In June 1999, Julie Morgenstern appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show for Oprah's Spring Cleaning Day. This national appearance reached an audience in excess of 20 million. Julie returned to her office to find 1,100 email messages, numerous phone messages and skyrocketing book sales online.
Julie, who once described herself as a "personal disaster area" has turned disorganization into super-organization and a thriving consulting, organizing and speaking career. On April 21 of this year, she celebrated her birthday and the 10th anniversary of her business at the White House. Julie was recognized as a national SCORE client success at the organization's 35th anniversary celebration.
Julie's passion and career were in the theater. Directing off-Broadway shows in New York and attempting to become an organized mother, Morgenstern often dreamt of a "rent-a-mom," someone that she could hire to do all the chores she was too busy or overwhelmed to do.
In 1989, Julie's life reached a turning point when she divorced and became a single mother with a three-year-old daughter to support. Realizing she could no longer survive on an income from the theater, she decided it was time for a career change.
With a $100 dollar loan from a friend, she purchased an ad for $25 in Big Apple Parents Paper, a publication distributed throughout New York City at places working parents frequent such as daycare centers and grocery stores. The ad read, "Drowning in meaningless busy work?" and included a "to-do" list of services Task Masters offered. Chores on the to-do list included: errands, clutter control, cleaning kids rooms, party planning and moving management. The rest of the loan ($75) was spent on a business start-up special from a printer, which included business cards and stationery.
Julie received a call from her first client, an elderly couple who needed someone to organize and submit years of health insurance claims. She made $500 on this job and reinvested every penny into a half-page ad in Big Apple Parents Paper, believing a larger ad would make her appear to be a more well-established and successful company.
Her advertising investment paid off: She began to receive about five clients per month. Jobs included food shopping, renewing passports, organizing bedrooms, planning 40th birthday parties and weddings, designing closets and kitchen storage space, and creating photo albums and scrap books. Before long, she was extremely busy. Her eight-year daughter Jessi accepted the role of "Chief Business Advisor." Julie explains, "Jessi has always had the purist, most practical point of view."
But as a one-person operation, there was a limit to the number of hours she could work with clients. She also had administrative work to do and couldn't afford to take a day off. She saw a ceiling to how much she could make as a one-person operation and felt the need to expand.
Julie learned that business was anything but boring. "I thought that business wouldn't be creative, but it is even more gratifying than theater. I can come up with my own ideas and make them happen." With all of the exposure, she gained many high-level clients such as American Express,Cosmopolitan Magazine, the New York City Mayor's Office, Merrill Lynch and NBC Television.
In October 1998, Julie released her first book, Organizing From the Inside Out. The book encompasses Julie's entire theory on organization, from the inside out-first analyze, then strategize; finally, attack. It was a New York Times Business Best Seller and an Amazon.com bestseller for 1999.
The future looks bright and busy for Julie. She is developing an idea for a half-an-hour weekly TV show about transforming disorganized lifestyles and is considering certifying organizers nationally to develop a nationwide network of Task Master representatives.
Julie had no business experience nor had she ever held an office job. She made an appointment with SCORE with only one question in mind: How much should she charge for her service? Julie's mentor advised her to charge $10 more per hour than her competitors, explaining that customers would be impressed by a name-brand price tag. According to Julie, this worked like a charm.
In 1993, three years after her original visit to SCORE, she returned frustrated and exhausted for more advice. She met with SCORE mentor Irwin Coplin, an expert in sales and marketing. "After I explained my business to Irwin, he told me that I had extraordinary potential. That validation gave me so much confidence and his encouragement re-energized me." Irwin discussed her options, such as franchising and certifying organizers, and gave her the pros and cons of each decision.
Irwin wanted to follow-up regularly. "He got so into it. I felt like I had a partner—a mentor. I wasn't alone anymore." As Julie developed a need for financial advice, Coplin referred her to another mentor, Harry Lowenstein. "I run to either one of them when I am stuck," says Julie.
Coplin continued to help Julie generate business and media attention through creative promotional tactics. He developed the idea of holding "the messiest office in New York City contest." The winner was to win an office makeover from Task Masters. Coverage of the contest was so successful that she appeared on CBS this Morning to do an on-air office makeover and on Good Morning America, where she organized the office of the show's weatherman, Spencer Christian.
After six years, Julie still turns to Irwin and Harry for help with every new decision. "With Irwin and Harry I feel like I discovered a gold mine of support and wisdom that I've been drawing from ever since."