Building a professional genealogy career

Earlier today, a poster inquired on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list about educational opportunities for building a full-time genealogy career. I posted a fairly lengthy response, and afterwards felt that it might be well-received here as well, slightly edited:

Writing a business plan is essential. I know this is one of the assignments in ProGen, but you have to keep up with it. A business plan should be a “living document.” As you learn things that do and do not work in a practical sense, you should change your business plan to reflect your experience.

Before taking the plunge into full-time genealogy, you should start by taking a few clients on a part-time basis. One of the keys to my success in transitioning genealogy into my full-time career was having an established client base grown over a few years of part-time work. Return/repeat clients and referred clients are a major part of my business.

Consider the resources you have easy access to when advertising your specialties. When I first started, my specialties included upstate (Albany) New York and Connecticut, because that is where my family is from and therefore where the majority of my non-professional experience lay. However, I was only one or two clients in when I realized that I could not remotely research these areas from Maryland in an effective and timely manner. There are certainly a lot more online resources available now than there were in 2005-2006 when I was getting started, but that still would not allow me to examine the original records in New York. So I spent months building a knowledge base in Maryland resources and records–the area where I lived, though I had never done any research there. Even today, though I now live in Delaware, the majority of my research cases are based in Maryland–I’m still only an hour from the Maryland State Archives and go there on a regular basis.

Marketing is not just advertising. Marketing is establishing your business as a brand–that brand being your own professional reputation. The genealogical community is a relatively small world, and the professional genealogy community is far smaller. Every time you write or publish, every time you lecture, and indeed every client report that you send to a client constitutes marketing to a much higher extent than some might believe. Every time you post online, on the TGF list, on the APG members list, on a local genealogy list, on your blog, on a genealogy Facebook page… you get the idea. Building a reputation for research skill and knowledge of records and analysis is not something that you can intentionally set out to do. It is something that grows organically as you work.

You can’t be afraid to take advantage of the networking opportunities available to learn more–that is, don’t be afraid to ask questions, for fear of appearing ignorant or inexperienced. Everyone understands that no one knows everything. Intelligent and thoughtful questions are as respected as intelligent and thoughtful answers.

On genealogy institutes: My first “national” genealogy event was the Institute of Genealogical & Historical Research at Samford University, in 2010. I could never afford to travel for education before then (and actually lost my job a month after registering, so I couldn’t really afford it even at the time I went). My experience that week–not just educational, but also the opportunities for networking that existed and the relationships that were formed over that week–made me vow that no matter what, if I had to move the heavens and earth, I would never again miss IGHR. In 2011, I barely made it by the skin of my teeth, but I moved said heavens and earth, and bought the plane tickets to Birmingham less than a month before the Institute. But I made it, and took Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Advanced Methodology course. Well worth every struggle.

Second, I want to reiterate the importance of meeting people face-to-face. A lot of conversations simply cannot be held effectively by email. There is something to be said for being able to look people in the eye. Relationships formed in person tend to be stronger than those formed online. A lot of professional opportunities arise because of relationships built with other professionals. These opportunities may be as important as or even more important than those built with your own independent ideas and marketing.

And they may be the difference between being successful in your career and being unsuccessful.

 

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Building a professional genealogy career,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 29 September 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Great post, Michael. As another full-time genealogist, I “second” everything you have posted.

    Reply

  2. Well said, as you always do, Michael. My last professional career was academic, not genealogy… but, the very same approaches and principles served me well, there, as well. I hope and assume that ‘transitionals’ will continue to heed your words. Thanks for sharing! ;-)

    Reply

  3. Wow, Michael. That was so well-written!

    Reply

  4. Very well said. I’m amazed at the educational options available. It will take moving the heavens but I’m determined to go to an institute next year… after ProGen and NIGS. As a side note, I have to thank you for how you mentor everyone you meet. It’s really a fabulous thing. I’m still benefiting from conversations that we had at NGS this spring. Thanks for having such a kind eye towards the new kids.

    Reply

  5. Posted by J. Paul Hawthorne on December 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I echo everyone’s thoughts, very well written. I came out of the genealogy closet in 2010 and started going to my local society meetings and meeting people. That gave me the courage to go out to national events. I attended 3 this year (I met you at NGS) and local all day seminars. Yes, I was broke after each one, but I met so many people. I’m still in my learning stage and a long way off from receiving clients (if I decide that route), but I believe your right, networking is the way to go in our field… and learning!

    Reply

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