I just started a job organizing people's email. I have some questions.
December 30, 2015 12:53 PM   Subscribe

So, thanks partially to the response I received from a previous question, I've begun a sidebusiness organizing people's email inboxes: basically, helping people handle their email without getting overwhelmed, while also more generally helping with personal email/digital workflow. As this is somewhat of a unique project, I have two questions with not-entirely-obvious answers.

First, legal responsibilities: do home organizers/declutterers and professional organizers have to sign any documentation, or get their clients to sign anything, to have it be cool that they're dealing with sometimes sensitive material and/or entering someone's private space? If not, any way that'd change if, e.g., I'm helping someone get to Inbox Zero if they're so inclined?

I can imagine a situation where I'm in contact with someone's email, and come across private information, or advise them to archive an email and be blamed for it later. Anything else I'm not thinking of? In general, any registration stuff I'm not thinking about that would be good to get a handle on?

Secondly, where do people find professional organizers? Is there anywhere people who are specifically overwhelmed by email might look for this kind of service? My advertising budget is near-nil (right now, basically hosting the website plus maybe $50 for online ads each month), but I've created profiles on Yelp, Groupon, etc. (I'm in the NYC area if that matters.)

Thank you!
posted by (The Rt Hon.) MP to Work & Money (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
For the legal stuff, it's probably best to consult a lawyer. Re publicity, I might be interested in writing about this (for large nat'l publication). Feel free to memail me.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:57 PM on December 30, 2015

Question 1 seems to fall along the lines of IT consulting jobs where consultants handle/advise on/access potentially sensitive data. I would think getting a business insurance policy for 250K-1 million dollars "just in case" is a good way to mitigate risks of being sued. Getting a lawyer to give you some basic advice is a good thing to do as well.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:07 PM on December 30, 2015

Do you want feedback on your website? I think there are a few MeFites who do general professional organizer type jobs (names totally escaping me b/c twitter handles and MeFi names don't line up) who could give feedback. I think another thing I'd consider would be putting together a lightning talk sort of thing about what exactly you DO and have it ready to give at various events that have people doing lightning talks about things they are passionate about. People will hire you more because they like and trust you and less because they need this service very specifically and are hunting for someone who does it.

Like, I get it, I am really organized but I am not sure if you've targeted enough of a niche. Like your background is activism, right? You could stress your discretion and ability to manage people's communications for big targeted events. You could stress your background and your own personal organization strategy. I think of Merlin Mann and his Inbox Zero stuff, he did a lot of little videos and podcasts, short but to the point, and promoted them on whatever social media was at the time. So having a social media presence that you can cross post with other people who are into your ideas can help build your personal brand as someone people would trust with their emails and also would want to have help them with it. I help people with their Shameholes (i.e. weird messy parts of their lives, usually attics and basements and moving projects) and the big thing for me is "No judgment! Ever!" People feel weird about "needing" cleaning up of stuff they feel like they should be able to manage, so even more of the reassuring talk you do on your website and maybe find ways to spread that out places. Best of luck, it's a great idea (also you might want to lower your initial rates while you build up a client base, though I am not in NYC and maybe that is how everything is there)
posted by jessamyn at 2:32 PM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would try to go through professional organizations- the chamber of commerce, anything for entrepreneurs and cow's. You want to be marketing this as a high end service for people who are very very busy.
posted by betsybetsy at 4:29 PM on December 30, 2015

I might look around for examples of 'code of ethics' and 'agreements' for people/businesses that handle the same information/privacy that you will be doing, then work with a lawyer to come up with your own. At least as a starting point.

(And I love this idea, btw)
posted by Vaike at 4:52 PM on December 30, 2015

IANAL, but two-three documents and contract clauses that come to mind in this situation would be:

- non-disclosure agreement that binds you to generally not disclose contents that you might see, while protecting you if, for example, your records were subpoenaed or you were compelled to testify. Does two things - shows your good faith while clarifying the limits.

- permission to access - client needs to sign something authorizing you to view and edit their email records. Unauthorized access of computer networks can carry nasty penalties.

- indemnify/hold harmless - if client has violated some law or their own company policy about email retention, that needs to be on them. If they decide later that you've ruined their life by archiving* their emails and they can't find them, you need at least some protection against that.

* I say archive because another piece of advice is I'd never permanently delete someone else's emails. I'd sort, archive and show THEM how to delete it if they're actually out of space. But that's me.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:44 PM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All of this is already incredibly helpful - thank you all so much.

To answer some initial questions:

- Yes, website feedback is totally welcome.

- Relatedly, I was actually wondering about prices/payment in general on the website, if it might be worth just keeping it to the Free Consultation link on the site, giving prices over the phone, and processing payments in person. (Though that brings up the logistics of how to do that best.)

- Randomkeystrike: 1. This is great stuff to have laid out - thank you. 2. Agreed on archive vs. delete - I'd almost never, in 99% of circumstances, be suggesting a standard email be deleted, but I was trying to think of a circumstance where a client would change their mind later about my advice.
posted by (The Rt Hon.) MP at 8:20 AM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been a professional organizer for 15 years. (That's the most commonly used title, though "productivity consultant" and "organizing coach" and similar names are used, too.) I've covered some of your questions (and a lot more that you've not yet asked) in these AskMe threads:

What Should I Know About Becoming A Professional Organizer

Pitfalls of Becoming a Professional Organizer

I know it seems like a unique project, but there are more than 4000 of us, with over 40 sub-specialties in the field. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. The area in which you're working would be considered a digital professional organizer, or a professional organizer specializing in productivity and digital organization. You may only do email now, but the likelihood of you sticking with email only for a rewarding and remunerative professional is low; you'll expand and grow. :-) Whether that's to other types of digital organization, per se, or to other types of informational or productivity issues, is something that comes with experience.

1) Legal responsibilities: Yes, you should have a legal contract with your clients, reviewing everything from payment to expectations to confidentiality. Members of the National Association of Professional Organizers work according to the NAPO Code of Ethics, which will give you a starting point about some of the things to consider in that regard. I'm a Certified Professional Organzer, and we have an additional but similar Code of Ethics. [Note: The NAPO and BCPO web sites have just recently been combined and the programmers are doing a not-so-bang-up job at getting all of the content up and running. I can talk to you off-MF about anything that isn't clear there.]

While you're going to want to work through your contract with an attorney to make sure that everything is correct for the state/municipality in which you live (because there are both federal and local laws regarding everything from handling of personal information to escheat (usually w/regard to pre-payments)). You can find generic contracts online for free or low-cost, tailor them to your offerings and then show an attorney to save yourself money.

Note: some clients, especially depending on your locale, will not sign a contract, even a one-pager. You'll have to decide if you're willing to work with them or not. If you call it an "Agreement" it's usually easier.

2) You can learn practically everything you need to know about marketing your email/digital organizing business from being a NAPO member; depending where you live, you might go to a chapter meeting to get to know some of your potential colleagues and ask questions.

Many of my colleagues have also written some great blog posts and have videos on marketing as a professional organizer. However, because you're specifically looking at digital organizing, I think you'd also get a lot out of speaking specifically to other digital organizers. Because I've been doing this so long, I have a number of colleagues with whom I could put you in touch. If you contact me in Me-Mail, we can set up a time to talk and I can give you some guidance re: marketing in general.

I can tell you that you don't have to spend a lot of money to market -- and what you do spend is about doing it the right way, with precision and clarity. Outside of my NAPO membership, I probably spent only a few hundred dollars on marketing each of the first few years of my business: business cards, web site hosting, etc. But whatever I spent, I tracked my rate of return on investment.

I get probably 80% of my clientele via the web (through NAPO, my own web site, search, etc.), so a solid web site that answers MOST questions is very important; the rest are via my book, other people's blogs, social media, etc.

3) Related to the contract, there are other legal/insurance issues. NAPO has its own insurance program, NAPOSure, but other coverage types are possible. Your major concern is an Errors & Omissions policy. If you're operating as a sole proprietor rather than an LLC, you need that insurance in place or your personal financial world (home/car/assets) are at risk. You also need (in case you don't already have) a business license for your city, county, or both. Lots of stuff to know, both specific to professional organizing and generally. And oy boy, do I have resources! ;-)

If you will send me Me-Mail at your convenience, we can set up a time to talk on the phone, perhaps next week, and I can help you with your more specific questions. Happy 2016!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:48 AM on December 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: The Wrong Kind of Cheese - Holy mackerel! This is immensely helpful - thank you so much.
posted by (The Rt Hon.) MP at 2:09 PM on December 31, 2015

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