A reader sent me the following question: There are a decent number of people in my town with good income, but the majority are low income, and I am concerned with getting paid. How do you go about getting a deposit up front? Is there some way to ensure that you get paid for your services?
These are some really important issues! Let’s start with the question of the deposit.
I highly recommend that you obtain a deposit at the time you book an appointment. When your clients pay a deposit up front, it shows that they are committed to working with you. If the organizing session is booked during an in-person consultation, they can pay you by cash or check. If it is booked by telephone, email, or online, they can pay you by PayPal (see my earlier post, Accepting Credit Cards, for more details).
It is not unheard of for clients to cancel on short notice; I’ve even shown up for appointments only to find that the person who scheduled it was not there. When that happens, it’s not likely you’ll be able to fill that time slot with other paid work, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to be paid for at least part of your time. Whether or not you will reimburse part of the deposit in the event of a cancellation, or apply it to rescheduled appointments, should be clearly outlined in your written agreement with the client. Your agreement should also address when subsequent payments are due – ideally you will be paid at the end of each organizing session – as well as any penalties that will be incurred for late payments.
There are a number of sources for sample agreements, including The FabJob Guide to Become a Professional Organizer, Geralin Thomas’s Tools for Organizers, and Anne Blumer’s book, Get Rich Organizing: The Professional Organizer Survival Guide To Launch, Manage, and Grow a Profitable Business. Whether you use one of their templates or write an agreement of your own, it is best to have it reviewed by a legal professional who knows the laws in your area. Some cities have a small business center where you can meet with a lawyer at a lower cost than if you went directly to a law firm.
You should carry a supply of blank agreements with you so that the agreement can be signed at the same time that the deposit is paid. This can also be done online, using EchoSign. This service allows you to upload your prepared agreement and email it to your client, who then signs it electronically. I’ve been using EchoSign in my virtual assistant business for several months, and I’m quite impressed with how quick and easy it is to use. It is free for up to five agreements per month.
The other issue identified by my reader is the fact that many of the people in her area have a low income. This situation can make it tempting to lower your rates, but the harsh reality is that not everyone will be able to afford your services, no matter where you live. If you’re not comfortable turning away those who cannot, you may wish to consider offering a limited number of hours per month at a reduced rate, or occasionally volunteering your services to someone in need. Just remember that you are operating a business, not a social service agency, and although you want to help others, if you don’t generate a sustainable income, you won’t be in business for very long.
Established organizers are often approached by newbies looking for a job shadowing or training opportunity. Bringing in such trainees as your assistants at no extra charge to your client can keep the total cost of the organizing project down and make it more affordable for lower income clients.
Another option is to offer alternatives to individuals who need organizing help but cannot afford to pay for a professional organizer. This could be in the form of customized organizing plans that your clients can implement on their own, organizing workshops or teleclasses, or information products (your own or someone else’s). The benefit of offering teleclasses and/or information products is that it expands your market to people outside your geographic area and provides you with the potential to earn passive income.
I’m sure that some of you will have some other suggestions and I welcome your comments. If you have a question of your own, please feel free to submit it at any time.