Dear Puttylike reader, this is a classic Puttylike post. Meaning, it’s from the early days–from before I really found my voice or knew what I was doing. I’ve chosen to keep this post online for the benefit of Puttylike readers who have worked their way backward through the archives. And also to highlight the fact that everybody starts somewhere! xo, Emilie
Today I’m going to answer a question that was sent to me by a good friend of mine. I like this letter because it touches on one of my core beliefs: that there exists a self-employment alternative to almost any traditional job. Or that at the very least, there’s a self-employment alternative that allows you to utilize the same skills as you would working the traditional job.
Here’s her message:
“I just had the most amazing day at work today.
The office I inherited is a complete mess, so I decided that I’m going to mine through all the stuff and create an archive of the program, which has been around about 10 years. I was only supposed to be there from 9 to 12 today, but poof! I looked at the clock and it was now (3pm). I actually friggin love doing things like that.
I need to think about how I can make this kind of thing a career. Like, is it possible to be a freelance organizer? I bet. I could take on jobs from private individuals, companies, etc. It’s really too bad I didn’t get a degree in library studies. That can’t stop me from doing some self-study though!
What do you think?”
One of the reasons I got so excited reading this message was that I have watched this friend apply for job after job after job for months! She’s probably applied to hundreds of jobs in the last six months. I’ve seen her in the depths of despair, at times when nobody was calling her back. I’ve heard her make comments about her own self-worth and how she thought no one would ever hire her because she wouldn’t hire herself.
It was hard to watch. This is someone I know would be awesome at any job she committed herself to. She has a real nack for planning events, organizing projects, and taking on responsibility- skills that are highly valued in today’s busy world. She’s also super smart, creative, and has great communication skills.
I knew that if she wanted to, she could be totally jazzed about her work. It didn’t have to be some purely mechanical exercise to fill the hours of the day, which is what she seemed content in finding. Seeing her lower her standards for herself and strive for mediocrity was painful to watch.
The thing is, she’s not alone. This is something that most people do.
It reminds me of Tim Ferris’ bit in The 4-Hour Work Week when he talks about how people think that the extraordinary jobs are too hard to get, so they lower their expectations and try for the “realistic” (i.e. mediocre) jobs. The ironic thing is that almost everyone takes this approach, so there’s actually more competition for the mediocre jobs than for the extraordinary ones.
In any case, I was incredibly impressed by my friend’s perseverance! She just kept applying month after month- something I could never do.
One of the reasons I could never do this is that I hate the idea of being at the mercy of idiotic managers who can’t see how valuable I am. I hate feeling like I have to sell myself or ‘pay my dues’. I know what I’m worth and I have little patience when it comes to having to prove it to someone else. I feel like companies should be fighting for me, not the other way around.
In the end, my friend found a couple part-time jobs and seems a lot happier now, though I haven’t seen her totally exhilarated about work… That is, until receiving this letter.
It was like she suddenly saw what was possible–that work can be FUN, not a mere method of survival.
Okay, so lets break this down. My friend is interested in turning her passion for organizing into a freelance business. The first thing I did was look over Ramit Sethi’s fantastic ten-part series on earning more money.
There are two components to starting a freelance business:
- Coming up with a service
- Determining whether there’s a paying market for your service
My friend has already found her service (professional organizer), so lets take a look at whether there are potential customers out there with both the willingness and ability to pay.
Is there a healthy demand?
A quick Craigslist and Google search informed me that there are indeed professional organizers advertising their services as well as people looking for professional organizers.
I was even able to find The National Association of Professional Organizers and a Professional Organizers of Canada chapter in her city. I’m not suggesting she spend the money on joining these organizations quite yet, but all of this is good news. It means there’s a market.
These sites also indicate that no real education or certification is required and that most professional organizers make between $40-$100/hour. Not bad.
As I continued to read more closely through this post on Ramit’s site, I suddenly struck gold:
I know a young woman who cleans her room EVERY DAY. SHE LOVES IT. I find it really weird. Yet I would totally hire her to set up an organization system for my house. And so would TONS of other people, especially…who? What group can you think of that has an ability and willingness to pay for this service? Does gender matter? Age? Location? What do people REALLY want (hint: it’s not just a clean house…it’s much deeper).
This isn’t exactly what my friend described, but it’s pretty close.
So to answer your question friend, I think it’s a great idea. Forget the degree in library studies. You don’t need it.
It seems to me that her potential client would most likely be the well-established business owner who has no time to keep their house/office tidy. She could go in and set up a system of organization and then possibly teach that system and offer solutions. She would essentially be helping people gain control over their environment- over their lives. Ramit’s right, it goes much deeper than just a clean house or office.
Don’t waste time setting up a website or blog for now- these are often used as procrastination tactics. Just get out there and find your first three clients.
Here are some questions my friend might want to ask herself:
- Where do her potential clients hang out? Are there groups or organizations for small business owners? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a couple groups on meetup.com. Maybe she could advertise her services there or even attend some of their meetings. After all, as a freelance organizer, she’s an independent contractor herself. She could join these groups, learn about growing her business, get to know some people and offer her services at the same time. Also, what about cafes? Do the self-employed ever work at cafes? You betcha. She could easily hang a couple ads around town.
- Where do her potential clients look for solutions? Craigslist maybe? The newspaper? Is there some bulletin, forum or website that they read?
- Does she already know anyone in her target demographic? Word of mouth probably goes a long way when in the professional organizer business. Maybe she already knows a potential client or someone who would be able to put her in touch with one.
- Are there potential clients she could email? Most self-employed workers have their own websites to promote their services. What if she found a few who live nearby, wrote up a template/pitch and fired off five emails per day? At the very least, this would give her some idea of where her pitch is working and where it could use some revision.
Basically she wants to identify her ideal client and get into their head. What are their specific concerns, problems, fears and how can she help?
Being self-employed requires taking action. Nobody will do it for you. So, go for it man. Get out there and find some clients!