Lessons Learned In 10 Years As A Professional Organizer

After ten years as a professional organizer and running a small organizing business, all while moving to three different States as a Navy spouse, I can say I have learned a thing or two.

I started my business in 2010 after a fellow mom asked me to help her with her clutter. In the process of organizing her home, I found an estimate of a local professional organizer, and this is how I learned that what I loved to do – organizing – was a professional activity.

Helena Alkhas leaning on white office desk

Armed with a passion for organizing and a desire to get back to the workforce after 9 years as a stay home mother, I joined the national association, our local chapter, and started to subcontract for local colleagues. In less than a month, I was working with clients and a team.

Many of us in this industry, people who love organizing and want to make a difference in our clients’ lives, enter this activity believing all we will do is organize our “core activity.” But that is nothing further from the truth.

Put Your Entrepreneur Hat On – A love for organizing won’t be enough

As soon as you officially form your business, you will realize you need a plan to get the clients that will pay you to do what you love. You’ll have to learn new skills like marketing, networking, accounting, managing clients and your time, estimating and managing projects, where to source products and materials, what type of insurance to buy, and the list goes on.

When I look back, I am sure my best investment of time and money in my first year of having an organizing business was made by taking NAPO and ICD classes and joining my local chapter. I also took countless training and took certifications by the best digital marketers.

These classes gave me a map for my business while joining the local NAPO chapter gave me a sense of professional community, standards to follow, and human connection. These relationships will last for years, and these will be your “peeps,” the colleagues you go to when you have a question or need a helping hand.

Prepare For Longevity

When we are young, we believe we will live forever. We don’t know what pains and aches are. We sleep through the night, enjoy total health, and don’t have hot flashes. But once age -and what comes with it- starts knocking at your door, you will begin reviewing what you can do and what you’re willing to do.

Back in 2014, I was working intensively, around 5-6 days a week, and that’s when I started feeling such pain in my joints that I was having a difficult time climbing the stairs of our house. I was only in my early forties, but the intense physical demands of our work were starting to hit me.

That was the time I understood I needed to plan for the future if I wanted to do what I love for the long haul.

It’s fair to say that most of us enter this industry through residential organizing. This environment requires lots of stepping, climbing, carrying heavy bins and boxes, hauling donation bags, working in dusty environments and handling an infinite amount of items. All this takes a toll on our bodies if we’re not careful.

If you’re young and new to the industry, consider how you will protect yourself from the intense physical activity that is part of our work and start paying attention to all other areas and ways you can offer organizing services.

There are many areas of professional organizing that are “softer,” like digital, photography, document organizing, teaching, training, and consulting for both clients and new professional organizers.

Whether you are going through your first years in business or already hitting the 5-10 years mark, think about how you will extend your professional life while making the best of the experience you have accumulated so far.

Use All Your Assets – Organizing Is Only One Of Them

When we show up to an organizing appointment, our clients might believe that we are solely equipped with organizing skills. However, what I have observed is that our previous professional education, our life experience, and the life skills and perspectives our culture and religious backgrounds give us also inform the way we can bring value to our clients.

Here are a couple of examples:

A coaching client of mine is a Seventh-day Adventist and observes the Shabbat. She had to learn to organize herself and her family life around that important weekly event and find clients who were open to working on Sundays but not on Saturdays.

Another important observation of hers was that many of her friends from church were struggling to organize themselves around their religious practices, which led her to create a training and a planner.

Take away: if you are religious and observe rituals and practices and have learned to organize your life around them, there is an entire community of people who also need that information.

The same applies to your previous professional experience. A nurse who works at a hospital may have great insight into the needs of patients and their families. When someone is undergoing treatment or suffers from a chronic condition, organizing the household, the routines, the medical bills, and related documents can become an overwhelming part of their lives. As a professional organizer, you have the training and experience to help them as a specialized service.

Create multiple sources of income – online and offline

Back in 2011, when I created my first website, all I wanted was to have a place for potential clients to find me, but as I started taking training on online marketing, I understood the potential this space held as a possible source of income.

Over the years, I have used advertising and affiliate marketing to generate ongoing revenue and offer digital products, online training, and consulting to colleagues around the world.

You may want to continue doing hands-on organizing with clients for as long as you can, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility of creating products you can offer online, giving many others the opportunity of learning the organizing skills that come so quickly to you.

Other ways of creating different sources of income are through the sale of physical products, speaking engagements, becoming an inventor, or writing a book (or two!).

We have fabulous colleagues who have expanded their businesses through these channels, and they are proof that it’s possible.

Finally, I learned that while our passion for organizing never dies, our love for our business may fade from time to time. For me, this happened when I felt I had hit a plateau or when I stopped learning new things or applying my skills.

As a life-long learner, I crave learning new things and new opportunities to challenge myself. Know how you will find the food to keep yourself engaged and curious about your work.

So, whatever you do, keep learning, keep engaging, and look for the next chapter. Professional organizing can take you places you never imagined!

I hope this post gives you ideas on planning for the long haul of a thriving professional organizing career.

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22 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing these insights! You are generous in your gift of ideas and business skills. I am looking forward to seeing you at NAPO2018!

    1. Thank you, Ellen! I can’t wait to see you again and am so looking forward to our conference!

  2. Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing your experience with us and showing there’s more a Professional Organizer can do than just haul garbage bags. I’m a little older than you but I started thinking about my ‘next chapter’ and I’ll soon be offering Virtual Organizing services. Less wear and tear on my car and mostly on my body! I’ll be passing this post on to someone I know who in interested in becoming a Professional Organizer–I KNOW they will find the advice helpful. Wishing you continued success!

    1. Thank you, Stacey!
      I am truly enjoying to share my experience and I hope it helps many colleagues.

    2. Kimberly King says:

      I am interested in doing the virtual organizing as well can you tell me where to get started?

      1. Hi, Kimberly.
        Check the course with Sheila Delson.
        I have wonderful references for her.

  3. I think running an organizing business is much harder than organizing – at least for me! I’ve had to learn so many things, and am still working on some of them. I just attended a seminar to learn more about the difference between Quickbooks and Quickbooks Online.. always feels a bit overwhelming. But if I keep at it, and maybe attend a couple of seminars, I start to feel more comfortable. The biggest headline for me has been boundaries. Keep that “want to do” list, but realize it isn’t going to happen all in the first year.

  4. So well said,I feel like you went into my mind and read it! I’ve had a lot of these very insights and it’s nice to see that I’m not alone.

    1. Hi, Allison.
      Thank you for your comment! One of the pitfalls of being a “solopreneur” is the “solo” part of it. We work alone and start feeling we’re the only ones going through these situations and challenges. Having a community of peers is a must-have for us!

  5. Your story is inspirational, Helena! I love how you had the foresight to future think right from the start of your business. You made so many excellent decisions that have created a strong brand and business. You’re so smart to have thought about the toll that the physical aspect of organizing takes on our bodies. I still love the physical aspect of the work, but know that I won’t be able to do that part forever.

    1. Linda, you’re always so generous! Thank you for your comment and kind words. Being an entrepreneur is a journey filled with discoveries and fortunately with plenty of good friends along the way. <3

  6. This is an excellent post, Helena! I’ve seen way too many people start an organizing business with enthusiasm, only to fade out because they didn’t anticipate these things.

    1. Thank you so much, Janet. Being an entrepreneur is hard work and most of us learn everything on the go.
      Thank you for sharing it!

  7. As an organiser half a world away in Johannesburg, South Africa – it is always reassuring to know that so many of our challenges in this journey are actually universal. We don’t have a professional association here – so it can be a little lonely – but I have managed to make contact with a couple of other organisers in the same general area as myself and we pass referrals between each other as needs be.

  8. Thank you very much for your openly and inviting messages that you provide.Im a beginner and I need guidance to know what steps I should begin with to become a small business owner for professional organizing.By reading all of your given information I will start with the NAPO classes .Im an organized person with myself and I would like to pass on my strengths to helping others with organizing.

    1. Thank you, Carmella for visiting the blog.
      It makes me very happy that it has helped you with your plans. NAPO classes are an awesome way to get started.
      Make sure you sign up for the 104 class with Geralin Thomas. You’ll love it!

  9. Such wisdom! When I started my organizing business 40+ years ago, I had no idea the ups and downs that lay ahead, but I’m happy to report that my personal and professional life has never been been more rewarding than it is today. If organizing professionals will heed your safe advice, they can have the same results. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Dear Barbara.
      What an honor to have your visit on the blog. Thank you for stopping by and for being a trailblazer in our industry, always inspiring us to look ahead and make our activity a rewarding and profitable business!

  10. This post is the proof of “sharing is caring”.
    Thank you for showing us your insights and experiences, it was exactly what I was looking for during this “quarantine” in the UK, hoping when this all end I can start to apply for all these things for my own business!

    1. Hi, Caroline.
      Thank you for reading the post and it makes me happy it was useful.
      Let me know if you have any questions.
      Stay well and safe!

  11. Mamie M Morris says:

    Hello my name is Mamie Morris and I was recently layoff from my job as an
    Enrollment Manager in a Elementary & Middle school. I have always had a passion for organizing my home and friends and families home too. I’m reading your information on this page do you have a book I can purchase that will give me more insight on becoming a professional organizer.

  12. Alica Hursley says:

    Way to go you Boss! I appreciate you sharing this so much. I just started my own little real estate company last year in the middle of the pandemic. I learned so much for sure and love learning about the experience of other entrepreneurs. I think one of the most important things I learned is to team up with other small businesses to make life easier for each other. For example, I love working with San Juan County Chem-Dry. They are an incredible residential and commercial carpet cleaning company that has made my office fresher to attract more employees and customers. I try to help them out by recommending them to all of my real estate clients who need help with move out carpet cleaning. It’s definitely a win-win relationship.

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