Jeanne Smith: getting people organized
Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 30, 1996

Jeanne Smith: getting people organized

Name: Jeanne Smith Business and product name, address: Exit, Stage Right; 1074 Arrowhead Way, Palo Alto. Smith is an estate, residential and small business organizer. "I handle everything from paperwork management to time management to just getting life organized." Her business and residential projects range from keeping track of clients' monthly bills to helping clients move residences to organizing closets. Size of company: Smith works on her own. Why the service is unique: Besides helping businesses and homeowners streamline and simplify their lives, Smith specializes in estate organization, a concept she has trademarked and licensed. Her estate organization handles both large and small emergencies, everything from what to do in case of an earthquake or the death of a family member to how to reconstruct the lost contents of a purse. What I used to do for a living: Smith worked for 17 years as a research assistant and secretary for the Veterans Administration. How I first got the idea for this: There were already many business and residential organizers throughout the state, but Smith developed the concept of estate organization as a result of a personal tragedy. When her late husband was due for hernia surgery several years ago, they decided what to do in case complications arose. But a drunk driver killed him before he could undergo surgery. Having already been prepared for the worst made it easier to deal with it, Smith said. "It was a gift given to me, and I would like to see every family member get that gift. I never had to deal with the `what ifs' or the `if onlys.'" She later spent eight years caring for her parents and planning their estate during their terminal illnesses. How long the company has been in business: This is Smith's fifth year as a professional organizer. Annual sales: Because she works on a project-to-project basis, her annual sales vary. Her income has been steadily rising throughout the five years as she has built her reputation and credibility, Smith said. Professional organizers usually quote rates between $35 to $100 an hour for their services, depending on their expertise and experience. How I sold my idea to others: Smith operates by word of mouth. "I give a lot of presentations at service groups." A member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, she also teaches classes on organization at several places, including the YWCA and Foothill College. Smith speaks at senior centers and networks through the Financial Planning Forum and the Chamber of Commerce. She took part in the Women in Business panel in the celebration of its 10th anniversary Oct. 15. How I got financing: "I self-financed it. I did it myself, starting with small projects and feeding off those. As with any small business, for the first few years the profits were all poured back into the business. The first three or four years were an investment in time and energy in establishing contacts and building credibility." Toughest moment so far: "I think the toughest part of the job is finding some way to not carry the clients' burdens, of letting go of the clients' problems and not worrying about them, of remaining concerned and involved but not being overwhelmed. You do wake up at night and think `Oh! This client is facing this!' That is the toughest part." Where I get my best ideas: "From colleagues, clients and networking contacts. I'm always learning. Most of the time, I'm asking the questions, and (the client and I) are both coming up with solutions. They really have the answers. It's just a matter of having someone helping to ask the right questions, of stepping back and looking at the problem." Biggest obstacle or competition: "I don't consider other professional organizers my competition because the need in the community is so large. The biggest obstacle is getting people to understand the importance of planning for a crisis, how it can reduce the stress in their lives, and how organizing their space and time can make their lives easier." A typical day in my business: "There are no typical days. Depending on the project, it may be two to three hours of smaller home office organizing. It could be coordinating anything from funerals to weddings, paying bills for a client or doing inventory of a home for a conservator. Or I could be teaching a class, giving a speech or presentation. It's as varied as my clients' needs are." "I knew I made it when . . .": "I have to refer clients to other people when I'm working on a huge project. I knew I made it when someone asked me to start a second business with them. And we did." In July, Smith started up a business with attorney Matthew Wesley, called Continuity Etc. Smith and Wesley designed a professional will for small business owners to set up a plan for continuing the business in case of an incapacitating disease or disability. "Disability will pay you, but it doesn't help with running a business." Their plan names the agent authorized to run the business on the owner's behalf and provides information about how the business is run. Best piece of advice for other entrepreneurs: "Find your passion. Believe in yourself and persevere. Perseverance is what has gotten me where I am."

--Leslie Donaldson 

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