Beginning a Professional Organizing Business at 48: Bonnie’s Story
When Bonnie got divorced and needed a way to support her family, she successfully leveraged her talents to find her Next Act.
Why did you shift gears in midlife?
After my divorce, at age 48, I needed to find a new profession. I never dreamed of starting my own company, as I was content to be behind the scenes in my ex-husband’s photography business. Looking back, I realize that forging my own path in line with my passion has given me a much richer life with incredible opportunities.
What is your Next Act?
I founded Mariposa Creative Solutions, a Professional Organizing business. I create order out of disorder, with services such as de-cluttering homes, managing overflowing email inboxes, and organizing photos. I also do some public speaking on various organizing topics. I help people get unstuck and get them back to doing what they are passionate about.
Why did you choose this Next Act?
Having been part of a home-based business for 20+ years, I didn’t want to give up my autonomy or control of my schedule. With young children, I wanted the flexibility to be at home after school and attend daytime activities. I had no clue what kind of job to look for since I had been out of the mainstream workforce for so long, but I had to figure out a way to earn a living.
Initially I did some small business consulting, because that’s what I had done previously. I helped businesses become more organized, efficient, and effective. When I donated a consulting session to my daughter’s high school band raffle and someone used the 3 hours to help them organize their house (and hired me for 10 hours more), I realized I loved the work. That’s when I decided to switch my focus to residential organizing.
I help people get unstuck and get them back to doing what they are passionate about.
I realize now that I’ve been organizing my whole life. As a 6-year old girl, I would organize my Mom’s kitchen pantry for fun. I’ve always been told how organized I am and how easily I take charge on committees and boards. I used to take it for granted because that’s just how I’m wired, but not everyone has the organizing gene, so my services are highly valued.
What challenges did you encounter?
I had to learn how to “make the sale.” I had to find the courage to know that I am great at what I do and that I am worth my fees. I prefer to focus on what I can do for someone so they realize that they want my help, rather than trying to “sell” my services. And of course word-of-mouth, testimonials, and professional referrals also take the pressure off the need to sell.
I had to find the courage to know that I am great at what I do
I had to figure out how to own and run a business: how to create a brand, get my message out, design a website, do social media, give presentations, and network. The number one way I approached these challenges was to ask for help from other, more experienced, business owners.
I had to make a lot of decisions. For example, deciding how to price my services was difficult. I just tried an hourly rate that I thought was reasonable; I’ve raised it three times since, as my experience and confidence have grown.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
I never thought of giving up, but I had challenging times and wondered how I was going to figure it all out. I lost a lot of sleep worrying about finances and being on my own.
What kept me going was maintaining a long-term vision that things would work out. I tried to focus on the positive parts of my life: I was educated, lived in a safe area, was surrounded by supportive family and friends, and had a roof over my head.
Did you have any mentors or others you could turn to for advice?
I have been in an Entrepreneurial Coaching program for the past 14 years, through which I’ve learned how to balance my work and personal lives, how to grow my business, how to set goals and achieve them, and how to delegate tasks that aren’t my strength. One of my peers from that program, a successful business owner, has also personally coached me for the past 3 years.
What advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?
If you dream it, you can do it. Figure out what you are good at, what you are passionate about and what you enjoy doing, and see if you can create a career out of that talent. I was always amazed at people who had overcome adversity in big ways (illness, divorce, bankruptcy, etc.) but then I realized I could too. I could succeed and make a difference in the world.
If you dream it, you can do it.
Don’t be shy about asking others for help. I put together a “board” consisting of experienced friends. We met every few months and brainstormed solutions to issues I was facing, which helped me push forward. I always thought of myself as self-sufficient, so it was hard at first to ask for help. I thought it was a sign of weakness and didn’t want to “bother” people. Being self-sufficient can be an isolating trait because you don’t engage with other people as much. I know now that it’s a sign of strength to acknowledge your challenges and seek out help, and I am better off for it.
Invest in yourself and prioritize self-care. Even if money is tight, budget money to provide resources and skills that you need. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, and have fun. Then you’re better fortified to take care of others and dedicate the necessary time and effort to your professional goals.
Embrace being a woman. For so many years, when I was in management consulting, I was more inclined to emulate men and how they behaved in the business world. I now am able to weave my female-ness into how I conduct my business and how I interact with my clients and other professionals. This has been very empowering and has made me more authentic because I’m not trying to be someone I’m not.
Embrace being a woman.
What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?
In business, one of the best pieces of advice was “the narrower your niche, the deeper your market.” Initially when you start a business and need the revenue, you are inclined to say yes to every opportunity. That is fine, but the sooner you can narrow the market that you say yes to, the better. That way you can delve deeper into that specialty area and become its “go-to” person. Even though I do a wide variety of things under the umbrella of organizing, I have actually created several niches, which I can market to specific groups, such as photo organizing, email management, and residential organizing.
Say yes more. Get involved. Find different ways of engaging and interacting with people. Join networking groups, especially women-only ones. They are very supportive and collaborative and you meet a diverse group of women. Take an active role by volunteering on committees or taking on tasks for these groups. This gives you a way to meet others and engage on a deeper level. I have also donated my services for charity raffles and silent auctions. While it costs me time, it doesn’t require any cash outlay and helps good causes.
Say yes more. Get involved.
What’s next for you?
I love what I do and will continue to grow and evolve my current business. I plan to speak more and write a book on photo organizing. I would also like to help others through challenging times, just as people have helped me in the past 7 years. It was so gratifying the first time I was able to give someone advice and support as they were going through a divorce. I also would love to lend my organizing services to people who could use them as they go through tough times.
Looking back on how you launched and grew your business, is there anything you’d do differently?
I would have involved other professionals earlier to help me identify my market niches, my brand, and my voice and help me with things that I’m not good at or not passionate about doing.
I would have been more protective of my time. Any day can be a workday for an entrepreneur, especially when establishing a new business. One of the best choices I have made recently is to book my clients on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays only, leaving Monday and Friday for administrative matters. As I’m growing and spending more time with clients, it is even more critical to put aside time for administrative stuff such as marketing and networking.
I would have hired an administrative assistant sooner. I didn’t think I could afford someone, but you have to spend money to make money and she has paid off big time by lightening my load and allowing me to spend my time on stuff that I am good at and that only I can do. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
You have two daughters. How did they react to your new business venture in the midst of a difficult time for your family with the divorce?
They were supportive. I have involved my older daughter in my business (she designed my new business cards and helped with social media), which has been a great bonus. She has told me that she is proud of me and of what I’ve accomplished.
I have done much of what I have done to be a role model for my girls. I wanted to show them that you can make a change and come through just fine. One of the biggest lessons that my ex and I have modeled for our girls is to remain totally amicable with each other and our extended families. We had a good 20 years together, have two wonderful daughters between us, but we just needed to be on separate paths. We have been able to pare away the challenging stuff between us and hold on to the positive; that has been a gift for all of us.
I am brave. Knowing that makes me stand a little taller.
Someone called me courageous. I never really thought that way. I made so many of my decisions because I felt like I had to (e.g., initiate a divorce). I just did it. But I was told it took bravery to take the leap that changed the course of my life. I guess I am brave. Knowing that makes me stand a little taller.
Do you have any recommendations for resources?
National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), which also has a local chapter in Chicago. I chose not to go through their certification program due to the cost and time involved. So far I’m getting enough work so I don’t think people are necessarily looking for the certification, although of course it can’t hurt.
Association of Personal Photo Organizers (APPO). I did go through the APPO certification because it didn’t cost anything and I wanted to differentiate myself from other photo organizers. And people do find me through the APPO website when searching for a photo organizer.
SCORE is an organization that allows retired professionals to provide free mentoring to new business owners. While I have never used their services, I have heard great things about what they offer.
If you live in suburban Chicago, Bonnie recommends:
The Lilac Tree for women going through divorce
I have written a book Take Charge of Your Email Inbox which is a step by step guide to help people de-clutter their Email Inbox and reclaim email as a tool to help them do what they do instead of being a total time drain and stress factor in their life, personally and professionally.
Contact Bonnie Hillman Shay at Bonnie@MariposaCreativeSolutions.com or 847.494.0636
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