As buzzwords go, “leverage” gets a lot of use. But while the word itself may seem overworked, leverage describes an important and useful concept. In the business world, leverage means using existing assets to produce growth and increased capabilities. It’s simply the process of using what you have to create more, and sometimes different, business opportunities. Leveraging works especially well in the geospatial landscape, where the high value and utility of spatial information is easy to transfer across disciplines and clients.

The basic tools for geospatial measurement and analysis can be used across a wide array of businesses and applications. The markets for geospatial services are quite broad and as a result, there are many potential clients out there who aren’t yet aware of what you do or how you can help them. To put it simply, if you want to make your business grow, geospatial is a good business to be in.

Tactics to Grow Your Business
The geospatial community provides us with many examples of leverage. For instance, consider how skills in cadastral surveying can easily transfer to GIS and land administration. For the surveyor who is versed in property research, documentation and measurement, extending deliverables for use with GIS can be straightforward. It simply requires learning to use some new tools to manage and share information. And as the surveyor becomes more familiar with GIS and those who use it, projects can emerge to supply additional information to clients’ GIS. By adding focus on GIS, the surveyor can gain new tools and capabilities to analyze data and prepare a wider variety of deliverables. New skills result in new deliverables that bring in new clients—and that’s the key to sustainable growth.

Let’s look at some basic approaches to business growth. Each approach is based on using one of two classes of existing assets. The first class consists of your existing capabilities, which include your organization’s skills, personnel and technical resources. The second asset class is your existing client base; these are the people who know you and the value of your services. Beginning with these assets, we’ll use leverage to add new clients, new skills or both.

  Existing Clients New Clients
Existing Capabilities Conventional Growth Prospecting
Geographic Expansion
New Capabilities New Applications
Secure Relationships
New Applications
Expanded Client Base

The baseline condition is conventional growth. It’s basically a passive, low-risk approach that relies on the growth of your clients’ businesses to trickle down to you. There’s little change in the type of work you do and customers you serve. Given a growing economy, organic growth can work well. But in today’s more tepid business environment, organic growth may be insufficient. Fortunately, there are other, more active ways to grow.

The first strategy is simply prospecting to find new clients. This can involve finding new clients in your market, or expanding the geographic area in which you operate. Like organic growth, prospecting also carries relatively low risk. It lets you capitalize on existing capabilities and attract new business by demonstrating your skills and performance. You may need to bring on added resources as additional clients come on line, but your growth comes from providing familiar services to new clients. As a result, there’s little concern related to venturing into unfamiliar technology or applications. Of course, on projects done for any new client, you must ensure that your performance meets or exceeds expectations.

The second strategy builds on your relationships with current clients. As you learn more about your clients’ businesses, you may discover needs that you can address by expanding your skills and services. Many clients welcome this—it’s often easier for them to work with a single, multi-faceted contractor than with several specialized ones. To your clients, you are a known and trusted resource. They may even be willing to help you move through the learning curve as you gain proficiency in the new services and deliverables.

Now look at the box in the lower right of the table. This third strategy is the result of the first two, and is the textbook example of leverage. It uses new applications to attract new clients, and vice versa. For instance, when you have developed a new capability, you are ready to market these services to new clients that were formerly out of your reach. They needed something you couldn’t provide, and now you can! Likewise, as you add more clients, you can gain exposure to new applications that they may need. This lets you identify and develop new skills and services, which you can then offer to even newer clients. It’s a spiral that goes in a solid, positive direction. Let’s look at some examples.

Leverage in Three Dimensions
SketchUp Pro software is a 3D modeling application widely used by architects and designers. It’s also an excellent tool for visualizing and sharing information about land and structures, i.e., information developed by surveyors. For instance, a surveyor can deliver a topographic survey in the form of a 3D surface model in SketchUp. Architects can use the model to design and place new improvements onto the site, including buildings and subdivisions. The plans can then return to the surveying environment for additional computations, stakeout and construction.

This case describes how it’s possible to leverage existing skills in topographic mapping with a new medium (SketchUp) for modeling and visualization. With the new capabilities, it’s possible to attract new business and clients. By adding this simple extension to his or her toolbox, the surveyor gains immediate exposure to new clients looking for 3D deliverables.

A second example can be seen in aerial imaging. A company that provided imaging and services for forestry applications saw its business decline during the drop in construction. The firm took its core skills—photogrammetry and analysis—to new clients in transportation, power transmission and natural resources. The broader base of customers provided additional sources of revenue as well as opportunities to add new skills and services in data management and delivery. In some cases, deliverables include injecting new layers directly into clients’ existing GIS databases.  

There are many other examples: Using contacts and skills in construction and building surveying, it’s possible to make the jump to building information management (BIM) and asset management. Detailed surveys of bridges and structures for transportation clients can open the door for terrestrial photogrammetry. Existing clients in mining or landfills—who need frequent measurements of volumes and material movement—will quickly realize the benefits of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). And by increasing one’s skills in collecting and managing GIS data, it’s possible to open doors to new business in the field as well as office functions for analyzing and applying spatial information.

Your Clients—the Inside Track to Growth
Through it all, it’s crucial to understand how client relationships affect your efforts to increase and improve your services. In addition to providing a stream of revenue, your clients have contacts and interactions that are important to your growth. When you have close knowledge of your clients’ businesses, you can gain exposure to new applications in their organization. One contact in a company can introduce you to a new client in a different department, and even give you ideas on how to best meet that new client’s needs.

Archimedes once said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the Earth.” We’re not looking to relocate the planet, but the broad appeal of geospatial information certainly provides a superb platform for business expansion. As you review your existing strengths, identify the skills and relationships that can provide pathways into new growth. Given the right leverage, it’s surprising how you can move your business to new levels of success.