How Do You Make Money In Genealogy? A 2012 Update


[Editor's Note: this is the fourth in a week-long series of posts at GeneaBloggers entitled Genea-Opportunities - 2012 Update.]

Call me Crazy, but I am going to tell you how I spent my time over the past six months and how much I made in income.  Crazy? Probably, but please don’t waste your time telling me in the comments how stupid it is to make this public.  I’m not doing this to “show off” or to solicit similar information from colleagues in the genealogy field. I feel this is important so that the genealogy community gets an understanding of what it takes to try to make a living in the genealogy business.

And here are the details of what I have been doing for the period January 1 through June 30, 2012 in terms of working in the genealogy industry, while having the time of my life.

My OCD – Project Management

Some of you may know that I was a project manager in a previous life. My job was to manage major information technology projects for a global law firm which included moving an entire London office of 100 people in a weekend, or upgrading 2,000 copies of Windows over six months.

My main management tool used to be Microsoft Project as well as Sharepoint server.  Now I use Microsoft Excel and I track EVERYTHING and have done so since January of this year.  I wanted to see where my time went especially when it came to volunteer work.

Don’t believe me? Take a look (click to enlarge):

Click to embiggen

My system works by placing the most frequent tasks in the Common Projects tab, each day copying them over to the Pending tab and coloring them yellow.  Once completed, time and date info is entered, the projects are colored green and moved to the Completed tab.  My day starts by looking at what is pending (yellow) and what I did the day before (green).  Red or pink are priority items that are crucial or overdue.

I just couldn’t stay focused without this system.  Yes, it takes discipline and yes it can be time consuming.  I would say now it only takes me 30 minutes a day to write down projects and keep them updated.  So there, now you know one of my secrets!

The Numbers

Income producing activities:

  • Articles (writing for magazines and online)
    42.5 hours
  • Client (consulting work)
    192 hours
  • Presentations
    325 hours

Total hours = 559.5; 21.5 hours per week

Administrative and overhead activities:

  • Admin (running the business)
    69 hours
  • Email (reading, responding and archiving emails)
    167 hours
  • Invoicing (you can’t get paid unless you send a bill!)
    15.5 hours
  • Marketing (gotta tell it so you can sell it)
    57.25 hours
  • Travel (travel to and from locations for lectures)
    50 hours

Total hours = 358.75; 13.8 hours per week

Volunteer Work and What It’s Worth

I do too much volunteer work.  That is so tough for me to say, but after looking at the numbers below and having my family tell me I do too much volunteer work, I’ve come to this conclusion: I do too much volunteer work.

For the period January 1 – June 30, 2012:

Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS)

I sit on the FGS Board, I serve as National Co-Chair for the FGS 2012 Conference, I sit on the FGS Tech Committee, and I am currently transitioning FGS to a new website.

  • 2012 Conference – 41.45 hours; $1,450.75
  • Education – 10 hours; $350.00
  • Marketing – 43.25 hours; $1,513.75
  • Radio (including publicity) – 28.5 hours;  $997.50
  • RPAC – 10 hours; $350.00
  • Website – 51.25 hours; $1,793.75

Total: 184.85 hours valued at $6,455.75
Rate is approximately 7.1 hours per week of volunteer work for FGS

Genealogical Speakers Guild (GSG)

I serve on the Virtual Presentations sub-committee and I’ve produced several webinars for GSG this year.

Total: 10 hours valued at $350.00
Rate is approximately 25 minutes per week of volunteer work for GSG.

Illinois State Genealogical Society (ISGS)

I serve on the ISGS board, I am the ISGS webmaster and I assist with production of the monthly ISGS webinars.

  • ISGS General – 17.5 hours; $612.50
  • Education –  21.5 hours;  $752.50
  • Publicity – 20 hours; $700.00
  • Website – 71.25; $2,493.75

Total: 130.25 hours; $4,558.75
Rate is approximately 5 hours per week of volunteer work for ISGS.

Total volunteer time and value = 324.7 hours; valued at $11,364.50

And Then There’s GeneaBloggers

I’m never sure how to categorize my work at GeneaBloggers in terms of 10 posts a week, adding new blogs, tagging post for Daily Blog Prompts.  I consider it marketing really – it is a way to promote myself and also serve as an evangelist for blogging and genealogy.

GeneaBloggers – 353 hours, valued at $12,355.00.

Total Hours

The total numbers of hours I devoted to genealogy related income producing activities, business administrative activities and volunteer activities is 1,595.95 hours. Over a 26 week period this translates to 61.38 hours a week.

Income Breakdown and Expenses

Here is what I was able to bring in during the first half of 2012:

  • Advertising –  $213.91
  • Affiliate Sales –  $168.85
  • Consulting – $4,220.25
  • Publishing Royalties – $1,396.35
  • Research – $150.00
  • Speaking Fees – $5,355.00
  • Web Admin – $907.35
  • Writing Fees – $2,530.00

Total Income before Expenses = $14,941.71

Here are the expenses for the same period:

  • Books – $120.00
  • Computer – $695.71
  • Domain Names – $46.74
  • Electric – $76.00
  • Gas – $100.00
  • Internet – $240.00
  • Magazines – $10.63
  • Marketing – $354.53
  • Membership – $59.98
  • Mortgage + Condo Fee – $800.00
  • Phone – $290.00
  • Radio – $156.00
  • Research Subscriptions – $204.65
  • Software – $79.99
  • Webinar Hosting – $594.00
  • Website Hosting – $150.00
Total Expenses: $3,978.22
Note on expenses:  1) My office is 10% of the square footage of my condo so I took the periodic expenses for mortgage, condo association fee, electric and gas to calculate those totals; 2) The laptop expense should be spread over 2 -3 years but it occurred during this period.

Net Results

A rough approximation is that for the first half of 2012, I earned $11,104.85. Of course, out of that I haven’t yet taken taxes etc.  An exact income amount won’t be available until I calculate my federal and state income taxes for 2012.

Taking into account 559.5 hours spent on just earning income (does not include administrative work or volunteer work), my hourly rate is $19.87 per hour.  If you add in the 358.75 hours of administrative time, the hourly rate drops to $12.10.

So What Does He Do?

Here is an idea of how I make the money listed above:

  • Advertising –  this income is passive (in a way) and comes from website advertising as well as GeneaBloggers Radio advertising.
  • Consulting – I work with various clients including some genealogy vendors and some individuals to improve their marketing reach, develop blog content, act as social media agent, or even coach them through a transition and provide information about the genealogy industry.
  • Publishing Royalties – this includes book income and webinar CD sales.
  • Research – this income is from client research for genealogy, something I don’t do very much of right now.
  • Speaking Fees – my main income is from speaking in person as well as via webinar for genealogy conferences and societies.
  • Web Admin – income derived from setting up and administering genealogy related blogs and websites for others.
  • Writing Fees – income from articles published in genealogy magazines and online.

No It Isn’t Magic

No magic or smoke and mirrors involved here.  Some considerations to keep in mind so you understand how I make this work:

  • There are in-kind benefits for some of the volunteer work. For example, I earn additional hotel room nights for conference publicity, etc.
  • Contrary to what you might think, I don’t get comped subscriptions to vendors like or Genealogybank.  I make it a point to pay for those services.
  • I share living expenses with my partner (who also works at home). I could not do this if I lived on my own. But the expenses are split evenly and I’m expected to pay my fair share every month.
  • Some of the income is passive such as publishing royalties. By this I mean there is an expense in terms of labor and hours spent initially, but I can earn income for many months from that published work or recorded CD.
  • I don’t have health insurance because I can’t afford it ($700 a month to start). I don’t want to get on my soapbox right now on this issue because literally it will make me sick.  So I’m careful and I pray a lot.
  • After living in some of the most expensive cities in the world, I can get creative when it comes to living expenses (such as not having a car). I live comfortably, but there are no extravagances.  And I do have to make lots of choices and opt not to do things or go places because of the cost.  And I am fine with that.


So what does all this mean?  Well you can draw your own conclusions from the data, but for me this means:

  • You’ve probably already figured out through back-engineering the numbers that the hourly rate I charge is $35.00. That includes consulting work. Yes this needs to go up and it likely will in 2013.
  • I need to learn how to say “No” when it comes to volunteer work and try to reduce those hours.  I expect a big drop off in volunteer hours once the FGS 2012 conference is over and once the new FGS website is finished.  Already I’ve turned down requests to be on committees and I don’t feel bad or selfish for doing this.  The plain fact is we need more volunteers in the genealogy societies and we need to stop dumping on the same people.  Also realize that there are many other volunteers for these societies who work just as many hours as I do, if not more.
  • I expect to increase my income in the 2nd half of 2012 and also reduce the number of admin hours.  I need better and smarter ways of working especially when it comes to email and marketing.  I’ve stopped doing GeneaBloggers Radio because it was taking up too much time.
  • I need to increase my royalty/passive income and I have plans to do this soon and it will be the main focus for me.

So How Do You Make Money In The Genealogy Industry?

Again, no pressure, no numbers asked. But I would love to know the breakdown of a typical day or week in terms of the type of work tasks performed, whether you have similar administrative burdens and also the expenses involved.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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