Interview with Professional Organizer Melanie Summers
This page may contain links to Amazon.com or other sites from which I may receive commission on purchases you make after clicking on such links. Read my full Disclosure Policy
I think you’re going to really enjoy my latest interview, with Melanie Summers of I Speak Organized. Melanie serves the greater Portland and SW Washington metro area and currently offers virtual plans and services nationwide. She’s also a great story teller!
Hi, Melanie! How did you come up with your business name?
This is a good story that I’ve never shared before! It’s a Y.O.B. exclusive, hahaha.
It dates back to when I was in 7th grade chatting with a classmate about dance. I was in serious pursuit of a ballet career at the time. I don’t remember what the conversation was about but I do remember one line. In response to something I said, my classmate laughed and said, ” sorry Mel, I don’t speak dancer.”
This was back in the day when AOL instant messenger was popular. Naturally, when I went home that night, I immediately changed my AIM screen name to I Speak Dancer. Over the years that name became my handle across all social media platforms. I was always surprised that no one ever claimed it and I never had to use numbers or special characters to reserve it. When I started the formation of my LLC, I Speak Organized was the obvious choice for my business.
I know it’s a unique business name. The fact that I’ve carried the idea with me this long is a sign that I’m going the right direction to build a strong brand.
What made you decide to start an organizing business?
That’s another good story!
Five years ago, I was living with my boyfriend (now husband) in Seattle. We had a mutual friend whose mom became ill and needed help organizing her family home. They had steep medical bills and wanted to refinance the house to offset some costs. An appraiser was coming to inspect the house and their timeline was pretty tight to get the house in order. Friends and family came to help get as much done as possible. I worked my way through a huge garage and basement decluttering project with a few other friends. Apparently I was pretty skilled because they asked me to come back and work on some other projects. I scored some awesome houseware pieces, including a full set of dishes that my husband and I still use to this day.
I developed a really special relationship with that family through the process of decluttering their home. I saw how my work brought a sense of peace and control to an otherwise stressful situation. After that experience, I knew there had to be more to this organizing stuff than putting items in straight lines with labels. I did some research and found that people were organizing professionally… for money. I put off pursuing it as a business until after I retired from my dance career.
I continued to do side projects for people over the years and launched my official business in February of 2020. I chose to go through with starting my business in the middle of a global pandemic at 7 months pregnant with baby #2. I did this because I’m completely insane. Mostly joking aside, I felt a strong push to continue on after I met Holly Southerland.
She reached out to me in a Facebook group I joined for professional organizers and I accepted her invitation to a challenge group she was hosting. For close to a month, I met with this group on Zoom every day. It was amazing meeting these women from all over the country in the middle of lockdown when I couldn’t even go to the bar down the street.
I came from a career that was highly competitive and cut-throat, to one full of people who were welcoming and supportive even though we’d never personally met. Through Holly’s training and our brainstorming, it was also clear that people needed our help. Everyone was home and forced to deal with clutter they’d previously ignored. I chose to continue developing my business with the faith that I could make a difference in these times.
Do you have a specialty?
Academic organization and space planning for kids and teens. I’m nuts about paper management (weird, I know…) and productivity practices!
What other services or products do you offer?
Total, attic to basement home organization and space planning. I love closets, pantries, home office, garage, and photo organizing. I’m basically up for any number of things my clients throw at me.
How do you approach a new organizing project?
I always start with a phone conversation because it’s important to get on the same page with new clients. I have a list of assessment questions that help me learn about the project and about the people I’ll be working with. My questionnaire is designed to help me steer my methods and emotional approach in the right direction. Some clients are shy and overwhelmed, while others are outgoing and know exactly what they want. The practice of organizing is going to be different in each case so I make sure to dial my energy in appropriately.
How did your training and experience prepare you to become an organizer?
I would say my job experience prepared me to run my own business moreover than becoming an organizer. I chose professional organizing as my primary business venture, but it’s important for people to understand that organizers are entrepreneurs first.
My skill sets related to organizing came from working in catering/events management, dance education, and a brief stint as a dance studio guidance counselor. I worked large catered events, sometimes with thousands of people in attendance, almost every weekend for three years. I managed 14 hours on my feet, under tight timelines, and a 20-page list of details down to the smallest toothpick. This is where I developed my signature organizational methods and attention to detail.
As a dance educator, I developed course curriculum for students related to goal setting, time management, and self-discipline techniques. I eventually became a studio guidance counselor in addition to teaching all my regular dance classes. I specialized in conflict resolution and scheduling.
How did you find your first client?
Through lead generation services and referrals.
How are you marketing your business?
I am very active on social media. I use Instagram for my portfolio and promotion, Facebook for community engagement, and YouTube to provide tutorials and free resources. I also blog weekly and push my posts to Pinterest. Occasionally, I’ll put ads on Nextdoor and Craigslist.
My main goal is to produce content consistently and get it in front of as many eyes as possible. Social media makes it possible to do this for free (for the most part.) It’s an IMMENSE amount of work and I have to schedule my time very carefully to make it happen. However, the consistency has paid off and I’m booked out months in advance as a result.
What professional associations or other organizations do you belong to?
None! I’m a wild and free agent. However, I’m working on becoming a certified KonMari Consultant and possibly considering joining NAPO. I’ve attended a few local NAPO meetings in my area and I’ve enjoyed meeting all the amazing members.
What is the biggest challenge you currently face in your business?
It’s overall just a lot of work to run your own business. I have so many projects I want to work on that need my full time and attention. Not to mention that I have two kids under the age of three and a husband working full time while in law school at night. I enjoy a challenge and being productive so I don’t view all that as bad.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about running an organizing business?
Initially, I was surprised by the amount of resources and training available in this industry. “Blown away” describes my feelings a bit more accurately. It totally makes sense that professional organizers are excellent teachers, with eyes for detail and methodology.
Beyond that, I was surprised by the number of business inquiries I’ve received. I was scared that no one would hire me in the middle of a pandemic and talked to many organizers feeling the same. The opposite proves to be true since everyone is home and facing their lifestyles in a different way. The most common word my clients use is “finally.” They finally want to unpack those boxes, tackle the garage, or pile of papers they’ve put off for 16 years.
What’s your favorite organizing product? Why?
I love a good rotating caddy because it eliminates digging through cabinets to get items in the back. I also love file folding clothing to make every item easily seen and accessible.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
All things Pacific Northwest. We love to hike in the mountains and fly kites at the beach.
What else should we know about you?
My dream projects are –
- To create an academic organizing course for students
- Publish organization books! One for kids, and one for adults
- To grow my YouTube channel. Video is my favorite medium and I love creating content to reach people I can’t work with in person.
If you’d like to be interviewed for Your Organizing Business, simply fill out the questionnaire.