Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit?

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[Editor’s Note: this is the first in a week-long series of posts at GeneaBloggers entitled Genea-Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money). ]

Ignorance Is Bliss but Knowledge Is Power

When I began blogging in December 2006, I started out with one personal genealogy blog (yeah, we all know what happens next . . .) which focused on capturing family stories in the midst of my mother’s early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. I really didn’t know much about blogging let alone blogging about genealogy at that point. I didn’t even realize that some people were making money off their blogs. I just wanted to tell Mom’s stories and also interact with others in similar situations.

Well, Now You Know Mrs. Haines!

Fast forward almost five years and with lots of research and looking at other blogs and the habits of bloggers, I’ve learned quite a bit. I don’t kick myself or beat myself up over not knowing something sooner – I figure it is all part of the journey and knowledge comes into my life at specific times with specific purposes. I do think it is better to know than to not know, thus the line from The Women: “Well, now you know Mrs. Haines!” when Norma Shearer finds out her husband is stepping out on her with that perfume counter girl Joan Crawford.

Here is what I now know and what I do and don’t do in terms of my blogs [WARNING: opinionated statements ahead!]:

  • I have many blogs that I run or manage for others. Each one has its own personality and thus its own mix of money making mechanisms. Many are just blogs without any affiliate links or ads.
  • I don’t think making money is a bad thing. This is what my ancestors came to this country to do, from my Austins in the 1630s,  my Putmans in 1661, my Freers in the 1670s all the way up to my Hennebergs in the 1860s.  America was and is the land of opportunity and I am merely carrying on this tradition and in a way, honoring my ancestors.
  • I don’t feel I am selling out grandma when I use affiliate links or ads on some of my blogs. Now, I am not using an image of grandma to sell thong underwear over at Cafe Press mind you. (Go ahead and click the link. You know you want to.  Don’t worry – it isn’t naughty nor is it an affiliate link so I’m not making money off of it.) But I do have links to programs at Ancestry.com, Family Tree Magazine and others whereby I might earn up to a 30% commission on any sales through that link.
  • The GeneaBloggers blog costs me about $300 in hosting fees each year. And then there is the time I put into building a community of genealogy bloggers – about 30 hours a week.  If I were to get paid for that at my old hourly rate before I was laid off, that would be about $72,000 a year. Why do I do it? Partly because I was raised by a smart mother who made sure I gave more than I got. But the reasons are not all selfless – building a community has allowed me to build a network where I can connect with others for business opportunities in the genealogy industry.  Finally, I do it mostly because I think the folks in the genealogy community are some of the brightest, most talented and down-to-earth, real people there are on this Earth.
  • This doesn’t mean I’m not realistic about what it takes to make money.  When I use affiliate links and ads on my sites, I am upfront about it.  I always use a Disclosure Statement at the end of posts where I mention genealogy vendors or organizations with which I have a material connection. I’ve tried to impress upon others in the genealogy blogging community to do the same.
  • I am not looking to make a killing in the genealogy business.  I’m looking to make a living and a respectable one at that. I want to do it with my head held high knowing that I can provide for my family, take care of myself, and yet still support worthy causes dear to my heart in the genealogy community like the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the Illinois State Genealogical Society. Don’t begrudge me the need to make a living and for re-purposing a pastime into a profession.
  • On Thursday, in the post How Do You Make Money In Genealogy? I will go into more detail about my advertisement and affiliate income. But I can tell you now that it barely covers my hosting fees for GeneaBloggers. Could I make more? Probably but then I wouldn’t have that balance that I try to achieve between quality content and advertisements.
  • For me, my blogs are conduits to my other business areas such as the webinars I teach for Legacy Family Tree or my own publications.  They are easy, cost-effective ways to get the word out on what I am doing and the services I provide to the genealogy community.
  • Would I be willing to accept donations for GeneaBloggers? Or possibly make it a membership site? No and no.  This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what others are doing in terms of accepting Paypal donations to keep their sites running. A prime example is Cyndi’s List which is in the midst of a major upgrade. For 15 years Cyndi Howells has selflessly provided this resource to the genealogy community and it is one that is worthy of having the hat passed on its behalf. And about GeneaBloggers being a membership site . . . it goes against my populist mentality and one in which folks are inside or outside the margins.  As members of GeneaBloggers know, we have very few rules and we treat each other like adults and the same way in which we ourselves want to be treated. It has worked for over two years now and I ain’t gonna fix what ain’t broken.
  • How do I feel when I see ads and affiliate links used by other bloggers? It delights me to no end. I say to myself, “Good on them!” Many of our genealogy bloggers do this for the love of blogging and genealogy without any advertisements or affiliate links.  Does this make their content more valuable? Not really. To me, most genealogy blogs have valuable content.  Some choose to monetize that content and others do not. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.  But I never hold it against a blogger when I see ads and links.
  • I do however like to see a balance.  I have a pretty good eye when it comes to “too much” and when I see lots of blinking ads, pop ups, etc., I just run the other way. What I detest most are these links on keywords (yes, I know that Blog Talk Radio uses them over at GeneaBloggers Radio but that is the price of having cost-effective radio show. The cost, by the way, is $39 a month right now for four 2-hour shows a month).  I also want bloggers to be upfront about their ads and links – total transparency.

Conclusion

Personally I can tell you that I’ve had money issues most of my life, and I probably am not alone in this. I grew up dirt poor and as a small child I was raised by a newly divorced yet strong-willed woman with no credit and little work experience. Mom didn’t sit and have a pity party or look for charity (not to disrespect those who have had to rely on the government or churches for assistance to get a leg up on life). Mom got out and did. I was there and saw what happened and learned those lessons. When I got laid off, I didn’t sit on my tuchas and say, “Woe unto me!” I got out and did and hustled. And I’m still hustling.

But as Mom worked to raise our family out of poverty, I was constantly reminded that money was not the “be all” or “end all.”  It was a means. A means to not just more “stuff,” but a means to living to my full potential as G_d intended.  And as my ancestors intended. I now know that I can make money in an honorable way, with passion, yet still give back to my community.

Thanks Mom for helping me to find that out.

* * *

Disclosure statement: I have material connections with Ancestry.com, Family Tree Magazine, the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the Illinois State Genealogical Society. To review the other material connections I have with genealogy vendors, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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Comments

25 thoughts on “Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit?

  1. Excellent post Tom on a subject that’s seldom raised. Blogging + income = boat that sailed a long time ago, imo.

    But the important question is: did Olga recommend Jungle Red to you?

  2. Hallelujah! An adult discussion about the business of blogging. I’ve been waiting for this.

    I am kind of in the same boat. I lost my corporate job, like you did. I was lucky enough to have been well-paid in my previous life. I don’t expect to make anything near that in this new career, but my bills did not disappear when my job did.

    It frustrates me when I hear people say, “I don’t do this for money, I do it because I love it,” because I think it implies that people who DO do it for money don’t love it as much. That’s not true. I love it plenty, but I’m just in a different phase of life (specifically, an expensive one). The love of blogging/genealogy and the need to earn a living have nothing to do with each other.

    I do think that if the genealogical community better understood how affiliate links work, they wouldn’t hate them so much (although I could be wrong about that).

  3. Absolutely brilliant article, Thomas! I think that with your openness about your expenses, people are beginning to understand that there are real costs involved.

    And you haven’t even begun to discuss how you pay the “real life” bills and put food on the table.

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Thomas. The genealogy community is one of the most giving sharing ones I know. I too was taught to give more than you get.

    You are a good role model for someone that can make a living in genealogy. LLC is another. Both of you have worked darn hard to get to where you are. You are successful because you think about the greater good, the higher purpose. In other words – How can I help the customer?….Your first thought is not how much money can I make..but how can I help the customer. If you help the customer, the money will come. This is the mindset of an entrepreneur and founder.

    The money isn’t in blogging or even the speaking but in the products one creates to fill a need, solve a problem or in some way provide a benefit to your client or customer. These products complement everything else that is done. If those products are good, the people will buy…and I feel that is where the money is to be made in the genealogy business.

    examples – Books or DVDs that explain concepts or talks in greater detail

    Joan

  5. Thank you very much for these insights. I am new to the whole blogging thing, but not to genealogy. I appreciate hearing your experiences, as well as those of others, as I try to find my place in this friendly community.

  6. Excellent blog series, Thomas. Thanks for raising awareness of this sometimes sticky-subject. I don’t think people appreciate how much time/effort goes into writing quality blog posts. I’ve always wanted to be a daily blogger, but just don’t have the time to devote to it.

    Here are my thoughts on today’s topic: http://goo.gl/PKbdr

  7. It’s always a delight to hear someone’s passion for what they do so eloquently expressed. I’m looking forward to reading additional posts on this subject. Somehow, I think you’re going to start a viral discussion. Keep up the good work.

  8. There doesn’t seem to be an opposing position posted yet. Is the negative reaction to ads and other revenue-generating efforts coming from outside the genealogy blogging community?

  9. Great post! I think one of the things people appreciate about your work is your honesty. When someone is in business they should make money. Good for you.

  10. Thomas: I have been waiting for this conversation. Thank you for heading it up. I will be following along this week (not that I wouldn’t have anyway). I’ll be paying more attention!
    Thanks, from another professional.

  11. I too now have ads on my blogs. After struggling for a while with individual affiliate accounts I now just let Google Adsense do it all. I currently make enough to pay for my website hosting OR my own internet advertising but not both.

    I decided that it was OK for my business to advertise those of others when I realised that nearly all of the websites of big companies have ads, and most of the smaller ones seemed to consider it ‘crass’. There is the perception among many in the genealogy community that we should be doing this for free. I get the occasional client that feels the same way, and wants a lot of work for little or no money. They are not the clients I want. If my ads offend anyone I can live with it.

    One interesting thing I found that I didn’t expect was that the text ads down the side are clicked on far more often than the pretty coloured banner ads. They do seem to be more relevant than the banner ads.

  12. Kerry –

    “I don’t do this for money, I do it because I love it,” because I think it implies that people who DO do it for money don’t love it as much.”

    I hope you know that when I say it, that is not at all what I am trying to imply. The people that do this for money put a ton of effort into writing and placing ads and affiliate links and sharing their blog info on Facebook and Twitter, etc – and I’d hope all of you who do this love it because that is a ton of effort for something you don’t love.

    That isn’t to say the people that aren’t monetizing their blogs don’t also work hard. They do.

    -Elyse

  13. Thank you for this conversation. I am currently in the process of transitioning from a “personal” to a “professional” genealogist. My reasons for the transition were not based on money, but on my love of genealogy. I have been in the corporate world for 30 years and my passion for my current job has dwindled and have been dreaming of a “new” career that I am once again passionate about. One of difficulties that I have encountered during this transition is money, amounts to charge and when to charge. I am also still working through “to blog” or “not to blog”. I enjoy reading others blogs. If I do decided to stick with my blog, I don’t want my blog to just duplicate others work.

  14. Thomas,
    I hope you make lots of money and from what I know of your efforts, it’s well-deserved. Some people do feel guilty about making money.
    I removed Google ads from my blog–although people clicked on them, it wasn’t enough and I started to view them as tacky. I do have a couple of well-known affiliate ads. Anyone seeing what I don’t make would know that I’m not in it for the money. Does that sound like guilt? :-)

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