Genealogy Business Planning (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Business Planning

A researcher wanting to start an independent research business will do the serious advance planning that allows the fulfilling of personal goals and ambitions. Merely proceeding from the enjoyment of your own family history into working for others is not necessarily a professional or business-like transition. What are your goals and ambitions? You are entering the market as a special kind of service provider who mainly works alone, without regulations or quality control. Of course this section does not apply if you are joining an established firm.

Step One: Self-Examination and Consultation
Look within yourself to answer certain questions honestly: Is this the right time for me to consider becoming a self-employed business person? Have I considered all the angles and aspects of how a business runs? Will this be a short- or long-term operation? Do I have financial start-up resources and family moral support? How many current publications or resource people have I consulted to learn about details? Should I be a sole proprietor or do I want to incorporate or register a company? What is the income tax significance for me?

Step Two: Mission Statement
A mission statement is not just a matter for large corporations or organizations. It expresses the heart of your personal ambition and does not involve lengthy wording. It is likely a mere few sentences. What do I want to accomplish with this business? Why am I doing it?

Step Three: Business Plan
This is a document that describes the initial, fundamental character of your business. This is where you put the nitty-gritty on paper. Careful planning from the outset can save future mishaps, although the plan will necessarily flex and adapt as your business grows. Your local library and/or the Internet will have many examples of precise business plan outlines; choose a model that works for you.

Will anyone see this business plan besides yourself? That depends on whether you intend to seek outside funding, grants or potential partners. Regardless, the plan should be as professional in appearance as possible, demonstrating your best efforts at expression and organization.

When you describe in the plan what your business does (or will do) you must pay attention to your own level of background experience in genealogy and related fields; the current state of similar businesses in your community and the genealogy world at large; how your daily operations are managed; and how you will attract ongoing new clientele.

A small-business plan would include these elements:

  • The name of your company, owner or service with relevant dates and contact information.
  • Mission statement.
  • Services and products offered.
  • Owner’s background and experience; specific responsibilities in the management and operation of this business.
  • Description of the business: whether it is a company (sole proprietorship or incorporated entity); services and products offered; assets; some reference to operational details; current status and future goals.
  • Marketing and competition: how the business competes and excels in the genealogical community; where the market is; how and where your business is displayed to the public, etc.
  • Accounting and inventory procedures; calculation of fees, wages or salaries; plans for banking and handling different currencies.
  • Contracts for clients and any other situations that warrant it. • Details of necessary or required licenses, permits, insurance, etc.
  • If you want to approach a bank or investors, you must “do the math” to include a section for financial analysis, or present it in a separate file.
  • A separate file can also contain supporting documents for each section of the plan. Testimonials, reference letters, diplomas, awards, articles of incorporation, business brochure or website illustration, insurance policy, bank or tax statements, and so on.

If your plan flows to several pages, you will consider a prefacing Summary followed by a Table of Contents.

We refer you to Melinda Kashuba’s chapter “Structuring a Business” in Professional Genealogy. A book highly recommended by other professionals is:

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand by Al Ries and Laura Ries, published in 1998.

There is no shortage of books on the subject, relevant to your country of residence. Of course you can “Google” small business on the Internet with plenty of results to find actual models. A few of the pertinent websites are:


(Scotland's) Business Gateway

Canada Business Network

U.S. Small Business Administration

The Canadian Subsidy Directory, published annually, is another source for constructing the plan and applying for a grant.

Office Planning

This addresses the professional who starts out as a “sole practitioner,” which is likely the case for the majority of us. If you have the opportunity to begin working in an established firm then much of this module may not apply. On the other hand, you may start your own company that employs or contracts several professionals. In that case, you must understand and keep up with various income tax regulations affecting deductions for expenses and/or local ordinances that concern definitions of business and employees.

Home v. Outside

Find your space! Gordon L. Remington ruminated on “The Pros and Cons of a ‘Real’ Office” in the APG Quarterly of June 1994 and the pros and cons still hold true. Again, many of us begin with a home office, mainly because our business grew out of a hobby. Let’s summarize a few of the realistic points about both:

  • no commuting
  • personal comfort, access
  • less expense
  • freedom to set personally convenient work hours
  • the office travels with you if you move your residence
  • straightforward tax deductibles
  • less distraction
  • leaving the office is leaving work behind!
  • more storage space?
  • more professional environment for client appointments?
  • family distraction
  • prorating expenses for taxation
  • lack of sufficient space?
  • zoning or licence restrictions?
  • extra expenses
  • extra paperwork, rental/ business details?
  • extra insurance (business)
  • more rigid work hours

You can probably fill in more points yourself as you look at both sides.

Whether your work space is part of a room, or an entire room dedicated to this purpose, it needs to accommodate a desk, chair, filing cabinets and bookcases, not to mention the materials that will accumulate on them or in them. Sufficient desktop working area is important; we all know how genealogical papers tend to spread out! We may want to have several pages or files at a time in front of us. Storage space could eventually become an issue if you work at home, but can be something that fits somewhere other than in your office space.


It almost goes without saying that you must have a computer, an Internet connection, a printer and a telephone. Some people still rely on a fax machine. A word-processing program would be a separate purchase if your basic computer did not have one. With today’s computers, you probably have a CD/DVD drive to deal with products in that form; email attachments, CD/DVD burners and GEDCOM for exchanging information have already made the floppy disk drive obsolete.

A Word About Software
1. A genealogy software program is always a good idea for making a variety of charts or meeting other, specific client needs, but only as a companion to a report. Many would-be professionals have already experimented with one or more in the compilation of their own family history information. By reading software reviews in major newsletters, online “e-zines” or attending demonstrations at large conferences, you can see what appeals to you.

2. A word-processing program (such as MS Word or WordPerfect) for professionals is highly recommended by leaders in genealogy. They recognize that most genealogy programs have limitations in such areas as editorial writing options, or the amount of allotted space for biographical detail, or good footnote capabilities. In reporting to clients, it enables you to experiment with formatting your own style.

3. Accounting and/or organizational software is an option that can be explored by seeking peer opinion, and that is another reason why professional email listserves are so valuable—you are able to obtain feedback very quickly from a wide spectrum of colleagues. With the availability of many ‘user-friendly’ programs, you should always be able to track where you are financially. Microsoft Money, MYOB, QuickBooks are some of the more popular accounting programs.

We can’t say too often how important it is to back up all your computer files as a routine. Computer “crashes” with loss of files are unpredictable and can be disastrous for any family historian or genealogist.

Optional office equipment (and of course much depends on your own budget!) could be:

  • accounting software
  • photocopier
  • scanner
  • microfilm reader
  • digital camera
  • microfiche reader
  • fax machine
  • hands-free telephone
  • postage meter
  • Global Positioning System GPS (device for field trips, cemetery stone notations)

Additional equipment for professionals who enter the lecturing or teaching fields will be discussed later on.

Supplies and Organizing

The usual office-type supplies like paper, pencils, pens and so on, should be on hand. You will also want file folders; blank pedigree and family group forms (and any other forms you use for research and business tracking); a chart of international postal rates; blank CDs/DVDs; magnifying glass; blank labels; stapler; personal letterhead stationery; printer cartridges; a good-sized briefcase for research outings; the list is as long as you make it. Using archival quality paper and materials is a little more expensive, but is worth the long-term benefit.

We suggest that you organize your business materials into some general categories and folders, some of which can now be done with appropriate software, saving space. The more you plan at the beginning, the more time you will save in retrieving relevant information:

  • business expense receipts (organized with income tax items in mind)
  • banking information and statements
  • advertising and promotional/marketing activities
  • active client files
  • your calendar
  • your business cards, brochures, address labels
  • your “day book” or research activity log(s)
  • your library collection shelf list
  • handy storage for microforms and compact disks
  • places or containers for special items like over-sized maps

Penelope Christensen further suggests that organizing folders or binders for generic and specific subjects of use to current and future clients enables you to access efficiently the information or news you’ve collected. Some of these topics obviously require multiple folders (or well-indexed binders) for separate regions or countries:

  • archives, libraries, record offices and other resource centers
  • bookstores and suppliers
  • cemetery information
  • society memberships and society information
  • FamilySearch and FamilySearch Center(s) news
  • maps, atlases
  • directories, gazetteers
  • vital statistics agencies
  • regional/country travel information
  • technology updates
  • professional contacts in another state or country
  • newspaper clippings or photocopied articles of regional interest
  • and so forth! as necessary for your particular specialty

Since the learning process is never ending, you will be noting the websites of most interest and value to you, in your Internet “bookmarks” or “favourites.” A Vade Mecum (Latin for “go with me”) is a splendid way to keep track of all the chance bits and pieces of (sometimes unexpected) information that will be of use to current or future clients. It is a notebook that accompanies you everywhere, but the contents can be transferred regularly to an alphabetical computer file of subjects and references.


Hundreds of forms and research outlines are available from FamilySearch. Various research forms can be found at FamilySearch and many research guides are in the FamilySearch Wiki. Some of the research guides may be found at your local FamilySearch Center.

Almost any genealogical society you belong to will also have forms and publications relevant to their area. You can find more on the Internet where you can shop and order without leaving home. What follows is a very short list. The danger in listing addresses is the possibility that over time, some businesses or websites may disappear. and Heritage Productions
92 Ashbury Boulevard
Ajax, Ontario, Canada L1Z 1N1
416-861-0165 or 1-800-580-0165

(This is the store site affiliated with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Over 15,000 genealogy products from suppliers across North America can be found on this website. All products can be ordered online.)

Federation of Family History Societies (publications)
Chesham Industrial Estate, Units 15 and 16
Oram Street
Bury, Lancs, United Kingdom BL9 6EN

Phillimore and Co. Ltd.

S and N Genealogy Supplies
West Wing, Manor Farm
Chilmark, Salisbury, United Kingdom SP3 5AF
UK Telephone: 01722 716121
International Telephone: +44 1722 716121

Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society
164 King Street
Aberdeen, Scotland AB24 5BD
Telephone: +44(0) 1224 646323

Society of Genealogists
14 Charterhouse Buildings
Goswell Road
London, United Kingdom EC1M 7BA
Telephone: (020) 7702 5483 or (020) 7251 8799 and key 2

Gould Genealogy and History
P.O. Box 675
Modbury, South Australia 5092 Australia
Telephone: (08) 8396 1110


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.