PUTTING YOUR FINGERS TO WORK
Ask any genealogist and they're likely to tell you the most tedious part of genealogy is not the research. The most dreaded task is typing all that data into genealogy software.
In these times of tight budgets, professional genealogists could benefit from offering to perform that service, with an added benefit. We document. We cite sources. Even when do-it-yourself genealogists know their sources, they often don't bother citing them.
There are a variety of reasons for doing that. As I mentioned in a previous article, everyone has reasons for being lax about citing sources. Professional and experienced genealogists know how crucial citations are. As professionals, we are comfortable citing sources. Any seasoned professional is adept at creating master sources and using them religiously. Offering that skill can expand your customer base while creating a purer and more complete digital genealogy community.
Let's face it, we type fast! Genealogists come from every walk of life. It would be interesting to know how many genealogists are touch-typists – or are they called a touch-keyboardists now? No doubt, there are a lot of hunt-and-peckers out there who would love to have someone enter their data for them.
Consider marketing your skills as a highly-accurate source-citing typist and you might be surprised how many customers you attract. Invite customers to provide you with anything they have created to date, along with copies of their existing research. You return their data along with the digital version on a CD or DVD.
Then, borrow a technique from freelance technical writers. Offer a retainer service. Most of us recognize this as a legal fee, but freelance writers and editors also charge retainers. The retainer promises you will set aside a given number of hours for a client, should they need your services. The retainer is non-refundable.
Estimate about how many hours you anticipate a client might need devoted to data entry throughout the coming year. Ask for a retainer fee, based on your existing hourly fee, to reserve that many hours during your year for that client's data entry. The retainer is paid in advance, guaranteeing that you will be paid and that the client is highly likely to provide you with the work.
Retainers have added incentives for the client. The retainer fee is the same as locking in the existing price for your services. If you increase your fee, the retainer stays the same because you are selling hours not dollars-per-hour. In other words, if client pays a retainer for 20 hours of research, you owe them 20 hours regardless of the current price when they submit work, within the timeframe of the retainer contract.
Make it clear that, should your rates increase, any "additional" hours would be billable at the hourly rate at that time. Clarify these terms in your retainer contract. Since the client pays you in advance, that retainer can serve as a very positive incentive for them to step up the pace of their research. Their family will thank both of you!
Managing your time is critical for retainer work. You are committing to these clients in advance.
As a service-provider, you will want to keep track of the number of hours you have reserved. You have no way of knowing when the client will submit their data. To manage that, consider sending a friendly e-mail to online clients, perhaps once a month, as a reminder that they have reserved your time.
Unless you are seriously overloaded with work, you probably don't need to send a monthly reminder of the exact number of hours left on each client's retainer. If you do, a simple e-mail merge will solve the problem. Microsoft Word has a built-in mail merge function specifically for e-mail that you can generate from the database where you maintain your client's information.
PUTTING THE FAMILY HISTORY IN PRINT
Creating the family history book from a client's digital data is another auxiliary service you should consider. Often, a book generated from a genealogy database will need some cleanup before it is ready to go to print. The client who is struggling to get all those names and dates entered is likely to be highly challenged by converting a database into a family history book.
Clients can submit their database file to you, with a description of what they expect the book version to look like. You create the book and submit it to the client for approval, just like a printing service would.
You can also advise your client about self-publishing services and even obtaining an ISBN number. Once the family history is available via print-on-demand, anyone in the family can purchase a copy. Your client is freed of the responsibility of maintaining inventory and collecting Aunt Sally's $24.99 she promised at the last family reunion. Once an ISBN number is assigned, your client can sell their family history on major digital sites like Amazon or sell in local bookstores.
Of course, this service can help drive the data entry services you offer. Clients should always document extensively if they intend to publish. If they are not aware of that, publication time is the ideal opportunity to enlighten them.
LITTLE THINGS MATTER
All of these little details matter. As a genealogist, you have a plethora of experience with minutiae. Any of those items can be made billable. The best candidates are tasks a client can send to you in the mail and that can be billable by the hour.
You already know how millions of genealogists collect their data. Use your skills to create more reliable collections. Booksurge Teamed with Amazon.com, BookSurge is expanding the options for success available to independently published authors.
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