How much does it cost to research my family tree? Why can it be so expensive? These are two of the questions I am often asked when I tell people that I am a professional family history researcher.
As with any profession or trade, individuals and companies can have widely varying rates, and genealogy is no different. With regards to professional genealogy potential clients have to weigh up the pros and cons of paying a hobbyist (they are not doing this for a living, just for fun), a sole trader (someone who works for themselves and has no employees) and a company. Prices I have seen vary for £4 per hour to over £80 per hour. So why is there such a huge difference?
The Hobbyist Researcher.
Hobbyists generally are cheaper and may only charge a few pounds per hour, however their level of expertise is often an unknown quantity as is their trustworthiness. Although there are many out there who know what they are doing, some may only have been researching for less time than the clients, and only in a small area. They may not have experience of the full breadth of research available. As they are not working as professionals in a business sense, they have no overheads/expenses to pay for.
The Professional Sole Trader.
These professionals may simply be very experience and/or have a recognised genealogical qualification (of which there are many levels). The Register of Qualified Genealogists (RQG), only accept full members who have a Diploma at Masters Level.
Unlike the hobbyist, the sole trader has lots of business costs to pay before they even accept a client. They must register with the Tax Office (HMRC), submit annual tax returns and pay any tax and National Insurance contributions they owe. They also must be registered with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and pay an annual fee related to the Data Protection of clients details.
HMRC prefer businesses to have a dedicated business bank account rather than use their personal accounts. This make it easier for them to look for tax avoidance, however most banks charge businesses for these accounts, and some charge depending on how much is paid into the account or cashing cheques. For those of us who use payment systems such as PayPal, we also have to pay their fees every time a client pays us via that system. This can range from 3.4% up to over 8% of what the clients pay depending on where the client lives. It is taken from our account so it easy for us to be paid less than we have charged for. Recent legislation states that we cannot recoup those fees from the clients.
Most small businesses also have a website and possibly a dedicated email address (not Hotmail etc.) for which there is also an annual charge for hosting, and possibly updating/maintaining the website if they cannot do it themselves. Advertising is vital to any business and especially so for the small business. It can be very expensive so small businesses need to work out a strategy with care as they may not have a lot of money to spend on it.
In addition to these necessary business expenses the professional family history researcher needs to purchase several website subscriptions such as Ancestry, Find My Past etc. (we cannot work with just one), as well as paper, printer inks, binders and travel costs, in some cases this includes paying more for car insurance to cover business use. Often we are also members of Professional Organisations such as the Register of Qualified Genealogists (RQG), Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) or Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA). All of these organisations require their members to have a commitment to continuing their own training in genealogy, which may involve attending courses and conferences etc.
All of these costs should be part of the fees we charge clients otherwise the business will quickly become bankrupt or at least not financially worthwhile to run.
Businesses that employ researchers, or outsource their research to independent researchers (usually sole traders but some use hobbyists as well), have the same costs as the sole trader but often on a larger scale. In addition they also have costs associated to the office space and any vehicles used, such as rents, rates and insurances, as well as wages, pension plans, sick pay and holiday pay etc.
The larger businesses will have more customers than the sole traders can manage, and may be able to spread their costs to some extent which can reduce the overall cost to the client. They may, however need higher profit margins in order to make the larger payments when required.
The Cost of Living.
Running any business can be very expensive and it has to be the clients/customers who pay for it – no one else can. Without customers who are willing to a pay for our services, most of us could not afford to keep our businesses running.
Next time you ask any business for a quote and think it is expensive, look at what that cost will include. You are not just paying for their time and expertise, but also the expenses of running a business. If you were a qualified, experienced professional in an area that requires skill, expertise and experience, would you be willing to work for just a couple of pounds an hour? For anyone over the age of 25 years the national minimum wage is currently £7.83 per hour. Unless they are in the fortunate (and rare) position of not needing to work, most professionals need to earn money to pay their mortgage, bills, food and care for their family.
A business is not for fun but to be able to live.
To learn more about begin a Professional Genealogist, read my blog “What clients need to know about about Professional Research.”