Starting a Business

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Many of us dream of working for ourselves, being our own boss and making all the decisions instead of working for someone else. But how many people actually do it? This is our story of how we got started, the pitfalls, the traumas (and there were a few along the way), the things we’d never, ever do again and the satisfaction when things went right.

Our story actually started a short while before we formed the company in 1998. All three of the Directors who started the company had worked for other cartographic companies in the past, and we’d all also worked together at one time or another.

Our reasons for wanting to start the company were probably all different – whether it was dissatisfaction at where one of us was working, someone needing a new challenge or just the thought that we really couldn’t do any worse than some of the previous bosses we’d had and would hopefully actually be a bit better.

Anyway, the suggestion was made that we should go our own way and the three of us took the idea and ran with it. I’m not quite sure we knew where we were running to, but it felt good.

Then came the reality of company formation, accountants, Articles of Memorandum, business bank accounts, commercial Estate Agents, leases and solicitors. And, on top of that, work was coming in and maps had to be produced.

We struck lucky on the bank account, opening an account with the NatWest purely on the basis that one of us had a personal account with them. We were allocated a Business Advisor by the name of Brendan Minihane and he helped us enormously through those first months, and even for years afterwards. I know it’s not fashionable to praise banks these days, but some of his advice was invaluable and set us off in the right direction. Yes, he did try to sell us various add-ons, insurance and the like but I think he quickly got used to the answer ‘No, thanks’. Can’t blame the man for trying though.

The next big hurdle was office space. None of us had any experience of renting office space so we were flying by the seats of our pants. Fortunately, we fell on our feet with decent, modern offices in a converted church hall in Guildford and a flexible lease. It was at this time that we won our first big contract, with Thomson Directories. We had many other clients as well but it was the sheer bulk of work for Thomson’s that enabled us to quickly expand.

the_hall

(The Hall, Woking Road, Guildford – our first offices)

In fact, we expanded so quickly that within a short period of time we were employing fourteen full time staff and a number of freelancers too. Which was a problem in itself.

The problem wasn’t so much in actually employing people (we’d have input from solicitors and Human Resources experts to help with the legal side of things) and had many applications for employment. No, the real problem was finding the right people. We quickly learnt that a  University Degree was no guarantee of a person’s competence or even their ability to work in an office environment. Added to that, we were also looking for an ability to draw maps. We found some very good staff, but we found an awful lot of very poor ones too.

With the number of staff rising we made the decision to move to larger offices, this time to Old Woking, Surrey. We also took on two new salesmen and looked at finding new markets for our maps. Some time before this one of the Directors dropped out and we were down to the two Directors we have today, Sally and Paul Cooney.

westminster_court

(1 Westminster Court, Old Woking – our offices up until 2008)

With hindsight, moving offices was probably a mistake. But our biggest mistake was taking on a 10 year lease on the new offices. No-one can foresee the future and 10 years is an awful long time in business. It’s not that we weren’t doing ok, we were, but we kept thinking of the higher costs (higher rent, higher business rates, service charges etc) for the larger offices than we had previously and how much better off we’d have been.

Eventually we took the plunge and bought ourselves out of the remainder of the lease and changed the set up of the business, moving to using more freelance cartographers rather than permanent staff.

This had an immediate positive effect on the Company and we had some of our best years ever. It also coincided with the massive downturn in the UK economy (we’re talking 2008 here) but now, with our overheads substantially reduced, we were fairly immune to the forthcoming recession. Fortunately, we also had some major contracts during this period and the Company remained buoyant.

Switching away from permanent staff and working with freelancers also gave us the opportunity to move away from where we had been based in Surrey to the much more relaxed location of the Isle of Wight, which is where we are now.

Which brings us just about up to date.

We’ve learnt a lot over the last 16 years since starting the business. We’ve had a lot of highs and a few lows along the way. We’ve enjoyed drawing maps for a lot of household name companies (British Airways, Virgin, IKEA, Automobile Association, Thomson Directories and Thomas Cook to name but a few) plus thousands of much smaller businesses. Would we do it all over again? Almost certainly, but wouldn’t it be great to do it with the benefit of hindsight too!

 

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Socially Speaking

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As well as this pcgblog, which we try and update every week, you can also find more information and samples of PCGraphics custom designed maps on a number of social media web sites:

We’re on   Facebook   facebook

Also on   Pinterest   pinterest

And    Linkedin   linkedin_icon

Not forgetting   Twitter   twitter

Plus, of course, the   PCGraphics website   pcg_small

 

We’d love to meet you on one, or even all of them!

 

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Walk Maps

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Writing in our blog recently about  Walk the Wight, part of the Isle of Wight Walking Festival, it gave us the idea of looking back and seeing the variety of walk maps we’ve produced at PCGraphics over the years.

Walk Maps are always popular and we’ve done a number of these, some for publishers others for Local Authorities.

The map below was actually produced for the Isle of Wight Walking Festival a few years ago and is the index page to all the main walk routes on the Island.

Route_Index

One of the earliest walk maps we produced was for Shetland Island Tourism. This was a series of walks around Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands. The maps were produced royalty and copyright free, meaning we had to visit the Island and walk every street to ensure we didn’t infringe copyright. Shetland is more than 100 miles (160 km) off the north coast of mainland Scotland and, as we were based in Surrey at the time, quite a trip for our cartographers.

Lerwick_Walk_Map

We’ve produced a quite a few maps for The History Press (Pitkin Publishing) and the example below is one of a number of London Walk maps we created for them. With busy areas such as this it’s best to keep the detail to a minimum (i.e. not showing all the roads) otherwise the route can easily become lost amongst all the other detail. Major landmarks and main roads are all that is usually required.

Walk B

Pica Design commissioned these maps of Kingston and Chessington in Surrey from us back in 2009 as part of a series of six maps. Other maps included Richmond Park and a Thames Walk map.

Basic CMYK  Basic CMYK

For Thomas Cook Publishing we produced literally hundreds of maps to go in their guide books (City Spots, Hot Spots and Drive Around guides). The example below is of a walk route around Taormina in Sicily.

Taormina

For Isle of Wight Tourism we produced a complete booklet of walks around the Island including text, photographs and graphics. As with most walk maps, these were custom designed and produced royalty or copyright free, meaning that we had to walk all these footpaths ourselves. The maps folded down to a pocket sized DL booklet and are still offered as digital downloads from the Visit Isle of Wight website.

yarmouth-brighstone

 

A different style of walk map now, this time what we call a pictorial map. This particular map is of a walk route in Usk, south east Wales, and was one of a number of maps created for Monmouth County Council.

USK

 

Over the past few months we’ve been producing a range of walk maps for Assura for display in the reception areas of Health Centres, Doctor’s Surgeries etc to encourage patients to take more exercise. These are short walks around the local area and are printed at A1 size and encapsulated in acrylic for display in the reception areas. Each map has two walks and also includes a QR Code so that people can download the walk onto their mobile devices.

Basic CMYK  A4 Assura Template

 

The walk maps for Assura are based on Ordnance Survey data, meaning that we don’t have to go out and actually walk around each route – which is a bit of a shame sometimes as some of the walks are quite pleasant and we were getting just a little bit fitter.

Which just about brings us up to date with walk maps as we currently have a new map in production for Assura.

 

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Mapping your holiday

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If you’ve booked a holiday or trip abroad through a Travel Agent or Tour Operator in the last 16 years or so, the chances are that you’ll have seen or used one of our maps.

PCGraphics have produced a huge number of maps for the travel industry, very probably more than any other cartographic company in the UK during that time. From small locator maps for holiday brochures and websites to large format printed maps of tourist destinations for sale in shops, online and on cruise ships etc, we’ve been asked to produce all manner and sizes of maps.

ATG 09 design template  CPM2 Template landscape.ai

(Left, Audley Travel Thailand and right, Vintage Travel Rhodes)

We’ve created maps of holiday locations on every continent. Maps of everywhere from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and from North and South America to Asia, along with most places in between.

So, if you’ve been on holiday with many of the big names in the Travel Industry such as TUI (including Thomson Holidays, Airtours, Quark Expeditions, First Choice etc), British Airways Holidays, Virgin Holidays, Thomas Cook and many others, to smaller Tour Operators such as Vintage Travel, Audley, Ultimate Travel, New Experience Holidays, Helpful Holidays and loads, loads more, you will have probably seen our maps at some stage of the booking procedure.

peru

(Produced for The Peru Experience)

To give you an idea of some of the numbers of maps involved, for British Airways Holidays alone we have produced around 120 maps of holiday destinations around the World and for TUI the total is well over 160.

In our Job Records, which keeps track of each and every job we do, there are 459 unique records for Tour Operators and some of those individual jobs can have more than a hundred maps in each project. Which, by any standard, is a whole lot of tourist maps.

Maps for the Travel Industry come in a variety of sizes and designs, They can be small locator maps, perhaps showing where a particular town or village is within a country or region, or they can be highly detailed maps for tourists to find their way around a foreign city. Over the last couple of years we’ve had a lot more requests for customised maps of areas of Africa showing Nature Reserves, Safari Lodges etc and so, based on that, we’d guess that tourism to the wilder parts of Africa is probably becoming increasingly popular. One thing about all our maps though is that they are all custom designed maps, individual to each client.

Botswana   ATG 09 design template   Rwanda-Uganda

(Produced for Wilderness Dawning Safaris, The Responsible Safari Company and The Africa Travel Centre)

Many of our clients come back to us again and again for new maps or updates to existing maps and we’ve worked with some Tour Operators for well over 12 years.

We really enjoy working with Tour Operators and the Travel Industry in general. Producing maps of tourist destinations is always fun and interesting and, even if we can’t actually get to a lot of the exotic places around the World ourselves, the next best thing can be to draw maps of them.

 

Just a very few of our valued client from over the years. Some well known names in here:

Acorn Ski Ltd,   Affinity Villas,   Africa & Asia venture,   Africa Travel Centre,   American Holidays,   Audley Travel,   Bailey Robinson,   Bonnes Vacances,   British Airways Holidays,   Citysightseeing,   Consort Travel,   Croatian Villas,   First Choice Holidays,   French Golf Holidays,   Helpful Holidays,   Hotel Connect,   Kerala Connections,   Kirker Holidays,   New Experience Holidays,   Quark Expeditions,   Scandinavian Airline,   Shearings Holidays,   Ski Class,   STA Travel,   Sunways,   Swan Hellenic,   The Responsible Safari Company,   Tony Backhurst Scuba Travel,   TUI UK,   Vintage Travel,   Virgin Holidays,   Voyagers Zambia,   Worldwide Holidays Direct………… and many more!

 

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Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

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Great view of Yarmouth from the air (courtesy of Visit Isle of Wight), with the ferry leaving for Lymington at the top of the photo – click on the photo to enlarge it.

Yarmouth is situated in the west of the Island, see the map below, and is one of the smallest towns in the United Kingdom. According to the UK Census in 2001 it had a population of 791.

yarmouth

yarmouth_map

 

Courtesy of Visit Isle of Wight

Visit their Facebook page

 

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Thomson Directories – a tale of 400 towns

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It was in late 2000 that we first started work for Thomson Directories (TDL) at PCGraphics. We had only formed the company two years earlier in 1998, so taking on a prestigious contract such as this for TDL was a big step for a small, newly formed cartographic company.

thomsonlogo      pcg_small

The contract was to produce more than 400 detailed maps of UK town and city centres which were to be used in the TDL Directories that are delivered annually to nearly every home in the country. The Directories at that time had up to four or five maps in each publication.

Previously, TDL had used the Automobile Association Cartographic Department for the supply of maps but, for a number of reasons, TDL decided to look elsewhere for a supplier.  Fortunately, PCGraphics were in a good position as several of our cartographic staff  had already worked on the TDL maps – the Automobile Association subcontracted the drawing of the maps to a cartographic company in Surrey where a number of us had worked previously.

The requirement was to create ‘royalty free’ maps of each of the 400+ locations. At that time, to produce a royalty free map (which means a map free of all copyright issues), we had to purchase aerial photography and, after taking it into a graphics programme (Macromedia Freehand initially and, later, Adobe Illustrator), trace all the roads and other linear features. The only way to obtain all the names of roads etc, without infringing any other publisher’s copyright, was to send staff to each location where they would annotate a printout of the map line-work with all the names from street signs etc.

This was obviously an extremely time consuming task as an average map could take up to one whole day of walking around every street writing down all the names – and we had more than 400 to do. Larger maps, such as London and other major cities, obviously took a lot longer. This street checking had to be done in sun, rain or snow as we had a tight schedule of map production to keep to.

Torquay-Battersea

Two of the smaller size maps created for Thomson Local Directories – Torquay and Battersea

Most of the production work – both the street checking and the actual map production – was carried out by permanently employed PCGraphics staff members. Several times though we did have to use freelance cartographers for elements of the work and, occasionally, this did cause us problems. One incident which is still indelibly burnt into our memories is where a freelancer, as far as we could make out, simply copied an old map of the town centre we asked them to produce, along with all the errors and omissions in that old map, and passed it back to us as a new map (which was supposed to have been drawn from scratch and street checked). This caused us enormous problems at the time as we had to independently check this freelancer’s work and then redraw the map ourselves.

One other error which slipped through the net was when a Sikh Temple in Huddersfield was wrongly marked on the map as a Mosque. This, understandably, provoked an adverse reaction from the Sikh community and the map had to be quickly amended. Interestingly, this map was also produced by the same freelancer as before. Unsurprisingly, we haven’t used that freelancer ever again!

But, fortunately, mistakes with the mapping were very few and far between. Keeping the majority of the work in-house meant we were able to apply a high level of quality control to the project which was essential with that number of maps and the tight schedule.

After the initial three year period producing the maps, the contract rolled on with updates to the maps, more new maps and improvements.

The contracts with Thomson Directories ran for nearly eleven years, the last work being done in 2011, and we are extremely grateful to Mike Callaghan, Steve Arnold and all the others at TDL whom we worked with over the years and who had faith in PCGraphics back in 2000 when awarding us that first contract.

Michael Callaghan, previously of Thomson Directories, writing on Linkedin:

Whilst working for Thomson Directories a few years ago, we had a requirement to change our cartographic supplier.
Speaking to Sally and Paul at PCGraphics we were impressed.
They were professional, realistic on timescales achievable, well organised, good communicators and the quality of their work was of the highest standard.
Our requirement was for over 400 town plan maps to be generated to a tight schedule.
Sally organised the ground surveys and generation of maps and we were very pleased with the end result which incidentally, was on time.
I would not hesitate to recommend Sally and the wealth of experience she brings to her work.

 

 

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Ward-Lock Red Guide Books – Bath

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This is the second in an occasional series highlighting the Ward-Lock Red Guide Books, which we used at PCGraphics until a few years ago as copyright free bases for UK map information. The books have a wealth of information and give an interesting insight into life getting on for 70 years ago in the UK.

Published in 1950, this particular Guide covers Bath, Cheddar, Wells, Glastonbury and the surrounding towns.

bath_cover

bath_map  map_os

(Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database rights 2014)

The main map of Bath in the Guide (above, left) was a reprint of a John Bartholomew & Son map of the city. Above, right is approximately the same area today, taken from Ordnance Survey digital sources. You can see that the basic layout of the roads (plus the road names etc) are pretty much the same as they were 70 years ago, which is why these old maps have been an invaluable source for us to produce out of copyright maps from. We’ve illustrated this below by merging the 1950s map with the up to date Ordnance Survey map.

map_os_merge

Similar to the Harrogate Guide Book which we covered previously, this Bath Guide also contains some, in comparison to today’s Guide Books, unusual advertisements. Take the one below, for instance. How many times do you see an advert for a light bulb in a Thomas Cook, Lonely Planet or Rough Guides tourist book? Pretty much never I’d guess. Well, 70 years ago, apparently this was pretty normal as Osram, the light bulb manufacturer, used to take a high profile advert on the back page in many of the Red Guides. Obviously, when you are away on holiday, one of the things you always needed to think about was light bulbs.

bath_ad1

And then there’s the radioactive hot springs after which Bath was named. The level of radioactivity is, very probably, harmless but back in 1950 it was thought to be a positive selling point for the springs and had it’s own section in the Guide Book. It did give me cause however to look up the radioactive element radium on Wikipedia and it states:

Radium was once an additive in products such as toothpaste, hair creams, and even food items due to its supposed curative powers. Such products soon fell out of vogue and were prohibited by authorities in many countries after it was discovered they could have serious adverse health effects.

The French physicist Antoine Becquerel carried a small ampoule of radium in his waistcoat pocket for 6 hours and reported that his skin became ulcerated. Marie Curie experimented with a tiny sample that she kept in contact with her skin for 10 hours, and noted that an ulcer appeared several days later. Handling of radium has been blamed for Curie’s death due to aplastic anaemia.

Perhaps we’ll give the radioactive hot springs a miss next time we’re in Bath. Just in case.

bath_water

 

But, luckily, if the radium in the springs does, unfortunately, have an effect on you, you’ll be pleased to find that there are at least six adverts for Insurance companies in the Bath Red Guide. Mind you, by that time it might be too late to be calling an insurance company.

 

bath-insurance

 

Below is an extract from the road map included in the Guide, again produced by John Bartholomew & Son and used under licence. Not as user friendly as road maps produced these days, being only in black and white with a blue tint in areas of water. But then, motoring was probably a lot different too in 1950.

bath-road-map

 

We’ll be continuing this series in the future with other Ward-Lock Red Guide Books from our library.

If you are interested in old maps of the UK, you may like to know that we are gradually selling off our collection of Ordnance Survey One Inch maps. We have collected almost a complete set of these over the years, all of them over 50 years old, and are selling these individually on eBay as time permits. The maps are in varying condition depending on how much usage they have had over the years. Most of these historic maps sell for around £10 – £15. If you would like to enquire about a particular map or to purchase one, please contact us.

 

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