Thursday, April 30, 2009

The subject of clients and expectations of time and end-result

I thought I would touch upon a more business related topic for today. For most of the group who consider themselves "transitional" genealogists, the topic of clients can be a loaded gun. There are so many unknowns associated with taking on work, whether pro bono or paid, and while books such as Professional Genealogy by Elizabeth Shown Mills help to understand the ethics of your professional-client relationship, amongst other things, the only real way to learn the ins and outs is by doing.

Right from the beginning though, one of the most important things to do is make sure the expectations are clear to both parties. That relates to how long the job will take as well as what will be accomplished. But how does the transitional genealogist know how to estimate an appropriate time expectation? Well, one of the best ways that I've discovered is by listening to the pros on the yahoo APG email forum. One of the threads today is a discussion of client expectations and the subject of estimating time, as well as cost. By listening to what the professionals have to say you can get a sense of what works and what doesn't. When a client approaches you to do a large-scale project, while it may sound like an exciting opportunity with a large paycheck attached, you have to look realistically at what such a project would involve. A popular way to approach projects is to have a 4 or 5 hour introductory/exploratory block. This first block of time would be meant as a way for you to assess the road ahead as well as to give your client an opportunity to take a look at your work. If they feel confident that you can find what they're looking for, or to produce a quality product, they will continue to hire you and tell their contacts as well. It's a win-win situation for you both. Once you've taken that time to get acclimated to the major players, their locations, their history, etc. and after you present your findings to your client in the report, you can then start to work with your client on priorities, ie. what it is that they would like to focus on first and work from there. The client can decide on tracing one person at a time in 5 hr blocks, or have you go for a family group in 10 hr blocks, etc. As a professional, you must keep in mind that while the client is paying you for your time, they also rely upon your expertise and efficiency to get what they are looking for in a timely manner. On the other hand, it's up to you to make sure that the client knows that asking for a 300 year long family history isn't something that can be done in a matter of a few hours so making sure that realistic expectations of time and end-result are vital to the success of the business relationship.

There are a number of questions that experienced genealogists may have in regards to clients once they make the decision to go out there and start a business. As soon as you are approached by a potential client though, you must make sure that all expectations are clear. Contracts, clearly stating how much time is going to be paid for and even how that time is going to be spent, are the best way to handle this. There are great examples of how to make the expectations clear and something that both parties agree to in Professional Genealogy as well as the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual. Anyone hoping to build a genealogy business should have and study copies of both books. There is a great chapter by Patricia Law Hatcher included in Professional Genealogy all about time management which is definitely worth a read.

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