Interview with Judith Kolberg, Organizing Industry Thought Leader, Author, Publisher & Book Coach

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Judith Kolberg

I’m thrilled to welcome another organizing industry veteran, Judith Kolberg of FileHeads Professional Organizers and Squall Press. Judith serves international and national clients, virtually and in-person.

Judith, how did you come up with your business name?

Years ago, when you said someone was ‘a head’, like a pot head or a Dead head, it meant they were dedicated and loyal to something. I wanted people to know I was really into, dedicated to filing and organizing, thus FileHeads. Remember, this is way back to the 1980s! Also, I wanted to appeal to my cohort group: mid-range baby boomers. And I wanted to sound cool.

How has your business changed since you first started out?

I’ve developed several revenue streams to supplement onsite organizing, including books and other products like Get Rid of Your Stuff flashcards, presentations and webinars. What has not changed is my priority to organize people who are challenged by chronic disorganization.

What is your specialty?

Thought-leadership research, writing, and presentations that point out trends in the organizing industry.

What other services or products do you offer?

I train professional organizers and productivity consultants in digital estate planning. I also am developing a webinar series on disaster preparedness services that will include organizing in preparation for epidemics and pandemics. I love doing book coaching, also known as developmental editing, of self-help and how-to books and products.

What professional associations or other organizations do you belong to?

NAPO, NAPO-GA, ICD, Independent Book Publishers Association and Community Emergency Response Team.

How do you approach a new organizing project?

I’ve gotten pretty good at interviewing a prospective organizing client on the phone after all these years in business. Then I plan an initial onsite visit. If I think my prospective client is not a good report or can’t quite give me a good picture over the phone, I might request pictures or have them fill out a brief questionnaire. I’ve never been one for a formal assessment. I always follow up the call or visit with a one-page proposal.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about running an organizing business?

I discovered I like to lead.

At what moment did you consider yourself successful?

After I published my first book, I bought an expensive lamp. When I published my last book, I bought a car. I think that did if for me!

What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?

I would have a partner to share the risks and rewards and to help finance the business. I would have more virtual products and services. I would have a tech-pro I could always turn to solve all the device, app, Zoom, phone, etc. glitches I am prone to encountering. I would study the mindset of the on-demand society and gig economy to figure out their organizational problems and solutions.

What is the biggest challenge you currently face in your business?

I have to continue working to support myself, but I’m trying to steer my business activities to those that I enjoy the most and are the most lucrative. The challenge is knowing when it’s time for life after business.

What’s your favorite organizing product? Why?

I like transparent scrapbook folio cases. They are clear, hold a lot more than a file folder, stack and have a handle so they transport easily.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I head to the forest. I like to camp, walk, see birds, hang out with the trees. TV is my screen of choice. I read every night, pure fiction.

What else should we know about you?

I am naturally sociable and though I can keep my own company, I do get isolated sometimes because I live alone and work at home. Coviding has been a challenge as it is to most people. I cook but the best thing I make is reservations!

Speaking of COVID-19, what impact has the pandemic had on your business?

I’ve had to suspend my onsite clients, but my virtual services are in a boom. I am doing time management and planning skill training and implementation with two clients by phone and email.

I offer services ‘to the trade’.  Two professional organizers are trained in the Disaster Prepared Professional Organizer program. The modules for that are going online soon.  A productivity consultant has just completed the Digital Estate Planning certificate.

But the real increase in business has been in book coaching. This is a great time to write! I have picked up four clients since March 15th.

I’ve lost all my national and international speaking engagements, but I’m hoping that come NAPO2021, I’ll be able to reconnect with my international colleagues and see what we can plan for late 2021.

Do you have any advice to help other organizers keep their businesses afloat as we move through the various phases of the pandemic?

Obviously, virtual services are the way to go. Consider services to offer to the trade.

Get your own book or other intellectual product going. If you can’t deliver services, it’s good to have a product line generating income.

Get your certificates and certifications.

When you can do so safely, help your clients set up their sanitation stations in their homes and harden family routines and chores, especially the kids.

People are cooking more. The Organized Kitchen and Pantry is a hot item.

Hire people, especially those hurting economically right now, to update your database, revise your website, teach you QuickBooks, do your Will and final documents, teach you to Zoom – get your own house in order.

Take this time to learn how to think like a futurist. Check out the Foresight resources on POINT.

Offer gift certificates! I have a client who purchased a $1,000 gift certificate from FileHeads to help keep me afloat. It gifts her an unlimited number of phone organizing time from now till December 30th.

And for goodness sake, go out and play! Run, walk, yoga on the deck, plants on the balcony, lunch with a friend on a 6’ park bench, swim, and go get a foot massage.

Thanks so much for sharing your story and your insights, Judith! 

Who’s next?

If you’d like to be interviewed for Your Organizing Business, simply fill out the questionnaire.

"After I published my first book, I bought an expensive lamp. When I published my last book, I bought a car." Judith Kolberg
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A former professional organizer, I now eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

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  1. Avatar Seana Turner on July 8, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    So great to learn more about Judith here! I’ve been following her since I got into the business, and she has always been a leader in this industry!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 9, 2020 at 1:10 pm

      Same here, and I enjoyed learning about her history and her “shoes off” self. She’s a true inspiration.

  2. Avatar Isabelle Dervaux on July 8, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    I saw Judith at a NAPO meeting, she was great! Love the word “coviding.” That verb will probably make it the dictionary soon.
    Worked on my website, wrote, and did a few webinars. We are all forced into doing virtual work now. Thanks for the reminders for everything else!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 9, 2020 at 1:09 pm

      Me too! I actually wondered if Judith had made a typo so I googled it and it’s totally a thing! Time will tell if it makes it into the actual dictionary but I bet it will too!

  3. Julie Bestry Julie Bestry on July 13, 2020 at 2:53 am

    What a fabulous interview with my favorite professional organizing icon (and NAPO-GA chapter-mate). Judith and I had lunch on the last day before I started to self-quarantine, and I can’t think of a better, more motivating person to help keep me inspired during these last months. I’m so glad that you profiled her!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 13, 2020 at 12:41 pm

      I had lunch with a friend right on my last “normal” day too! We both felt really strange, like we shouldn’t be out in a public place. but I’m glad that I – and you – had someone special to share that experience with.

  4. Avatar Kim on July 13, 2020 at 9:13 am

    Hi Janet,
    It is so nice to get to know others in this industry with the same passion we have for doing this work. It’s very interesting to think of where this work takes us as well. We all have our niches. I love the word “Coviding” and will definitely be using it. Thanks for sharing

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 13, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      It’s fascinating to see all the different directions people go with their business, and how few end up doing the same thing throughout their career in the industry!

  5. Avatar Diane N. Quintana on July 13, 2020 at 9:20 am

    I’m also a Judith Kolberg fan club member. She was my book coach for my first book and connected me to Jonda Beattie. Judith is part of the reason I joined the ICD (then the NSGCD) and has encouraged me all along the way in my organizing journey. She has a wealth of information and strategies and is always so willing to think through problem clients.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 13, 2020 at 12:45 pm

      What an honor and privilege for you to have worked with her in that capacity! I wish you all continued success in your business journeys.

  6. Avatar Sabrina Quairoli on July 13, 2020 at 11:05 am

    I love your interview series of questions, Janet.

    Judith, I do, too, wish I had a partner as well to split the risk and cost. Also, I diversified my services, so it wasn’t just onsite organizing. The additional income helps right now. Thank you for sharing your experience and tips on what to do right now.

  7. Avatar Melanie on July 13, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Really inspiring! Thank you for sharing this interview. It’s nice to remember all the options available to build our business, especially this year.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 13, 2020 at 12:46 pm

      Melanie, if you go to the home page, you’ll find a few more posts to help you get through the pandemic. Stay well!

  8. Avatar Janet Schiesl on July 13, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Great interview with a leader of our profession. I recently took some classes that Judith offered on disaster preparedness. They were excellent. She is a real pro.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 17, 2020 at 8:27 am

      It’s great to have access to people with such a wealth of knowledge and experience, isn’t it?

  9. Avatar Ronni Eisenberg on July 13, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    I love meeting fellow organizers. There’s so much great talent out there and everyone seems to have their own unique qualities and areas of focus.
    I really enjoyed reading the interview on Judith Kolberg. She’s quite a dynamic professional organizer. Thank you!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 17, 2020 at 8:28 am

      I’ve been connected to Judith for over 10 years and I’ve always been impressed with her. It was great to have this opportunity to get to know her a little better!

  10. Linda Samuels Linda Samuels on July 13, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    I love Judith, and this interview is so her! One of the things I’ve always loved about Judith is her wonderful sense of humor and realness. Plus, she has an incredible mind for future thinking. I had the joy of meeting her many years ago at my first NAPO conference in Dallas (1995.) She was running a panel on chronic disorganization. Because back then, CD was a just study group. I was hooked. She didn’t mention it here, but Judith is the founder of NSGCD, which became ICD. She is a true industry pioneer, leader, and all-around fantastic person. I love that her ideas are still coming fast and furiously. Great interview!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 17, 2020 at 8:28 am

      I think that Judith is very modest about her accomplishments. I’d like to be like her when I grow up!

  11. Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on July 14, 2020 at 11:43 am

    WAIT! “Foresight resources on POINT”…..?? Leave it to Judith Kolberg to teach me about something on POINT I didn’t already know about! 🙂 I never miss her presentations at conference.

  12. Avatar Sheila Delson on July 17, 2020 at 8:24 am

    Just the thought of Judith Kolberg brings a smile to my face! I met Judith 26 years ago during my first NAPO Conference over breakfast discussing the idea of ‘chronic disorganization,’ a term she personally coined, and which quickly birthed the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, today known as the Institute For Challenging Disorganization (ICD). There have been many similar NAPO breakfasts over the last 26 years, and I must say that every encounter with Judith as left me laughing, inspired…and always a little in awe… of one of the most brilliant and profoundly influential leaders of our industry. Great interview Janet…thank you!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on July 17, 2020 at 8:32 am

      I’ve been in or connected to the organizing industry since 2002, and I had no idea that Judith coined the term ‘chronic disorganization.’ If I’d realized, I might have asked more questions about that! What an amazing woman…

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