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Small Business Spotlight – Get Organized Now! 1n7r

In the first of an ongoing series of interviews showcasing small business success stories, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Gracia of Get Organized Now! As a Professional Organizer, Maria’s business helps people organize their homes, offices, and schedules to free up more time to spend on things they love. What I

found particularly interesting was Maria’s willingness to shift away from a traditional client-service role in her business. Embracing the internet as an information channel has dramatically increased Maria’s worldwide market of people she helps with her organizing methods, services and tips.

Following is the transcript of my interview with Maria…

[MySmallBiz] : Why did you get started as a Professional Organizer?

I didn’t actually wake up one day knowing that I wanted to become a Professional Organizer. I was working at Nielsen Media Research in New York when I met my husband. When we moved to Wisconsin, I knew I didn’t want to return to the corporate world but also came into town without a job. I started working with my husband in his marketing consulting company but this just wasn’t quite my thing. However, I noticed that several of the clients with whom I was working required organizing assistance – help in areas such as filing systems and paying bills on time. With this observation, I focused my consulting efforts on the organizing part of business. Soon thereafter clients began asking me if I could conduct presentations on topics such as reducing clutter, time management, and filing. After a few free client presentations, I essentially fell into the Professional Organizing business.

Since my beginning, I’ve totally changed the way I work with clients. Instead of providing organizing consulting services, I offer my organizing expertise through books, guides and information online.

[MySmallBiz] :

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What types of organizing products and services do you provide? Do you specialize in certain areas of Professional Organizing? How is event planning different?

I initially focused on group workshops and 1:1 organizing services – physically going to client locations (offices and homes) to help people get, and stay, organized. I was getting a lot of this type of business but I soon knew that it would be difficult to grow my business unless I hired employees and branched out into other regional / international markets. And even with hiring employees, this scope of growth would be difficult to orchestrate and manage.

After brainstorming expansion ideas with my husband, I researched the Internet as a possible channel for growing my business. By selling information products online, I quickly realized my business could reach and help clients worldwide without the need for me to be personally involved with each client. While I still provide some personal coaching, nearly all of my business is conducted through the information and products I offer through the Get Organized Now! website.

When I was working directly with clients, my client mix was about even – 50% residential and 50% business. After shifting my focus online, my customer mix is now around 70% residential and 30% business.

[MySmallBiz] : From a services perspective, what would be a reasonable goal for hours/week for someone just starting out?

The demand in regional markets will vary and so will the marketing skills of each Organizer. These differences make it difficult to establish an “average” answer for this question. However, when I just started out, I was charging about $60 an hour for my services. Shortly before I shifted my focus online, I was charging $80 an hour.

With adequate focus on marketing and promotion, talented Organizers can make a reasonable profit in this business. Keep in mind, however, that the revenue upside is somewhat limited unless a Professional Organizer is willing to expand via hiring, expansion in other markets, or growth by selling products and/or services via the Internet.

When just starting out, it’s vital to build a portfolio of client references and example projects. Prospective clients want to see what you’ve done and what value you

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can provide them. They aren’t so interested in your education or professional associations. Having a solid client and project portfolio will help an Organizer showcase his or her talents and value.

How can you build a project portfolio without projects? I chose to provide some of my services pro bono in exchange for client references. This approach also helped me more quickly build a showcase of sample projects.

[MySmallBiz] : What were some surprises (good and bad) you encountered when starting out?

A very good surprise was that people were willing to pay my fees. Organizing came easy to me and I quickly came to the realization that organizing didn’t come easy to other people. Clients need organizing assistance and there’s a huge market if you promote your business effectively.

Professional Organizing isn’t a static business. Organizers must keep learning, adapting and changing to keep pace with client needs. It’s a constant learning experience.

[MySmallBiz] : What are the key skills a Professional Organizer must possess?

#1 – Marketing. So many people come into this field but have little clue how to attract customers. Without a solid pipeline, these Organizers unfortunately see their first year as a failure. They think that nobody out there is interested. To be successful, Organizers must know how to prospect and attract clients.

#2 – Organizing Skills. I’m constantly surprised by how many Professional Organizers I meet that can’t keep their own homes organized. If you can’t get yourself organized, how can you possibly help others in this business?

#3 – Detail Oriented. While Professional Organizers must see the big picture on projects, planning out and tackling the detailed tasks with a client is what results in successful projects.

[MySmallBiz] : How long did it take for your business to become profitable? Conservatively speaking, how much should one budget to get started in this business?

I started out on a shoestring and didn’t spend much money on my initial startup operations. For example, I printed business cards at home, only 10 at a time and I promoted my business through free press releases in local newspapers.

A great promotional technique that worked well for me was offering free organizing workshops in my community. I promoted these workshops for free using press releases and collected contact information for prospective clients

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who attended my workshops. Based on my experience, these workshops are great (and inexpensive) at generating leads with resulting projects that can average $600 to $700 each.

When just getting started, I recommend that Professional Organizers stay away from expensive paid adverting until they learn more about what they’re doing.

[MySmallBiz] : What tools and resources have you found particularly valuable in your business?

I’ve

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found that label makers are good but not absolutely necessary. My absolute must-have tool is my iPhone that stores virtually everything I need to manage my business.

I also like Evernote, a free online service that helps me take notes, store ideas and keep up with industry standards and news.

As a professional association, NAPO is good for giving credibility and offers good support systems for people just getting started – especially local chapters. Meetings are great for new organizers to attend, as they can get a feel for the field, and occasionally have the opportunity to listen to organizers who have

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made it big in the field.

My competitors are my friends and I hone my business edge by keeping a close eye on competitors and their websites. I’m not bashful about leveraging new ideas that I find on other sites.

[MySmallBiz] : If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?

You have to learn and grow through the business – the ups and downs, surprises, and learning are what shape your business and you as a professional. I never really looked back and wanted to change anything about what I did or decisions I made. It was all part of the process of growing a healthy business.

[MySmallBiz] : If you could provide one piece of advice to someone looking to get started as a Professional Organizer, what would it be?

Don’t expect business to just fall into your lap. You must be willing to be a Marketer in addition to a Professional Organizer.

[MySmallBiz] : What significant trends, if any, do you see

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in the Professional Organizing business?

NAPO has done a great job bringing Organizers into the public eye. This visibility also comes through in television shows such as Mission Organization and other popular organizing series. Keep in mind, however, that with increased visibility often also comes increased competition with more Organizers getting into this business.

I feel there are three groups of Organizers: those who do amazingly well, those who do OK, and those who just don’t make it. Do whatever you need to do to make sure you’re in the top 2/3rds!

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