So you want to start a genealogy research business, do you? Are you sure? Really? Because if you’ve read the How-To guides and all the positive reinforcements and have yourself mentally psyched up, then prepare yourself. What I have to say isn’t going to be easy.
First of all, I’m degreed, licensed, certified, and independent on a number of varying things that I do. When it comes tax time, I have a 1099 and I make sure that my activities are tax deductible and accounted for. Don’t tell me how you have a “small business” or your “own business” if you aren’t claiming the income or losses on your taxes. It just isn’t true.
That’s the first problem I have with people who say they have e.g. a cleaning business. A friend of mine I met in college had a car detailing business. He had the business cards, the shirt, and carried everything in his car. He did that for several years. He even did my car. Recently, he opened his own shop and is growing his business. He did things the right way and worked on them until he achieved a major milestone in his goals. He wasn’t sloppy, unethical, or underhanded about it. If you have a “genealogy” business, don’t be a cheat or a shyster about it. After all, if you’re going to do something you might as well do it. If your “business” is shady, who is to say that your methods of researching or results are not just as a shady? The character of your business reflects on you and vice verse.
Secondly, if you haven’t the discipline to get up in the early morning, be organized, and set yourself to the tasks you have at hand for the day while accomplishing things on schedule or even ahead of schedule, do not ‘become a business’. If you’re the type of person that groans at getting up in the morning, dragging yourself out the door, and hate your day job with a passion, I don’t care how much you think you enjoy genealogy, do not ‘become a business’. If you don’t have the drive for a job you hate, what makes you believe you’ll have the drive to do a hobby-turned-business when it becomes more work than play? When it starts to seem like a job, you’ll seek something else to do.
Third, this is not an easy gig to just fall into. There are more volunteers than there are professionals and emptor caveat plays as a major factor in this. Buyer beware. If something really is worth what you paid for it, just remember that wrong answers can always be free. I was a volunteer myself to learn a trade and gain experience. I was also an accurate volunteer. Additionally, I did not receive bad information from volunteers, but on the occasions when I did receive a ‘nothing found’ and I sent someone else whom I knew personally to check I was disappointed that my original contact never looked and didn’t have the kahunas to tell me. I’m very easy to get a long with and I’m results driven, but if I ask you to do something and you agree then lie about doing it, it just makes your name mud to me.
Fourth, you need to have income while doing this. Period. Unless you have a large bank roll to live off on while you experiment with this,do not quit your job.When the money runs out, life gets real hard as bills go unpaid. If you have a spouse who can afford to support you while you work at building a business then do it! But only after you’ve made a budget, set spending limits, and have a stop-loss scenario where you realize it has become unprofitable to pursue any further.
Fifth, if you don’t have a marketing plan to get yourself out there and a decent work portfolio to show case skills, it’ll be pretty much a waste of time. Being an active member of your local genealogy society will only go so far. It’s always amazing to me how mean some people can be to others. If someone knows that you’re charging for business and they can do it for free, don’t expect any favors. This leads into number six.
Sixth, you need to have the skin of a rhino. The criticism is going to be harsh. You’ll have to fight to protect yourself, your reputation, your research, your methods, and your results. Above all, protect your reputation first. Always. Period. It’s not an exception, it’s the rule. If you lose one point of your reputation, it’s nearly impossible to gain it back.
Seventh, if you don’t have the mindset and spirit of an entrepreneur, do not attempt this. This is not for everyone. Even if you feel that you’re good, and you very well might be, this may still not be for you. You have to do the administration, the accounting, the staffing, the labor, the IT work, and the selling. All of these points are crucial to your business and if you can’t do all of them, you’re going to fail in your first year or until your support runs out.
A lot of these things I knew when I started. Some of them I learned along the way. The clients don’t just come rushing to you with fists of dollars. Family and friends will either ignore your pursuit because they think it’s a stupid idea or they’ll say things like “so when are you going to get a real job?”. Yes, that has been said to me a few times. When things got short and I picked up a job, I was more ‘accepted’. But when I quit my job, I got a variant of “are you in between jobs?” to “you have another job lined up, right?”.
Sales are the most important factor of any business. Quite frankly, sales to strangers is hard enough without family and friends hurling unintended insults at you. If you want to have a business, any business, be a business, run a business, and be successful at it then you better be prepared to take the hard hits with a smile and continue with the mission at hand.
No, this isn’t easy. Having a business is never easy. If it was easy, anyone could do it and everyone would be successful at it. Think carefully. Plan accordingly. And a last tip: don’t burn yourself out. Working too much, too hard, and too fast will wear you out.