[Editor’s Note: this is the second in a series of posts at Hack Genealogy entitled Genea-Opportunities 2013.]
From Franken-Career to Hacked-Career
Last year I discussed how I had “hobbled together” a career by stringing together various tasks such as writing, lecturing, researching and more. I used the term “Franken-Career” as if I had created a Frankenstein-like monster to meet my professional and economic needs.
While it may seem like the same old “parts is parts” career monster, over the past few months I’ve been using the term Hacked Career instead. I’ve not simply welded work tasks together as a means of bringing in income, I’ve found a career solution.
What I do on a day-to-day basis solves several challenges: I can bring in a decent income on a monthly basis, enough to pay my expenses and even pay down some debt from starting my own business. I am almost never bored since I am able to tap into several skill sets. Since I’m on my own schedule, I can hop from one task such as writing an article on search engines and genealogy to creating slides for a new presentation.
So what does it take to thrive with a hacked career? Structure. Plain and simple. This means using some form of project management, having an overview of deadlines for tasks, and taking responsibility. I know that flitting from one cheery task to another like a butterfly might be intriguing for many, but what I do in a given day is more than just hopping around from task to task.
I have a sense of purpose and direction. There are times when I have to work on a project that doesn’t suit my mood, but the client’s deadline demands that the work be done now and not next week. Again, I have to stress the concept of project management and task tracking. I also set myself up with a reward system that seems downright juvenile, like some grand bargaining session you may have made with your child: do this one not-so-fun task now, and then you’ll have time to do the fun stuff later.
My Career Components and Genealogy Careers in General
Last year I offered an overview of various genealogy-related careers such as Researcher, Librarian, Author, Education, Archivist and more. The valuable and heart-felt comments posted by readers were verification that I’m not the only one in the genealogy and family history industry who has had to re-purpose my skill sets.
This year, rather than go down the same old list of careers, I thought I’d offer readers a look at what I do in a given day or week and how each of these skill elements can be used by anyone in almost any career field.
- Researcher: Although I no longer take on client work, I do utilize my research skills each and every day. As a trained genealogist, I’ve been able to re-purpose those analytic skills so that I can find solutions for my own business as well as information for my clients. For me, having solid research and analytic skills are life skills and my key to survival. Even if I never did genealogy research for a client again, I am thankful that I am able to adapt these skills to be used in various areas of my career and my life.
- Author: I love to write and luckily others like to read. So I’ve started to write more and more, but outside the traditional “work for hire” arena. Yes, I still write for magazines and e-zines that pay me on a per word basis and expect me to give up my rights to the written work. However, I’ve started using my entrepreneur skills more and more: I’ve negotiated deals where I take a long-term passive income interest in the written work rather than get paid up front. For example: I currently edit the Legacy QuickGuide series of genealogy guides. My duties include recruiting the authors, executing contracts, editing the content and producing the final product. For all of these tasks, rather than ask for payment on an hourly basis, I’ve asked for a small royalty based on each copy sold. There is an element of risk involved since a guide on one topic may require 6 to 8 hours of work yet not sell many copies. But averaged out over time, and with a large number of guides for sale (over 70), I can count on a fairly decent royalty check each month. I’ve taken the same approach with my own books, such as my new e-book Guide to Wolfram|Alpha for Genealogy and Family History Research. I put many hours into writing and formatting and now I collect a royalty check each month based on the number of sales. The more I market the book, the more sales and the bigger the royalty check.
- Educator: One of the main income producing skill sets for me is being able to teach others about genealogy. I’ve found my niche in the genealogy and technology area and lecture in person all over the world. Luckily I love to travel and often I am headed out of Chicago on a Friday, I lecture all day Saturday and then return on Sunday. Besides in-person lectures, I’ve been able to capitalize on virtual education through the webinar medium. This includes producing and delivering webinar content for genealogical societies as well as genealogy vendors.
- Analyst: I track the genealogy industry in various ways and then incorporate that knowledgebase into my consulting work (see below). Being able to look at past, current and future trends in the genealogy business helps me to formulate strategies for my clients. Understanding how genealogists work, what they buy as well as what attracts/repels them in the marketplace is a valuable skill set upon which I’ve been able to capitalize.
- Retailer: I’ve been judicious in terms of which affiliate programs I align myself with, and to be honest, selling products for others is not a huge income producer for me. I’ll admit that I am rather passive about it compared to others and I could probably bring in more income. I’m always looking for that balance so that I don’t oversell; in my mind a good product should sell itself.
- Social Media Marketer: Again, I’ve been able to take a skill set where I’ve found personal success – using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to market my various websites – and offered such skills to clients. Using a platform such as HootSuite, Bottlenose or SproutSocial, I can manage the social media needs of several clients at once. One advantage: I also socialize client content within my own network which I’ve built up over the years and the ability to do so is very attractive to clients.
- Consultant: One hallmark of success is this: others want to know how you did it and want you to replicate it for their own companies. My consulting work is a major part of my income so far for 2013. I sell advice based on my own experience in the genealogy field and based on my analysis of the genealogy market. I set up procedures, processes and measure returns on these initiatives. I have a small client base to which I am very loyal and I’ve even turned others away. I bill by the hour, meticulously track my work, spend lots of time in virtual meetings and also send invoices each month.
There is no guarantee that what I’ve put together as a career this past year, or over the past five years, will work for you or for anyone else. Why? We each have our own unique approaches to how we pursue each of these elements and skill sets. That is the beauty of being able to survive in any field: you offer something different, your own formula for success not just for yourself but for your clients.
I’ve been able to capitalize on my uniqueness and I am blessed that there is a demand for what I do. To the point where I can now turn down work and clients because there just isn’t a “good fit” and taking on such projects would diminish the returns in terms of success.
©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee