22 September 2015

Thomas MacEntee Interview on Genealogy as a Business: Part I

At BIFHSGO Conference 2015 I found myself talking to people who were interested in genealogy as a business. That prompted me to sit down with Chicago-based Rockstar genealogist Thomas MacEntee for an interview on his experience in the business of genealogy.

Thomas, a speaker and author, came to a genealogy career from an information technology background and is very active on the web with sites including High Definition Genealogy, Hack Genealogy and Geneabloggers.

Over three days I'll post transcripts, starting with the question "How did you come to recognize there was a good niche market within genealogy that you were particularly qualified to fill?"

TM: The timing was perfect, but also I was watching genealogy and I could see that social media was increasing in usage, especially among what I call the baby boomer set. I'm on the tail end. I was born in '62, the baby boomers end in '64. Also I was following trends. With the great recession in 2008 more people were retiring early and they came out of the corporate world with a skill set - with computer skills. It's different from what we've traditionally seen in genealogy where people had to learn computers. A lot of times they wanted to go beyond just the genealogy hobby. I tell people you're not going to be making a killing in genealogy, you'll make a living. That's my mantra. (For me) it was luck, it really was - and timing. You've got to follow trends, you've got to keep an eye on things, and that's how you find a niche. I call it exploiting a niche. It's an opportunity and that's what I did. I looked at it and it's been a blessing.

JDR: How did you get started and build the business?

TM: I did not have any business background at all. I have a liberal arts background. If you'd have asked me if I had that entrepreneurial bug and started my own business I'd have said no. So I had to learn and it was more bootstrapping and what I call duct-tape learning.There's a great site called Duct Tape Marketing that I really recommend. It's a blog, free. I use Seth Godin whose great for following trends. I got every free book on Amazon Kindle that I could on marketing. The downside is you have to sort through them. Look for the ones with good ratings and wait until they're free. And I'd just take notes -- it's something I built slowly. I also went and got some street cred, some credentials. I went to the Boston University Program online in 2010. It really helped me understand more about how genealogy has changed since I started in the late '70s. I also joined ProGen, Pro Genealogists. I highly recommend it. It's an 18 month program at a nominal fee, I think it's $50 or $100 US right now and you do peer reviewed projects with colleagues. And that's how I got started. I developed a business plan, and that's it.

Part II will be posted on Wednesday.

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