Meet Maristella Bertram, professional organizer and owner of My Space Reclaimed, LLC. How did she get from teaching marketing and working as a flight attendant to owning a professional organizing business? We caught up with her to find out!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
I hold a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree majoring in Marketing Management.
I speak fluent English and Spanish and have lived and worked internationally, in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe.
In my professional life, I have taught college-level marketing, worked as a flight attendant, served as product manager and account executive in the advertising industry, and as office manager for a professional recruiting firm. As unrelated as these roles might have been, one thing was always present: my passion for organizing. Everywhere I went, everything I did, always ended up… very organized. So, after raising three little ones without losing my mind, I finally realized I had a calling to share my talents and passion with the world.
My Space Reclaimed, LLC was incorporated in 2014. I help people reconquer the spaces in their lives that busy calendars and clutter might have stolen from them. Whether these spaces are physical, emotional, or spiritual, nothing speaks more of hope and new possibilities than de-cluttering your life of whatever it is that might be impeding your progress and development.
There are reasons why we arrive at a place of clutter and disorganization in our lives. No matter what those reasons might be, as a professional organizer, I own the skills to help my clients understand what brought them to that place and to show them the way out. My place is not to judge my clients but to help and guide them.
I am a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, and Director of Membership of our local chapter in Dallas. I am an Advanced International Organizing Professional (AIOP), as well as an International Staging and Redesign Professional (ISRP).
Marketing teacher, flight attendant, manager in the advertising industry… you’ve had a pretty diverse career! What motivated you to get into professional organizing?
I have worn many hats but my organizing skills have always been the common denominator. In every job I’ve had and everything I’ve done in my life, the element that precedes taking any new step has been organization. Without organization, it is so much more difficult to see the goal, to develop a procedure, to accomplish a project. I was blessed to be born organization-obsessed (and love it!). So, one day I decided to surrender to my core nature and dedicate my life to doing what came so naturally to me and to help others that obviously struggled so hard to be organized.
You’re trained to deal with organizing roadblocks like ADD, procrastination, and hoarding. How has this changed the way you approach your work?
I continually read about these subjects and attend conferences and seminars to keep learning. There is always so much to learn. One of the things that has surprised me the most is the amazing number of ramifications of the Professional Organization industry. Many professional organizers select a specialty. My work is not necessarily specialized within a specific group of people. I work with residential and business clients. But because of this, I encounter a great variety of situations I need to be prepared to handle.
As we say in the industry: “it is never about the stuff” and I have to know it is necessary to get to the root of the problem in order to better help that individual or family with their organizational issue. Although I wear a myriad of hats being an Organizer, I am not a licensed mental health professional. When necessary, I recognize when the help my client needs requires more specific action and I refer them to the provider needed.
Do you ever encounter clients who have misconceptions about professional organizing? What are your strategies for working with them?
This is a very fast-growing and emerging industry. Many times people look for a professional organizer thinking they are hiring someone to run errands or someone to clean their homes. Because they might not understand what we do, they might not understand the rates we charge. Many people sometimes do not even know there is a Professional Organization for Organizers (NAPO).
The process of educating the public starts when they first look for the service. I usually avoid just giving them a quote. I offer a preliminary meeting where I get to meet them and see the project firsthand. Then I take them through the process to follow and explain how it all works. I have a formal contract and all aspects of my business are very formal. When they see all that, they start realizing the value in what they will pay for. Then they have a better understanding of it all and doors open.
You’ve got a great social media presence! How do you stay on top of all the different platforms?
I have a goal for my internet presence. Being involved in my business advances my scope, my reach and my understanding of a profession that I love. My website and social media presence represents a way to give back and to grow.
I did not get here overnight or alone. I was baffled by my WordPress site, blogging, the mechanics of social media, understanding how social media supports my website, and how my website supports social media. It took me a year of just doing it, sometimes not even knowing what I was doing. I have had great support throughout this process, though. My web designer keeps me up to date and pushes me to learn above and beyond what I can think possible. She knows all about this and is a wonderful help!
My WordPress website automatically posts my blogs out to all social media including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn and others. It makes all of this come together nicely. That is my key to keeping all the different platforms under control. My website has grown and evolved but I have controlled that growth in a logical and organized way. Websites cannot be left unattended due to the constant security threats.
I would like to do five times as much as I currently do but I am very happy with what I have so far.
What made you decide to pursue online education?
At this moment the professional organization industry does not require any certification from its practitioners. There is an optional certification, though, that can be obtained through the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) to become a CPO (Certified Professional Organizer). To obtain this certification, the applicant needs to pass a rigorous test but in order to even apply to take such tests, the person needs to have at least 1,500 hours of paid work as an Organizer.
As I was starting my business, I could not possibly have such certification but still wanted to have solid credentials to show. QC Design School offers the Professional Organizer course and I really liked the curriculum and the formality of it. Being an online course offered me the flexibility to continue working and developing my business while completing the course.
What do you find most rewarding about your career? What have been your career highlights so far?
It is incredibly fulfilling to me to be able to reach out to someone that feels so lost and without a clue, desperate in a sea of clutter, and guide that person towards the end shore. The amazement in their face when they see the light, when they feel the hope of an organized space, an organized life… It is priceless!
I specially recall a family that needed their whole house de-cluttered and organized. For several reasons, including medical ones, this family had lost control of their environment and was living in chaos. In tears, the mother had told me how her 9 year-old son could not even have his friends over because he was very embarrassed about the state of the home. We started the process and every day was even more joyful than the last. I could feel the love and the excitement in this house.
One particular day, I had cleared a room they had used as storage for years. The parents very much had wanted to assign this room to their son, since this was a bigger room. Needless to say, this boy had not been able to even use his own room in a long time. Not only the “storage room” was cleared but all the boy’s belongings were transferred to his new room. The room was decorated and staged and was ready for him when he came home from school. When he saw all this, he burst into tears of happiness that he just could not control. And guess who followed? That moment, I will never forget.
Many of our students dream of owning their own business, especially one as successful as yours. What’s your best advice for those who are just starting out in the industry?
Needless to say, I would advise them to be organized about the way they approach the whole process. It is crucial to clearly think about where you want to go and prepare a plan. Many people do not consider the importance of appearing solid and legit before starting the business. Your image needs to be impeccable, consistent, and solid before the first business card is handed out. Why? Because your phone, email address, and hopefully your website will be there.
If you have a phone number that does not work or a very unprofessional voicemail message, or if your website is not working or finished and polished, if you have a goofy e-mail address, WAIT! Reflect, plan, and then launch. You will never have a second chance to make a first impression! Once your business name is out there and gets associated with the wrong picture, wrong e-mail, wrong voice, wrong image or wrong impression, it’s much harder to pull that back. For the client, perception is reality.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you started out?
Obtaining clients was the biggest challenge for me when I started. No one knew me yet. I relied on many advertising avenues that paid off. The website/SEO situation was a big challenge as well because I knew nothing about the monster my web designer had placed in front of me and I did not have the option of ignoring it. I had to jump in and, without having the time, make the time to learn it and to work it.
What does the future hold for you and your business?
In the immediate future, I will get the certification to become a CPO (Certified Professional Organizer).
Aside from being an Advanced International Organizing Professional (AIOP), I am also an International Staging and Redesign Professional (ISRP) and would love to also become certified in Feng Shui. Both disciplines combine very well within the scope of my work because many clients call me as they are ready to move out or move in, so they need staging and/or would love to foster a better flow of energy in their new space.
I am still learning. Each push is hard, each new challenge has a learning curve and a period of confusion and frustration but none of it is insurmountable. It’s a lot like getting and staying organized!