12 Geospatial Side Businesses that Could Work for You
Are you looking for an opportunity to use your GIS skills outside of your 9-5? Looking to refresh your creativity and motivation? Or avoid that dreaded feeling of stagnation in your professional GIS career?
Consider a GIS side-hustle. You can focus on broadening your skill set, doing something more creative that you REALLY love, and even make a little extra money at the same time. The opportunities are growing every day. Have a look at our curated list of potential GIS side-hustle ideas, created for people like you.
1. Maps as art or gifts
This one is pretty obvious. You have skills in map making, make maps! Instead of making boring maps displaying utility networks for your day job, you have the ability to design beautiful, interesting maps as gifts or artwork that people will want in their homes. The number of creative avenues out there have exponentially increased in recent years. E-commerce sites like Etsy and Shopify have made it much easier for small individual entrepreneurs to get into the market without much hassle. There are two different ways you can do this, either a print on demand service or pre-made designs that can be purchased as is.
2. Print yourself or send digital copies?
This is a big decision to make. Even if you design a fantastic map, if the quality of the print itself is poor, you’ll receive bad reviews. However, if you take control of the process, and print and mail the maps out to the customer yourself, you can guarantee your standards. The latter option is more resource intensive, both temporally and financially, and might not be a good fit depending on your availability.
There are other options though. Print-on-demand services like Printful take that extra load off your back and could be a great option.
3. Fantasy maps
While this is a niche market, there is definitely a market for it. Social board games like Dungeons and Dragons having taken off in recent years, and there’s a need for fantasy maps for games. The online forum, Cartographers Guild has a section devoted to fantasy map commissions for example. You can also use websites like Upwork or Fiverr, or even create your own portfolio website advertising your services. This one could be the perfect escape from the 9-5 reality.
4. Written Content creation
If you have a flair with words and a geospatial background, you could find yourself a niche in the writing market. Any company with an online presence needs written content, whether it’s for landing pages, product descriptions or blogs. Because GIS is a highly specialized, technical skillset, you can’t write about it without having at least a baseline understanding of the topic. If you have ever had to explain what GIS is to a new acquaintance (so, nearly every new acquaintance), you will know this narrows the competitive pool. Companies want quality content, and more often than not are willing to pay well for it. Geospatial content writing is a great avenue to look into if you like writing.
5. Video creation
The same as with written content creation, you simply cannot produce meaningful video content on geospatial topics if you do not first have a background in GIS. YouTube videos that guide people through using different tools, workflows, or bug fixes are the most common way people do their own troubleshooting online. That certainly includes the community of GIS professionals.
You could go down the path of creating a YouTube channel, or even make videos on behalf of GIS companies. Many aspects of a business are outsourced, and that’s not limited to video creation. Building this skill will also enhance your potential earnings for our next idea:
6. Course development
As a GIS professional, you have a wealth of knowledge that others would love to understand. Typically, IT skills are easy, and popular to develop course plans for. In demand skillsets like SQL, or Python for GIS could be especially popular choices. The benefit of using platforms like Udemy, Thinkific and Teachable, is that it is a passive side hustle. You do the work, develop the course, and then sit back as money gradually comes in. If you have the skills to share, and don’t want to continue to invest time beyond the startup period, then a passive side hustle like course development could be for you.
7. Web applications
Find yourself a problem, no matter how small, and ask “Can a smartphone or web application solve this problem?”. It doesn’t need to be a complex development project, even really simple apps can be very successful. From simple data collection apps, to more complex apps, citizen science and data collection is becoming more and more possible and accessible.
Perhaps your community is battling with reoccurring storm water flooding, which is hard for authorities to map accurately. You could create an easy-to-use web application for local community members to add their flood level data to. Depending on what your web application solution is, it can be monetized in various ways. Advertising is the main one, you could also accept donations or offer a freemium version without ads. Another option is to make your base application free, but charge for add-ins or extensions,
Having a side hustle doesn’t have to be something massive, or even that creative. You can always choose to continue doing what you’re doing, but on the side. If you like the idea of simply picking and choosing your additional projects as a freelancer, there’s plenty of opportunity there. Many companies don’t want to employ someone full time to a GIS position, and will instead contract out the work on an as-needed basis.
Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr make freelancing really easy. This gives you the ability to select jobs where you will be developing new skills, or you can simply stick with a topic you are already familiar with. You can work at your own pace and set your own price. Freelancing is a comparatively low risk side hustle, and it requires no initial funding or cost to start up.
9. Drone services
Drones are getting cheaper and cheaper and, depending on which country you’re in, are relatively easily accessible. Many people have started to make money from drone-based photography and videography, but if you have the additional GIS skillset, you could leverage this to a much greater advantage. Many companies, especially construction, will hire contracted drone pilots to take progress photos over the course of a project. Real estate shoots are another high dollar low time investment option. Just be sure to check legal regulations around flying drones and working commercially as a drone operator in your country.
Think Local – Within your community
10. Maps for Local Companies
You don’t have to look far, or even online, you can start local with your side-hustle. People forget that places like the local caravan park, apartment or retirement community, or any number of other small businesses may need maps for advertising, brochures or navigation infographics. Start by networking locally. Make yourself known and display examples of what you can do. It helps here to have a website or portfolio, and maybe print a set of business cards to leave behind as you meet potential clients in your everyday dealings. Once you get the ball rolling, you could virtually dominate the market in your area as word of your skills spreads.
11. Real estate lot markings
Real estate companies often need to illustrate property extents both for listings. Having quality imagery is an essential part of advertising, and home sales are no exception. As real estate agents do not generally have the required mapping skills for this, lot designs and site maps are something that would generally be outsourced.
12. Real Estate market analysis
Your small town local residential or commercial real estate likely is not going to have a GIS analyst on staff. You can offer to do a local real estate analysis for the various neighborhoods or districts they work with. Consider things like rent and sale prices, proximity to schools, income demographics, and other infrastructure or crime statistics. In some areas, there will also be relevant zoning, flood zone, or construction regulations that will impact what development you can do to a property. All of these things can be analyzed and mapped and will add great benefit to a local real estate company.
This one is a little left field and while you’re not necessarily your own boss, it is relatively simple to contribute and earn. Hivemapper evolved as a way to take the industry domination away from other map providers like Google. It is a decentralized, constantly updating map, built using a network of contributors, similar to OpenStreetMap. Contributors use dashcams to build and improve on the map whilst driving around town through their regular travels, and earning cryptocurrency at the same time. While it’s not yet available everywhere, it may be rolling out in a city near you.
How to Make your Side Hustle Work
Find Something You’re Passionate About
One of the key ingredients to making your side-hustle work is doing something that you enjoy and are really passionate about. You’ll be balancing this around your day job, if you’re not really driven to the work, you simply won’t find the time or motivation to continue doing GIS after the work day ends. This is your opportunity to do something for the love of it, not just to pay the bills.
Don’t deter yourself by thinking your idea or market is too niche. You can’t expect to develop a business idea that’s going to be a one size fits all solution for everyone. In reality, if you grab a small portion of the market, but you do it well, you’ll be successful. You don’t have to make something for everyone, you have to make something for someone.
Be Realistic About Your Availability
How much time do you really have to invest in this? If you stretch yourself too thin, you’re only going to burn out. It’s important to keep in the back of your mind that this is a ‘side’ hustle, and that you need to find balance between it, your day job, and your real life. Don’t even consider quitting your day job until you’re confident you can turn the side hustle into the main hustle, and have the budget and savings to protect you. A little risk in business is good, too much, and you’ll crash and burn.
Be Prepared for the Long-haul
Many people wrongfully believe their brilliant business idea will take off instantly. No matter how brilliant it is, there’s going to be ramping up period. A business takes to grow. You should be mentally and financially prepared for this long lead in time. Make a plan. Set yourself business milestones and targets to reach. This part is crucial, because a side-hustle is not your main source of income, and you’re likely to procrastinate and push it to the side when life gets in the way. Make time for the work, and stick to your milestones.
Get Business Savvy
Do a little market research. Look at what other companies are doing, who they target, what they offer. Can you offer something different? Or, is there no one in your area offering the same services?
Build up some clients, even if that means offering your services or products at a discounted rate to begin with. Building up a reputation is incredibly important when it comes to developing consumer trust. Reviews, high ratings, and testimonials are gold and will help to get your side-hustle off the ground and generate new business.
You Don’t Have to be an Expert
You don’t have to be an expert at everything, just because you’re an entrepreneur. If you need to make a website, but you don’t know how, it’s ok to contract that out. You can use platforms like Upwork or Fiverr to employ someone to develop a website for you. You can even share the wealth and keep your contracting in your network by soliciting your LinkedIn or Twitter network for web developers or designers.
Likewise, you don’t have to have top of the range gadgets and software subscriptions to make this work. If you have the idea, the drive and the necessary tools, you can make your GIS side-hustle work. Better or more expensive equipment isn’t necessarily going to make you more money or bring you more clients. If what you are selling isn’t targeted and the quality is poor, it’s unlikely business will be booming anytime soon.
Hopefully, this has provided you with the necessary inspiration to start your own side-hustle. Who knows, maybe it’ll become your main hustle.
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