Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Sarah Giller Nelson and I am organized. I experience a sense of calm when I walk into well-ordered spaces. I enjoy feeling unencumbered. Knowing how to sift through, sort out, and organize all the “stuff” a household needs comes naturally to me and is a skill that I draw upon all the time.
Since founding Less is More Organizing Services in 2010, I have shown thousands of families how less clutter, stress, and discord will lead to more time, balance, and happiness. My team of organizers and I help overwhelmed people find time, clarity, and a sense of accomplishment.
My expertise has led to TV, radio, and press interviews in local and national publications. I love to give talks about getting organized. Most recently, I was featured in Real Simple Magazine and named one of Miami's top "closet concierges" by Modern Luxury Miami.
I currently have a staff of three professional organizers operating in two states. We serve on average 95 households per year. About 85% of our clients are repeat customers, buying 10 hours or more of organizing services. Typically, they hire us to work on one space, like a closet or a kitchen. Once they see how quickly we can make the changes that they need, they hire us to organize many other rooms in their house as well.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
For 15 years I was a museum curator and art historian. It was a career that I loved but once I had children I surprised myself and realized that I would prefer a career that would give me the flexibility to be more actively involved in family life.
Be flexible. Don’t stress if the launch or the time frame does not go according to plan. Life gets in the way.
While I was taking some time off to figure it out, a very good friend of mine mentioned to me that her laundry room was such a mess that she had hired someone to help her organize it. I did not know this type of service existed (this was, of course, 10 years before Hoarders, Marie Kondo and The Home Edit brought the profession to the forefront of popular culture), but I had always loved to organize, and the idea of starting my own company seemed like an interesting challenge.
I spent a few months training myself on the process of organizing homes for others and learning how to run a business, reading books like Born to Organize and How to Run a Home-Based Organizing Business. I took quite a few classes through the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO, napo.net) as well. I honed my skills, got some hands-on experience, and built my confidence by helping friends get their spaces organized for free. Organizing is very intuitive, and being able to work with people allowed me to translate tips from books into real-world practice. It also confirmed that professional organizing was a career path that I wanted to pursue.
I love wordplay and have always been very visually oriented. These aspects of my personality became an important part of my brand. “Less is More” is not just the name of my company; it is a phrase that allowed me to connect a very rewarding part of my past as an art historian with a new opportunity that really excited me. I had long been a fan of the work of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who popularized the term “less is more” in the middle of the 20th century. Not only does it describe an architectural style that I admire, but “less is more” expresses an approach to organizing and decluttering that I knew would guide my practice. I continue to be delighted by how three words about simplicity can hold such a depth of meaning for me.
Once I settled on a name, I started working with a graphic designer (found via word of mouth) to develop a brand identity, including a logo and website, that embodied the meaning of “less is more.” I ultimately launched in January 2010 with money from my savings. Since overhead was so low, there was no merchandise to buy, no storefront to rent, and no employees to manage just yet, I figured I would give myself a year and see how it went. I haven’t looked back.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As I was laying the groundwork for opening Less is More I found myself encountering the same two pieces of advice over and over again: a well-chosen niche is a great way to market a business, and start with what you know.
At the time, I had been spending most of my days running after my 2.5-year-old son and trying to wrap my head around how I was going to comfortably fit baby #2 (and related gear) in our already small apartment. Since I simply did not have time to learn about the most highly sought after niches, like downsizing empty nesters or moving and relocation services, I chose to focus on organizing busy families. My logic was I would get my feet wet with moms like me, and then would move on to a more lucrative specialty.
Turns out that my “busy mom” status has been one of the secrets of my success. Clients contact me because they know I “get it”: I understand why a mom can’t get rid of outgrown baby clothes, that every toy storage system needs room to grow, and why getting out the door can be challenging.
The ideal length of an organizing session is four hours. Less than three and you do not get enough done. More than four and it becomes harder to focus and make decisions.
At the start of the session we discuss the client’s needs and come up with a goal that we think can be reasonably achieved in the allotted time. Then, we begin the hands-on organizing process with a guided de-cluttering, where an organizer works side-by-side with the client to help them make decisions about what to keep and what to donate.
In this role, it is the organizer’s job to make sure the client stays focused and efficient and does not get overwhelmed. Once everything is out that no longer belongs, the organizer will set up the systems, find homes for the keepers, and put items in labeled containers, as needed. Finally, we review the system and talk about maintenance. It is our goal with every project that space is organized not just on the day we are there, but weeks and months following. Since items are continually coming in and out of people’s homes, creating a system that is flexible enough to grow with a homeowner’s needs is important. It is not uncommon for me to return to a client’s house years after we first worked together to see the labels I made for them still on their bins.
We charge by the hour with a 4-hour minimum. We also offer packages of 10, 15, and 20 hours, which feature a discounted bulk rate. As much as I would like to charge by the project, determining how long a room will take to get organized varies greatly, based on how much stuff there is and how quickly our client can make decisions. A master closet, for instance, can take anywhere from four to 20 hours.
I determined our rates by researching what other organizers in the area are offering. The longer an organizer has been working, the higher their hourly rate will be. A model that has consistently worked for Less is More is having a senior organizer at a higher rate and a junior organizer at a lower rate so that we can offer our services to a range of budgets. Once an organizer is consistently booked 3 weeks in advance, I raise their rate.
Most of our clients drop their kids off at school and then work with us to get a room organized. By the time pick up rolls around, an overwhelming task that they have been wanting to conquer for a long time is finally complete. Although the systems we design are very much based on our clients’ preferences, the parents we work with appreciate that the advice we offer is culled from our own families’ organizational successes and failures.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I initially sought to launch my business in Fall 2009 figuring there would be a lot of clients interested in having help swapping out their closets from summer to fall. The night before I was supposed to launch I got a text from the new nanny I had hired saying she had accepted another job. I was crushed. It took me until the end of December to find a replacement and launch.
We have spent so much time at home this past year staring at our old things and acquiring new things, that the need for organizing services remains strong.
When I did eventually launch in January 2010, I was hoping to tap into the fact that “getting organized” is one of the top New Year’s resolutions people make. I had a lovely website and emailed everyone I knew. I left flyers at businesses that catered to moms, my niche market. I joined a networking group. For the first few months, clients came trickling in very slowly.
At the time, Groupon and other deep discount services like it were at the height of their popularity. I decided to do a deal with Family Finds, a now-defunct service that specialized in activities and services for parents. Within 3 days I had 52 new clients! Although the first session was offered at a deep discount, about 75% of these clients signed up for additional sessions at full price. By the end of the year, I had to hire an assistant to help me out.
- Know your market
- Be flexible. Don’t stress if the launch or the time frame does not go according to plan. Life gets in the way, but, eventually, you will work it out - and be made stronger for it.
I knew from the start that most clients would find Less is More via a web search so I made sure to have an attractive, updated website. Here is what the home page looked like when I launched.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The majority of our clients find us online, so, from the get-go, I have done whatever I can to optimize SEO. Many of the marketing strategies I have learned on my own, like using keywords, keeping the content fresh, adding a blog, but I have also hired marketing professionals over the years to give me fresh ideas and inspiration.
Instagram and Facebook have been fantastic, inexpensive ways to find clients. I do pay for Google Ads, but that is my only paid advertising expense. Our newsletter has also been a great way to keep on top of clients’ minds.
About 90% of our clients sign up for more than one organizing session. Typically, if someone is having trouble with their closet, they probably also have other areas of their home that are disorganized as well. We quickly and easily solve a big problem that our clients have been struggling with for a long time. Once they see the results, repeat sessions sell themselves.
An example of the newsletter we send out to our list twice a month:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future of professional organizing is very optimistic. The service has received an enormous boost in popularity due to books and shows by organizing gurus Marie Kondo and The Home Edit.
Before the pandemic shut down our communities, we were posed to have the best sales year since opening in 2010. While Covid-19 protocols have made in-home services a bit more difficult to offer, I anticipate that there will be an enormous amount of pent up demand once the pandemic passes and children can return to school full time.
We have spent so much time at home this past year staring at our old things and acquiring new things, that the need for organizing services remains strong. Home offices and time management are two areas of interest with significant opportunity as people decide not to go back to working on-site 40+ hours a week.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Using a CRM has redefined my entire sales cycle and made all of our internal processes so much more efficient. We use Less Annoying CRM because its interface is simple and designed for small businesses.
Squarespace has the most lovely websites and is very easy to use. I manage my own site, which has saved me a lot of money.
We use Mailchimp to manage and develop our mailing list and send out newsletters and other notifications.
Gusto has been a great way to manage payroll.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Educational opportunities and networking: National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, napo.net
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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