Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Independent researcher - part two, finding clients


My path to an independent researcher career started before I retired.  Through library networking my professional contacts included staff at local historical institutions. These institutions almost always have a “researcher for hire list”. They will not recommend a researcher, but they will indicate who they know best.  I asked two organizations if they would add me to their researcher list.  Because they knew the level of my research skills, they added me to their list and steered clients my way. Ninety percent of my referrals come this way, most I don't take on the assignment.  For about a year I accepted one or two clients while I worked full time.  During the pandemic lock-down I decided to retire and take on a few more clients (Deciding to retire wasn’t as easy as I make it sound!). Thanks to my current financial circumstances I don’t need another path to acquire new clients. 

While there are enough clients coming to me through historical societies, I did give plenty of thought about ways to get more clients if I needed them.  Feel free to borrow. One idea was to offer research services to probate attorneys.  Genealogy skills are just as useful to locating descendants as they are to finding ancestors. Many attorneys use national companies that offer research services to locate descendants so there may be room for a local independent researcher to build up a business in this field. I also considered offering historic building surveys for companies undergoing historic building renovations or repurposing. Most businesses are interested in a building’s history but what research uncovers may also help with tax and zoning considerations.  Offering zoning boards, chamber of commerce, development offices, etc. examples of a building genealogy report is one way to start. 

As to fees, honestly, my fees are very subjective.  For simply scanning projects I will charge $40.00/hour. For research projects I go down to $30.00/hour.  To me it makes better sense to get the higher amount for projects that will only last a few hours and are off-site.  Research projects are always longer lasting and giving those clients a better hourly rate makes sense if you want the a lasting project to work on at home.  I think Ancestry starts their researcher fees at $35.00/hour. 

So, what about researchers-for-hire services?  I have applied to a few and have taken clients through the service.  On the one hand, it is nice to have a middleman to handle clients. On the other hand, I found that I work better talking to clients face to face.  These research services get the client to put their request in one sentence like, “My ancestor died in 1850 so when was he born?”.  How do you answer a question like that without breaking the client's bank? Those kind of questions can take years to solve! Unless someone in a different online tree happens to have a document that states a DOB it would be unlikely a client could afford that kind of research. I like coming to some agreement about expectations first. That isn’t possible through research services.

Truthfully my clients are mostly interested in historic research about people or places for writing projects. They want the details of someone’s life not a multigeneration family tree. However, genealogy research skills are essential to any historical research. One of the most surprising things about being an independent researcher is I don’t just research all day.  For some clients I am a “sort-of” administrative assistant in addition to being a researcher.  I am asked to prepare charts, spreadsheets, biographical essays, organize on-site materials (including printing labels!), organize cloud materials, supervise other researchers, edit writing samples, fact-check, created bibliographic citations and, of course, prepare summarized research reports. 

In hindsight I can see that a few thoughtful early decisions about my future have landed me in a safe spot, for now!, and I hope it can happen for you, too. 

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