Help others get organized, virtually
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In the early days of my business, I thought virtual organizing would be a great way to combine my skills as a professional organizer and virtual assistant. I supported two or three clients via email and MSN Messenger (remember that?), but I couldn’t figure out how to develop the idea into a service that I was comfortable promoting.
Since then, the concept has become much more common, and with most of the world currently in self-isolation, those who offer virtual services have a distinct advantage over those who work solely in their clients’ homes or offices. If you don’t yet offer virtual services, this might be a good time to get started!
Because my experience in this area is limited, I asked a few of my clients and members of my Blogging Organizers group for their advice, and this article is the result.
What services can be provided virtually?
The most common approach is through coaching clients with home organizing, office organizing, photo organizing, or time management, but really anything that’s within your area of expertise is a possibility.
Other options include:
- Organizing digital photos or other files
- Genealogy research and organizing
- Putting together a shopping guide
- Home inventories
What’s in it for me?
The obvious example right now is that you can support your clients without being in the same place, so you can continue to generate income even during the pandemic.
An offshoot of that is that geographical restrictions are removed, opening up your target audience to clients outside your own area.
Another offshoot is that you don’t have to factor travel time into your schedule or your pricing.
If you relocate frequently because your spouse is in the military or for other reasons, having a virtual business means you don’t have to re-establish your clientele every time you move to a new region.
You can also continue working virtually when you can no longer handle the physical demands of hands-on organizing due to age or changes in your health.
What’s in it for my clients?
For starters, you can help them right now instead of waiting for the pandemic to be over.
It also makes your services available to clients who live in remote areas and may not have access to a local organizer.
Virtual organizing is especially suited to clients who prefer to do the hands-on work themselves. It’s also a nice option for those who fear that having you come to their home or office would be an intrusion on their privacy.
It’s more affordable, because clients aren’t paying for you to be there for hours at a time.
For some clients, it’s easier to learn new skills, have greater insights, and establish new habits during focused conversations than in the midst of active hands-on work and visual clutter.
Shorter, more frequent sessions contribute to greater accountability, more effective maintenance practices, and continued progress towards their goals.
Shorter sessions are also easier to schedule.
What are the drawbacks?
Not every organizer is experienced enough to provide this service. It’s just not as easy as sharing tips.
The Code of Ethics for NAPO, ICD, POC and many other professional associations mention offering services only in areas in which you are qualified. Even if you’re not an association member, keep in mind that without the training and understanding of what’s involved, you could damage the reputation of your industry and your business, and not even be helpful to your clients.
At the end of this post, I’ve listed some of the available training programs.
Depending on the service you’re providing, your client may require basic computer, email, and internet skills, including the ability to take digital photos and/or to scan or photograph documents and attach them to emails.
In the case of organizing and decluttering, if clients don’t have someone to physically move furniture and boxes as needed, all the virtual support in the world won’t be much use to them.
It’s often hard to convince potential clients that virtual organizing is a worthwhile investment that really works.
How do I support clients virtually?
Supporting clients virtually isn’t that different than working with them in person. Just think through your usual process and how you would describe it with words.
Create an agenda and send it to your client in advance to make sure your sessions are very targeted and specific.
Set up a proper, confidential space for your client sessions. Eliminate any distractions so nothing takes your attention away from your client, and make sure your client can’t see or hear pets, other people, or ringing phones in the background.
Take 15 to 20 minutes at the end of each session to develop a next steps action plan and follow up with a summary by email. This creates accountability around what your client tackles on their own between sessions.
Make sure you connect the content for each session with the previous one. People want to build a rapport and that’s a start.
With virtual organizing, find a way to get a visual which is the unvarnished truth versus someone’s perception of their space or time. Use photos, virtual face-to-face platforms, or other means.
One way to offer this service is to do a consultation and draw up a plan where the client does the work and then you follow up.
Another option is to do a short consultation and then stay online with the client during the entire organizing session. Limit sessions to one or two hours, as it gets hard to look at the screen for longer than this.
For clients who are unsure about working you virtually, consider offering a complimentary 30-minute session to see if they like organizing with your virtual support.
Is there anything I should avoid?
Don’t mix up coaching skills with advice or organizational skills – people are buying one or the other.
Don’t book back to back calls. Give yourself at least 15 minutes in between calls.
Don’t book clients all day long. Consider your energy and emotional exhaustion levels as well as the preparation and follow-up work you need to do for each client. How can you give clients their best?
What tools do I need?
We often think of virtual services being delivered by video using Zoom, Skype or Facetime. These tools are useful for consultation, follow-up, coaching, workshops, and working along with your clients, but aren’t always required or even desired. It really depends on your client and their goals and situation.
As a bare minimum, you need an email account and a reliable phone line. A good long distance plan is a must if you’re working with clients outside your calling area, unless you’re communicating online.
If you are using video, pay attention to your lighting.
Other tools to consider, especially if you’ll be doing a lot of virtual work, include:
- Dubsado or Trello to record your client’s plans and assigned tasks
- TeamViewer or access to your client’s cloud account for digital organizing
- Clinked for project management
If you purchased Hazel Thornton’s Custom-branded Clutter Flow Charts when they were available, they can be a great visual aids for supporting clients through their DIY organizing projects.
Whatever tools you choose, practice using them with a family member or colleague to keep your client sessions professional and effective.
What training is available?
There are lots of programs available when you’re ready to become a virtual organizer or coach, and I’ve listed quite a few of them here. As always, do your due diligence and ask your colleagues for recommendations before investing your time and money into a course.
Caroline Guntur – The Swedish Organizer
DPO PRO (on demand course) teaches you how to successfully manage remote organizing projects.
Coach Approach Training
Denslow Brown developed the first Coach Approach for Organizers™ training in 2006 and now offers a full roster of programs.
Her courses, which are scheduled throughout the year, teach active listening skills and how to help clients find answers within themselves and find lasting change.
Helena Alkhas – A Personal Organizer
Curso de Organização Virtual – Live class April 10th with 12 months access to course materials
Institute for Challenging Disorganization
ICD recently discussed Virtual Organizing and Clients Affected by CD, and the recording should soon be available to members in the ICD teleclass vault.
Juliet Landau-Pope – JLP Coach
Virtual Decluttering and Organising Training for Professional Organisers – webinar April 14th
Miriam Ortiz Y Pino – More than Organized
3-month Complete & Streamlined VO Program starts April 9th
National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals
NAPO Virtual Chapter is holding a free Virtual Organizing Panel Discussion on April 13th.
In addition, NAPO University offers two on-demand courses specific to virtual organizing:
CR 2-224 Bridging the Gap Through Virtual Organizing, taught by Sheila Delson
CR 2-612 Virtual Organizing: Work with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, taught by Sarah Buckwalter
The Photo Managers (formerly the Association of Personal Photo Organizers)
If you’re been thinking about becoming a photo organizer, Virtual Summit 2020 could be just the training opportunity you need. Running from April 13-20, the online conference will cover a wide range of topics, including sessions specific to working remotely and using digital tools.
You can also access on demand courses through The Photo Managers™ Academy.
Sarah Buckwalter – Organizing U
Virtual Organizing – on demand course
Sheila Delson – Free Domain Concepts
Virtual Organizing Training Program for Professional Organizers and Related Professionals is a six-week course and the next session begins on June 6th. You must have three years of hands-on experience as a professional organizer or credentials as a coach, mental health, or other related professional to register.
I owe a big thank you to the following individuals who shared their tips and other information for this post:
For additional income streams, consider developing online classes or other information products, or even writing a book. This is beyond the scope of this post, but I’ll cover it in more detail in the near future.
Do you offer virtual organizing or coaching services? What has or hasn’t worked for you?
Photo by lenetssergey / DepositPhotos