So, if you are going to make money as a genealogist, you have to have a product or a service and a market for the product or service. No matter what you are selling.
Genealogy is a both a product and a service. There is a market for genealogy products and services or companies like Ancestry.com would not exist. Apparently, 1,066,000 people are willing to spend money to find out about their ancestors. See Ancestry.com Inc. Reports 17% Subscriber Growth in 2009 Fourth Quarter, January 6, 2010. But what is it that genealogists are selling? I know attorneys that charge over $400 an hour, some a lot more. Do you know any genealogists that are being paid $400 an hour? Wikipedia notes that the range of fees charged by lawyers varies widely from one city to the next. Most large law firms in the United States bill between $200 and $1,000 per hour for their lawyers' time, though fees charged by smaller firms are much lower. Does this sound like genealogists? Why?
How many customers do you think I would have for my genealogical services in Mesa, Arizona or anywhere else in the World, if I were charging $300 an hour? Here is an assessment from the FamilySearch Research Wiki on How Genealogists Are Paid:
Three things affect the rate a genealogist charges:The Wiki article goes on to say rates may be as low as $15.00 per hour but that the "average rate charged by most competent genealogists ranges from $25.00 to $50.00 per hour."
- Competence. Rates charged by genealogists vary widely. Genealogists who charge higher rates do not necessarily do better research. Many charge to afford the ongoing training needed to provide better service. Be aware that reputable genealogists should not guarantee to find the specific information you want; it may be missing, destroyed, or otherwise nonexistent.
- The nature of the work. The complexity of research jobs varies. For example, record search may be less complex than a consultation. Consequently, a record searcher may charge less than a genealogist. Some jobs are more time-consuming than others. For example, if the census taker missed your great-grandfather's house, even the best genealogist would not be able to find his name in the census, but the genealogist would have to search thoroughly to make sure.
- Market conditions. The area of expertise as well as the physical location of a professional genealogist may affect charges. For example, a researcher specializing in an area that not many researchers are competent in may charge more than researchers whose expertise is relatively common. Similarly, genealogists who are aware of the market rate for their type of work in the area where they lie may adjust their charges accordingly.
What does this indicate? It shows that you can have a market, you can have a product or service, but to make money you also have to have a perceived value. TV shows like "Who Do You Think You Are" create a false sense of value. Did you see any of the stars of the show ask about how much all this was going to cost? Did they even question what it would cost to log onto Ancestry.com? The appearance was that all of these people did their "jobs" out of love for genealogy not for money. Do you thing the genealogists on the TV show were working for $15 per hour?
Let's assume for argument purposes, that I am the most competent genealogical researcher in the entire State of Arizona. Will someone pay me more than $50 an hour (if that is the average) just because I am the most competent? Why not? Who would know and who would care?
The reason why it is unlikely anyone would pay me more than the going rate can be boiled down to sales. Didn't I mention sales before? Well, here it goes. You need a market, you need a product or service, you need competence, but after all that, you need to sell your product or service to the market. The genealogists that are making money from genealogy are not just good genealogists, they are good sales people. They know what it takes to sell their product or service and they are good a doing the selling part. Do you think that the attorneys making $1000 an hour are always better attorneys than those making $200 an hour? No, not always but they are better at sales.
The genealogists who are making money are better at sales than the rest of us who are not.