Ten Things You Need to Know About Starting a GIS Consulting Business: The Sequel

Ten years ago, at the invitation of Directions Magazine then-editor Adena Schutzberg, I wrote the article Ten Things You Need to Know About Starting a GIS Consulting Business. The article was published on May 31, 2012. To this day I receive email inquiries from all over the world with follow-up questions from young GIS professionals, eager to establish their own consulting business, asking for advice. I try to respond to every email, and it’s pretty much the same response, because the questions are pretty much the same. 

In January 2021 I sent the piece below to Directions with the suggestion to publish it as a follow-up to the article. I never got a response, so I am publishing it here.


Dear Curious:

First off, thank you for your inquiry. It amazes me that nine years after publication, my Directions Magazine article still generates interest and inquiries at the rate of about once per month. Isn’t the internet amazing?

On to your questions. These are tough times to be looking for a job, and even tougher to start a business. I should also caution you that whatever worked for me 15 years ago in the States may not necessarily work for you today in your country. Having said that, on to specifics.

The first thing to figure out is where the money is going to come from. It sounds kind of basic and obvious, but a lot of people overlook this most important aspect of starting a business. When I started my business I had already been working as a consultant for bigger companies for over 10 years. I had a professional network. This is important. 

You should ask yourself: “What would I be selling, to whom, and why would they buy it from me as opposed to from someone else?” If you have a niche skill and you have identified a niche market that is underserved, that is great. If you’re planning to offer general generic GIS services, that would be much harder. The market is already saturated in the US, and it’s probably the same in your country.

Another very important thing is that you must be a salesman. If you’re not a good salesman, or if you don’t have the resources to hire a good salesperson, things are going to be very hard.

Finally, on to your question about equipment, etc. That is the easiest part. Assuming you would be selling your skills and knowledge, you don’t need much in terms of equipment. When I started my business I already had a laptop which was good enough to get me going. I bought a license of ArcView which at the time cost me about $1,500. Today you could probably get away with QGIS which is free. I worked out of my living room for 6 months, then I found the tiniest, cheapest office downtown and moved there. This added cost for rent, telephone, internet, etc. Your situation will vary.

I can’t help you with any connections in your country, sorry.

Good luck! Please keep me posted. I wish you success.