How to Become a Professional Organizer

You’ve seen them on Oprah, HGTV and the Bravo channel. They are people who come into your home and organize things – – cabinets, drawers, closets, files and sometimes, minds. As you sit and watch these shows unfold you look around your place and think, “I do that all of the time. How the heck do I get someone to pay me for my talents?” Well, this is your lucky day. Because I’m going to tell you how to get started, develop a niche, and market your business.

What exactly is a professional organizer?

Well, I define them as a person or persons who offer personal organizing services to individuals or companies needing clarity in their environments and clutter removed from their personal space.

What do they do?

Depends! There are many facets to the world of organizing. You may want to be a hands-on organizer, assisting with a total revamp of a room or an entire house. You may be more comfortable with one-on-one consulting to help a client organize their thoughts. You could operate your consulting through e-mail, over the telephone, webcasts, do teleclasses, or a workshop at a junior college or specialty store.

There is also a need for training courses for other organizers, group seminars and workshops. Then again you may be the next Barbara K and develop your own line of organizing products. Not to mention being able to promote your skills through writing books, newsletters and other publications (like this one).

GETTING STARTED

Being a Jane of All trades and master of . . . at least two . . . one of my many strengths is putting things away . . . straitening up . . . ORGANIZING. My sister has compared my organized pantry to that of serial killers because you can see all of the labels. She’s shocked they’re not alphabetized.

I started an organizing business October 2004 as a fluke. Having been downsized from a corporate job (two years by that time) I had lots of spare time on my hands. Generally when I’m bored I clean and re-order things. I was in California at my godparent’s home and began reconstructing the kitchen cabinets. It was making them crazy, but it aroused the interest of my sister-in-law.

A Corporate Director for a healthcare organization and mother of three, she said she had been looking for someone to help her get her home together for the holidays. I thought, “Heck, why not.” My enthusiasm was quickly squashed when she said she wouldn’t let me start until I got a business license. Well, I was flattered, outraged and confused, all at the same time.

She really appreciated my “busy” work, but did she think I was incapable of a professional job? We’re family. Why would I need to be licensed to help her get her home together for the holidays? I didn’t argue with her, I just went and got the license and started organizing her 3500 square foot home.

Here’s the clincher. This is something I have been doing all of my life.

Like many people whose interest are piqued about becoming an organizer, I’m sure you’ve assisted family and friends for many years with projects – – re-doing a friends daughter’s room; helping an elderly family member put things in order in their kitchen for convenience or the ultimate; you’re an administrative assistant and have been organizing offices for decades. It is not a mystery that you would want to do it as a profession because it actually gives you joy.

So, you’ve accomplished the first step to becoming a professional organizer – – Having a genuine interest.

ESTABLISH CREDIBILITY

Get a camera. It doesn’t have to be fancy. This is a business and when starting a business you should not tax the company’s budget with frivolous purchases. A disposable camera will work until you can afford a digital (and you will want a digital). Do small projects and take before and after pictures. Most people will believe you when you say you’re a professional organizer, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

Start your portfolio with small projects. Do a closet or a pantry. Re-organize a guest bathroom or a shoetree. Just make sure you document whatever you do.

CERTIFICATION AND SPECIAL SKILLS

Currently there are no state or national regulations for professional organizers. But, the National Association for Professional Organizers (NAPO) will be holding a variety of classes, which will grant you a certificate.

As far as special skills go . . . if you can use a hammer and a drill, you’re pretty much and artisan already. Once you start doing jobs and honing your skills you will improve upon what you already have and will create a demand for your business.

Also, determine what you will not do. Depending on the severity of what needs to be organized, you may need to spend a lot of time on one project (you can’t/shouldn’t quit your day job when starting a new business). You may happen upon someone with severe Chronic Disorganization Syndrome. Are you willing to pick up feces and walk amongst maggots? It’s possible.

FIND YOUR NICHE

What do you do best? What do people compliment you on most? Is it the way you stack cans or the way you install shelves? Can you do carpentry work or do you have a painter’s heart?

I will walk into a room, get the customers desires, consult the energy in the room, gut it and then re-do the whole thing. An example is of a bathroom I did.

My customer wanted her bathroom (the only one in the house) to continue to function as a family bath, but to also be pleasing to the eye of her customer’s (she’s an accountant and does taxes from home). She needed a more organized and professional look.

She chose pink, blue and purple for her colors. I was neither moved nor inspired to combine those colors. Plus, I do not like painting. But, this was the beginning of my business and I wanted to test myself to see what my true strengths were.

With this project I realized my strengths were paying attention to my customer and finding accessories to compliment the colors she had chosen. By finding a shower curtain, cabinet, rug and towels to match her color choices, I was able to pull the look of the room together without feeling she had made a mistake with her color choices. I had to remove my personal thoughts in order to see the client’s vision.

I did an okay painting job. But, I do not like painting therefore I will subcontract out if my client needs that service. I’ll talk about subcontracting later.

Your niche will be something that actually gives you joy. That thing that wakes you up and want to do the job on your worst day. You will have to pinpoint what that is for you. As stated earlier, get your family and friends to help you find your best organizing quality.

WHERE TO WORK

Wherever you go, there you are. You are a traveling office. That’s the beauty of professional organizing. If you crave change, you will love this line of work because your work environment is different with every job.

Once you consult with your client and know the depth of your project, then you can plan your day and time accordingly. Also, decide now how big you want your business to grow. I live in Texas but the majority of my client base is located in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I have also been asked to travel to New York, Virginia and Indiana to assist with various projects.

THINGS YOU NEED TO GET STARTED

Do not over extend your budget by running out and buying everything you see organizers using on HGTV. You will have to get these things first.

� A Company Name
� A Business License
� Decide if you want to be a LLC, Corporation or will you have a partnership
� Determine your budget

Those are the things you will need to operate legally. I implore you to go to the Small Business Association in your town and get the specifics on how to start a business. They have many free classes on financial matters, taxes and liability issues. You will need this information to maintain your business.

Now, what you need as an organizer to do a job will depend on the job and its size.

I have accumulated a lot of tools over the years. Unfortunately, when I am doing a home in California the bulk of my tools are in Texas. Here’s how to remedy the confusion.

Black & Decker has a three tier, stackable, rolling tool kit. It has a large capacity kit with two small ones. Also, the Container Store has a rolling storage kit with two and three cases. Either of these would be perfect for carry your tools and other necessities. Here’s what you should start with in your tool kit.

� Notepad
� Camera
� Measuring Tape
� Level
� Stud Finder
� Permanent Marker
� Pencil
� Screwdrivers (Phillips and flathead)
� Hammer
� Power Drill
� Tape (masking/duct/scotch)
� Disinfectant Wipes
� Face Mask
� Rubber Gloves

As your jobs grow, your tool kit will too.

Also, be aware of new regulations when flying with tools. You will have to check your case. If your tools are lost by the airlines are sent to the wrong destination it will cost you your job and credibility. This is why I prefer to drive. Yes, I will drive to California and stay for a few months to do several jobs. This is possible because I grew up in Northern California and kept ties in that area.

START UP COST

There will be a cost for your license. There will be a cost for tools. Depending on the size of your first job will determine your start up cost. This is why you should begin with family and friends. This way you can make a small amount of money and use their houses for your trial and errors. Also, to gauge the time and cost of jobs once you are confident enough to venture out.

HOW MUCH CAN YOU MAKE

While using family and friend to gauge time and complexity of jobs; charge them! Yes, start a family and friend payscale. During your downtime they will happily keep you busy. But you shouldn’t, and they shouldn’t want you to, work for free for anyone.

In general, how much you make will depend on how hard you work. You’re the boss.
Are you planning to install shoe shelves as a trade or do you want to graduate up to the status of California Closets? It’s your call.

Do not price yourself so high people will be scared to hire you; or so low no one takes you seriously – – organizers charge anywhere from $60 an hour to $200 an hour.

Where will your client base be? What is the socio-economic makeup of that area? What are the median incomes? What will be a fair price for both you and the client? How will you bill your clients?

� Time
� Time + Labor
� Time + Labor + Material
� Time + Labor + Material + Additional Services (painting/decorating)
� Consultation Charge

NETWORKING

Professional Organizing has been touted as one of the fastest growing personal businesses for the New Year. You need to know who your colleagues, competition, clients and vendors are. Not to mention potential subcontractors.

There are several organizations specific to professional organizers you should be aware of:

National Association of Professional Organizers – http://www.napo.net
National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization – http://wwwnsgcd.org
Professional Organizers Webring – http://www.organizerwebring.com

These organizations are fee based and will allow you to network with other organizers across the nation. They also have wonderful resources associated with their websites.

Other networking mediums that will allow you to promote your business are:

� WORD OF MOUTH (by far the best)
� http://www.ryze.com
� http://www.craigslist.org
� http://www.thevolunteer.net
� http://www.tribe.net

After doing my sister-in-laws home she told co-workers, other family members, church members and strangers. It got to a point where I had to turn down business.

MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS

Get your own copy of Guerrilla Marketing for Free by Jay Conrad Levinson and go wild! There are so many ways to promote yourself without exhausting your marketing budget. But, you must know, marketing is the bulk of your business. If no one knows who and where you are, you will perish.

Join an organization and take advantage of their offer for a free website. Make T-shirts and have your family act as walking billboards. Here are some other options:

� the Small Business Association offers free on-line business card advertisement
� Vistaprints.com offers free business cards (you pay S&H fee)
� NAPO, POWR & NSGCD offer free advertising
� Consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce
� Flyers
� Brochures
� Website
âÂ?¢ Piggy back on parties – Tupperware . . .

Even if you don’t join an organization, get some business cards. You can make them yourself for pennies. Or utilize Vistaprints offer. When you meet someone and promote yourself as a professional organizer, you really want to hand them a card shortly after making that statement. They may not hire you, but they may know someone who will need your services. Don’t allow them to forget you.

RESOURCES

As a professional organizer you will need to know where to go get “stuff” for your clients. You will not know what that stuff is until you make an assessment of the job. Your job revolves around storage.

Familiarize yourself with the Container Store. I like this place for several reasons.

� Great customer service
� Many subject matter experts
� Containers out the ying yang
� On-line assistance
� GREAT customer service

If you’re installing shelves or just finding a place for all of your clients 500 pairs of shoes, they have an option or will recommend something.

I love going to Ross, TJ Maxx and Marshalls for baskets. I had a client who has a linen closet that’s bigger than many bedrooms. She loves baskets. I love shopping.

Five Ross stores and 18 baskets later, over 30 years of linen (some antique) now have a home.

Don’t forget places like the Dollar General Stores, Big Lots and thrift stores. If you’re creative and your client lets you have carte blanche, use your creative side and add your personal touch to your organizing project.

SUBCONTRACTORS

As I stated above, I do not like painting. Not that I can’t. I just am not as passionate about it as say . . . picking out baskets.

You will need to find a worthy partner for those things your client request, but you’re not willing to do.

Finding these people may be as easy as pulling out the family tree.

My cousin Mark accompanied me on many projects. He’s neither a carpenter nor painter. I’m not even sure he can use a hammer. But, he is 6 feet 7 inches tall and can power lift three times his own body weight. He was very handy when I re-organized a client’s office and had to move heavy furniture. Not to mention putting pictures and gadgets on high shelves.

Do you know someone who builds cabinets? Do you know an electrician?

These may sound like questions for decorating jobs. But I have found that when I’m doing an organizing job, clients will ask for other services. NEVER agree to do anything you are not skilled for. You will set yourself up for a lawsuit! If you build a client base with a few subcontractors then you can expand your offerings to clients.

DISPOSAL

So, you got your client to get rid of their 1987 collection of TV Guides and TGI Friday napkins. Now what? How do you dispose of the things someone once treasured?

NEVER force a client to throw anything away. It is there decision to part with their belongings and you do not know the emotional attachment they have to that item. Yes, even if that item is an 8-year-old potato chip. Do not think you are so great that you can walk into someone personal space and start making demands. You are assisting that person with a task. You are not trying to fix them or coax them into doing something they will regret later.

But, let’s say you have that magic touch. Let’s say you were able to get your client to get rid of 200 pairs of her 500 pairs of shoes. What now?

There are so many organizations that are ready, willing and able to take good, clean, used clothes and household goods. With the recent natural disasters that have hit this country, they are in great need of many things.

Find the local listing to shelters, thrift stores, churches and other organizations in your town. Suggest to your client they have a garage sale and donate the money to a favorite cause. It allows them to continue to value their possession and do exactly what they have been saving it for all of these years; allowing someone to get some use out of it.

Here are some organizational suggestions:

âÂ?¢ Out of the Closet – http://aidshealth.org/otc/
âÂ?¢ Goodwill Industries – http://www.goodwill.org
âÂ?¢ Salvation Army – http://www1.salvationarmy.org
âÂ?¢ Work to Welfare – http://www.doleta.gov/wtw
âÂ?¢ Dress for Success – http://www.dressforsuccess.org

NOTHING BEATS A FAILURE BUT A TRY

That’s a saying my mother use to quote when either my siblings or I tried to weasel out of doing something different . . . new . . . hard!

If you’ve read this far you are serious about professional organizing being your profession. Get your camera, call family and friends and start your portfolio. Contact the Small Business Association and take some classes. Most importantly, embrace your new career. It’s a fantastic and exciting choice.

Oh, what’s my niche? Motivation, instruction and hanging Elfa shelves from the Container Store.

Best wishes on your new career!

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