Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt, Georgia Genealogist
Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt is the Founder of The Georgia Genealogist, a genealogy business that specializes in Georgia and Deep South Research, Genetic Genealogy, and Forensic Genealogy. Yvonne is certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists and holds an additional certification from Boston University. Yvonne and Sanjay discuss charging the proper rates, accepting payments, and the challenges of a work-life balance.
Episode 27 – Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt, Georgia Genealogist
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Today's guest is Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt. She's a genealogist who focuses on Georgia and deep south research, genetic genealogy, and forensic genealogy. Yvonne founded her company, the Georgia Genealogist in 2013. She's joining us today from Vidalia, Georgia. Yvonne, welcome to the show.
[00:01:16] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Thank you, Sanjay, for having me.
[00:01:18] Sanjay Parekh: So, I'm excited to have you on because I've done a little bit of genealogy searching myself on my own family tree and my wife's family tree. But before we start talking about that, why don't you give us a minute or two about your background and what got you to where you are right now?
[00:01:34] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: In my past life I was a partner in an insurance agency. I got divorced, sold my partnership, moved back to Atlanta from where I am now. And in 2000, I was already doing some genealogy. In 2010, during the downturn, I got fired in email. So, I put my pillow over my head for a few months and then decided I need to make money, or I'm going to starve and lose everything I own. So, it was a little disconcerting because genealogists are not known for making a living doing what we do. It's very difficult and you have to struggle, somewhat. But I jumped in, decided what I needed to do, what education I needed, and the rest is history.
[00:02:26] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Have you ever started a company like this before or did you do anything entrepreneurial when you were younger?
[00:02:33] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: No. I had lemonade stands. That's about it. No, I have not. I was crazy.
[00:02:44] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I think all of us founders are a little bit crazy. I don't think you could be defined as not crazy being a founder. By the way, a lemonade stand is a great foundation for entrepreneurial learnings as well. There's a lot that you learned in that. When you were growing up, was there anybody else that was an entrepreneur, somebody in your family? Somebody that you got to see do this type of stuff?
[00:03:07] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: No. I am a mill girl. Do you know what a mill girl is? I grew up in a mill village. They call us wool heads or sometimes cotton heads or lit heads. Those labels tend to stick while you're growing up like that. But my family all worked in a textile mill for generations. My mom and dad worked there until they died. And that's what I was expected to do, but I was a smart mouth and decided to rebel, and so I did.
[00:03:49] Sanjay Parekh: And how did that go over, that you were like, no the mill's not for me?
[00:03:53] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Oh, not good. My mom, I won't tell you what she said to me, but in effect it was something like, you're going to be the biggest educated idiot ever created. She wanted me to do something that had a guaranteed income.
[00:04:11] Sanjay Parekh: So, when you started the Georgia Genealogist, was it just you in the beginning?
[00:04:18] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Yes. It's always been just me. I have a partner now. But the partner only works with me on certain projects. Like we partner with the Army to do that contract work. And my husband has retired, and he immediately went to work for me. He does not like that, but he does it. And then I do all of the rest of the research with a little bit of help from a granddaughter in D.C. where the archives are.
[00:04:49] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, that sounds like it was a short retirement for your husband there. But that's what happens when you're married to an entrepreneur. So, okay, so you started this company and you'd never started anything before. Was there anything that made you nervous or concerned about making this jump and leap into being a business owner?
[00:05:14] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Oh, my gosh. I had no idea how to market, no idea. But I had a conversation with my husband, and he gave me some good advice. He's like, if you had a broken piece of plumbing, you wouldn't just jump right in. You'd figure out how to do it on YouTube. There's got to be some way you can figure out how to do this, YouTube maybe. I'm like, I don't know. As it turned out at that time, there wasn't a lot on YouTube. So, I struggled a little bit, but I took a six-week marketing course and learned a lot, learned how to build my own website, felt very comfortable doing that after about five years. And, then just still, I was petrified. I needed a certain amount of money to make a go of it, and I was terrified I was not going to make that much money. So, it was really difficult in the beginning, but it just turned out well.
[00:06:18] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. What was that number that you were shooting for that, I need to make this much?
[00:06:23] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: It was low. It was really low. My husband, when I told him I got fired in email, he was very concerned because we were going to be about $70,000 short the next year. And he panicked a little bit. So, I wasn't even asking, I charged like $30 for one client for 20 hours. I was desperate. So, as time went on and I got better and more educated and felt more comfortable with what I was doing, I just increased exponentially that amount per hour. And I'm very comfortable today.
[00:07:06] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, looking back you picked that, $30 number. That was 20 hours of work. That's $1.50 an hour you got paid. Which is, no matter when this was, and it probably wasn't that long ago, that was definitely below minimum wage. Like how did you think through the pricing of this and was it purely, I need something, and this is what I think they'll pay?
[00:07:33] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: That's exactly what it was. I thought that's what the market would bear. Genealogists are poor. We don't normally have the income that I have, so, it's not uncommon to find genealogists doing just what you discuss. They have a side hustle, they have a daytime job, a full-time job, and then in the evenings, on the weekends they do this, because it's difficult to make it, make a living doing this. So, I just tried to pay for my education so I could be stronger and have more strengths in the field than I did have. And that worked for a little bit. And then my husband was the one who actually encouraged me strongly to raise that price a little bit per hour. So, now, I'm pretty well, for Georgia, I'm probably the most expensive genealogist you could hire.
[00:08:29] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. As you've raised those prices, have you gotten pushback from clients in terms of the rate?
[00:08:38] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: No, no. I never get clients from Georgia. Rarely do I get clients from Georgia, unless it's a legal client who's involved with a probate case or something like that. And the court has said, find a genealogist to help you. But generally, no. A lot of my cases are from, and a lot of my clients are from California, and they don't complain. They write the check.
[00:09:06] Sanjay Parekh: Interesting. I think that's a great lesson for our listeners because this is actually an area that I think a lot of entrepreneurs have challenges with, of worrying about how much they're charging and is this too much and am I going to lose business because of that?
[00:09:20] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: It’s a valid concern.
[00:09:23] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, because the situation you were in that, you needed to make ends meet. And so that's why you take a $30, 20-hour client and get a $1.50 an hour, right?
[00:09:37] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Yeah. I did that for about a year. And then I was working towards certification, which is the ultimate credibility for a genealogist, is to be certified. It's an extensive process. It's difficult, not many people want to do it. I think they are probably around 250 worldwide who have the certification credential. And so, I knew I needed to work toward that, and that commands a higher price per hour when you have that. And so, I knew that had to happen and it took me four years to get there, of preparation, education, writing the portfolio, things like that.
[00:10:20] Sanjay Parekh: So, okay. You're in an interesting space and I have this question. I don't normally ask questions too deeply in the business, but I’ve got to ask you this. So, you're involved in a space where sometimes you discover things that are badly unexpected, right? It's a bad surprise, and you have to deliver that news to a client. How do you handle delivering this very surprising, bad news to a client?
[00:10:51] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: My letter of agreement, every client has to sign a letter of agreement, mine's very detailed. It tells the client what he can expect from me and what I expect from the client. And in that letter of agreement, there is a statement that asks if they want to be notified. If they want to know, if I find an unexpected kinship, a non-paternal event, anything like that. So, that's discussed at the beginning of the project and then by the time I find it, if there is something like that, there's no worry. I just say, okay, here we are. Do you want to proceed, or do you want to take some time and think about this? Do you need to put the pillow over your head? So, at that point, it's up to the client, with what they want to do and how they want to proceed.
[00:11:44] Sanjay Parekh: Right. Okay. So, without sharing any names, what's like the craziest thing that you've seen in your searches?
[00:11:56] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: We do a lot of Army. A lot of Army contract work and one of the really weird ones I had was a case where the soldier was supposed to have been adopted by a single man. This man adopted several young male children. It wasn't in Georgia; it was in another state. But as time went on, I realized not only was it not a formal adoption, but there might have been some other reason this guy had these children. And it took us, it took me about 35 or 40 hours to determine where this kid was, where the soldier was. He ended up in an orphanage because his father, the adoptive father, had given him up because the town threatened him that he could either go to jail or he could give up the children and it was written in the newspaper articles.
[00:13:04] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox, committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:13:25] Sanjay Parekh: Let's switch gears. And let's talk about the stress of owning a business and working for yourself and doing the work that you do. Like how do you manage it? How do you think about it? Because some of this, I could imagine, you could become obsessed with some of this stuff and trying to, it's like playing detective. So, how do you manage that stress for yourself?
[00:13:52] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Genealogists have this thing about being woken up in the middle of the night by people who have passed because they want to be found. And strange things happen like that sometimes. But, you know, I cocoon. I just, I get into my office, I close the doors and I do what needs to be done, work those deadlines, and then let it go. It hasn't always been that way. My husband says that I binge research. I won't research for three weeks and then I research 36 hours straight. And I do some of that, he's right. I do that. So, that's how I handle it. I don't do it very well, very often. But I do just close myself up and do what needs to be done, and that tends to help a little bit. Just get it out of the way.
[00:14:47] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, it sounds like you like really strictly divide work time and life with family time and personal time. Is there a clear line for you of, Hey, I only work from eight to five Monday to Friday. Do you divide up life like that or do you do something else to keep those lines?
[00:15:08] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I don't. When I tell you that I'm all consumed with my work, that's true. And it's so bad, Sanjay, that sometimes my family will start to say something to me, and I start talking about my job and they disperse. They don't want to hear it anymore. And that happens when I'm in a meeting too. If I'm in a meeting, I start walking towards someone, then they're like, oh, here she comes. Here she comes, run, run. But, for a while I couldn't talk about anything but my job, I've learned not to do that so that my relationships will stay intact. And occasionally I'll go to a softball game for my grandchildren or a tennis tournament or a tennis match, and that helps a little bit. But I, like everyone else, I sleep very little, and I work a lot and it's a constant battle to not blur those lines. And sometimes, I'll tell you, I have a supporting husband, and that helps. He will say to me, “The softball game’s this afternoon, I guess I'll go represent us since you're not going to come.” But I'm no different than anybody else. I work a lot.
[00:16:31] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting and it sounds very much like you're a founder and an entrepreneur who loves what you do. Do you feel like it's work or is it fun for you?
[00:16:45] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: It can be work, some cases can be work, and not enjoyable. That tends to happen with the legal cases. They're very cut and dried and you do what the court tells you to do, and you don't venture outside those guidelines. The army is very much like that. You have a task. There's a red border. You don't cross the red border; you stay right within your little area. Otherwise, if I'm given free reign, I become dangerous. I do 10 hours and don't charge the client. I've done that before because the case is so interesting and 90% of my client work is like that. I'll do much more than I get paid for. They would never pay for what I research, for the number of hours I research. So, yeah.
[00:17:40] Sanjay Parekh: Do you worry about that, the time that you spend that you're not billing or?
[00:17:47] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I don't, my husband does. He's like, do you have Toggl? Do you have your Toggl running? I'm like, no. He's like, turn on your Toggl. Turn on your Toggl. But you know what? I require all of the money up front. That's another way I'm different. You have to trust me enough to get the product, that I'm going to do what I say I'm going to do. So, when I say a 20-hour project is $3,000, I get that up front. I don't want to have to go after you or go after an attorney. I don't want to do that. Let's pay me up front. We've got a letter of agreement and let's go from there. Everybody's happy. I'll do my job. I want to be sure you pay. And I've been stiffed a few times. I learned that in hurry.
[00:18:39] Sanjay Parekh: So, I was going to ask about that. Is that a change from before? Before, did you used to get paid after and then had an issue?
[00:18:46] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I did 50/50. 50 at the beginning of the project and then 50 percent afterwards. A couple of times I sent the finished product, trusting that I would get paid and didn't. So, it didn't take very long for me to know, “Hey, if you want to hire me, these are my credentials. You can trust me. You have this avenue. If I do something that's not right, you can report me to the board. I lose my certification. Otherwise, you send the money, you pay me the whole thing upfront.” It's amazing, isn't it?
[00:19:25] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. It's interesting, like a lot of entrepreneurs go through these challenges and they figure out different ways of making sure that they get paid. You know, somebody in your situation might take 50% upfront, but don't send the final files until you get the last payment, to make sure you get paid. Versus what you've done simplifies your backend operations, right? You just have to deal with payment one time, and you know. So when you do that though, do you feel like it locks you in to say hey, I told you this was a 20-hour project, and if it goes to 40, do you feel like you can go back and get those 20 hours worth of payment or do you just break that off?
[00:20:07] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I do. That's addressed in my letter of agreement. All of that's addressed. It's hard to turn that Toggl off if you're finding information that's going to be valuable to the goal of that project. I will stop and get permission, written permission from the client before I proceed. I explain to them, this is where I'm at, this is what I found, it's going to take a little bit longer. Do you want to proceed, or do you want me to just stop with what I have? Ten out of 10 times they're going to say proceed. They never say, let's stop.
[00:20:41] Sanjay Parekh: And in those cases, then, do you expect them to pay right then, or do you wait till after since you do have it in writing?
[00:20:49] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I do wait till after, but they don't get any finished product until that payment is made, nothing. They get nothing.
[00:20:58] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Okay. Yeah. Great advice to our entrepreneurs that are out there that tend to deliver before getting payment. It's a hard situation to be in because again, you want to have the work and you want to get paid, but sometimes you deliver the work, and you don't get paid.
[00:21:13] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Yeah. And you have to be hard-nosed about it. You have to be firm. I can't tell you how much a contract or a letter of agreement's going to help that, if you're in a situation that requires something like that. In writing, you'd be surprised at how often writing comes in handy when they expect A, B, C, D will happen. And if A, B, C, D happens, then they're going to have to pay. So, it's just, it's not a problem anymore.
[00:21:44] Sanjay Parekh: Okay, so you've been running now the Georgia Genealogist for, it's 10 years, right? 10. Do I remember that right?
[00:21:52] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: About 10 years. About 10, yeah. December will be 10.
[00:21:58] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. So, coming up on your 10th anniversary, thinking about everything that you've been through over these last 10 years, if you could go back in time and do something differently, what would that be and why?
[00:22:12] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I would finish my degree. I did not do that. I decided to be busy raising a family, and so I let that slide. I'm not superwoman. I tried it, I could not do it. Did not want to do it. So, I let that slide. And as a matter of fact, I'm about to expand the areas I research in and I'm about to go into investigative genetic genealogy. Do you know what that is?
[00:22:41] Sanjay Parekh: No. I don't know what that is.
[00:22:46] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: You help law enforcement identify potential criminals of violent crimes. And you also are able to identify John Does and Jane Does. So, Golden State Killer. That field. And Georgia has just passed a law, recently that says they're going to use that science to do that. And they've had several cases solved already this year since they've begun using it. And I guess I'll be the only one in the state who does that.
[00:23:24] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Yeah, it sounds like if you hadn't become a genealogist, that you'd want to be some kind of private eye or detective, am I reading this right?
[00:23:35] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I would love it. I don't know how I'd tackle anybody, any husband who's cheating. I don't know how that would go. But I probably am larger than most men, so it might be effective, I don't know. But I would definitely, because there is an element of the hunt that we all have in common. So, you know, just being able to give that lead to law enforcement knowing that you have a potential perpetrator. I can't imagine how that must feel. I've talked to another genealogist who does that now. She's very well known, and she said when she first started it, she was the one who pioneered the process. She was sitting on her sofa and knew she had found him. And at that moment she just had an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. And I think, I want to also have that, and I have a little bit of a desire to go after those bad guys.
[00:24:48] Sanjay Parekh: It makes sense based on everything that you've told me so far. Okay. I've got two more questions for you. One, related to what you do, somebody that is trying to figure out their own genealogy stuff, and is having a hard time; what is like one tip or trick that you wish everybody knew that would just make their lives easier in figuring out their own genealogy history?
[00:25:17] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Don't believe everything you read on Ancestry.com. These people, we call them name collectors or, you know, body collectors. They want a body to fill that space. They don't care if it's right or wrong. Make sure every generation is connected to the earlier one with evidence. That's all you have to do. That sounds easy. It's not always easy because you end up with brick walls. And it's very possible that you have to go into some really deep research. I spent six years on a personal line of mine. It took me six years to resolve it. We used a combination of evidence. It's called indirect evidence. Not one piece of paper helped draw the conclusion, but many pieces of evidence helped me identify the ancestor. And that's what people don't want to do. They don't want to put the time and effort into it. It's easier to go to ancestry and say, ah, that tree has my ancestor, so I'll plug it in there, you know? And that's not the way it really works. You can do that, but you're celebrating someone else's family, not your own.
[00:26:41] Sanjay Parekh: Six years of work on one case that was a big billable project there that you had there. Hopefully they paid up.
[00:26:47] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: It was a personal case. Hey, and it was the female, I couldn't identify the female. So, you know how that is.
[00:26:59] Sanjay Parekh: Yep, absolutely. Okay. Last question for you. What would you tell somebody who's thinking about taking the leap and launching a side hustle or launching a small business like you did? What advice would you give them?
[00:27:16] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: I think in the beginning it's very important to have some money saved. I did have access to some money before I started, so I wouldn't starve. But I've seen numerous people start off and just take that leap with no preparation, quit their job and try to get started, and that's a very difficult thing to do. So, I would say, have some sort of funds available that you can tap into, if you're not having clients. The next thing I would say is learn how to market yourself. That's probably the most important thing I can tell anybody because one of my things I was terrified about was that nobody would find me on the internet. How do people find everybody? So, I put my name on every possible list there was. In every archive I worked in, my name is on that list. My name is in all the genealogy lists, and I get all of my business from those lists. All of it, except the Army contract business. Every bit of it. So, learn how to market yourself, that's very important. And then, you know, have some faith that you can do it. If you can't do it, heck, go to YouTube. It'll probably be there now. They'll help you figure it out. Lots of free classes.
[00:28:51] Sanjay Parekh: Probably will be there now. Yvonne, this has been fantastic. Where can our listeners find and connect with you online?
[00:29:01] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Website: GeorgiaGenealogist.com. I actually have two websites, and one feeds you to the other one. So, I'm reachable through contact there, through email, and I answer all of my emails promptly.
[00:29:22] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Thanks so much for being on today.
[00:29:24] Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt: Oh, thank you for having me. I enjoyed it. Thank you so much, Sanjay.
[00:29:32] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit Hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit www.hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I’m your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find more about me on my website at sanjayparekh.com.