Can I Run My Organizing Business Part Time?

You have a passion and a flare for organizing, and you’d like to start your own business. How exciting! However, you’re not sure that a full-time business is for you. Maybe you want to test the waters and make sure your business is going to take off before you leave the security of your full-time job, or need to supplement your regular income. Maybe you have young children and want to spend as much time with them as you can. Or maybe you have health issues that prevent you from working full time. Whatever reason you may have for considering a part-time organizing business, there are several factors you should look at before making this important decision.

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Start by defining what “part time” means to you.

How many hours per week do you want to work in your business?

Keep in mind that there’s more to being a professional organizer than working with clients. You’ll need time for marketing your business, communicating with colleagues and potential clients, attending networking events, and general administrative tasks.

When can you be available to work with clients, or speak with potential clients?

If you have a regular day job, you will have difficulty tapping into the corporate market, as they’ll generally want you to be available during standard business hours. However, being available on evenings and weekends could be a real plus for residential clients, as they won’t have to take time off from their jobs to stay home for their organizing sessions.

Are you flexible, or do you need to plan around family responsibilities or another job?

If you can only devote two specific days per week to your business, will you be able to deal with emails and telephone inquiries that come in on off days? If not, you’ll need to make it clear in your voicemail greeting and automated email reply when you will be responding, but even so, there’s a risk that your prospective clients may find another organizer in the meantime. You also risk missing out on opportunities if a client’s schedule doesn’t coincide with your own.

If you need help exploring your options, Maria Gracia’s Ultimate Guide for Professional Organizers is a great resource that covers this and many other aspects of starting and growing your business.

Many professional organizers have achieved success by starting out on a part-time basis. I was in an ideal situation, where I had outside employment with hours that were completely flexible, so I was able to change my shift whenever an opportunity conflicted with my schedule. In fact, it was when my job situation changed that I knew it was time for me to take my business full time!

I’ve known others who started their business on a small scale while their children were young, and were then ready to go full time once the youngest started school.

If you’re an established organizer, my readers would love to know:

Do you operate your business part-time, or did you start off that way? What challenges did you encounter? How did you overcome them?

A former professional organizer, I’m now a web designer and DIY marketing facilitator. I love helping others succeed by sharing the knowledge and insight I’ve gained through marketing my own business for over 15 years! When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

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Comments

  1. Only if you aren’t booking clients, working with them, doing research, learning more about the profession, writing, keeping up a website, blog, FB, Twitter, etc.

  2. Good point, Moreen! As I mentioned, there’s a lot more to running a business than simply working with clients, and if you don’t invest time in those other activities, you’ll find it very hard to even get clients!

  3. Wow, I have strong opinions on this. But first, an anecdote. As a woman circulating among women of a younger generation, my mom used to be stymied when people would ask “What do you do?” She came from an era where women were not defined by their jobs, as few outside of Rosie the Riveter has jobs, let alone careers. Eventually, she started giving people a big grin and saying she was a part-time brain surgeon. 🙂

    Frankly, my answer is no, you can’t really run your business part-time any more than you can parent your children part-time. When I hear part-time, I think “dilettante”, as if you are tucking your professional life into the small empty spaces in your world. Part-time doesn’t mean the number of hours (because very few professional organizers work 40 billable hours per week), but the quality of the effort put into the hours that are worked. Janet, you’re right. Parents of kids may only be able to schedule clients 10a-2p three days per week, for example, but that’s not very different from a hugely busy professional who only has a few slots open…m/w/f from 10a-2p. It’s not the number of billable hours worked that constitutes running your business, but whether you do all that you can and must in order to sustain and grow your company to achieve the revenue levels you need/want.

    I admit that when one is just starting out, it may be necessary to only work a handful of hours, or only do marketing and admin on a limited basis. Sure, there will be some benefit to that, but it’s like only exercising on the weekends. You may firm up a bit, but you will strengthen the necessary muscles on only two days a week. Neither can you firm up your marketing, admin and client muscles to the professional level if you’re really and truly part time. Eventually, you have to put more effort forth, or stagnation will occur.

    Note, that doesn’t mean you can’t be targeted and efficient. It doesn’t mean you can’t delegate your bookkeeping, have a VA handle the technical side of getting out your newsletter or formatting your ebooks or booking your speaking gigs. Part-time doesn’t mean that you can’t accomplish a great deal; however, most part-timers complain about all the things they CAN’T do because they don’t have the money, and they don’t have the money because they aren’t doing the essential marketing to bring in the client work to earn the revenue.

    Business requires investment: money and time. You can limit the money or the time, but if you curtail both, growth is almost impossible.

  4. Julie, you’re completely on track. The 9-5 days aren’t even in my vaguest memories any more. More like 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Not being a morning person, 9 is the earliest I can drag myself up and at whatever the day brings, although if I have a client at 9, I’m up and out earlier.)

    The marketing takes the largest chunk of time, and is never-ending. Of course, it needs to be in order to keep the pipeline full of prospects who hopefully will become clients. And the billable hours are far less than the actual hours spent on the business.

    But, it’s so rewarding to see the clients stand taller, recover the sparkle in their eyes, and know that a huge weight has been lifted from them once they’re organized. That certainly counts as important to me. The money is good too–who can work for nothing these days?

  5. When I started to work for myself it was to work fewer hours not more. That meant taking a pay cut which was fine because my organizing taught me to simplify my life and now I have a low cost of living. My virtual organizing/coaching is part-time, as is my teaching, as is my writing, as is….

    If I were in the fortunate position of having a spouse who supported the family and my income provided extras, then yes, I’d do fewer things and do them part-time.

    It all depends on what your goals are and what you want to achieve.

  6. Moreen and Julie, you have brought out a really important point, and that is the amount of time you have to spend developing and growing your business. You don’t necessarily have to work 12 hour days, but there are tasks that have to be done whether you’ve booked time with clients or not, so it’s probably not realistic to plan to work a fixed number of hours at a set time every week.

    Looking back, I remember that the time I put into my “part-time” business probably equalled or even exceeded the time I spent at my day job!

  7. Hi Janet

    I agree with Alex. It depends what your goals are – I work a full-time job and run my business part-time. ONe of my highest values is freedom and I’m not prepared to put in crazy hours…

    For the amount of hours I put in, I make a good amount of money because those hours are of course split up into marketing (mostly), client work, admin, etc, etc. I actually really feel strongly that your business must work AROUND the type of life you want and mine does, beautifully 🙂

    I can’t see the point of working so many hours and not having that freedom I love so much.

    Maybe it’s the word “part-time” that’s putting people off? It’s the easiest way to explain it (for me) although of course, when I’m working on and in the business I’m totally there 🙂

  8. Sure you can. But you will only get out of it what you put in. You just need to establish how many billable hours you need to earn the $ you need/want. And expect to spend about the same # of hours in administration.

  9. I love the points of view presented! Great stuff!
    I agree with Julie, if you want to grow your business to a life sustaining level then it has to be full time. I also agree with Alex in that you don’t need to be earning a 6 figure income to be considered successful.
    It all comes down to expectations. You can’t run a business part-time and expect to be the best in your field, the richest entrepreneur nor the most well known. You can run a business part-time and get self-satisfaction and help change other people’s lives.

  10. Marcia, thanks for sharing – you are an outstanding example of someone who is pulling it off quite successfully! And your point about working your business AROUND your lifestyle is something everyone needs to heed, regardless of what line of business they’re in.

    Karen, I think your recommendation is right on the nose. Being aware of the amount of nonbillable time required to maintain your business is key not only to planning your schedule, but to setting your rates.

  11. I want to chime in and don’t even know where to begin.
    The BIG idea is: let each of us define what success means to us.
    If it means working 8 hours a week and doing very little marketing, that is ok if it fits your life. Really. Why not? Many of us found this profession because it is a Lifestyle career – we mold the job to fit our life rather than letting the job tell us how and when we can act.
    I started this job with 2 kids under age 5. I hired a sitter 2 days a week so I could work outside for longer periods. I spent time marketing the other days. And I worked weekends because DH could be home with the kids.
    Later people assaulted me with the term “cottage industry” and accused my type of bringing down the business. Well let me tell you I just needed to get started the way I needed to get started.. and for each of us it’s different.
    There is room for all of us in this industry if you just open your mind to the possibilities.

    Be your own boss by your own rules.
    And be professional.
    It can be done.

    I love your site Janet and plan to do a lot of linky love.

    — Allison

  12. I think what most new organizers don’t realize is that behind every “successful” organizing business are a lot of “hidden” costs.

    Marketing
    Finances
    Administrative
    Professional Development
    Communications

    Even if you work, hands-on, with clients you always have to go home and deal with (or pay someone else to deal with) the above business-related tasks.

    Heaven help you if you aren’t good at them or can’t afford assistance. What usually results is that you work smarter, not harder, to earn more, to pay for the help you need.

    I agree with Alex, success depends on your specific goals or definition.

  13. One issue that I hear in this industry is that many part-timers aren’t professional; they don’t properly invoice, they don’t do client follow-up, they under charge their services etc. etc.

    I have a problem with those types of people. They are the ones who, as Allison mentioned, make the public think that professional organizing is a “cottage industry”.

    So, if part-timing is for you, make sure you do it RIGHT because if you do it wrong, it reflects poorly on all of us part-timers.

  14. Wow, this topic seems to have sparked a lot of interest!

    Jacki, you sum things up so nicely: “you don’t need to be earning a 6 figure income to be considered successful.”

    Geralin, you’ve also raised an excellent point – you can be really good at helping people to get organized but if you don’t run your business efficiently, you’ll never be successful.

    Allison, thanks so much for sharing your experience! It’s true that part-timers are sometimes looked upon as little more than hobbyists, so it’s really important to make sure you look and act professional in every way, as you and Jacki point out. Thanks also for sharing your website – it looks like you have tons of valuable information there to explore!

  15. I define full-time as if organizing is your main income. I started my business part-time, but soon found that most the clients I wanted only wanted someone to work during the day. So when I was laid off some years ago I decided to dive in full-time. Meaning that Organizing is my main source of income. If you truly want a thriving business you will have to dive in full-time just to be able to network and market and service clients. Just my 2 cents. I would not want to work 40 hours organizing. You would be burnt out before a year would go by. You have to count the unbillable hours of admin work toward your business.

  16. 40 hours a week doing hands-on organizing–impossible for all the reasons you mentioned Janet. I can mange only about 15 max. The rest of the time is when I do my office admin work, marketing, networking, writing, continuing learning, etc. (after a break to dump the mental baggage I may have carried from the residential client’s home). Corporate is much easier because the emotional component isn’t there, except for the staff who resist change that their manager wants, and that’s not my problem. 🙂

    I probably put in 50+ hours weekly into my business, all told. I can only do this because there is no family requiring my time and attention.

    Like life itself, a business is what one makes of it. Sometimes even with all the dedication in the world it’s a tough slog. But, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Well, almost anything. 🙂

  17. Samantha, you’re so right – I can’t imagine anyone spending 40 hours a week organizing! It is often very physically demanding, and with some clients, emotionally exhausting as well.

  18. Running your own business is an incredible amount of work. I would say the PT status depends very much upon how you are looking at that time. I am a PT organizer while my kids are young. Once my youngest enters 1st grade, then I’ll take more clients. There are some important factors that make this work for me 1. We are not depending on the extra income 2. I inform my potential clients up front about my working hours so there are no surprises. 3. I’m a former operations manager and have set up a company from the ground up before. I have a learning curve, but understood a lot of the back end work before jumping in. I do disagree with Jacki. I think you can find unprofessional people in any industry full or part-time. It has nothing to do with the amount of hours, but rather the individual. I take my work very seriously and give my clients 200%. I know other PT organizers that are in a similar situation. We have been in the business world, had successful careers and are in the process of establishing our own businesses.

  19. Kristin, thanks for joining the discussion!

    You’re absolutely right, that you can find unprofessional people in any industry, whether they’re in business full time or part time. However, there seems to be a perception out there that if you’re only in business part time, you’re not as serious or committed as those who are doing it full time. Unfortunately, this can present you with the added challenge of proving that you don’t fit the stereotype.

  20. Love this article AND all the comments following it! As professional organizers I think we pay more attention to our INTENTIONS (why we’ve gone into business for ourselves, our personal mission/message for our clients etc) than some in other personal professions. I so appreciate the descriptions from so many on this comment thread about working this business around our lives. In order to build a sustainable personal service business I believe that very clear goals are key. We do get out of it what we put into it, but to borrow a phrase from a parenting fade from awhile back…quality time really does pay off when we know what we need to do (all those management tasks everyone has mentioned) and WHY we are doing it (freedom, our families and more simple lives).

    Thanks for sharing such a rich discussion Janet! I’m so happy to have found your supportive, educational and instructive site.

  21. I’m happy you found us here, Elise, and I love what you say about organizers paying more attention to intentions than some other professionals. It’s something I hadn’t thought about, but it could certainly explain why there has been such a lively discussion on this post!

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