Setting Customer Expectations

Professional genealogist Josh Jenkins reviews the importance of using Terms & Conditions with genealogy clients in this article at GenBiz Solutions!

Setting Customer Expectations

[Editor’s Note: Josh Jenkins is a professional genealogist and owner of AncestorStalker.com.]

America’s economy was founded on the principles of a free market. In simplistic terms, someone (typically a business) provides a good or service and in return they receive payment. This is the basis by which companies either flourish or fail. Many other economic factors come into play such as supply, demand and market volatility, but the general premise is elementary.

As a genealogy business, there are many forms of products and deliverables we offer our clients, so it is difficult to quantify exactly how much of a service they have received at the close of a project. Each case can be dramatically different. One project may include DNA analysis for heritage determination that required locating a distant cousin for testing, while another case could command an all-day excursion to a federal archival facility.

Due to the fact there are so many different types of cases we handle, it is paramount that customer expectations are set before beginning each project. Every case, no matter what type or requirements, is based and billed upon number of hours worked. This can be difficult for many customers to come to terms with. The reasoning? Many services we receive in our lives revolve around physical deliverables.

Take for example having your vehicle’s muffler repaired or replaced. You expect a quote for the repair at the outset, a detail of what work will be performed and finally an expected result of having your muffler repaired or replaced. You do not imagine much deviation from the initial estimate and will pay upon satisfaction.

Genealogical and related research efforts are a much different type of service. As many seasoned researchers can attest, some lineages and research objectives still have “brick walls” after years of research. As professional genealogists, we are providing a service, which can lead to little or no information being found. It is a difficult pill for both the customer and the provider to swallow – especially when first beginning in this field.

In the event of little or no information being found, the young genealogist may feel guilty. Perhaps they may not bill several overage hours in an effort to obtain some semblance of a result for the customer. The customer may feel like they were duped, especially when there has been no face-to-face communication, a reassurance they typically receive in brick and mortar business transactions. This is why customer expectations are extremely important to detail before the beginning of any project.

Prior to project initiation, our Terms and Conditions are clearly explained. Our six-page policy is a lengthy read and has deterred some clients from engaging us for services. It is important to recognize that some customers have unreasonable expectations. These are formulated from previous service encounters as aforementioned, as well as glamorized ancestry-related television shows. Our T&C evolves over time as new types of research, services and technologies become available. No project begins without the potential client reading it and then submitting payment in full.

The fact that our customers must “pre-pay” for services is also an area of contention among not only customers but fellow genealogists. I personally have never experienced it, but I know of several colleagues who put in many hours of research, document ordering costs and more. They never received a dime in return, often from irate customers.

Many whom I am in contact with also worked with me in Ancestry.com’s Expert Connect (EC) program earlier this decade before the genealogical behemoth made a quantitative transition with ProGenealogists.com. The EC program had a decent system in place whereby the client’s funds were placed in escrow until the completion and approval by the customer. This system was far from perfect since there were many times that the customer wouldn’t accept the project was over. The professional would then have to request Ancestry.com to accept the project on their behalf in order to issue payment. This would not only delay payment to the researcher, but would cause stress and additional administrative work.

In my opinion, the top priority for a professional genealogist, aside from providing top-quality research, is to be compensated for work. We are not hobbyists in any sense of the word. We are offering a service and should be paid on our schedule. As customers review a large number of genealogists world-wide, they have the ability to pick and choose from the best. It is important we as professional genealogists temper customer expectation and guide them through a process that is often unfamiliar to them.

Josh Jenkins
AncestorStalker.com

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Josh Jenkins

About Josh Jenkins

Josh is the founder and lead researcher at AncestorStalker.com. He has provided genealogical, locate and forensic DNA research services on a global scale for over a decade. He has previously worked for Ancestry.com, has researched for the television hit Finding Your Roots and investigates civil rights era atrocities for the The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ). Josh completed his Master of Science in Information Systems from UMBC and concurrently works in several Information Technology fields. He lives in Columbia, Maryland with his beautiful wife and three boys.

Working with Genealogical Societies

Genealogist Bob Rettammel shares his experiences in working with genealogical societies in this advice-filled post at GenBiz Solutions!

Working with Genealogical Societies

[Editor’s Note: Bob Rettammel is a professional genealogist and owner of Rettammel Genealogy Service.]

As a working genealogist one has to be able to develop relationships and network with genealogy societies both nearby and at a distance. This blog article will talk about my experience in developing a working relationship with county and regional genealogical societies, including what I think about prior to making contact, how I make the contact, and what the results and long-term benefits are to my business.

First Experience with a Genealogical or Historic Society

Like most of you doing genealogy as a business today, my first experience working with or at a local genealogical society (sometimes referred to as a historical society) was when I started my own family research. My own interest in genealogy began many years back as a teenager spending summers in a small town in Juneau County, Wisconsin where my parents’ families both had roots dating back to the late 1800’s.

As an adult my genealogical research began by visiting the county courthouse register of deeds for any vital records. As I made these early visits over 15 years ago I happened to work next to a person who was a local historiographer for Juneau County. At one point I was not sure of some information in an index and what it indicated for my relative’s record on file. The local researcher was extremely helpful and clarified what the index information indicated to help find the actual record on-site. As I spent a couple hours going through records, I was proactive in asking about what research she was doing and what tips she had for the local records. I learned that she was part of the county historical society which helped researchers and established genealogists collect records for family history. At the time of this unexpected meeting and conversation I asked for the contact information of this historical society. Sometime after this I contacted the local society by email and provided a synopsis of my surname research (research log) and asked what other information (records/data) the society might be able to locate. Within a day I received a response back from a representative of the county historic society who referred me to the person I had met at my first visit to the county register of deeds office!

In working further with this researcher I was able to learn that on my father’s maternal German side, my great-grandfather had a local record called a Declaration of Intent to become a citizen back in the early 1900’s. A person does a Declaration of Intent as the first step (first paper) in becoming a citizen, renounces allegiance to former homeland and declares intent to become U.S. citizen. The local county historiographer for the society was able to help locate a primary record of my great-grandfather; the record indicated the date of arrival to America and the port of entry location. It was so exciting to learn this information and to see a copy of the actual record. Plus it helped establish my family timeline of entry to America, when they might have arrived in the Wisconsin county, where I might find a passenger list for my great-grandfather, what town in Germany he left, and maybe family or neighbors he might have traveled with.

As a Genealogical Business Owner

Besides my first genealogical research experience with a local society as a consumer, what has my business experience learned in working with genealogical societies?

I recommend that when you start a genealogical business to collect a list of your local, county and state-wide genealogy society contacts. To gather such information you can go to your local library or find them on the Internet. The key is just to have easy access to a list that you as a business owner can quickly access when doing work for your clients. You can either keep a hard copy, an electronic document or spreadsheet. Whatever works for you is the key to having a system that helps you to be efficient and timely for your clients.

As a working genealogist I have learned that developing relationships or contacts with genealogical societies is important to a successful business and satisfied clients. In my business I have traveled to local genealogy or historic societies and charged mileage for use of my own personal vehicle for travel. For my business I have determined that a radius of about 100 miles from my home office is reasonable for clients. For clients that have records or needs outside of this mileage radius, I work with Area Research Centers in my State, and local genealogy society researchers who can look for records on site to help my client. [In a prior GenBiz Solutions article, I refer to this as a strategy for collaborating with other genealogists]. Prior to any extra expense for my client, I first provide a detailed written explanation by email about what other resources we may need to finish record collection. I don’t believe additional work should be done without full disclosure to the client that other expenses may incur to locate the records originally requested or that are newly found and will add to the family history search.

For example in the last year I had a client whose paternal family was located in a city that has an active historical society. Prior to going to this location I made sure to have my research log for this family current with findings. The main item for those starting a genealogy business is to think about your purpose and what you are looking for when you start field research for a client. I made contact with the local historic society through email and a follow-up telephone call to work out a date to visit and what records I was expecting to review during my scheduled visit. My experience has been that the local societies like to have time prior to a genealogist’s visit to prepare properly, so they can have the necessary index or books available along with someone there to help with questions. Remember that many of these local societies are managed by volunteers who like to help those doing family history searches. As a business owner it is prudent to leave the society a donation for their services. Remember you may use their services another time or another genealogist will, so acknowledging them is beneficial to all of us.

The result of my travel and time at the city (local) historical society was fruitful in the amount of information I found for the client’s family, including information about the business they owned over 100 years ago in the city. Due to the business and civic events this family was involved with I found a number of historic pictures that were not known by my client’s family.

A most recent experience for a client looking for probate records led me to make contact with a local society that is some distance from my location. This society after reviewing my request and credentials sent (at no cost) the records to an Area Research Center near me, where I reviewed the probate records. This is an example of how a genealogist works with their local societies and regional genealogical centers to find and provide access to the records for business clients.

Working with fellow genealogists, volunteers, and librarians can be rewarding for its shared passion of family history, and making connections can aid in your professional development and in the marketing of your business. Plus we always learn something new and enhance our skills as professional genealogists.

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About Bob Rettammel

About Bob Rettammel

Hello my name is Bob Rettammel, I have been interested in genealogy since I was a teenager, while working with my uncle, who brought out boxes of old pictures that were in upstairs rooms of the family house. Those days 40 years ago brought to life family members on my paternal side that I never met, especially my grandfather.  That summer I put together a photo album of old pictures and that was the start of my interest in the past.

I am a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and Dane County Area Genealogical Society (DCAGS), in Madison, WI. I recently became President of DCAGS.

I have visited Europe a number of times and Germany in 1990 (Austria, Bavaria and southern Germany) and spring 2014 to Berlin and Hamburg, where I visited some German genealogists that continue to help with my own family search.

I have a Masters Degree in Sociology from Marquette University.

Putting Social Media Marketing on Autopilot – Part 1: Strategize and Automate

Genealogy professional Caroline Guntur of The Swedish Organizer shares her social media strategy that has helped her find success as a solopreneur.

Putting Social Media Marketing on Autopilot – Part 1: Strategize and Automate

[Editor’s Note: Caroline Guntur is a Certified Photo Organizer, Personal Historian, and Genealogist, and the CEO of The Swedish Organizer, LLC, a company that provides customized family history solutions to clients all over the world, as well as online courses and workshop]

Social Media is Essential, Not Optional

Social media marketing is essential to the modern entrepreneur, especially in those industries where consumer education is of importance. I consider the genealogy industry to be one of those industries. There is an endless supply of knowledge to absorb; as a person new to the family history field, and as business owners we all have a wonderful opportunity to lead those people to their discoveries, and at the same time, increase our sales.

But social media is a double-edged sword. Done right, and the rewards are great. Done wrong, and itis a waste of time. So how do you become successful at it instead of wasting your time? How do you know what’s working? Before I answer those questions, you have to understand how social media works. There are three main things that impact the effectiveness of your social media marketing more than anything: quality, consistency, and engagement.

Focus on QCE: Quality, Consistency, & Engagement

Quality simply means posting quality content. You will stand out if you create great content because (unfortunately) there is so much bad content out there. People like anything that’s helpful and actionable, like step-by-step tutorials, so focus on creating in-depth content, like how-to guides, instead of topical overviews. Think of great content as anything that will help your customer overcome the hurdles they face and help them take another step in the right direction. Little wins pay off big-time.

Consistency refers to how you post your content. Sporadic posts and random comments will not do much for you, or for your business. Every business needs a clear-cut social media strategy well-planned out in advance, and you have to post on a consistent schedule across all social media platforms, not only to show your followers that you’re paying attention, but also in order to get better traffic to your accounts and website. Without a strategy in place, consistency is close-to-impossible to achieve.

Finally, focus on engagement. This is something that is often overlooked, but it is some of the most valuable information you can have as a business owner. Having a large number of social media followers does not necessarily translate to great sales numbers, so don’t worry if you do not have the largest following in your niche. Instead, track your engagement rates, such as how many people shared your latest blog post, or how many people responded to a campaign. Those are the people who actually care about what you have to offer, and that pre-qualifies them as prospective customers. I would rather have 100 engaged customers that 10,000 followers who don’t care about my message.

A Clear Strategy Avoids the Social Media Time-Warp

Many times, I have heard colleagues say that they are afraid to get on social media because they feel it will start sucking their time away, and they will no longer be able to keep up. “Better ignore it instead.” I suspect that those people are scared because they do not know what to post, when to post, or why they are posting. Browsing the web aimlessly with no clear intention is guaranteed waste of time, and this is why you need a strategy, especially to avoid the social media time-warp.

A social media strategy does not have to be complicated, it just has to be planned, so ask yourself: Why am I on social media? What is it that I want my customers to do? and how can I help them do it more? This usually clears things up pretty quickly. Want to educate them? Share industry news and best practices. Want them to trust you? Offer them helpful advice and tutorials. Want them to call you? Give them your phone number and a reason to call. It’s pretty straightforward when you think about it. Social media is your opportunity to connect with your audience better, to let them get to know you, and to forge a bond that leaves them wanting more all the time. You have to deploy the same tactics as those in the entertainment industry, and strategize ways to get life-long fans (in the form of repeat customers) instead of a bunch of one-hit wonders.

Delegate to a Scheduler

Keeping up with your social media feed manually could easily be a full-time job, so the solution is to not do it manually. All of this can be automated. One of the pillars of productivity is delegation, which becomes even more essential if you are a solopreneur. In a nutshell, you have to delegate as much as possible whenever you can in your business, and it applies to your social media as well. Why? Because you are not a full-time marketer. You are a genealogy professional, and you need to spend your time billing clients instead of posting online. The solution is to invest in a good social media management program that can auto-post quality content you have created (and curated) on a set schedule consistently, and create engagement within your community for you.

There are countless schedulers out there on the market, some free, and some subscription-based. You can use one, or a combination of many, and it may take a few hours to figure out what works for you, but the sooner you do it, the more time you save. Marketing your small business will always take up administrative hours, but by delegating your social media posting schedule, you can free up much of that time, thereby increasing your profit margin.

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About Caroline Guntur

Caroline is a Certified Photo Organizer, Personal Historian, and Genealogist, and the CEO of The Swedish Organizer, LLC, a company that provides customized family history solutions to clients all over the world, as well as online courses and workshops.

Caroline is a Certified Photo Organizer, Personal Historian, and Genealogist, and the CEO of The Swedish Organizer, LLC, a company that provides customized family history solutions to clients all over the world, as well as online courses and workshops.

Caroline runs two blogs: Organizing Photos (OrganizingPhotos.net), a blog dedicated to helping people tackle their digital photo collections, and Searching Scandinavia (SearchingScandinavia.com), a blog aimed at connecting Scandinavian-Americans to their heritage by offering research help, repository tutorials, and exploring the Scandinavian culture.

Caroline is a Professional Member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO), the Association of Personal Historians (APH), the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Computer Genealogy Society of Sweden (DIS-Sverige), the Genealogical Society of Österlen, Sweden, and the Genealogical Society of Ystad, Sweden.

A native of Ystad, Sweden, Caroline has a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Communications from Hawaii Pacific University, and a Master’s Degree in Media Management from Columbia College. She currently divides her time between the United States, and Sweden.