Jess Batchko's A Simple Space Helps Complex Lives
Jess Batchko loves helping people and loves teaching. With A Simple Space, she doesn’t just want to organize peoples’ spaces—she wants to transfer the skills such that they can remain organized. In one way she keeps customers’ clutter under control so that it doesn’t engulf them, and in another way she prepares them for life’s most stressful transitions.
“Maybe you're a single parent and you're going to start sending kids off to college or something, and so you're kind of an empty nester going through a divorce,” Jess posited. Whatever the case, she would help them understand, “Hey let me help you worry about the physical things in your life so that you can focus on the situation and make it a positive experience for you.”
Prior to professional organization, Jess had been a teacher. From this position she could not only impart knowledge but also inspire students towards better lives. That is, her lessons were not temporary, bound to the classroom, but could hone the student far beyond in the world and in their lives.
“I was very fulfilled and happy helping those and having those tough conversations that just weren't academic but also behaviorally with students and helping them be successful contributing member[s] of society[.]”
But during her teaching career Jess encountered a challenging situation that would in turn inform her work. Her father-in-law was diagnosed with dementia. When Jess and her husband went to his apartment, it was a revelation.
“[W]hen we got into his apartment and we kind of saw his world that he was living in, it was very sad because … you could tell that it was a confused mind based off of his living space.”
Jess and her husband then proceeded to confront several difficult questions about his belongings.
“Is it okay to get rid of things now that he doesn't remember that he even had, and being sure that we're still honoring him … and not getting rid of everything…Still allowing him to have a piece of himself through his things,” Jess said.
But outside of a moving company, Jess didn’t really know who to reach out to in order to help organize her father-in-law’s belongings.
This post is part of a series for AccelerateDFW's Storytelling initiative. For more insights on entrepreneurs in DFW and beyond, visit the Storytelling page.
She realized people needed a service to help keep them organized so that they can be prepared for a crisis. In other words, one needs a proper, orderly system in place to be prepared for when the storms come.
Jess’ message was, thus: “Let's deal with things now, let's get you organized for this season of life that you're in, so that when you transfer to the next season of life, it's a happy experience and that you're not overwhelmed by the decisions.”
While working with her father-in-law’s situation, Jess also went through some changes on the job: a promotion to a technology coach. Now she was teaching teachers on classroom strategies rather than directly teaching students. To get back into the classroom environment, she left to a position in another school district.
Soon, however, she realized she wanted to do professionally the organization work she was doing for her father-in-law.
“I can't stop thinking about it,” Jess said. “I'm seeing how we're dealing with certain situations. And I know there are people out there that need help, because it doesn't come naturally to them.”
Thus, she left the classroom and launched her company.
Revving Up, Reaching Out
It wasn’t immediate, though. For one year she kept teaching while organizing in her time off the job. She started a website and began pursuing clients.
It made for an exhausting lifestyle. She had early mornings and late nights, spending all day teaching, caring for her kids, and organizing. But the work fulfilled her. Being able to help people stay organized, on a professional level, made her happy.
After a year of that, she made the full leap.
“And I had a business coach that told me if you don't go in 100% your business will never meet 100%,” Jess said. “And it was terrifying to make that leap and to be the one making the decisions because when you work and you're not an entrepreneur you don’t get to blame someone else, but definitely it’s someone else’s responsibility.”
I.e., the buck stops with you. There is no boss above you or coworkers around you to blame or pass work on to—only yourself.
This led to an interesting experience for Jess, as she related: “And there are some days where I’ll look at my husband. I’ll be like, man, the boss is really getting to me today.”
So Jess had made the leap, and now had to start marketing her services. She reached out to Michelle Miles, the Fort Worth Woman. Miles has a great following and could steer Jess towards the right market.
Jess was clear with Miles from the start that, since she was dealing with her father-in-law’s dementia in her own life, she was not ready to start helping families with similar issues just yet. Miles thus recommended Jess reach out to local moms on the idea that every mom needs an organized space.
Miles’ help proved immense.
“I did a lot of influencer work with her,” Jess said. “So I would go organize a space, she would post about me, and then moms were reaching out to me like crazy, and whenever things would kind of slow down, she would say, ‘Let's do another post,’ and it was one of the best decisions in terms of marketing that I've made is that it's a real family that's benefiting from it and we still partner today.”
To hear more about Jess' networking in Fort Worth, and the highly connected small business community she didn't expect to discover, listen to the accompanying podcast!
Because of this market focus, Jess’ early arenas were mostly playrooms, pantries, and kitchens. But with new clients and new jobs, her scene and services expanded organically.
“It's been fun to just have a greater reach and just build on to certain jobs,” Jess explained. “And then when we book a new kind of job it's a huge celebration … It's terrifying, but then it's fun, whenever you get uncomfortable and you're like, ‘How are we going to do this?’, and then at the end of it, you're like, ‘Okay, I think this is my new favorite service that we offer.’”
The crux of many service issues was the role of the customer in the process. A Simple Space could work on their own or the customer could be alongside them. Jess once offered two different rates for either scenario. But the more Jess worked with customers, the more she understood that there would always be a mixture of her working on her own and directly with customers on the job.
“And I ended up finding out that I need [the customers’] input regardless,” Jess said. “So I'm not going to build two hours of them working with us and then six hours of us working by ourselves … but also working alongside a client for six hours is a lot more work than us working by ourselves. … And so now we just do a flat rate. If you want to work alongside with us it's going to go a little bit faster, it could go a little bit slower.”
Even if the customer is not around, Jess can learn much from them just by looking at their objects.
“Something about being able to touch things and move things around myself is so much easier for me than making a blueprint of a kitchen or a pantry, being like, ‘This is where your cereal is going to go,’ and just telling them versus actually doing it.”
She learned from her customers: they informed her services, her rates, and how she was best going to understand future customers. Her communication was thus a two-way street: she organized their homes, they shaped her business.
Teaching Them to Fish
Jess has had the opportunity to change customer’s lifestyles and mindsets, not just their home. She once worked with a client who had an excessive amount of journals and newspapers. The piles kept growing, due to the subscriptions, so it was a never-ending mess that kept getting bigger.
Jess used this as a teachable moment: “I said, ‘Have you read these, and she said, ‘No, I'm going to get to it.’ And I said, ‘Do you, do you feel like, though, when you don't get to it, do you feel as though you're not being a successful person?’”
This customer’s life had changed—and as Jess had entered this business to walk with people through life’s transitions, she addressed it head on.
She said to the customer:
“When you originally subscribed to that you had time to read the newspapers and your life has changed. You know, now you have a child. And when you look at that, that was for a different season in your life, that was before kids when you could sit on the couch and drink your coffee and you had time. And it's a blessing that now you don't have that time because look at your child. And we talked about that.
“And for that, we spent four hours going through every single piece and making decisions on what to keep and what not to keep, and then we got online and we cancelled the subscriptions.”
The client was thus freed. It further helped that the journals and newspapers were repurposed, recycled or donated by Jess’ team, so nothing was wasted—another fear of the client’s.
Jess’ service here went far beyond organization. She was a teacher again, a counselor, picking up on a major change in someone’s life and connecting it to the accumulation of a certain junk. She is not only fulfilling a household organizing need, but a life transition need.
Jess took an idea hatched in her spare time and made it a side business. She then took a leap of faith and made it a full-time focus, then built a team, and all the while expanded her services and discovered opportunities to teach people about their lives.
Jess said it’s been like a timeline, not necessarily any kind of an uphill battle.
“It's not like we're trying to get to a summit, because I don't even know what my business will look like in five years,” Jess explained. “Because what I thought my business would look like a year ago, it looks completely different, and so emotionally I would say it's mostly positive, a lot of successes, but it definitely requires a lot of self-reflection.”
And Jess is proud of what she’s accomplished, especially while seeing her company weather the pandemic:
“It definitely is hard living through a pandemic as a small business owner and not really having a plan B. And then realizing there is a plan B. I can get income by selling labels online and that will carry me over for a little bit. But again, I wouldn't trade it for anything.”
Jess was worried that once people were locked down in their homes, they would use the time and circumstances to organize all their belongings and not need A Simple Space in the future. But as was the case for other businesses in this series, like Stir Crazy Baked Goods, Jess’ services were still needed even during the pandemic. After all, she directly answers a need she is driven to answer:
“Because for me being organized is natural … and I realized just every home you go to, it's not a natural thing,” Jess explained, “and that emotionally takes a huge toll on you too, because you're helping someone navigate their emotional journey in their home. And so it's hard sometimes to not absorb their emotions.”
And so stands A Simple Space. There’s nothing simple about it. It was created to solve complex messes and assist complex lives. It’s weathered the pandemic and as long as people need help establishing order in their lives, it will likely weather the next storm, too.
Note: The quotations may have been edited for grammatical purposes and to remove chit-chat phrases ("you know", etc.) or repeated words ("and, and", etc.). The audio in the podcast may have also been edited to remove chit-chat phrases, repeated words or long periods of silence.