How Do I Start My First Business Map?

Your boss or your organization has recently realized they need some sort of businessmap and they’ve asked you to manage the process. What do you do? I recently watched my wife go through this process with her organization. It inspired this blog post.

First, don’t panic. There’s plenty of business mapping software options out there. Use an Internet search engine to find a few alternatives. Use their demo software or buy a reasonably priced version and start thinking about your map’s goals.

Define Your Map’s Purpose
Every map has a reason for being. What is your map’s main purpose in life? This is important because you want your map to serve one or two key purposes only. Multi-purpose mapping that handles more than two layers at once is generally the realm of GIS specialists trained to build complex maps. That’s not you. You are conducting business mapping. You want a map that supplements your business somehow. Ask yourself, “What is my map attempting to communicate to my map viewing audience?”

Possible answers:
• My map should accurately and quickly depict all the event locations that our org hosted in 2014
• My map should show all sales reps by territory with home locations and include sales for 2014
• My map should show where all of our patients are located and their top three medical issues
• My map should describe our company’s coverage area by zip code and note all competitor locations in the five state area

Make Your Map Sing Through Data Prep
The world is now full of beautiful and accurate digital maps – ours included. And no matter what business mapping software you choose, your map application will include a basic set of tools – data import capabilities, line and polygon draw tools, zip code layers, etc. But what makes your map sing is the detail and consistency of your map data. This is where your time should be invested. Thoughtfully massage your business data with an eye towards what your audience will want to see:

• Include full addressing for the an accurate and organized mappoint placement
• Review your data for holes – missing addresses or records with no data. Remember “garbage in, garbage map.”
• Assign sensible column headers – name, address, state, zip, type, status, sales, etc.
• Remove superfluous sections of your data – comment areas, instructions, multiple datasets on one sheet
• Organize your data records into types, categories, and statuses. Use these columns to symbolize and color code

Many people expect the map application to be their biggest challenge. I find the biggest challenge for most users to be compiling a clean and organized dataset to import for map display. The columns in your data will impact how well you can color code areas and points on the map. And you’ll be able to label and query based your columns too. Give your data some love before you import it.

As you massage your data think about its purpose – are you building a dataset of customers. Then you are conducting customer mapping. Are you building a dataset of retail stores, perhaps yours and your competitors, then you are conducting retail mapping. Likewise if you are creating a list of sales territories, you are sales territory mapping.

Consider Your Map Audience
The digital map you create for Donald Trump is going to look much different from the one you create for President Obama. The Donald’s map will have lots of gold and red colors, lots of exaggerated monetary figures, and lots and lots of references to Trump businesses because The Donald wants to read about The Donald. The president’s map will tend to be focused on the problem at hand with several layers of critical data supporting key aspects of the issue, perhaps highlighting worst hit areas and several areas where the problem is under control. The president wants to quickly understand the problem so he can work on a solution.

Know your map audience. Utilize the business map application’s tools to cater to their way of thinking. For example, use the map legend to describe data layers with words your audience uses every day. Add explanatory labels where necessary. Don’t make your map a puzzle to be solved, make the map something they immediately relate to. This is how you become a map hero. If your map is for the corner office, focus on describing dollars by region or territory. They’ll want to see dollars reflecting growth and regions that reflect sales accountability. Consider using the Heat Map tool when displaying sales by location. This will sex-up your map and wake up your viewers.

If your map is for operational use show customer or patient locations that are easily grasped by type. Avoid symbolizing by customer or representative when you have more than five reps. Don’t clutter your map. Instead organize your data into types or categories and color code points by that column. Use zip codes, counties or city limit districting to show areas of interest or territories. For example, instead of listing and symbolizing every clinician, color code by type of clinician – DO, MD, RN, PA, Aide, and PT.

Let the Map Do Some Work
Take advantage of the business mapping software calculation tools designed to compute totals, averages, and counts of your business data. This means, for example, you can sum or total up customer sales data from each data point in a territory label . That’s pretty cool. Or a nonsales related example might be importing a dataset of all 2014 reported influenza cases by patient address and then totaling the count by county. The results would show in the county label – “Essex County – Flu Count 345”.

By understanding your map audience and the purpose of your map you’ll be better able to determine when your map is more or less complete. At this point any further data layers would probably be more appropriate for a new map. For instance, you’ve created your sales territory map for the C-suite big wigs. Now your manager wants you to add a data layer describing operational parameters and display this against demographic data. This sounds to me like a second map. Not a problem, you’ll just have two finely tuned maps to bring up. Push back on demands to solve all problems with one map. Why clutter up one finely tuned map when you can communicate more effectively using two maps?

You can always save your map as a map template. This protects the map you’ve created while allowing you to utilize it as a base-map for other appropriate layers in the future. For instance, save that sales territory map as a template. Use that template map as the starter map and include a layer of competitor locations for an additional topic of discussion in the strategic plan meeting.

My Better Half
Recently my wife required a business map for her work at the Maine Food Strategy. I set her up with Map Business Online and watched with interest as she went through the business mapping process. As usual, her biggest challenge, and the one that took the most time, was preparing her map data. After her map was complete I asked her what her thoughts were on Map Business Online. She replied, “Setting up the data layers was much easier than I expected. And Map Business Online provided many more background data options then I had anticipated. I was also surprised by how much data column set-up impacted map use. I had many more options when I used full addressing, first & last names, plus company names. Why doesn’t the company provide any female icons in the symbol library? I see lots of potential for additional maps.”

So remember, focus on your data, know your map’s purpose, and understand your map audience. And have fun building you business map. I’ve got some research to do regarding female mappoint icons.

Let a digital map help you learn about your business

Contact: Geoffrey Ives (800) 425-9035, (207) 939-6866

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About Geoffrey Ives

Geoffrey Ives lives and works in southwestern Maine. He grew up in Rockport, MA and graduated from Colby College. Located in Maine since 1986, Geoff joined DeLorme Publishing in the late 1990's and has since logged twenty-five years in the geospatial software industry. In addition to business mapping, he enjoys playing classical & jazz piano, gardening, and taking walks in the Maine mountains with his Yorkshire Terrier named Skye.
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