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Market Analysis for Your Genealogy Business

Market Analysis for Your Genealogy Business

Market Analysis for Your Genealogy Business

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

Recently, I have been spending time thinking about how to market my genealogy service better. As a small business owner or sole proprietor we all face times of market flexibility or business life cycles. We also have times where our plate is full of client projects which also limits our availability to manage and organize for the future. As a small business owner we have to continually work and evaluate our marketing strategy. Where are those customers?

As a business owner I sell a service. This service has a product, but not in the typical business sense, i.e. a computer or widget, but a report or documents that are useable by a specific family or individual. Usually this product is definable, produced only once and never used again except as a reference in the future. So under these conditions the key for revenue and use of service is marketing yourself the best and potentially broadest way.

In the rest of this article I will discuss three parts of marketing that I have recently begun to re-evaluate and amend in my own personal business plan-advertising, market planning and customer engagement.

Advertising You and Your Services

One of the challenges when starting out is how to develop a marketing plan that will reach the people who will use your service. As I started the first step to become a genealogist for business, I contacted a genealogy reference librarian and did an interview to learn more about the daily activity of a working genealogist. I also wanted to learn what areas or niches might be under-developed in my home area that I might turn my interest in genealogy into a business. My goal was to learn more about being a professional genealogist and also to see if I could play a role and also earn income. This person provided an honest description of what they offered and how clients are always interested to learn about another person’s family history and the records that a researcher (genealogists) used to discover hidden treasures that lead to new knowledge or opened a brick wall in the research.  I also learned that giving talks and doing a webinar are wonderful to do and allows you to reach a wider audience who might contact you or be interested in using your research skills.

One way of starting is to give talks about your own genealogy story. At the time I started to outline my search for learning more about my paternal grandfather and where my surname originated in Europe. Once I had developed an outline and had other people review it, I started to develop a PowerPoint presentation that would include the various genealogical records I used to learn more about my grandfather and his family (going from what I had and moving back in time collecting all the vital records, etc). Along the way I learned more about genealogical standards, records and what methods to use to verify that my family was in Chicago in the year of the Great Chicago Fire (1871). All this information was included in my PowerPoint presentation for future talks I was hoping to give.

So once you have a presentation plan to reach future clients/customers where do you give a talk? Who would be interested? I was fortunate in this endeavor at first since I looked for a genealogy mentor who gave me encouragement and also was willing to talk with genealogy societies in the area who would be interested in my talk which I called Finding the Old Country – the German-American connection. A local genealogy society soon contacted me about a future availability to speak. This speaking engagement ultimately led to another county society reaching out to me about giving a similar talk. This also provided a platform for potential clients who wanted me to do research for them.

So one of the ways to advertise yourself is by getting out there and doing what you love, talking with other people, networking, building those relationships and having a basic plan prior to taking the leap. You will need to at least define who your target audience will be for your services.

The core of this article is to talk to you about my re-evaluation of the market plan that I originally did in my Business Plan. I recently pulled out my Business Plan to see how I was doing in the last year and also where in the future I wanted to be (Projection). It is late summer and now is a good time for me to do an assessment of my genealogy business. There were many questions I asked myself: Did I achieve what I wanted in the last year? Did I reach potential clients, and did they use my service?, and; importantly were they paying clients?

Market Plan is Key

In my original market plan, I said that I would locate clients through three areas: as a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), my WordPress website (www.rettammelhistory.com) and through local interactions, like my local coffee shops I go to. This last item pertains to building relationships in the community.

I noted that my service will offer timeliness, integrity, reliability for my clients and strive for validation of findings with organized results (a report, genealogy log, etc.).

I said I would promote my service at first in my local area (which I defined as a region in my state), and later assess this promotion/engagement area (why I am doing this article).

Customer Engagement

In the last year I was able to engage with potential clients or users of my service through giving talks about genealogy, being an active member at professional meetings, and being a board member of my local county genealogy society. I met or exceeded my personal goals by giving talks to interest groups, gathered a couple clients from these talks and found that being a member of an association or professional group really pays off. Being a member of APG provides contacts and allows for a new business to gain legitimacy and potential clients you may never reach except through this platform or relationship.

My link to the national APG also lead to me joining a regional chapter in the Chicago area. Though it is of distance from my market I find that expanding your network is so rewarding through gaining knowledge as well as contacts.

My three biggest ways I found clients is through professional associations, reference librarians, and local historic societies. I recently learned about other ways and so am re-evaluating my outreach giving talks to senior centers, social or religious groups, rotary and service clubs, having my business featured in a local/community business magazine, developing a local genealogical interest group and developing a plan to be involved in nearby community festivals, with cultural and ethnic interest (i.e., German festivals).

Conclusion – Takeaway

The takeaway from this article is that having a plan for your business that includes how you will reach your market is important. Also using this plan in the future, once your business has been established is also important for learning and adjusting to market changes that naturally occur for genealogists or any small business owner. How will you sustain your business and also change or grow to meet your clients’ needs?

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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.

Creating Multiple Income Streams

Professional genealogist Claire V. Brisson-Banks discusses how to create various income streams to supplement the research side of your genealogy business.

Creating Multiple Income Streams

[Editor’s Note: Claire V. Brisson-Banks, BS,  MLIS,  AG® is a professional genealogist and owner of Timeless Genealogies.]

As a professional genealogist, there are times when there are too many clients and times when there aren’t enough clients. So what does one do to keep the income coming in? We need to link up with other businesses, be affiliates, support one another and help each other out by supporting other products connected with our business, etc. Use social media to the max and I believe in giving back to the community you work in; often this opens up opportunities to get work that is paid.

Genealogists love to research; they enjoy the “hunt” for those elusive family members of their clients as well as their own. One of the biggest hurdles is “knowing when to stop” and being honest with a client. If they hire you to do 10 hours of work, you need to do 10 hours and that includes your research, report, documents, etc. When you do more time than what you are being paid for you are (1) reducing your own income, (2) increasing the expectations of the client and (3) creating false expectations for genealogists in general. Learning to structure your time properly with your clients will be beneficial to both you and your clients.

Here are some ways that you can develop other income streams as part of your genealogy business

  • Consider conducting classes online either through “Google Hang-outs,” using Adobe Connect or You Tube or checking out other groups that provide online instruction and seeing what is needed to get involved.
  • Consider being an in person instructor at a conference, a school that offers genealogical subjects either in person or online, your local library, a 50+ community, a local community center and/or a local community college. Each of these groups pays their instructors for the class or classes use your research skills to locate these kinds of facilities in your area. Make sure your business cards and your expertise is known at your local library, someone is always catching the genealogy bug and often they go to the local library to get started after they get lost online, it is very easy for the newbie to be overwhelmed with all that is available for them to try and do this on their own.
  • Check with other genealogical/family history publications to see if there is a need for an article for their publication. Often local societies are looking for articles to fill their quarterly subscriptions, most provide some sort of payment for that article; be sure to check all the fine print before you write the article to make sure you follow all their requirements and monetary payment is worth your time to do the article.
  • Partner with another company that provides services connected with your services. By checking out how to be an affiliate, you can usually sign up and add their logo to your own site. Depending on the terms and the affiliate agreement, the money you earn through this links can vary. However, a variety of different things usually bring in something which all adds up in the end. Sometimes you can exchange logos and help each other. With all the resources available it should be easy to locate companies you can work with in this field. Using Google.com as your search engine, type in “Genealogy Affiliate Programs” and don’t forget to also do “Family History Affiliate Programs”. You’ll be surprised at what comes up, pick and choose wisely, and always read the affiliate materials; each affiliate pays a different percentage of sales made through your site and your links.
  • Consider adding other genealogical/family history products on your own website. When you least expect it, those items do sell and add much needed funds to your income. In 2004 I teamed up with Quintin Publications selling their out of print Family History and Genealogy books on CD. It is amazing how much is sold in a year bringing in something with each sale.

This blog article is barely scratching the surface of this topic. I highly recommend the e-book by Thomas MacEntee entitled: Genealogy Opportunities 2015: How to Make Money in the Genealogy Business available on Amazon.com.

Regardless of all the above, you must keep your skills up, attend conferences, get your name out there, keep an eye on social media, keep up a blog and let others know about your talents. This author has multiple blogs; you can see my contributions here.

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Claire V. Brisson-Banks, B.S., AG® is an Educator, Leader, Librarian, Genealogist, Forensics, Family Historian, Writer, Avid Blogger, Technology Expert, Marketing, Mentor, Lecturer, and Business Owner.

About Claire V. Brisson-Banks

Claire V. Brisson-Banks, B.S., AG® is an Educator, Leader, Librarian, Genealogist, Forensics, Family Historian, Writer, Avid Blogger, Technology Expert, Marketing, Mentor, Lecturer, and Business Owner.

She is the owner of Timeless Genealogies, a provider of ancestral research services. Her personal areas of expertise in connection with genealogy and family history are Technology Advances, Social Media, US, Canadian, England, Scotland, Brick Walls and Working with and Involving Youth in Family History and Genealogy.

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

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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.