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I currently work for a very large company as a GIS developer, and while I am happy in my position for the most part, I can't help but wonder what life as a GIS consultant (i.e. working for myself) would be like...

I know there are many excellent GIS consultants on this site, and I am wondering on how they got their start. Are there any good sites where companies and/or organizations post GIS related requests? Can they offer any strategies on how they market themselves to companies/organizations? Any other tips to test the waters per say?

I'd also be interested in hearing about life as a GIS consultant. Any experiences or thoughts welcome.

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I think this is a great question. However, I think it would be better suited as a community wiki topic since it's an open-ended question that will benefit from several "correct" answers. –  user3461 Dec 25 '11 at 0:30
    
Maybe the answers to this question could help you (not a complete double, but close). –  jonatr Dec 25 '11 at 6:42
    
this is an excellent question. I am looking forward to the answers –  Devdatta Tengshe Dec 25 '11 at 12:34
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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Going out on your own is a decision to not take lightly. Leaving the security of a steady job is scary. Many people in a situation like yours start out by moonlighting on the side to test the waters and/or pick up some extra cash. You get the best of both worlds - the security of the 9 to 5 (or 6 to 6 in many cases) with benefits, insurance, and the like - and the flexibility of working on what you want to on the side (and extra cash).

I think that getting started in any field on your own requires contacts; knowing the right people. If you have been in the industry for any amount of time and are active in the community, chances are you have contacts. You have to use these. If you aren't already on LinkedIn, get on there and develop contacts with old coworkers, college friends, anyone who may be able to use your services or know someone who could. Never burn bridges, people can always roll back around years from now.

One thing to be careful about if you do decide to moonlight on the side is whether or not your current employer has a policy regarding working on the side or having a second job. Check into that with your HR department. You say you work for a large company, I bet they have a policy on this.

There are many books out there that can help as well. Many freelance books are geared toward the "creative" industry - graphic design, artists, photographers - but the principles are the same and apply. Here are a few to check out:

Both of these are pretty easy reads, but very informative. They contain info on getting clients, getting paid, tracking time, self-promotion - all important topics.

As far as getting your foot in the door, often your first client could be your former employer - they know you and how capable you are. That's if you go our cold turkey and leave the day job. If you moonlight, look into former employers, environmental consulting firms, small shops that might need GIS but not on a full-time basis. If you work in a specialized area, you will know what type of shops to seek out. I worked in the oil and gas industry for a while, so I went to small oil and gas companies and consultants to see if they needed my services. Some did, some didn't - that's how it goes.

Get good a shameless self-promotion, you'll need to do it. Craft an elevator pitch about what you do and what you can offer someone, as you never know when you will run into someone and only have a few seconds to capture their attention.

This is a very difficult topic to cover all of the bases on here, but those are some of the more important ones that I have come across.

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Thanks for the response, definitely a good starting point. –  user890 Dec 28 '11 at 13:28
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I think it's also possible your employer will have a policy against doing work for their customers for a period of time; to stop you leaving and poaching all their best clients at a cut-price rate. I'd check that out too. –  Mark Ireland Jan 4 '12 at 0:42
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Although it's more cartography-based, I would suggest you read through the Business of Cartography forum at CartoTalk. I think many of the topics will apply.

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Being a GIS consultant is a network business, you need contacts, and a network of GIS friends to help. It's long hours of feast or famine. I've been a GIS consultant for 12 years, I rely on others for possible contract leads and support.

It's tough as a one-man show, every hour you spend (Non-billable) doing admin work like writing proposals, or billing, is time taken away from billable work. Only have one client and your dead in the water when the contract is over. Have 4 or 5 active contracts and the deadlines all tend to fall in the same week and leave you feeling too spread out. 5 clients equals 5 bosses.. Likewise, taking a day off means no pay.

Having a network means I can have someone else do the billing, digitizing, or programming when I'm too busy. This will also let you concentrate on doing the work you want to do. You just need to account for their time in your proposal.

I wouldn't go back to corporate work but if I did the experience I gained seeing the whole show makes me more valuable to an employer.

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