Early in business, it's possible to outsource wide format plotting to printer production businesses such as FedEx Kinkos, Alpha Graphics, or a local blueprint service. GIS production work routinely requires external data available over the Internet so the highest speed DSL connection is required. If available, FiOS or T1 are preferred. The priority hardware acquisitions are: First, the powerful PC, at least one 1 TB or larger hard drive and a large surface pen tablet. As the business grows, the next priorities are a second large-capacity hard drive, wide-format plotter and large-scale digitizer.
Client service is a necessary top priority to generate good references. Failure to meet deadlines or expected work quality can undermine business success. Plan on an expensive annual maintenance contract with the GIS software. This is not a one-time purchase, and the maintenance program assures automatic updates and access to technical support. Do not plan to use GIS software in violation of license agreements. All GIS publishers track usage of the license and serial number. As with most software, GIS software is not purchased; its use is licensed.