Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm Changing The Way I Work

Mine is the only profession I know of where the customer sets the fee they will pay you. I have societies calling me, and that’s a good thing. They like how I speak. That’s good. But when they call they say…"our honorarium is $40" or $25 or whatever they have decided on. I've put up with this for a year, but it is starting to get to me. I figured after they had heard me talk they would realize that I was not a rank amateur and would offer more…but NO. So I need to take the drastic step of acting like every other professional and set my fees and if the societies can’t or won’t pay…well then I guess I don’t work. But you don’t call a lawyer and say…"I’d like to hire you and I will pay you an honorarium of $50." You don’t say that to a plumber or a mechanic or a gardener. What makes them think they can do it to speakers? I guess ‘cause we let them. 

I will lose out on jobs. Of this I am sure. There will always be the group who wants to pay nothing, and there will always be speakers who will speak for free or next to nothing.  And sometimes groups will get what they pay for.

I have been involved with a number of groups and have heard the accounting of the treasure's report. When a group has more than $5000.00 in the bank and their one big expense is bringing in a "nationally known speaker" for one day each year, then it pains me when they offer me the honorarium of $25.

I'm better than that. My time is worth more than that. It takes me an average of 30 hours to put together a lecture, check it for errors and updates, and develop handouts. If a society pays me $25 to give a one hour lecture then in effect I have made roughly 80 cents an hour. Definitely not a living wage. 

If they offer me $40 it comes to about $1.30, and the most I have ever been offered was $75, which comes to a whooping $2.42 an hour. 

To pay me for the time invested at the rate of $65 an hour (which is what I am advised is a reasonable fee)  I would have to demand a fee of $2015.00 per lecture. Nice if you can get it...but I'm not holding my breath. 

So let's figure in that once the lecture is developed I can offer it more than once to several different societies. So in effect I could "split the cost" among them. So figuring that I can sell a popular lecture an average of 10 times in a year...let's divide my figure by 10. That's gets us to a little more than $200 per lecture. Ok, now that is more in the reasonable area. 

So now the trick is to pick a lecture that everybody wants, and not have it "stolen" by those who give away lectures for practicably nothing, or for free. Sadly I have seen "non professionals" do this. They are the presenters who lecture at the societies because they love it. They are passionate about genealogy. So they come and hear a nationally known speaker or even a "regional speaker" like me speak and then they take our presentations and present them elsewhere. I have seen other speakers take the title of a talk, the handouts or the complete talk lifted from the CD or video they purchased at one of the national conferences. These speakers are not "professionals" in any sense of the word. They do not belong to the Association for Professional Genealogists, they do not sign an oath or agreement to "play fair" and they don't understand that they are undercutting me and hurting my business. 

So I'm changing the way I work. I'm going to try to work smarter, not harder. I am also investigating other ways to work in the genealogy world. Please, if you hear a Kim von Aspern-Parker lecture, one with a title you know I have presented, please let me know. I intend to keep my copyrighted material. It is not for public use and it is not for sale. Well....maybe to the highest that might be working smarter. 


  1. Kim

    Thanks for having this discussion - and you know I've been having the same discussion publicly for some time now.

    One thing that needs to be factored in with your equation is the need to "break into the scene" and start small in terms of a fee. This was the approach that I took. I worked hard to become recognized in the field for my lectures about technology and my "niche."

    Once there, don't let societies or others "discount" you. More than once I've told someone looking to hire me that they weren't dealing with KMart or Wal-Mart. I feel my fees are reasonable given a) the number of hours I put into preparing a presentation b) the fact that I provide a minimum of 4 pages of quality handout material and c) I provide solid education to their audience.

  2. Wow that really puts things in perspective. I like your breakdown to $200/lecture. That seems reasonable. Our society is one of those that has money they refuse to spend.

  3. Kim:

    I've turned down several invitations in the past two months for this very same reason. One society had the nerve to say "Well, I assumed that because we would let you sell your books that the book sales would be enough compensation." Um...I don't think so! So good for you, Kim!

  4. Good for you! Keep it up - too much slippery stuff happening in this not-quite-professional area of genealogy. It happens in other areas too (family counselling, parenting courses, etc.).

  5. Good for you! You deserve a decent wage for the amount of effort, work, and the quality of the work that you put out.

    Hopefully, some societies will start seeing that and will pass money to you accordingly.