29 June 2012

Genealogy for Fun and Profit- How to Set Your Prices

On short term costs: Use last year's receipts to determine how much your variance may be. If you do a year of "free" research for friends, keep the receipts and let that help you determine that cost.

ebay genealogy page

To contact me:
Twitter @chaosananke

Enjoy your weekend!

This video is just a rant. It is my own opinion. I am not a paid spokesperson for Ancestry.com, just a fan. I apologize for the train. I'm near an industrial area and Friday is a big shipment day.

Having worked in retail in the past, I'd like to say something that a retail/customer service associate is never allowed to say:

We want to help you. We want your experience with our company to be a good one. However, there are times we wonder if you have any idea how little power we have to change the things you think you deserve to have changed. Written policies are there for your protection as well as the company's and everytime you demand we bend the rules, we get in trouble for it. We get in trouble when we stick to them and you complain to a higher up. We get in trouble when we break them and the higher up disagrees with our decision to keep you happy. Your average employee is paid just enough to make them come back the next day. They spend their day trying not to get fired for doing something stupid, as the average manager has been taught the technique of "everyone's replaceable." Any time we try to change anything, we are reminded we are free to leave any time we don't like our jobs.

As much as we want to help, however, guru's that tell you to keep bitching until someone gives you what you want are hurting you and the companies you do business with. The company will give in to your demand as long as it's not unreasonable, but they will give hell to anyone below the rank of the person that helped you. First, they'll be yelled at for it having gone so far up. Then they'll be yelled at for not preventing the problem at all, even when it's obvious that the customer was going to complain to get extra for nothing anyway (and there are those who complain for the sake of getting something for nothing). You'll be hurt, because it only takes a few times of this happening to break the spirit of any average customer service rep. Soon they'll see deceit in every customer and assume your motive is only to bilk the company for something you don't deserve even when it's rightfully yours. Attitudes will slip and complaints will go up. I'm not saying there aren't bad employees, but I'm saying more good employees are ruined by bad experiences than companies just hiring bad employees.

And a last note: There are a number of rules that an employee agrees to when they begin their employment. Among them is what they can say in person, on the phone and online about the company, a customer or anything dealing with the business. The big one of course is to keep trade secrets. That's one everyone's okay with. But they're also not allowed to say anything negative about the company. They may have been given a script that they must refer to when resolving an issue. I worked for one company that allowed "Thank You", but not "You're Welcome" when addressing a customer. We got around it by saying "No, Thank you!" and chuckling, but you felt like a dunderhead for having to say it that way. When you ask an associate a question, or log a complaint, and you get a rote answer, before you get mad, try to remember that script. That may be all that they can say to you without being in trouble. That may be all they've been told. They want to help you, but their hands are tied. If you feel frustrated, imagine the employee. You only hear that speech once. They say it 100 times a day, every day, to irate customers that act like they are the only one's that will have that problem. We have to say the same stuff every day like it's the first time it's ever been said. We have to laugh at jokes told by customers like they're the first one to notice the naughty subtext of our company name or whatever it is they are being clever about.

I bring all this up, because those who complain about the cost of Ancestry eventually complain about  the service. They can't get the answer they want. They can't get something for free. They can't get the employee to bend the rules. They're waiting forever on the DNA kit/results. They don't understand why the 1940 census isn't fully searchable...... whatever it is that they complain about. There are bad service reps and I blame training for them. But for the most part, it's nice people trying to help. They tell you what they can. They don't know when the census will be done for each individual state, but they are on par for it to be done nationwide by the end of the year. They don't know/can't tell you what order the DNA invites are being given in, and can only tell you "soon". They realise that a month from now or a year from now or even just tomorrow won't be "soon" to some people, but it's all they can say. Give these poor souls a break already!

Free Sites:
My good friend Loretta has a blog that lists some free sites.
Ancestry's YouTube Channel

Want a discount?
Join Ancetry's World Archives Project and help transcribe records. Watch for occasional free events that happen for a weekend or a full week during new releases or anniversaries. There is usually right after Christmas an email for a really deep discount on a 6 month subscription. If you buy their FTM software, many packages come with a membership term!

28 June 2012

Genealogy for Fun and Profit- Networking and Finding Your Niche

Afternoon! Today's video is about networking and creating a niche. I don't dive too deep, so I wanted to make a few points:

On networking: Everything you do is a networking opportunity. Know what kind of image you want for your professional endeavor. Write it down. Practice it. Everytime you are in public, be it. You never know when you'll meet the next big breakthrough for your company, so always represent your company properly. If you don't believe this is important just look at celebrities. Or any number of professionals who've been fired from their lucrative career for having made a personal blunder. It's a learning curve, so you'll still have slipups. But being self-employed means that you have to handle all the damage control yourself. So make the damage small from the start. There are privacy settings for a reason, use them.

On specialties: I can't tell you what your specialty will be. You may have more than one. Find out what you are good at by taking on those freebie friends and family style clients. Find out what you want to be good at by practicing with friends first. Don't let your first paying client suffer through your growth spurts. You may not get another one. Market according to your specialty. Advertise where people are most likely to search for someone with your skills. Do something that is going to make you stand out from the crowd, but don't give up substance for sparkle. No genealogist knows it all, so make a point of clearly stating what it is that you can do, what memberships you have, what degrees and certifications you earned, and what your prices are. Don't hide that information and don't play games with your clients to get that information to them. If you do, your best case is that they'll just not hire you. Your worst case is that they'll make a complaint or report your business as unethical.

On customers: You will get complaints. If they leave them on your public profile or website, don't delete them. That is a bad practice to get into. Address their complaints (hopefully before they make them public) and allow them the opportunity of changing their mind or letting the complaint stick. Kill them with kindness so that their public call-out becomes your greatest marketing tool. If you are truly good at what you do, your happy clients will outnumber the upset ones (and many will come to your defense when someone is unfairly harsh of you). Don't tell them what you don't want to hear from them or that they are wrong or "unprofessional" in their dealings with you. This has the opposite effect than what you intend. Any potential clients that see your page will consider you the unprofessional one.

And as always, remember this is about helping people find their roots, not your pride.

21 June 2012

Genealogy for Fun & Profit- Part 2

Welcome back! Today's topic is about gaining working knowledge of genealogy prior to becoming a professional. Everyone practices their craft, from artists to doctors, and you should too! It's also important to understand how much experience prior to becoming a paid professional is the "standard" if there even is a standard for our field. I do bring up the 10 year mark, and I believe that that has become the standard for genealogy simply because that after 10 years of personal research, you've done enough digging to know where to look. I don't mean to say you can't be newer to this field, it's just that you'd have to be really talented or have a very important specialty to begin any sooner. Why so long? Well, without an actual course of education that culminates in a degree, personal experience is the only way to gain the knowledge that you will need. And spending a decade making mistakes in your personal research will keep you from making mistakes in your professional research!

I do mention how not everything is online, but I wanted to add a bit of a note about that. If your professional experience is going to be online searching, be up front about that with your clients. You are only going to be capable of finding a small percentage of what's available and you should be honest about that. However, I understand if personal or logistical reasons keep you in one place and having to use the Internet as your primary source of information. But please be clear with your client and set their expectation accordingly. I have done Internet only look ups for folks who don't have the site memberships I have. Or don't know how to use the searches effectively. But I'm upfront about what will be found. I charge less. And usually, this is how I get them started on doing the rest for themselves. So, if the Internet is going to be your thing, know the disservice you do your customer by not looking farther and be honest with yourself and them.

*A note on Sonja from @Sweden who made news with some questionable and naive posts that remind us all that there are ways to ask a question that'll get you bitch-slapped.

Keep on truckin'

20 June 2012

Genealogy for Fun & Profit- Part 1

Have you missed me? Well, have no fear! This video post is one of a series on how to make the leap from amateur to professional and use your skills to help others on their journey. Because I missed you for two weeks, and this series is all tied in, the posts will happen a bit more frequently until I've finished up.

In this post I mention certification. BCG is the certifcation I mention in the blog, which you can find here.

Talk again soon

01 June 2012

Handling Handwriting

"Dear Irene- Thanks for card am glad you
are better- But it is hot where you are."
Doesn't have to be Shakespeare to be history

Soon, there shall come a day where the average human cannot read this sentence.
The sad fact is, with the growing dependency on digital communication, proper penmanship is no longer a necessity. Schools are removing cursive handwriting from their curriculums to make room for other challenges more relevant to today's elementary school children. While I don't blame them, I do pity the children. They are missing out on a tradition as much as a talent. I still remember how excited I was to learn cursive. With cursive handwriting came the teachers that let you use pen on your homework! No more block lettering! No more pencils! Sure you had to practice how to do it just right, make it legible, get the slant correct, but soon enough you made it your own. Most of my female friends started using big bubble letters. The boys had the sharp but sloppy words of hurried homework finished on the bus.  As much as it was about expressing your individuality through letters, cursive handwriting was a rite of passage. One we are taking away from our children.

Can you even begin to imagine a world where people who can decipher handwriting are specialists?

One question, Doctor, "Why do you hate me?"
We all reach the point in our genealogy research when we need help from someone who knows more. We may need help with a specific history, a foreign language, handling old fragile documents....... but soon, we will need someone to read all those handwritten notes, certificates and ledgers. I've had those times (like the picture to the left) where the word is so sloppy or mangled, a second set of eyes is necessary even now. But can you even fathom the idea that the next generation of genealogists will be starting from scratch with handwriting recognition? In twenty years, these people won't know how to sign their own names, much less decifer the signature of a long deceased relative. How long before the average family historian is relying on already indexed or transcribed documents rather than reading the original? How long before transcriptionists become a class of people with specialised education vs. volunteers with too much time on their hands? How long before knowing how to write is akin to knowing Latin? Keep handwriting alive! Familiarise yourself with handwriting in your research. Write a journal about yourself. Encourage your children and grandchildren to write.

Like I said, even now you will have difficulties with handwriting. Like anything else, it has evolved from it's original form. The farther you go back in your research, the more unfamiliar the writing will become. As you continue your journey, you are going to come up against thousands of writing samples. At first blush, they will seem like they are written in a foreign language. No worries, there is help! Ancestry.com's wiki has an article on common handwriting tips. The U.K. National archives has a very interesting online tutorial. About.com has a list of sites to help you. Don't worry about which one to try, try them all. The more practice, the better! No matter if there is a transcription (or you're helping make one), look at the original document! There are so much more than words on that page!

 But more than the technical losses, there is the loss of a true art form.
"I like fine wine, good friends, long walks on the beach,
and witnessing legal documents of the late 19th century."

Handwriting divulges personality, status, gender, and education. There was a time when one would know several styles for different situations. The slant can tell you if they were left or right handed. Small, tight letters can divulge an ordered mind. If the dot to the i is farther forward than the actual letter, they're forward thinkers. Every language has it's handwriting styles. Whether you are writing in English, German, Swedish or Russian, you can tell a great many things about someone by their writing style. Even in Japanese, there is a "feminine" and "masculine" form of writing. Moreover, when people learn English as a second language, their handwriting can show that!

My grandfather barely finished the fifth grade before returning to farm work. I used to watch him write out his days transactions very carefully, precisely. He usually printed, but if he had to sign his name, or write a letter, he'd break out the cursive handwriting. You could see the care he took to make it legible (letters would have dots where he stopped and started). My father's hand was broken when he learned to write, so his handwriting has always been terribly sloppy. When writing for long periods of time, he still finds it helpful to hold out two fingers (as if they were still in the cast) to keep his hand comfortable. My own handwriting is a mixture of printing and cursive. I drop the "in" in my "ing", which makes reading my own writing sometimes difficult. I remember watching Total Recall and liking Arnold Schwarzenegger's "M" when he wrote "Melina" in the hotel lobby scene. I practiced for days to get my hand to instinctively make that curvy M...........

I believe I've been quite clear on my "geekiness"- don't judge me.