Friday, August 8, 2014

So you want to start a business as a professional genealogist?

This has been on my mind for quite some time now. But honestly, I haven't really done much about it. I did take the 18 month long ProGen class online which studies Elizabeth Shown Mills' Professional Genealogy book. I learned how to write a business plan and client contracts and how to set my fees. I networked with other "transitional" professional genealogists. But there's still so many unanswered questions plaguing my mind.

To help ease my anxiety, I joined the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) group. It consists of both Professional Genealogists and Transitional Genealogists who might like to become Professional some day. It is a great learning tool. The APG offers a multitude of networking and learning platforms: They have newsletters, journals, webinars, online discussion groups, a mailing list and several location-based or virtual chapters. I think the best part of APG for me so far has been the networking aspect. Although, don't be fooled; I still do my best to lurk in the shadows, but boy, let me tell you, when I'm ready, I will pop out of my shell in full force!

I have already attended a couple of live webinars by national speakers and the past APG webinars are archived in their Members-Only section of their website. Last night I attended an online discussion group which is a place where APGers can mingle, interact, and ask each other questions about what they do and how they do it.

Several topics were discussed at last night's meeting. The first topic stemmed from a member question about websites. The question was: I've built my website, now what? Knowing how to market yourself and your website is always a challenge. The moderator suggested that you keep your website up to date with the correct contact details. She also suggested to create a bio that includes more than just your name and contact information. This applies to your APG profile as well. Include items such as your locality and document research specialties, some education background, and maybe some additional personal information. For some examples of detailed APG profiles check out the following:
Amy Arner
Rich Venezia

Marketing a website can be particularly challenging, but actually putting yourself out there in front of other people may be even more challenging for all of us introverted genealogy types. The moderator stressed the idea of networking, not just with potential clients, but with other genealogists. A lot of your work will come from referrals from other genealogists. This was especially crucial in our moderator's experience. She said her business took about 5 years to take off and now she has a waiting list. I have to admit I am absolutely thrilled when I talk to other APGers who have waiting lists! That's where I want to be someday!

Most of the people who participated in the discussion group were bloggers. When the subject of websites came up, some people asked if it was better to have a standalone website in addition to your blog or if it was ok to combine them. The moderator admitted she doesn't even have a website. She gets most of her business from the APG website and from referrals from other genealogist colleagues. I get a lot of research requests from my blog, probably because I am a diversified writer and because I put myself out there, including adding in my bio that I pull records from the State Archives on a volunteer basis. My blog has also been around for a long time, too, which I think has helped. I plan to incorporate my website with my blog when the time comes. Marian Pierre-Louis' archived webinar was mentioned about this topic so I will have to check that out. Lastly, it was suggested to watch YouTube videos on how to build websites if you are hesitant or not sure how to go about setting one up.

The question of fees always comes up in discussions about starting a business. When I took the ProGen class, we learned a mathematical formula to help us determine our fees. But really, the best way to do it is to cruise the internet to see what others in your area are charging. Of course, we learned that it is actually difficult to do, so you might want to try either asking your friends what they would pay or if you are close to other professional genealogists, asking them what they charge. It really is a close knit society and you want to be competitive, but you also don't want to undercut your competitors.

Lastly, it wouldn't be a discussion about starting a business if you didn't talk about Sole Proprietor vs LLC and TAXES. I believe everyone in the discussion group was a Sole Proprietor. It was suggested this was the best thing to do when you first start out. We learned about the Small Business Development Centers run by the Small Business Administration. This program allows you to learn about Small Business stuff through your local college and universities. You can also check out the books offered on or check them out from your local library.

We covered a lot of topics in last night's discussion. I'm looking forward to participating in more of these as I get more comfortable with the idea of starting, and running my own business.

Photo: downloaded from


  1. Thank you for the re-cap Ginger! Like you, I blog and and the blog has been a source of clients. I recently combined my blog and my genealogy business blog into a new website/blog. It's actually a Wordpress blog that functions as a website. Creating my wordpress site was easy and now just keeping up with one site is so much easier and keeps things more efficient.

  2. Hi Lisa, thanks for your reply. I'm so glad you are getting clients! And congrats on the incorporation of your website with your blog! I used to have a Wordpress blog and website but got so frustrated with being hacked and with the admin dashboard being so slow that I finally chucked it. Now I use Blogger and hope to spruce up a couple of pages to make it more website-looking.

  3. Thank you for the interesting blog post! :)

  4. Hi Carrie, you are welcome! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Hi Ginger!

    As someone who recently started a genealogy business, I really appreciated your post. So much so that I shared it in my Monday's Muse post today :)

    1. Congrats on starting your business Eowyn! And thanks so much for including this post in your Monday's Muse!