Today Ancestry.com announced that it will be discontinuing its Expert Connect service. This is likely in response to their recent acquisition of the firm, ProGenealogists.
A number of my friends who are just getting started as professional genealogists are lamenting the demise of Expert Connect. They felt it was a great way to connect with clients and get client experience.
So what's a genealogist to do without Expert Connect?
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Participate in the ProGen Study Group
Unlike academic and methodology-focused courses such as Boston University's Genealogical Research Program, the peer-managed ProGen Study Group covers marketing, creating a mission statement and other business-related topics. The benefit of this program is that you won't be on your own. Your assigned peer group with be supporting you and giving you feedback. The skills you learn here will take you far in your business. And the connections with your new peers may connect you to future clients.
2) Join the Association of Professional Genealogists
The Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly (APGQ) is the only publication (that I know of) that is focused on the business aspects of being a genealogist. Each APGQ if full of advice and suggestions on how to improve your business skills. The publication alone is worth the cost of membership.
After you join, sign up for the private APG email list. This is a place for members to meet, network and learn from each other. When I first started in my business I was quite active in participating on the APG list. Most, if not all, of my first clients were peers from this list. Working for my peers taught me not only how to work with clients, but to produce work for clients with high professional expectations.
3) Start Networking!
Some researchers prefer to hide behind the books and computer databases. The truth is, if you expect to run a business providing your research skills then you are going to need to learn to communicate well with people. The more face to face meetings you have with other genealogists the more your business will grow.
Develop relationships with other genealogists, build a support network of people in your region who you can meet with regularly. Alternatively you can connect with others virtually nationwide who share your niche.
Conferences are great places to meet other professional genealogists. You will find both national conferences such as NGS and FGS, as well as regional ones such as NERGC.
Another great place to network is at chapter meetings of APG. I belong to the New England Chapter of APG. I make it my number one priority to get to meetings so that I can develop relationships with my New England colleagues.
Don't have a chapter near you? Try to find a local genealogical society. Give freely of your time and expertise and you may find yourself on the road to gaining new clients and a good reputation.
Your Next Step
You'll notice the main themes of the points above are business skills, business skills, business skills and networking, networking, networking. It's not enough to put your name on a list and wait for clients to come knocking on your door. You need to get out and start knocking on metaphorical doors so that clients will learn that you exist.
Ancestry's Expert Connect service may be ending but there are lots of great alternatives if you put your mind to it. Remember, when a door closes, another one opens. I once had a manager who told me, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Start planning how you are going to succeed.