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New World ‘Order’– Making Lemonade out of Lemons: Leslie Josel

From chaos comes ‘Order. ‘At least that’s how it happened for organizing consultant Leslie Josel, who faced a maelstrom of challenges in 2002, including her son’s ADHD diagnosis. Unable to find information and solutions to support him, Leslie did her own research and was able to design organizational and time management systems that helped him thrive. Word got out and a business was born. SheBOOM spoke with Leslie to learn her story and get some tips on bringing order to a chaotic world.

Being an expert on organizing is an interesting profession. How did you get into it?
I call 2002 my “terrible twos.” My husband lost his job as an attorney, my dear father died of heart disease, I underwent a double mastectomy and my 4-year-old son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This was enough to put anyone in the fetal position…but it got worse. Six months after my treatment finished, the not-for-profit agency I had led as Executive Director for seven years folded. My husband was struggling to make it as a lawyer on his own. I was desperate to figure out a new job that would give me the flexibility to take care of my and my son’s health issues while supporting our family as my husband built his practice. The thought of becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business never entered my mind.

When my son was diagnosed, I immersed myself in research on ADHD, specifically trying to find ways to untangle his world both at home and at school. In the early 2000s, there wasn’t as much information readily available. I searched everywhere to no avail for tools and strategies and concrete tips. Finally, I used my intuition and a ton of trial and error to create personalized organizing and time management systems to make him successful and independent. Long story short: friends and friends-of-friends saw and heard what I had done and started calling to ask me to do the same for them. I turned to my husband and said, “I don’t do this for a living!” He said, “Well, you do now!”

That is how Order Out of Chaos was born. I realized I could use my newfound expertise to offer organizing, time management and coaching services – including ADHD resources and educational products – to families and their students.

It wasn’t easy at first. I was terrified. I was an accidental entrepreneur and had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t set out to start a business, so I had no systems in place and no business plan. At the beginning, I made it up as I went along. There was a lot riding on my shoulders.

I understand you recently spoke  at the POC Conference in Vancouver (the Professional Organizers of Canada annual conference). How did you get that gig? What did you speak about?
I’ve been consistently speaking as part of my business for the past 5 years, having been very fortunate that one talk seems to always lead to another. I spend most of my time traveling the country speaking at schools — to students, parents and educators — on topics such as time management, procrastination, social media, and behavior. I’ve also been invited to speak at business and trade conferences on topics such as women entrepreneurship, crafting killer presentations and how to create multiple streams of income. The one I like best is how to take the proverbial lemons and make lemonade. My story, basically!

As an entrepreneur yourself, what has been the best part of the journey? The toughest?
The best part of the journey has been growing my company alongside my community. I am super, super lucky that I know exactly who my community is; who I am talking to, sharing with and teaching for. I have been able to respond to their requests and needs with awesome products and services. There is nothing better than growing your company authentically, serving others, listening to your community and being profitable in the process.

The toughest has been learning things I never thought I would need to know. Ask me about ADHD, Executive Functioning, organizing hacks for students and I am your girl! But as we’ve expanded into so many other areas, I have had to learn – quickly – about everything from retail-speak to printing issues and everything in between. Even hiring people who know these things is not enough. If it’s yours, you still need to have some basic understanding of what’s going on.

What’s your total revenue (if you’re comfortable sharing)? What is the source?
We are $250,000+. Most of our revenue comes from product sales: academic planners and accessories, timers, books, videos and things like that. The rest of comes from speaking engagements, workshops, book sales, writing, and of course, client work.

Goals for the future?
I pride myself on the fact that we have made our company almost completely virtual, allowing us to help thousands of parent and their students. That is so exciting to me.

As for the future? I want to do more! I am planning on expanding our products division – Products Designed with Students in Mind — to create and curate more options that are designed to work for students. More and more parents are asking for supplies that are intuitive to how students learn, think and organize. There is no one out there doing that. We see a huge spot in the marketplace and we have already built the foundation with our planners and timers.

I plan on growing our workshop offerings as well.

Finally, I am writing my third book with my son. Lots of good stuff to serve our community on all different levels.

Advice to female founders about organization and clutter?
What a funny question! I try not to give too much advice to other female entrepreneurs on organization and clutter. I truly believe that everyone has their own style that works for them. Some are paper people, some love electronics. Others need clutter to activate, others don’t.

But having one calendar to handle everything has been my go-to for years. Too many calendars equals too many places for things to go wrong. Also, have a launching pad by your front door to keep everything you need to go in and out of the house. For example, a charging station, tote bag, gym bag, work bag, lunch bag and errand bag. If there are too many places to look for something, there are too many ways things can go wrong. Even if you like your clutter, make sure everything has a home.

Advice to female founders about entrepreneurship?
I network with other female entrepreneurs, and I feel very lucky to be a female entrepreneur during this time. The number of groups, meet-ups and clubs focused on women entrepreneurship or women in business is overwhelming. My advice is to surround yourself with women who run similar businesses. That connection, that education, that networking, is invaluable. And always pay it forward. Remember to build relationships, not contacts.

Anything else?
The other piece of advice, which might be a bit controversial, is that I learned to run my business like a man. In the past, I would apologize for what I was charging. I would excessively explain everything. I am not saying all women have these tendencies, but I definitely did. I would watch men in my meetings and they would never over-explain themselves or apologize for what they were charging. They were never contrite for being successful or smart. When I walk into a room, I believe I belong there. I believe in what I have to offer and the knowledge that I have. In the beginning, if I didn’t, I faked it really well.

One more thing – I have a few “mantras” that I live by:
Never fear hard work. It is and can be so rewarding.
Get educated in your field. Information is power.
You can do it all, just not at the same time. Words to live by!
Have a mission statement. As you grow or your business takes twists and turns, you will always have it to bring you back to center.

Are you a sheBOOMer? Do you know one? Tell us your story! Contact nancy@sheboom.com.