Recently I’ve heard from many professional organizers and productivity coaches who want to add virtual organizing to their business offerings. Virtual organizing offers several benefits for some organizers and some clients, but there are a few things to think through before you take the leap.
What is Virtual Organizing?
Many people are familiar with the “hands-on” method of working with organizing clients. When working hands-on, the organizer and client agree on a date and time, the organizer travels to the client’s home or office (or sometimes storage unit), and together they make a plan and then execute it. The organizer and client work side-by-side, with the organizer helping the client to make decisions about their organizing goals, then choosing what to cull, where to store the remainder, and how to use all the physical objects in the space. Organizers will typically help to discard, pack, and move large quantities of stuff in the process.
By contrast, virtual organizing is done via phone, video chat, or other technology. Organizer and client are no longer in the same space, but the organizer is seeing the area using photos or a live video tour. Client and organizer still work together to agree on goals and make decisions, but the organizer is no longer in the room to help carry, sort and store the items in the space.
Advantages of Virtual Organizing
Virtual organizing offers several appealing advantages to organizers.
Adding virtual organizing to your business services can:
- Eliminate travel time and its associated costs.
- Allow you to work with clients beyond your local geography, provided they are comfortable with using technology to connect.
- Let you use your most valuable skills–such as planning, project management, being the keeper of the client’s own intentions, offering encouragement, and supplying creative problem-solving–while eliminating lower-value activities, such as carrying boxes.
- Permit you to offer shorter sessions, even just a single hour, which is usually not feasible when doing hands-on organizing.
- Give you a new level of freedom. You can work in your slippers, work from the beach, the mountains, hotels, and motels—anywhere you have wi-fi access.
Likewise, it can provide benefits to some clients, too. Virtual organizing can:
- Make getting the help of a professional organizer more affordable by offering shorter appointments and requiring that clients do more of the hands-on work themselves or with the help of family members (in a home) or colleagues (in an office).
- Provide more time flexibility – no more need to block out an entire half-day for an organizing appointment.
- Enable the organizer to record sessions so the client can refer back to the recordings for a refresher while working on their own.
Before You Commit, Think It Through
If all this sounds ideal for you and your clients, there are some issues you will need to address before you go forward.
Ask yourself, have any of my current clients expressed an interest in working virtually? If not, you will have to find new ways to market your new virtual offering. How will you find these clients? Your revenue could take a nosedive if you aren’t prepared to market to new clients.
Television reality shows and past experience have led many people to expect organizers to work in a certain way. You’ll have to ensure that your clients understand the benefits and limitations of virtual projects. What are your client’s expectations? Are they able to own their challenges and mistakes, or are they likely to blame the organizer when they can’t move as fast as they’d like?
Is your client a good fit for virtual projects? Are they a DIY-type person? Do they have any mobility challenges that make physical assistance necessary? Are they able to follow through to get results on their own, or do they need the physical presence of an organizer for companionship and better focus?
Is the job at hand a good fit for virtual work? If there is furniture to move or donations to drop off, will the client be able to do it alone?
Expect that you will need to fortify your branding to make it clear what you do and how you do it.
Will you need to revamp your website and the rest of your online presence to reflect the fact that you are now available beyond your physical location? The work you’ve done in positioning yourself as a local organizer may need to be re-done, including your search-engine optimization (SEO).
Unless you shift your business to virtual-only in one step, you’ll have to decide how to mesh your hands-on and virtual clients. Most virtual appointments are just one hour. If you allow a virtual client to book an hour in the middle of what could have been a half-day hands-on session, your business will not be able to earn the revenue it needs to prosper. Will you offer virtual organizing just one or two days each week until you find more virtual clients?
Are you comfortable presenting online? Eye contact is especially important when talking to someone via a screen. Can you make your client feel heard while briefly glancing down to take notes? Will you be able to confidently meet your client online and help them achieve the same great results you have gotten with your in-person clients?
Technology provides us with great opportunities, but it also presents some of our biggest challenges.
How tech-savvy are you? What equipment will you need to buy? You may want to invest in a better microphone for Skype calls or a hands-free headset if you don’t already have one. How will you share photos? (Dropbox, a popular file-sharing platform, can be a challenge for some users. Evernote and Google Drive also allow photo sharing, but with limitations. Or can your client text photos to you?) Does your client have adequate wi-fi and a good-enough microphone? Is your wi-fi reliable? If a call is dropped, who calls back?
Do you have an appropriate space? Is there an uncluttered, professional-looking background behind your desk so the view won’t distract your client? Can you close the door to your office to keep out the sounds of delivery men, children, pets, leaf blowers, and the like, so that you can give your client the same undivided attention you provide in person? Do you have a permanent space that you don’t need to recreate every time you hop on a call?
Many organizers find virtual organizing appealing as age takes its toll on our bodies, making it harder to do the physical labor that often goes into hands-on sessions. But sitting takes a toll, too, as does staring at a screen all day. If you plan to work with virtual clients for several hours at a stretch, how will you protect your physical wellbeing?
Know your own social needs.
Some coaches and organizers are happy to work via Skype or telephone, but not everyone will feel good about the lack of face-to-face human contact. Speaking into a headset rather than enjoying your client’s company can feel isolating.
There are financial considerations, too.
If you’re not present to swipe a credit card or collect a check in person, how will you get paid? Will your business insurance be sufficient, or will you need to adjust your coverage?
Some training courses and coaching programs can help you avoid many of the pitfalls of making a big change to the way you work with clients, but the cost can be hundreds or thousands of dollars. Will you want to take a training course or work with a coach before you present yourself as a virtual organizer? What is the cost?
How many clients will you need to sign before you recoup the start-up costs of offering virtual organizing?
Calculate the cost of:
- Any training and coaching programs you plan to take.
- Technology, including a microphone, headset, and video set-up.
- Maintaining a professional looking space that can be shut off from noise.
- Refurbishing your branding, reworking your website, and adjusting your SEO.
- Reaching clients beyond your geographic area.
Then compare the added costs with the additional revenue you anticipate from adding virtual organizing as a service.
It can feel wonderful to expand your services, reach more clients, and earn more money, and virtual organizing can be a way to do all those things. Just make sure that you have fully considered the extra demands that go with adding virtual organizing to your services before you take the plunge.