How Do You Make Money In Genealogy?

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

Some readers of GeneaBloggers may not know the story of my journey to this point as a professional genealogist so I’ll lay it out in quick fashion – sort of like an elevator speech. Creative thinker, 25 years as trainer/project manager in Information Technology, gets laid off during Great Recession, repurposes self in genealogy field, works at a variety of endeavors to make a buck. And is having the time of his life.

And here are the details of what I am doing while having the time of my life.

You Can’t Sell Ideas

What I seem to produce the most lately is ideas and concepts. Ideas for new genealogy services or methods of delivering those services. Taking a concept like a genealogy conference and morphing it with other concepts and creating a new concept.

The downside is that while I am very prolific in terms of generating ideas (and I keep an “idea parking lot” file open on my desktop at all times to capture ideas), it is tough to sell ideas.

It takes time, effort, resources and money to successfully translate those ideas into actual products and services.  This is what I call projects: capturing ideas, determining their feasibility, and translating them into actual “stuff.”

My Current Projects

Here is a list of my current projects and an estimation of what percentage of income each brings me in a given month:

  • Writing: I enjoy writing quite a bit and would do more if only I had time. Currently write for Family Tree Magazine as well as Archives.com for which I get paid per article depending upon the length and topic. I also have produced my own self-published works including Approaching the Lectern: How to Become a Genealogy Speaker at Lulu.com. My income is roughly $300 a month from writing but my goal for 2011 is to increase this with more self-published titles. I am finding that small, low priced “minis” as I call them do quite well on the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook. I also write for many genealogical societies and organizations for their newsletters, quarterlies and journals for which I receive no compensation but I do get exposure and publicity. Plus I am giving back to my community.
  • Lectures – Live: Another one of my favorite things since I do have many years as a technical trainer, working mostly with older adults. I am frequently asked to speak at regular meetings of genealogical societies here in the Chicagoland area for which I receive an honorarium and travel expenses. My income is approximately $200 a month for live speaking.
  • Lectures – Virtual: Webinars provide a great service to the genealogy community and industry and I think with rising gasoline prices and the globalization of genealogy, they will only become more popular. Right now my webinars work on the “freemium” or “loss leader” concept whereby the webinar itself is free but if you want the recording or the syllabus, there is a charge. In terms of speaking fees for webinars, my income is about $300 a month right now.
  • Royalties: I receive royalty payments each month for my recorded webinars amounting to 15% of the sales price. I have been blessed in that these CDs seem to be popular and the more webinars I do, the more CDs are recorded and the bigger the royalty check. Right now  I am making about $400 a month in royalty income and I hope to see that increase to over $1000 a month by year’s end.
  • Merchandise: Last year I started a store for GeneaBloggers on Zazzle with some fun genealogy items and logo wear. My income from these items, for which I get 10-25% of the sales price depending on the item is about $30 a month.
  • Consulting – Social Media: I’ve become an expert at self-promotion in social media (to the point that I sometimes feel like a used car salesman on one of those late night television commercials) and others either want to learn my techniques, have me set up their social media presence, or actually hire me as a social media agent (SMA). I am currently handling social media for several genealogy vendors and individuals and the income is roughly $100 a month. I am hoping to increase this income by the end of the year as I pitch my services to more venues.
  • Consulting – Website Administration: Relying on my tech skills, several genealogy societies and individual genealogists have retained me to do minor updates to their websites and to handle items such as domain renewals, hosting services etc. This income is roughly $100 a month.
  • Consulting – Market Analysis: This is an area that I enjoy but it takes quite a bit of time and knowledge to gather information and coalesce it into a format for use by clients. I currently do not have any income related to this type of consulting but last year I was able to bring in about $13,000 by charging $125 an hour for this service which I’ve been told is actually below market rate. I am contemplating ramping up this service and perhaps hosting a quarterly or semi-annual analyst call along with a newsletter on trends and demographics in the genealogy industry.

Net Results

So for all my projects, I pull in a little over $1,100 a month. Keep in mind the following, however:

  • I live in an urban area and $1,100 doesn’t even cover half of my mortgage payment. I realize this is a choice and I’d do much better in a different location but for now due to family obligations (and the real estate market), I have to stay put.
  • I work from 8am until 11pm at a minimum seven days a week.  Even when I am on the road or on vacation I am online, connected and working. I pride myself on customer service after having worked years on a help desk which is the hind end of the technology business.
  • Expenses.  I’ve got’em.  Believe me. Website hosting services, subscriptions to genealogy research sites.  Accounting software. Computer equipment. And then there are taxes being self-employed.  My rule is that you really only make half of what you charge as a consultant or being self-employed.
  • Volunteer work also takes up about 40 hours of my time between ISGS and FGS right now as well as other smaller endeavors.  Sometimes I feel I need to cut back but I really enjoy the people I work with, I feel very much appreciated and these opportunities offer me unique insights into the genealogy industry.

Future Projects

Hey! Did you really think I would publish a list of my future projects? Listen, my mother didn’t raise any stupid children.  Just two ugly ones and they’re still at home.  As transparent as I may want to be, and as much as I think that the genealogy industry is much “nicer” than most in terms of how we treat each other, I’m not stupid.

There is competition. There are industry folks always poking around. I know from the stats on this blog and my other sites who checks in and how often. It would be plain silly for me to reveal any of my plans to translate ideas into actual “stuff.”

Conclusion

So there you have it.  A look at the glamorous working life of an up-and-coming professional genealogist.  While I’m not expecting anyone else to be as transparent (and some probably think I am crazy) I would appreciate knowing what others are doing, their successes and their failures.

I truly believe I am blessed right now in that I am working in a field I love, with some of the best people on G-d’s good earth, and at an exciting time in the genealogy industry. Do I work hard? You betcha! Can it be a struggle at times? You know it! Do I have self-doubts every now and then as to what I am doing and where this crazy journey is going? Of course, anyone would.

So what helps me succeed, what is the formula to my “success” if you want to call it that? Every day I call upon the collective wisdom and experience of my ancestors and by following their examples and knowing their stories, I make no small plans, I harbor no small ideas. They didn’t.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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