Tag Archives: Business

My Top 10 Posts of 2011.

It’s the end of the year and time for list making.  These are the posts from 2011 that were the most popular with readers.  If you’ve missed some of them, now’s  your chance to catch up over the holidays. Enjoy!

  1. The 50 Best Life Story Questions.
  2. 25 No Cost or Low Cost Marketing Ideas for Your Personal History Business.
  3. How Much Should You Pay a Personal Historian?
  4. 15 Great Memoirs Written by Women.
  5. 5 Top Sites for Free Online Videography Training.
  6. The Top 3 Prosumer HD Camcorders Under $2,500.
  7. How to Boost Your Interviewing Skills.
  8. Three Crucial Steps to Starting Your Personal History Business.
  9. 5 Print-On-Demand Sites You’ll Want to Consider.
  10. 12 Top Rated Family Tree Makers.

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.

Encore! The Best Advice Ever for a Personal Historian.

If I were able to go back to when I began as a personal historian, what’s the best advice I could give myself? Here’s what I’d say… Read more.

3 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Being a Professional Personal Historian.

Want to avoid some pitfalls as a newcomer to the personal history business? Read on.

We  love our work. Right? But that doesn’t mean we  can’t be blindsided by some unsuspected snag. Looking back on my seven years in this work there are a number of things I wish I’d known earlier. Here are just three:

1. Some personal history clients can be darn right disagreeable.

It’s true and I have the scars to prove it.

For the most part, working with people on a personal history project is a satisfying experience. That’s why early on I was lulled into a dream-like  state, believing all my clients would be simply wonderful.  Wrong! One “client from hell” snapped  me out of my reverie.

What did I learn? I now make sure that I only work with clients that are a good fit and that I like.  In addition, I’m very clear from the outset about what I will or won’t do.  And I always make certain clients sign a contract.

2. Keeping up with changing technologies never stops.

A few years ago I invested several thousand dollars in the latest prosumer camcorder. It was a beauty. Now it’s  obsolete. It doesn’t shoot in HD and isn’t flash-based.  I’ll soon have to purchase a new camera which will also necessitate an upgrade of my editing software.

It’s not just keeping up with the latest equipment and software.  You’ve also got to budget for these upgrades. I’m embarrassed to admit that in this department I’ve been somewhat lax.

What’s the lesson?  Build into your production budget a rental fee for your equipment. Make sure that those fees go into a designated new equipment fund. And keep repeating to yourself: “This too will soon be obsolete.”

3. Working in an unregulated profession has it’s disadvantages.

There’s no certification or governing body for personal historians.   Some are experienced veterans and others are just starting out. Some charge nothing or very little while others charge thousands of dollars.  For potential clients this can be confusing. They may well ask why they should pay you a professional fee when someone down the street is offering a bargain basement deal?

What’s the answer?  I’ve learned not to sell myself short and not to be “nickel and dimed” to death. I sell myself on my years of experience as an award winning  documentary filmmaker.  I promise a professionally produced personal history that my clients will be thrilled with or they get their money back.   If they still prefer to go with “Joe”  down the street and are happy with a less qualified person and an inferior product, I’m not going to sweat it. Life’s too short.


So what are some of the pitfalls you’ve faced as a professional personal historian and what did you learn? Love to hear from you!

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.

Photo by iStockphoto

Do You Want To Be a Successful Personal Historian?

Why do some succeed and others fail? In a word – persistence.   It’s that ability to get knocked down, pick yourself up, and keep going. Success of course is entirely in the mind of the beholder. Success to one person is failure to another.

Increasingly people find their way to my blog looking for the key to a successful career as a personal historian. I don’t have a magic formula. But what I do know from years of experience is that without persistence  nothing of real value can be achieved.

There are plenty of obstacles on the road to becoming a successful personal historian. I’ve selected four. Your success will largely be determined by whether you persist and overcome these obstacles .

 The Isolation Obstacle

Your home office can be a lonely place. This is especially true if you previously worked in a business where you socialized with fellow employees.

There are ways to minimize the isolation. You can network through social media, join professional associations, and participate in service organizations. But the truth is that a good part of your personal history work will be spent alone.

Failure to overcome this isolation and persist can give you second thoughts about being a personal historian.

The Fear Obstacle

This is the biggest obstacle to your success.

There’s so much to fear when starting a new personal history business. There’s  the fear of marketing yourself, the fear of doing the wrong thing, the fear of not having enough money to live on, the fear of being a competent interviewer, and on and on.

Fear can paralyze. An ability to keep going in spite of  your fears spells the difference between success and failure.

The Cash Flow Obstacle

If you’re used to a regular paycheck, get ready for a shock. For the first couple of years you’ll  find  more money going out than coming in.

In order to persist through the lean times you’ll need to be able to call on all your financial ingenuity.  If you don’t have a reserve of funds, or a part-time income or the support of friends and family or the thriftiness of a Scotsman, you may not be able to continue.

The Experience Obstacle

Personal historians come from a wide range of professions but no one comes to the business fully experienced.   It’s the kind of work you learn over time and largely by doing.

There are a host of basic skills you need – marketing, interviewing, editing, project management, and sales, to mention a few. Being able to clearly identify your business shortcomings and showing persistence in overcoming them spells the difference between success and failure.


Let me leave you with these inspiring words on persistence by American naturalist and author, Edward O. Wilson.

You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.  

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.

News Flash! Being Relaxed Makes People Spend More Freely.

The  recent issue of  the Journal of Marketing Research  examined the correlation between relaxation and consumer spending. It turns out that all things being equal consumers are more willing to pay higher prices if they feel relaxed.

It’s no surprise then that we find luxury products typically displayed in high-end boutiques that ooze comfort and elegance. Commenting on the research Wired Magazine wrote:

Why does relaxation turn us into spendthrifts? When we feel safe, we are better able to fully focus on the potential rewards at stake. Instead of worrying about price, we can contemplate the advantages of having a sophisticated camera, or the thrill of falling through the air. As the psychologists demonstrated in subsequent experiments, those subjects who were more relaxed thought less about particulars – the specific cost of the gadget or the dangers of the risky behavior – and more about the abstract pleasures they were trying to purchase.

What has all this to do with personal historians?

We are in the business of providing a high-end product. Asking individuals to part with $10,000 or more for a personal history requires more from us than offering up a good resume, a nice smile, and an attractive brochure.

If as the research suggests a relaxed personal history client is more likely to say yes to  a life story, shouldn’t we be looking at ways we can enhance the “relaxation” factor?

Here are some ideas worth considering:


Take a look at  Dolce&Gabbana for some clues on how a high-end retailer provides a very subdued and relaxed online presence. Now examine your website. Is it friendly, inviting, and easy to navigate? Are the colors and photographs calming. Does it offer free resources? Does it have space to breathe? Does the copy tell a heart-warming story? In other words, does it feel relaxed!  If you’ve said yes to all these, then you’ve made a good start. If not, then you’ve got some work to do.


As with your website design similar rules apply to your brochure – easy on the eye, inviting, and friendly. Also check out the feel of your brochure.  Is it silky smooth and durable like an expensive art card? Avoid stock that’s flimsy and feels cheap.


If possible, choose to meet clients in a calm, relaxing setting. A good choice is often the client’s home. People are usually at ease in their own place unless it’s crawling with rambunctious kids and pets. ;-)

If you can’t meet in a client’s home, consider a location that’s subdued and attractive such as a boutique bakery/café, a quite corner of an elegant hotel lobby, or perhaps even your own home.


If you’re hungry for a contract, you’re going to be telegraphing this regardless of your outward expression. A look of desperation in your eyes does nothing to put potential clients at ease.

A more relaxing approach is to assume nothing and make the meeting an opportunity to learn more about your client’s wishes. Go with the idea of helping this person realize their personal history project even if it doesn’t in the long run involve working with you.


We know from experience that trusting someone puts us in a more relaxed frame of mind. I’ve previously written about this in 3 Keys to Creating Trust with Potential Clients.


As personal historians we need to judiciously apply all the marketing techniques at our disposal in order to reach potential clients and gain their confidence.

The “relaxation” factor isn’t a magic bullet. But combined with other marketing approaches it can give you an added advantage.

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.

Photo by Sarah Ackerman

The Best Advice Ever for a Personal Historian.

If I were able to go back to when I began as a personal historian, what’s the best advice I could give myself? Here’s what I’d say.

  • Talk to some experienced personal historians. Ask them about the rewards and challenges of their work. You’ll get a wealth of good advice and information.
  • Have some cash reserves. Plan to have six months to a year of money to live on. It’s  going to be financially tight as you start up. You don’t need the anxiety of wondering where your next meal is going to come from.
  • Join the Association of Personal Historians. This is a great group for receiving moral  support as well as concrete business and creative help. Find out more here.
  • Create a business plan. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Check out The One Page Business Plan.
  • Have a marketing plan. There’s lot’s of help out there. You might want to take a look at The Quick and Easy Marketing Plan.
  • Ask yourself how well you work alone. If you’ve come from a job where you worked with others, the adjustment to working alone can be a challenge. Check out 12 Key Tips for Working Successfully Alone.
  • Remember you’re a professional. Don’t give away your services. Calculate what you need to earn a year less your business expenses. This will give you a clue as to the fees you need to charge. Don’t haggle with clients. It’s not professional. Check out How Much Should You Pay a Personal Historian? and Are You Charging Hamburger Prices for Gourmet Work?.
  • Always have a written legal contract. Nothing can spell disaster faster than going into a project without a contract.
  • Ensure your clients pay a portion of the project costs upfront. I always have clients make an initial payment on signing the contract. This is a non-refundable deposit and provides some compensation for my time should clients back out of the project before we start. In addition, the contract stipulates a payment at the beginning of each stage of the work.
  • Have a financial/accounting system in place. You need to keep a detailed record of revenue and expenses  for both calculating taxes and assessing your progress. There are several good accounting programs such as QuickBooks which I use or Simply Accounting.
  • Perseverance. You won’t achieve success overnight. You need to plan for at least two years of slogging in order to establish your business.
  • Discipline. You need to have a solid work routine and stick with it. Spending an afternoon watching daytime TV or puttering in the garden is OK now and then but don’t make it a habit.
  • Don’t waste money on print advertising. You can’t compete with the big boys and girls. Personal history clients  want to be able to trust the person who is going to be recording the details of  their lives. It’s better to put yourself in front of potential clients through talks and workshops. In time referrals will count for a good chunk of your business.
  • Have a life. Make sure that you build in down time. It’s easy with your own business to work 24/7. This is a recipe for burnout and failure. Check out Are You Part of “The Great Vacationless Class”?

What’s the best advice you could give to someone starting out as a personal historian?

Photo by iStockphoto

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.