Do You Have a Problem Knowing What to Charge Clients?


For many newcomers to the business of Personal Histories determining what to charge is a challenge. There are no set industry standards and fees range from next to nothing to $100+ an hour.

It doesn’t really matter what other personal historians charge for their work. We’re all different. One size does not fit all.  So here’s what to do.

Start with your own expenses

  • Make a detailed listing of all your expenses for a year. Include everything – personal as well as business. Include a “contingency” amount for such things as health emergencies, repairs, travel, etc.
  • Don’t forget taxes and start-up equipment such as printers, scanners, cameras, recorders, etc.
  • Divide your total expenses by 12 to arrive at a monthly estimate.

Let’s imagine your calculations point to monthly expenses of $4,000. If your only source of income is from your personal history work, you’ll need to generate at least $4,000 of income every month or about $1,000 a week just to meet your expenses.

Calculate your billable hours.

Use good time tracking software and determine how much of your time is spent on non-billable activities such as  research, marketing, bookkeeping, file management, and so on. A good rule of thumb is 20% of your billable hours. So if you work a 40 hour week, you’ll be spending about 8 hours a week on non-billable items.

This means you need to charge a little more than $3o an hour for the remaining 32 billable hours in order to bring in a $1000 a week. (40 hr. work week  minus 8 hr. non-billable items)

Determine your profit margin

Being self-employed means both flush and lean times. To ensure that you can bridge those downturns in your business, build in a profit margin. Consider anything from 10% to 30%.

Suppose you decide on 15%. That would mean adding an additional $4.50  (15% of $3o) to your hourly rate bringing it to $34.50.

Charging by the project

You may prefer to charge by the project. If so, estimate the number of hours to complete a project and multiply by your hourly rate.

And Don’t Forget

  • Double the amount of time you think a project will take. It always takes longer than you anticipate.
  • Avoid pricing yourself too low. Clients will assume you’re not good because you’re cheap.
  • Don’t base your rate on what others are charging.
  • You’re a professional and are worth every penny you charge.

Additional Resources

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Photo by iStockphoto

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