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Ask the Organizer Panel

Last month I was invited to be on the NAPO Oregon Golden Circle Member panel at our monthly meeting. I thought it might be insightful to those who are interested in becoming a professional organizer and to those already in the business to read the questions they asked me and my responses:

How has your business evolved since you first started as a professional organizer? (Include when you started your business.)
I officially started my business SolutionsForYou, Inc. in January 2003 and joined NAPO and NAPO Oregon the same month. I was asked to be the NAPO Oregon board secretary in April 2003 and remained on the board until May 2009—acting as Secretary, Vice President/Director of Membership, President, and Immediate Past President.

I loved all aspects of launching a business. After six months of business launching activities, my husband—who was working from home at the time, turned to me kicked the chair that I was sitting and said, “Don’t you think it’s time to find a client?” To which I replied, “Oh right, a client.”

I worked with almost any client who came along and didn’t have a specific niche. I quickly learned I don’t like organizing garages or basements because they seem to be the purgatory of stuff. I also learned quickly that I love working with clients and their paper.

From there I started mentoring new professional organizers helping them to start their business and work with clients that lead to my professional organizer training seminar program, webinar program, self-study program, and most recently writing and publishing my book.

How do you set expectations with new clients?

Simply by asking them what they expect from me and clearly identifying their goals and vision. Before we start we identify clear criteria for what will be kept and what the client is willing to let go of. I’m clear with my clients that change needs to happen internally with them for there to be a complete transformation.

What has been your biggest surprise or learning as a professional organizer?
My biggest surprise has been that I am teaching others how to launch and manage their own professional organizer business. That I would be training my competition. And, that I wrote book—that was a huge surprise!

What is your best piece of advice for a new organizer? What do you wish you had known when you started your business?
Training and education; not only about how to work with clients but how to run a business. I wish I had known anything about CD, ADD, and people who hoard before I met them!

What was your biggest mistake as an organizer and what did you learn from it?
Installing (i.e. drilling) shelving. I learned to identify my limitations and have resources available who are better skilled at doing things I’m not trained or skilled at.

What are the pros and cons of choosing a specialty area? How did you choose yours? How long did it take you to determine your specialty?
Pros: You are working with the clients who make your heart sing. You get really good at what the service and expertise you provide your clients. You can probably command a higher rate if you are the “expert”.
Cons: You might limit your income.
I chose mine based on it is what I truly love to do.
A couple of years

What do you recommend about carrying liability insurance?
Well, since I was raised by an attorney I learned very early on you don’t take risks that can cause a law suit, so I recommend that you do carry liability insurance. If you have any question about whether or not you should watch the video on NAPO’s website.

What has been your biggest challenge and how have you handled or overcome it?
My biggest challenge is my perfectionism personality and I haven’t overcome it, I handle it with wine and cheese!

What marketing strategies have you found to be the most helpful? How long did it take for your marketing strategies to pay off?
My Web site is my #1 marketing strategy and it has paid off since it was launched. I obtain 90% of my clients through my Web site.
Networking is my #2 marketing strategy and it is slower to pay off, but it does.

Have you ever turned down a job? If so, what were the reasons?
Of course I have! Not a good match either personality or specialty.

What was the single most helpful book to you as an organizer?
Judith Kohlberg’s book What Every Professional Organizer Should Know about Chronic Disorganization.

What class if any has been the most helpful to you as an organizer?
The Coach Approach to Organizing with Denslow Brown.

How important is it to become a Certified Professional Organizer®?
From a business perspective, it was important for me because of my training program—I felt participants would think it is important to learn from someone who has been through the certification process.

From a personal perspective, it was important for me because becoming certified signifies my commitment to education, dedication, and professionalism for the professional organizer industry.

How did you pick your business model (sole proprietor, LLC, etc)?
My business is incorporated because my husband and I formed SolutionsForYou together for both his consulting business and my organizing business. It was tax advantageous for us to be incorporated.

What has been your most challenging job?
I spent most of one summer 6 hours a day 5 days a week working with a family to remove an enormous amount of clutter from a 6500 sq. ft. home. It was challenging because of the amount of clutter, the number of family members and their emotional attachments, and it was physically exhausting moving large garbage bags of stuff from the upstairs to the main floor and then out to the garage for pickup by Dough Nation.

What job has been the most fun for you?
Working with a family to set-up systems and I’m their in-home Organizer working with them 2x a month for 3 years now.

What struggles do you still face in your business?
Marketing my training program world-wide.

What has been the hardest organizing-related skill for you to develop?
Body doubling—it’s really hard for me to sit still.

What business-related skills has been the most difficult for you to develop?
Payroll, it rates right up there with tax preparation!

What still surprises you about your work as a professional organizer?
How many people are chronically disorganized.

What professional development resources are available?
My training programs
Denslow Brown’s A Coach Approach to Organizing
BCPO book list

How can your expertise help NAPO Oregon chapter members?
My expertise can help members learn how to launch, manage, and grow a profitable business.

What else would you like to know? Send me your questions.


Thank you for posting this extraordinarily helpful information. I love getting insights from established professional organizers, and it is great to hear how you've found a niche and explored it. Thanks!
Janet Barclay said…
I find it interesting that you chose your niche after doing a variety of things and discovering what you enjoy most and what you don't like to do at all. That's basically what I did too, and I'm actually amazed at people who can choose a niche right from the get-go, before they've had a chance to test the waters. I'd love to know which method is more common!

Great insight into what it's like to be a professional organizer, as well as a heads up to established organizers as to the type of questions they should be prepared to answer if they land a media interview or similar opportunity. Thanks for sharing!

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