I originally wrote this post in 2011 and asked colleagues to add to it in the comments. It became my most popular post. I last updated it in 2014, so I decided it’s time for another update. I deleted links (and comments) that are no longer current and added some of the information shared in the comments into the body of the post. I’ve also updated some of the text.
I regularly receive emails from people who are interested in becoming a professional organizer, asking me if I am hiring. It occurred to me that I could save them the time writing (and be helpful to people too bashful to write), if I created a blog post with the information I usually write to these folks. That’s worked out well—I also suggest the people who do write me read this post if they haven’t already.
So here’s what I think you need to do to become a professional organizer:
Love people. In my experience, being a PO is more about the people and less about the organizing. Of course you should love organizing as well, but if you don’t love working with people (and if you can’t stop yourself from judging the organizationally challenged), this might not be the field for you.
Invest in professional association memberships. The first thing I did when I decided to become a PO was to join the National Association of Professional Organizers. (This year, NAPO changed its name to the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, while maintaining the acronym NAPO.) I would have joined a NAPO chapter instantly, but St. Louis didn’t have one back in 2005. But we do now. Joining NAPO not only gives you credibility, it gives you access to the knowledge of a thousands of organizers through its chapters and its online communities and conferences. If you live outside the U.S., you can join NAPO, but you might also want to check if there’s an organizers’ association in your country. The IFPOA is a good place to start.
NAPO has a Getting Started Guide with information on how NAPO can help people who are starting an organizing business. The information is free. Go to www.napo.net, scroll down to the bottom right and click on the box that says How can NAPO help you grow in the organizing and productivity industry?. That will lead you to a page where you enter your name and email address to be sent a link to download the free document.
Invest in training and education. The second thing I did was join the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (back then it was called the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization). I started taking their teleclasses, which were (and still are) a great educational value and also gave my confidence a boost. NAPO also offers excellent education for professional organizers through its NAPO University. They’re available both as live webinars and on-demand at your convenience. (The live webinars have the benefit of allowing you to ask questions of the instructor.) If you’re an aspiring organizer, pay close attention to the lower-cost two-hour class, Introduction to Professional Organizing and Productivity, which is also available in Spanish. I took two NAPO education classes my first year of business (PO104-Starting an Organizing Business and the equivalent of PO101-Fundamental Organizing and Productivity Principles and PO102-Fundamental Organizing and Productivity Skills) and the offerings have only gotten more extensive since then. NAPO’s membership structure has changed since I started out. Now, when you join, you are considered a provisional member until you complete three specific classes: PO101, PO102 and PO103-Ethics for Professional Organizers and Productivity Specialists. I applaud this emphasis on education!
Invest in conferences. I’m a conference junkie. I love them. There’s no better way to learn about the industry, in my opinion. I went to the first NAPO and NSGCD (now ICD) conferences that were available after I became a PO. And I’ve been to almost every one since. I even attended the Australasian Association of Professional Organizers conference in Brisbane, Australia, in 2009! Here are some conferences to take note of: The 2018 NAPO conference retreat will be near Chicago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania April 27 to 29, 2017. And the 2017 ICD conference September 26 to 28, in St. Charles, Missouri. The 2017 Professional Organizers in Canada conference will be held November 2 to 4 in Toronto.
Think about a training program. A number of professional organizers offer training programs for new POs. I haven’t been through any of their programs myself, but here are some of the more prominent ones:
Get coaching from another organizer. One great way to get personalized help is to hire an organizer to work with you one-on-one with you, either in person or on the phone. It’s a great way to get all your questions answered, with a laser focus.
Get your website going. I think a good website is absolutely essential. (I rarely hire service providers who don’t have one.) I know for a fact that my website brings in the majority of my business. My fabulous web designer Nora Brown, is no longer working in this field, unfortunately. If you’re a DIY type, you might consider creating your own website—though I think hiring someone is a good investment. I created my other blog, Organize Your Family History, myself using Site Setup Kit to take me step by step through the process of creating and customizing this Wordpress blog. (That’s an affiliate link, which means that I am paid if you click on that link and then buy Site Setup Kit.)
Do freebies if necessary. In my first six months of business, I did freebies for friends in exchange for testimonials and before-and-after pictures for my website. It gave me valuable, relatively low-stress organizing experience (we took these sessions very seriously) and it helped me build my website. That worked very well for me.
Don’t ignore social media. When I was starting out, social media as we know it wasn’t in existence, but I did start blogging fairly early on. Social media can drive traffic to your website, give you a presence outside (as well as inside) your local area and help build relationships with colleagues and companies in related industries. I think it’s worth the effort. At the very least, choose one social media outlet and try to create a presence there. I use Twitter and Facebook most, but I know that Pinterest also drives traffic to my two blogs.
Becoming a professional organizer is a fairly low-overhead proposition. But I’d urge you to invest in professional associations, conferences, training or classes, coaching and website development. I’m awfully glad I did.
If you’re wondering what you might get out of becoming a professional organizer, check out the blog post I wrote in January 2013, Why I’m a professional organizer. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, I have a series of Insider’s Guides for New Organizers, with more in-depth insights on what it takes to build a successful organizing business. There are currently four guides available, ranging in length from 6 to 12 pages. Each costs $9. Click here to purchase any or all of them.
I’d like to thank all the POs who have already enriched this blog post by adding comments (please be sure and read them). If you’re a PO, feel free to add your two cents if you haven’t already!