Last month an email landed in my inbox that seriously knocked my socks off. The email came from one of my Professional Organiser’s Edge members, Alison Kingston, and it contained the usual proof of attendance at my webinars. The email was both entirely normal and absolutely out of this world.
Let me explain. When I present my monthly webinar, I always mention three code words during the presentation. Attendees then email me the code words along with the name of the webinar they attended and in return I send them a certificate of completion. It’s an acknowledgement of their commitment to professional development, which I really admire.
More recently I’ve begun rewarding attendees with milestone badges when they reach 10 and 25 webinars. The badge is theirs to use however they’d like, to shout from the rooftops or tuck quietly away in their Fabulous File.
A few of the most diligent of Professional Organiser’s Edge members have achieved 31 certificates of completion, which is truly noteworthy. There are 99 webinars to date to choose from. (Edit: The big 100th was delivered on September 24th.)
Back to my socks being knocked off… an email arrived from the brains behind Your Organising Octopus, Alison Kingston. It was a big long list of all the webinars she’d attended, the date attended and of course, the necessary code words. There were 99 webinars listed! That’s right, she had watched each and every one of them in the library of resources. What’s more, she did it in only 3 months! I was so impressed I created a special milestone badge for her record-breaking PD marathon.
And then I asked if she would let me interview her. Alison graciously said yes. So, please let me introduce you to Alison Kingston, from Your Organising Octopus.
What brought you to your organising career? And what other things have you done in the past?
I’ve always been interested in a wide range of different things, as a child I wanted to be everything from a truck driver to a marine biologist. To date I’ve completed over a hundred and fifty courses/workshops on a wide range of topics. These courses included business marketing and administration, Educational Assistance (Mainstream and Special Needs), public speaking, Auslan (Australian Sign Language), accounting, dementia, flora and fauna and Professional Organising. I’ve often joked that I wished being a ‘professional student’ could be a career.
When I was in my twenties my family bought a video store, which we ran for seven and a half years. I enjoyed every minute of running the business – from the day to day tasks, to staff management, to organising marketing and events. This experience made me realise I wanted to own my own business in the future. When we decided to close the business I had just finished two years of study in Auslan and an amazing position had opened within the W.A. Deaf Society – so I applied and ended up spending the next 4 years working there.
After I left the W.A. Deaf Society, I started looking into owning a business again. Some of my initial business ideas consisted of – an Auslan Interpreting Service, selling W.A. made products or supplying LGBTIQ merchandise. One day when I was googling ‘unique business idea’s’ I came across Professional Organising. I started researching and learning as much as I could about the industry. I soon realised being a Professional Organiser would be a good fit for me, because I could incorporate my natural organising skills, my passion for teaching others and my love of business.
I joined several great Professional Organising Facebook groups, completed Professional Organising training, and started putting together my brand and services. I soon realised that this type of business was extremely flexible, and I had the potential to offer a very wide range of services. Whist it was good to know my business would have lots of avenues to grow into, it also led to a lot of initial questions –
- “What services should I start with?”
- “What type of client do I want to work with?”
- “Do I have to know how to best organise every single room in the house?”
- “Should I specialise in one area?”
… the list goes on!
I was just starting to get very overwhelmed with all the options when I came across Angela’s training via the Professional Organisers Edge. I signed up and started watching her extensive backlog of webinars – trying to get some clarity on how to structure my business services and make sure it was successful. The webinars covered every topic imaginable – marketing, organising skills, business accounting, public speaking, insurance, hoarding, case studies, pricing your services, working with clients, safety, trends, and interviews with other successful Professional Organisers. All the training was specific to running a Professional Organising business and that made all the webinars much more relevant and useful than if I had just researched these topics generally. There was one webinar that really cemented my desire to be a Professional Organiser again and gave me a renewed sense of focus and direction, it was called ‘Introduction to Photo Organising”
What’s been the best thing about starting as a PO? And what’s been the hardest?
The best thing about starting out as a Professional Organiser was the ability to create a business that really helps people. People reach out to a Professional Organiser when they are standing on the edge – they want to change things in their life, business or home – but they don’t know how to make the change. That leaves them feeling lost, as if nothing will even be able to change or improve. As a Professional Organiser I am able to show them that there is a way to make change that will work with their unique circumstances. The look on their face when they succeed in making this change is very rewarding, as if a huge weight has been lifted off their shoulders. This is why its important to me that I teach my clients how to get organised and maintain the organisation. I could just do the work for them, but that would mean the feeling of elation and positivity they get at seeing the end results would only last for a moment and I want it to be an ongoing feeling. I want to make meaningful impacts on my clients’ spaces, routines and organisation, in ways that allows them to feel empowered to make other meaningful changes for the better in their own lives.
The hardest thing about starting out as a Professional Organiser was being overwhelmed with all the different options available and becoming unsure of which way to focus my business services. I had to ask myself a lot of questions to try and get some clarity. Should I focus on residential or commercial clients? Do I want to focus on a specific type of room or area? Do I want to work with young families or elderly couples? Do I want to work in a client’s home or via virtual consultations? What areas are my current skills in? Do I want to work in an area I have experience in or start a completely different type of business?
If you don’t narrow down your target market and focus on a niche straight away you have to become an expert in an extremely broad range of organising skills, storage solutions and client needs. This can quickly lead to stress and being unsure where to start in learning this broad range of knowledge. It’s also difficult to make your branding, business processes and contracts reflect such a broad service offering. However, on the flip side, it is often difficult for people to decide on a specific niche right from the beginning, when they have little to no hands on experience in the industry. Luckily for me everything fell into place once I heard about the niche ‘Photo Organising’ – however it was interesting to learn that Photo Organisers often offer specific services within that niche. Even a niche as specific as ‘Photo Organising’ has a wide range of different service options you can offer to clients.
I’ve always been a very visual learner, but as I’m getting older, I’m becoming more of a Visual – Auditory learner. As a visual learner I learn best when I can see the information with my own eyes – for example when I see it in text, diagrams, photos or in person. As an auditory learner I take in the information I hear – podcasts, webinars, and videos. Webinars that incorporate both auditory information and visual slides, as most of Angela’s do, are very easy for me to engage with and learn from.
I’ve always been a multitasker, so I found it difficult to just sit still and listen/watch the webinars. Instead I made notes (I ended up with two notebooks full!), took screenshots of important slides and listened to them while cleaning/organising my own home.
Did you have a favourite class? Why?
My favourite class would be “Introduction to Photo Organising” because it helped give me a clear direction for my business. I knew the moment I started listening to that class I had found my businesses niche. Once I decided on my niche everything else with my branding, service offerings and target market just fell into place. I didn’t even know this niche existed before listening to Angela’s webinars. I can honestly say that without the Professional Organisers Edge I would never have found the perfect focus for me and my business. The presenter was knowledgeable and passionate on the subject and she opened my eyes to the wide range of service options available under the ‘Photo Organising’ umbrella.
Ever since I was little, I’ve been interested in photography. I remember my mum’s big, black camera with its multiple lenses and detachable flash and its bulky grey camera bag being at every important family event or outing. As a child I found it fascinating to rotate the lens in my hand, while looking in the viewfinder and seeing the image grow, shrink and focus before my eyes. I’m lucky that my mum always let me take photos, even as a very small child and was willing to get every one of my photos developed at the film lab. I shot quite a few duds as a child – lots of blurry/slanted photos and shots of the floor! Since then I’ve always had a camera with me – even if it’s just for daily candid shots or to capture important family events or travels (I previously took 4,000 photos on one trip when I was travelling). To me every photo tells a story and captures not only the image in frame, but also the personality of the photographer and the emotion of the moment. My love of photography mixed with my interest in computers, organising and training people made Photo Organising the perfect fit for me.
I also appreciated the classes dedicated to organising specific rooms or items – these classes contained information that is invaluable to a Professional Organiser and not readily available so succinctly anywhere else. The classes that interviewed other successful Professional Organisers helped to motivate me by showing that it was possible to create a Professional Organising business that could grow and be successful – in a range of different ways.
Do you have any advice to someone else starting out as a PO?
The best thing I heard as a newbie was that being an organised person yourself would not guarantee you’d be a successful Professional Organiser. You also need to have business acumen and be comfortable working with people who are disorganised, who may have a different definition of ‘organised’ to you. Professional Organising is not about the pretty boxes and labels and it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ industry. You must be willing to connect with your client and understand the needs, frustrations, desires, limitations and possibilities of them and their spaces. Then you can design customised solutions that will help them become organised and stay organised.
Find your tribe of business partners. Know yourself and who you want to be as a business owner. To me I’ve previously worked in industries were everyone saw each other as competition. I never felt comfortable with this arrangement, I prefer to share my knowledge openly and have mutual relationships with other business owners, so we can both succeed. Find the people who connect with your values and beliefs. Don’t be put off if you don’t find them the first time around, I got in with a crowd that was the opposite to me, and It made me doubt my own values – did I have to change to be in this industry? The answer was no, but I had to keep looking until I found my tribe with Angela and the Professional Organisers that follow her training. They are all very generous people who understand the importance of sharing information and supporting each other. I’ve had chats with many of them who have freely given me advice, information, and motivation.
If you and your business were a loaf of bread, which would you be?
I’d be a Lemonade Scone (not quite bread… but it’s kind of doughy!) because….
- When I’m teaching others, I like to keep things simple and straightforward – the Lemonade Scone only has 3 ingredients.
- I have a passion for history and a strong respect for traditions – the scone was invented way back in the 1500’s.
- I also like to keep learning and improving my procedures and services – like the original scone evolving into the Lemonade Scone. Over time people found how to simplify the process of making a scone, while still maintaining the important aspects of a scone’s texture, flavour and appearance. You no longer have to ‘delicately rub in the butter’ you can just ‘pour in the cream and lemonade’ and get a perfectly good scone with less work.
- I’m flexible in my approach, molding it to the needs of each of my clients – a scone is very flexible. You can add a range of toppings to a scone (butter, lemon curd, cream and jam), in a range of different orders (the age old debate between cream on top or jam on top). You can also add ingredients to a scone – sultanas, pumpkin etc.
What goals do you have for your business?
My main goal in business is to become known as the go to expert in my field, Photo Organising, within my local community. I’m based in Clarkson, Western Australia and around here we have a very strong community vibe – lots of community groups, social events and networking. This plays right into my values of sharing knowledge and building relationships. I want to be able to utilise these groups and events to educate and guide people in organising their photos. I want my business to be approachable and fun, taking the normal overwhelm and stress associated with photo organising away. I want to not only help people organise their photos, but also educating them on how to maintain the organisation going forward and recommend archival quality storage solutions.
There are so many lessons to learn from Alison Kingston and her approach.
- People come to an organising career from many different angles, and all experience is valuable in shaping your organising and business skills.
- Finding your niche is powerful.
- Finding your tribe is also powerful.
- There is room for all different “loaves of bread” in the organising industry. Read this article for more.
- There’s always more to learn.
Alison has even graciously shared her Lemonade Scones recipe. I can’t wait to try it out.
She uses 4 cups of self raising flour and approximately 825ml of both lemonade and cream. Mix it together and roll out gently. Keep it very thick and punch out scones with a large round cookie cutter. Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes or so. Yum!