Web Exclusive: Professional Topography: To Map or Not to Map.

March 1, 2009
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For some surveyors, mapping is a natural fit. For others, it’s like oil and water-or worse.

When I present seminars to surveyors and ask whether they do mapping, I am constantly surprised by how few raise their hands. Very often, it is only about one-third of the audience. Yet mapping is part and parcel (no pun intended) of surveying. A map is broadly defined as a representation of the Earth's surface that shows how various elements are related to each other by distance, direction and size. I think most surveyors would agree that the representations of the work they create could fit this definition. Remember that a plat consists of a map, drawn to scale, showing the divisions (if any) of a piece of land.

A mapper uses a surveyor’s skills in the field to collect measurements to create maps. Likewise, a surveyor uses a mapper’s skills to determine what and how to measure in the field and then integrate all that data into one or more visual products on paper or digitally. A surveyor should always stake a claim on mapping.

A Convenient Time to Add Mapping Services

If you haven’t already embraced mapping as part of your service offerings, now is a good time to consider adding it. Virtually all business owners are concerned about the impact of the recession, and diversification is an important way to safeguard your business.

Such diversification might simply be a matter of perception. For example, you might insist that you only provide surveying services. But what if a potential client doesn’t know they need a survey to solve a potential problem? They might think they need a map-but what if it’s a topographic map? By virtue of the way you describe your services, you may have inadvertently drawn a circle around your business that prevents it from being considered by potential clients.

Do some reading and figure out what works as the best definition for your business, then practice it. Sometimes, just adding the phrase “mapping services” to your existing advertising (stationery, business card, Web site, Yellow Pages and other advertising, etc.) may be all that’s needed to expand your business.

Of course, you need to figure out what types of mapping you can do competently before you add them to your list of services. The obvious ones for most surveyors are topographic and planimetric mapping. Other options include street mapping, street furniture mapping (benches, trash cans, even light poles, etc.), manhole mapping, sewer mapping and storm water facilities mapping. Think about the needs of your community, and see if you can “invent” a type of mapping even if it is not referred to in a textbook.

The Art and Science of Cartography

Mappers are often referred to as cartographers. To make maps that are meaningful and that clearly convey the intended information to the reader, you need to understand the principles of cartography-the relationships between lines, colors, text, shading, etc. You should also learn some of the terms that cartographers use. One example is “thematic.” A thematic map is one that has been designed to depict a theme or topic, such as the maps that display states in either red or blue to indicate their political party preference during elections. Thematic maps can also show rainfall, snow cover, types of vegetation or soil, or pollutants.

Learning and understanding the basic terms will make you a better marketer and help you earn recognition as a service professional who understands the business of mapping.

A Team Approach

You may need to consider adding new technologies to your lineup to fully capitalize on mapping opportunities. However, it can be expensive to acquire new equipment and software and train yourself and your staff. You’ll need to carefully assess the market to be sure you will have enough business to justify the investment. An alternative solution is to team up with other businesses that use photogrammetry, LiDAR or other imagery-including imagery from space and multispectral imagery. If you don’t know what some of these terms are, then take the time to learn. A good place to start is with articles and columns right in this magazine.

Your eyes may be opened to new opportunities once you’ve broadened the concept of your business to include surveying and mapping.

Sidebar: A Word about Marketing

Marketing is an area that many surveyors don’t think about much, yet it’s an essential element of diversification. Many small-business owners practice some of the principles of marketing, but often these principles are only what they’ve learned from observing other businesses. They may not have indelibly stamped it into the operating principles of their company.

To optimize marketing, you have to first define what marketing means for your business. One of the best definitions I have seen for marketing is this: “Marketing consists of the strategies and tactics used to identify, create and maintain satisfying relationships with customers that result in value for both the customer and the marketer.”

How can you bring value to clients? The answer to this question can help you define your business-and your marketing objectives.

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