21 November 2010

Client Work - A Love/Hate Relationship?

So . Long time no blog.

I have truly missed blogging. Not the writing part. I am doing enough of that writing clients reports. I miss the informality, spontaneity and camaraderie of blogging. With Christmas coming soon, I have almost doubled my client work. Seems giving "family" to a family member is a hot gift this year. I am not complaining, after all this is why I spent the last 7 years attending classes, conferences, discussion groups, etc. - To become a professional and take clients, right? It has become painfully obvious to me the need for more instruction in how to achieve a better balance of work time versus me time.

Speaking of time management: The hardest part of doing client work, being a professional genealogist? Staying within the parameters of a project timewise. Here is a prime example:

Let's say a client contracts 4 hours of time for research which includes a written, documented report of your research plan,findings , analysis of said findings and recommendations for further research.

At the 3 1/2 hour mark (the other 1/2 is used to write report), you say to yourself, "I just know that if I search that one more ______(fill in the blank), I will have twice as much information for the client."

We all know the math:

Twice as much info for client = You now have Rockstar status with client

So now you are 6 hours into the project and still need to write the report which will now take you way longer than 1/2 hour because you added all that extra information.

End result: I did twice the amount of work for the contracted fee. Sure, the client was extremely pleased and maybe more work will come from client or referrals . . but what has really happened?

The client thinks that you did all that work in 4 hours and will expect that level of performance for that same fee in any future research. And if you take a look at your ledger book, you and your business took it in the shorts.

Everyday I learn something new . . .


  1. Good to hear from you. I can relate to your dilema from my prior business experiences!

  2. I know exactly where you are coming from...


  3. With my limited amount of contract work, I think this was my most significant problem. I never seem to be able to stick to the time frame, and I know my report will only be half as good without that "little bit" extra, which almost always turns out to be "quite a lot extra." And of course one can't charge for the extra time. The client possibly gets way more than than they envisaged, and appears very happy. One justifies this in one's mind as an investment for potential future work, establishing a reputation for a thorough researcher, the possibility of more referrals, etc. But perhaps you build up an unreasonable expectation? And does it, in fact, bring your more business - I wonder about that? So what does one do? It's quite a dilemma.

    I realise I've just practically just repeated everything you've written, but perhaps it helps to know that you're not alone.

    Regards, Brett

  4. I had the same problem when I was an HR consultant. Nice to know (or, actually, not so nice to know) that I'll have the same challenge as a genealogist.

  5. Great to see you on Thursday! We had a great time with SJGS. Okay, so you're only going to learn this lesson ONCE, right?

  6. I haven't solved the original problem, but I have partially solved the corollary problem of the client expecting to get that much research in the same amount of time the next time around. When I prepare my invoice, I bill for the contracted hours. I then add an item for the extra hours and indicate "no charge." I often explain in an informal email that his/her project was interesting and I got a little carried away, so they understand the invoice. (I don't do this if the extra hours were because I needed to learn a new record set or geographical area. This is only for pro bono research/writing.)

  7. I've had the same problem & I think Cathi's suggestion is great. If you've gone overboard, let the client know.

    When you realise how much time overdoing it costs you, get really strict with yourself. I note which other records I was tempted to look at (just a quick peek!) and include them in "recommendations for further research" in the report.

    Fingers crossed - more paid work!

  8. Why am I laughing? Truly, we make about a quarter(.25) an hour, especially when first starting off.

    I have created a system to manage time killers. I think this is a good blog. Thanks for the idea.


  9. Sheri, I do the same thing that Cathi does. On my Time Sheet that I provide to the Client I include the original billed hours and showing how they were spent and then if I spent any extra time on the project I include those hours as well and state that there is "no charge" for those hours. I want the Client to know exactly what I have done on their behalf. This has actually generated more work from my previous Client's. I am also constantly trying to find the happy balance of Client time and me time.

  10. Sheri,
    When my time comes, I will remember this. I would most likely follow Cathi & Melissa's example.

  11. One reason I don't do fee work these days. I limited myself to one county (the one I live in at the stick built house) and I still would "go over" on the time thing. I have done the "no charge" notations in my reports. I got lots of thanks, and once in a while a large "tip $$".

    But, I am uncomfy keeping track of hours and time and all that, so pretty much just don't do fee work. I do FREE work. That way I can do when and if I want, and can go hog wild or not. I am very lucky that Man and I have enough income in our retirement years to be able to do volunteer work instead of fee work.

    I always enjoyed the FREE work so much more than the FEE work.

    But, I sure relate to this post! Great topic, well described.

  12. Thank you for your candid observations! I had seriously considered becoming a professional genealogist at one point in my research, but decided not to because it would keep me from meeting my desired objective...conducting my own research to write books based on our family history.

    I remember what it was like when I was a self-employed seamstress. I spent so much time on everyone else's work that I rarely got to work on my own.

    Right now I'm blogging on acquisitions to the family archive and elaborating on fellow family genealogists' work...but soon I hope to share more of my own explorations with you!