Small Business Success Q&A #18: Systems and Solutions for Chaos Control

Leslie Arriola

I met Leslie Arriola about a year after I moved to the Pioneer Valley in 2002. I was lucky enough to win a gift certificate for an hour of her services, which she had donated as a door prize for an Arrive@5 held by the Amherst Chamber of Commerce. Soon thereafter, she came to my office and made a hugely helpful suggestion for a simple but very effective way to get my client folders off my desk and off the floor and into a tidy system on a shelf over my desk.

Leslie and I have since become fast friends and my life has been richer for it. After all, she’s my only friend who can tell true-life stories about hanging out with Janis Joplin during the heydays of Haight-Ashbury.

If your home, office or studio could use some help on the organizational front, I would strongly urge you to give her a try.

Name: Leslie Arriola

Company: Systems and Solutions for Chaos Control

Location: Amherst, MA

Founded: 1998

No. of employees: Just me


Blog: on my website

Business description: I am a professional organizer. I work with businesses and individuals to create systems and solutions to help them deal with their “stuff” – out-of-control clutter, papers, piles, filing systems and storage – in offices, workshops, homes, studios, basements, dorm rooms and even cars. I also help folks make better use of their living and/or work spaces and, in the process, develop more efficient systems for work and paper flow. My focus is on setting people up to succeed, whatever that means to them, and helping them gain confidence in their ability to take control of their life.

Keys to business success: The key to my success is that I never forget for a moment that it’s all about the clients – acknowledging how much courage it took for them to look their worst horror in the eye and call for help, listening carefully to their hopes and fears, and assuring them that, while my job is to direct the process of getting organized, control will always remain with them. I make it clear from the start that I’ll push them in the direction they say they want to go, but I’ll never bulldoze them into compliance and, most importantly, never judge them.

Another key is that we work together as a team, which helps me understand how a client works and thinks, and gives me insights into how to teach him or her ways to think about being and staying organized long after I’m gone.

Worst business advice you’ve ever been given: Whenever I have sought marketing advice from experts their suggested methods rarely resonated with the type of work I do and the kinds of clients I want to attract. I have learned that no matter how clearly I describe the nature of my profession, people try to fit it into a marketing model that doesn’t fit. 

Toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner: On occasion, I have had to “fire” a client when it became apparent we were not a good match. The worst instance of this was with a client who, after many productive sessions, became too argumentative and resistant to continue.

Advice for someone just starting a business: My best advice, which hardly anyone with a startup heeds, is to set up systems for tracking and documenting all the facets of your business – progress on orders, finances, communications to and from employees, tools and equipment, materials and supplies, marketing plans – before you open the doors. Sloppy systems may get you by in the beginning, but should your business suddenly take off, are you set up to handle it efficiently?

Favorite all-time business book: I don’t usually read business books. I do read books that help me have new perspectives on trends in our world and economy, like Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.

Favorite online source(s) for business information/advice: I tend to google topics or businesses that I want to know something about and often find good advice along the way.

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