Top Five tips to Rock Working from Home

It’s a bad habit many of us have to let our routines become chores. We just kind of accept that the routine is going to suck but, what are you gonna do? You gotta work, right? With many more people working from home during the pandemic and a number of companies exploring longer term work from home policies here’s a few ideas for creating a work from home routine that doesn’t suck.

  1. Lunch time: This is the easiest answer to where some mid-day you time comes from. Lunch hours are there because it’s no secret our brains need breaks. Humans are just not designed for 8-9 hours of focused work. So leave your work station during your lunch time. Even if it’s as simple as moving from your office space or computer desk and sitting in your kitchen to eat. In a small space like a small condo or apartment just make sure you’re in a different seat that allow your body to relax and perhaps facing a different direction – like out a window – so you’re not just staring at your computer from another angle.

2. When the work day is done, Shut down. Walk away. Be done. This was my absolute biggest challenge working from home. Work was always right there. I could just pop in to the office and… and, and, and… it never ended. I was always just a thought away from work mode and it made life difficult. I couldn’t really relax and just focus on the time and people I was with. Don’t get sucked in to the vortex of always working just because it’s right there.

3. Find a task management system you like. It’s easy to finish a work day and wonder what you even did all day and where the time went. Whether it’s an old fashioned to-do list, a task management app you’re loyal to or a time-tested strategy like the Pomodoro system – find a way to manage your tasks that you will like and use, and that will allow you to know you got done what you needed to.

4. Don’t forget to move and hydrate. If you’re like me and wear a fitbit then it will remind you to take a minimum number of steps per hour. Apple watches have a similar feature but it’s also just as effective to set hourly reminders on your phone to have a stretch, pace around a bit, look out a window… anything that means you aren’t stuck in one position all day long. Same with hydration. There’s apps that will remind you, as will simple phone reminders or drink wear with time-goals on it. Regardless of how you go about it don’t get sucked in to a work vortex and forget to look after yourself.

5. Stay connected. If your workplace has work-approved methods of staying in contact like an employee chat then use it. If they don’t have this type of set up then go ahead and reach out to text your colleagues from time to time. Whether it’s to pick their brain the way you would if they were just the next office over or for a little water cooler chat don’t let working from home become extra isolating.

Overall, think about the parts of your workday that you enjoy the most and how you can build a schedule and routine that flows and balances all of your needs. It should include focus time and allow you to be a badass powerhouse but also should include time that nourishes you and boundaries that let you be so much more than a workaholic.

Drop a comment with your fave work from home tips, tricks and routines!

Let’s Connect

Getting a “Real Job”

Let me start by saying I always resented that phrase – “real job” – as if the way I earned my money wasn’t actual work. People loved to ask if I was applying at “real jobs” or if I’d thought about giving up teaching for a “real job”. Working from home as a freelance English as a Second Language Teacher was nothing short of a real job. From the very basics of performing a task and getting paid to the more complex work of planning, preparing and continuously training, teaching was meaningful, challenging and real work.

Still, this kind of teaching lacks a certain stability. It’s hard to plan your life or build serious financial goals when your pay varies widely in the wake of world events, holidays and student availability.

Not to mention that you end up teaching during your own countries holidays and off on vacation during holidays from other parts of the world. It’s not the worst but still, it’s hard to explain why you taught on Christmas eve and then relaxed all through February (Chinese New Year).

The last few months have brought a lot of change to my life. While I do still love the work flow I had built I also wanted to try something new.

So I went out and did it – I got myself one of those “real jobs” people talk about. No more “real” in the actual doing of work, but substantially more stable and a better hourly wage.

I’m now happily working away full time in a call centre – I got lucky and found one that lines up super well with my existing skills and interests. There’s a sort of taboo around being okay with call centre work. It’s not supposed to be a “good enough” job to warrant anything nearing job satisfaction but so far it’s been a good experience. So good, in fact, that there’s already talk of me “levelling up” my training. Hello, raise!

Not to mention it brings me back to my favourite town. The place where my Grandfather lived, my dad grew up, and I went to school. It feels like coming home.

Don’t worry – I’m not abandoning all my at home hustle. The social media management business and Etsy shop continue to evolve and remain close to my heart. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus while the dust settled on the new job and other life changes. That dust is settling, though. Soon all the changes will be official in blog posts and I’ll keep ya’ll posted with the changing realities of working from home and working from well, not home.

What Nobody Tells You About Working From Home

Working from home – or earning a living working from anywhere, therefore allowing you to travel while working – is definitely glorified in our culture. When I tell people about what I do they often say I’m lucky or that it must be nice. They’re not totally wrong but there’s a few things nobody tells you about working from home.

It’s Lonely

This is the best kept secret of the work from home crowd. Honestly, I talk to people from morning to night – literally I start teaching kiddos between 5 and 7am, and I finish teaching adults at 10 or 11pm. I talk, talk, talk all day long and when I finally shut the microphone off I still feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness.

That’s partly because even though I talk to people all day long I often have the same conversation over and over again – Hello what’s your name? My name is Carmen. Where do you live? I live in Canada. What do you do? Wow that sounds stressful…” and on it goes.

Even when I’m not teaching, I’m writing and blogging. This is a little different because I don’t write the same thing over and over but I also don’t get a lot of direct interaction with the people who are reading what I write.

Cabin Fever is an Occupational Hazard

Along with the loneliness get ready to have a love-hate relationship with your house. It’s my home. I picked this furniture. I put it where I wanted it. This is where my super comfy beds are. This is where my favorite pillows are. There’s a recliner and nice places to read a book or watch TV.

But oh my gooooosh get me OUT of here. I wake up, work, eat, exercise, entertain myself, work again and sleep here. I’ve gone for car rides to the gas station just to be somewhere that isn’t there. Working from home might be the dream but from personal experience our brains need a change of scenery. It’s a requirement. Sometimes the best thing I can do is go do some blogging or social media client work from Starbucks.

It’s real easy to gain a ton of weight

Seriously. All I do is sit at my desk. Unless I make the conscious decision to go down to the treadmill or out for a walk it’s easy to pass the whole day without moving a whole lot.

And your whole kitchen is, like, RIGHT THERE. So eating a lot is super easy.

It’s a recipe for weight gain (Trust me , I know. Keep an eye out for my posts about my weight loss journey.)

People Forget that you Work

Yeah, your family is included in this. You’re there when they leave to work and you’re there when they get home. They don’t work at home. Home is just about relaxation and hobbies and family time for them. They kind of forget that it’s like, also your office building.

This goes for friends, too. They imagine that since there isn’t like, a manger or a boss watching you work you could just leave at any time to go do fun things with them.

While it might be true that you set your own schedule you probably have some time requirements and can’t just leave on a whim. Even if you leave on a whim, the work you were gonna do during that time still has to get done so even if they don’t see it you’ll be putting those hours in – be it afternoon or after midnight.

There’s a Million More Distractions Than A Regular Office

In a regular office I feel like a sort of hive-mind kicks in. Even if you’re having trouble focusing everyone else is working that that kind of prompts you to re-focus and get with the program. When I worked in an office it felt way easier to find the next task and get it done because usually everyone else was working so I could feel the groupthink guiding me to work too. This was important, too, because if the whole office wasn’t working then the whole office wasn’t working. A distraction for one became a distraction for many and nothing got done so there was a true sense of value in that groupthink must-work atmosphere. At least if you were gonna go off task you needed to be discreet about it.

Have you ever heard of procasti-cleaning? This is where suddenly you feel the overwhelming urge to clean your whole house instead of doing work. The whole house needs a cleaning, anyway, right? So it’s not really procrastination because you’re still being productive, right? How about Netflix? So easy to access from home and no manager to catch you binge watching Riverdale instead of working.

As many of you know I’ve recently taken up as a demolition derby driver and the shop is right out back! I could be building a car instead of working!

So is it a Dream?

Working from home sounds awesome until you realize every part of your life that isn’t work is right there and it’s SO ridiculously hard to be productive.

Okay, so it’s still pretty awesome but before you make the jump consider that there are some serious risks and if you’re moving to freelance you might want to budget for membership to a co-work space or find another way to plan time out of the house doing something social!

Working with Less

So if you’re out there doing your research about working from home, especially as an English teacher, you might notice the same trend I do: over-freaking-complicating what’s physically needed to do this job. If you watch online videos about teaching online you’ll see crazy class set ups and hundreds of props. you don’t need that! It’s mostly about YOU.

Some teachers are out here making videos showing their classroom or office set-up, showing off impressive collections of props and a wide range of technology. One teacher I saw a set-up video from even had her classroom in a very nicely finished shed, with electricity and internet wired from the house to this separate space. Now it was a really nice space – she had a little kitchenette and space for guests to use it as a guest house. I could totally see myself absolutely loving a space like that, and I was definitely a little jealous.

She had whole drawer sets full of this type of toy or prop, and that type of flash card. She even had a filing cabinet with the printed out lesson plan for every lesson she’d ever taught. It made it easy for her to know what she’d need and quickly prep when she got booked for those lessons again.

Honestly – kudos to her because she’s killin’ it.

But as I watched it occurred to me that if I had watched hers and videos like hers before applying to be an online teacher I would of thought I couldn’t do this – I don’t have that kind of space. As someone in search of employment I didn’t have the money to create anything like that or buy all those props. I would of figured this career was for someone else.

Now, there are others out there making videos that show just how do-able it is. I’ve also seen “here’s my space” videos from teachers who are literally making their classroom in a closet. Hang a backdrop, tweek the lighting and BOOM! International classroom in the basement closet.

So there’s definitely a spectrum.

The Truth: These Videos come from Experienced Teachers

That’s not a bad thing but it’s definitely something you’ve gotta remember when you watch these. You might be just considering your application or preparing for an interview when you go down the rabbit hole of videos about classroom and space set ups, prop organization and more. It can be super intimidating because it seems like you would never be able to compete with the kind of resources and collections that are literally at the fingertips of these teachers.

Fear not – they didn’t go to target and buy it all in one haul. They built those collections while they built their careers and you will too.

When I got hired I went to chapters and bought one lavender coloured bunny from the kids section. I like things that are soft, and cute so it was kind of a treat for me too. I never really got over my affection for plush toys. I call her Flora.

I keep her by my desk with a hedgehog that Ben gave me one year for our anniversary because he knows about my affection of plush toys.

There’s also a Panda toy that mom got me one year when Telus sold them to raise money for a wildlife organization.

I have more but I don’t use them as much. I don’t need a different toy for every class and any given class doesn’t need more than 2 or 3 toys, if that, because they aren’t really what class is about.

I use a hand drawn set of music notes to show when it’s time to sing.

But most of the time for anything else I just use my hands or demonstrate on the platform. For example if I want my students to circle things, I circle them. If I want them to read, I underline.

I also keep whiteboards near me because sometimes it helps to draw the letters and do little reading games with them. Really anything else I use is a common desk item like a book, pen, or sometimes I use coloured markers to show colours and practice the names. Lamp, keyboard, ipad… nothing extraordinary. No super collection of reward systems. I cheer my kids on and then get back to the lesson. No bucket of action figures.

Honestly, you know what my students love? When I cheer and dance in my chair like a FOOL. It’s interesting, funny , and it clearly communicates to them that they did well and their teacher is happy. THAT’s what matters.

When the teacher is happy, so are the students!

So here I am, making just as much a career of it as the woman who built a separate classroom in her back yard.

I kind of get it though

I kind of get why these teachers create such elaborate set ups and why they show off just how elaborate they are. We as a society have a habit of seeing validity in complication. The more intricate the system, the harder it is for us to understand the more valid we consider the person who is understanding and doing the work. Think of scientific careers like doctors and astrophysicists, or the scholarly such as lawyers whose job it is to navigate systems that are so large and complex most of us need help using them.  Consider the validity we give these career choices over say, writer or even a traditional teacher. While we acknowledge that writing and teaching are respectable careers we tend to underestimate the difficulty of careers we understand and see as uncomplicated.

So sometimes there’s an urge to sort of demonstrate the validity of our career choices by making our careers fit a more complicated, difficult narrative.

“Look how I’ve organized the reward systems and over here are the lesson plans…” translates in to “Look how much equipment and paperwork is required.”

“See how I’ve arranged this space to optimize the light and….” turns in to “There’s more to this… This is where I work hard to support my family.”

I feel this temptation too. I want people to join me in this career because it’s been rewarding and I really, genuinely enjoy it. But it’s also tempting to put up barriers and push people to see that this isn’t a hobby or a passing phase. It’s work, the same as any other job in so many ways.

Ultimately, it takes balance.

It’s a career like any other. It demands a set of skills that, if you have, you’ll excel and without, you’ll struggle. It can mean long hours, waking up early and going to bed late. Sometimes it will be awesome and some days you’ll hate it.

What you don’t have to worry about to start out is having an elaborate set up.

So I’m here to say to you – you who may be considering or just starting on this path – don’t be intimidated by the veterans. Settle in to a little corner you’re comfortable in. Wear a covering, plain shirt. Bring a cup of tea and a smile. You can be great at this.

Those whose Career is Building Your Career

When you choose to make a career for yourself that looks and feels different than the beaten path it’s a choice that comes with a lot of questions. Wanting to blog and make money online from home is different than either of my parents careers, it’s different from my husband, my girlfriend or my boyfriend. I don’t have anyone in my personal network who I feel alike to in this regard. All the people who I see doing what I want to be doing are the people I’m following online but don’t know in real life.

This leads to a healthy amount of skepticism, both in terms of doubting myself and my ability to do this but also with people around me doubting the realness of this career choice. When very few people actually know someone in person whose made a paying career online it’s easy to imagine those who say they do might be stretching the truth and us who aspire to similar careers are simply foolish.

If you find yourself in my position, be aware of the vulnerability some people see in us.

Picture yourself from the outside looking in: We are trying to build careers that look like the careers of people we only see online, we are trying to make money from home on our own terms and outside the regular 9-5 or familiar corporate structure, we probably start knowing where we want to get but not a lot about how to actually get there and there’s no hiding that we’ve got big questions on how to reach our goals…

There’s a lot of people advertising answers to our questions.  They’re marketing is alluring like those whose influencer or blogger careers we admire. The people advertising answers to others like us really set themselves up as being among us – boss babes that have broken the 9-5 grind to launch their own business and build their dreams. It’s inspirational and compelling marketing that makes you see them as “just like you” – a version of yourself that’s “made it” and now wants to share how she did it to empower you to do the same.

How kind, right? That’s some on point feminism and the true definition of women for women – helping each other build that dream life.

Some people genuinely do have some useful info that they’re putting out there because it’s useful. I like to think I’m writing myself in to this category. If you read my posts about working from home I hope you find them interesting and useful. I hope they make you feel encouraged to pursue a career you really want and that you know I don’t expect anything from you, and I’m not holding info hostage from you.

You see, that idea that some people just want to share what they know and help out someone similar to them, it’s not entirely false. If my posts help someone land the teaching job, or see a path for themselves that answers how they want to work and define their life – that’s awesome! Given that I really don’t know it all, it’s also nice to think I might make a few friends on this journey while I write.

That’s the thing with the other category. There’s a lot of people who have actually made their online, influencer and blogging or work from home career out of supporting others that want to do the online, influencer, work from home thing. They write posts with tips but really, their way of answering questions inspires more questions. Then they tell you they’ll answer those questions too, but you’ll have to buy the answers. They have courses, e-books, paid support groups and other buy-in resources.

Don’t get me wrong – they might have some really valuable information that can provide the success they promise. They might be really smart, have worked really hard to acquire the knowledge and they probably deserve to be paid for sharing it and supporting your education and career journey.

I’m absolutely not against them working their business and asking you to buy the answers. In fact I’ve purchased e-books and resources that make sense to my business and I’m both grateful to the entrepreneurs that created these resources and truly happy to support their entrepreneurial career.

However you can’t buy all the answers.

So while you shouldn’t write off the idea of paying for some good resources now and then you should be very critical and picky of which resources get your money and which ones you pass up.

Not to mention, there’s a lot of tidbits and good advice out there for free. It takes more time to find it all… you’ll have to read a wider variety of sources and connect some of the dots for yourself instead of having them connected for you in a course format but it’s doable. The idea that you must put a lot of money out before you’ll know how to bring it in is false.

The bottom line is that I think what kills a lot of dreams is the fear that the dream is inaccessible.  So far I can say it’s really more accessible than it seems once you get past the barrage of paid everything and start making your own little space.

What are your biggest questions when it comes to pursuing this dream?

Working from Home and Setting Your Own Schedule

The biggest misconception people have about working from home or working for yourself is that you work when you want or need and can take it easy the rest of the time.  The reality, for online teachers at least, is that we work at the demand of our students.

The only way to make this job work as a full time gig is to set work goals in accordance with your financial goals.  I know I need to make X number of dollars a month to pay my bills, save and have some room for unexpected costs.  It is necessary to translate that dollar amount in to classes taught, break it down by week and meticulously track day by day.

I’ve learned I have to notice early on – by mid-month at least – if I’m falling behind on my goals. After that point there isn’t enough time to meaningfully add to my schedule and make up the hours. With teaching it’s easy to fall behind on goals.  If classes don’t get booked it adds up fast. Being a class or two short of a daily goal quickly means stripping down the budget to accommodate anticipated shortcomings.

The truth about working from home means I am available until my goal is met.  Maybe I only need to work 8 hours in a day but I can’t force my students to consistently fill 9am-5pm so that I can go live my life. I start around 7:30 most days, many days earlier, and most days I work until 11pm or midnight. Some days it’s 1am or 1:30am.

Working crazy hours Monday to Thursday allows me to end earlier (mid afternoon) most Fridays and then take Saturday and Sunday off with my family.

The hard part is having to politely remind people that you actually do work and it isn’t possible for you to change your schedule last minute the way some work from home jobs can.  Even if I could, changing my schedule for last minute plans would still mean making the time up so chances are even if my companies let me change my schedule last minute I would still be held on schedule by financial obligations.

What we really mean when we say our work from home jobs are flexible is that, with 24 hour potential to work you might be able to set up a unique schedule that suits your life.  My whole family works 9-5’s with weekends off so I try to mimic that as much as I can to maximize my time with them.

That being said lots of people are working jobs like mine on a when-the-kids-are-out schedule, or using it as a night job. Flexibility doesn’t mean that I can change my schedule last minute, but it does mean that I can book classes around other obligations outside a traditional work schedule.

Oh, and I guess it’s true that outside of my budget, I don’t have to ask anyone for approval when I want a day off.

Thinking of picking up extra work? What kind of schedule would working from home mean for you?

Sincerely, Carmen in Canada

When I write about working from home I caution my  readers not to romanticize the reality – I give up stability, normal working hours (although I am slowly building towards normal hours, more on that another time.), and many of the perks of a “regular job”. I always acknowledge that I’ve traded these things for the convenience of staying at home and pursuing a flexible career.

Let’s talk a bit about what I get in return for my trade.

Who I work For and What I Do

I work for three different companies.

Company one, the company I’ve been with for the longest, is a Chinese company focused on educating Chinese children. It offers one to one classes and they have designed the curriculum. Students book me at the time they prefer and I try to make the process of learning English fun and interesting with games and lots of smiles, virtual high fives and rewards.

Company two I am new too. It offers one to one classes as well as group classes with as many as six students. This company focuses on adults, however, and they take student from all over the world. In a class I might have a few people from Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, or Germany! These classes are also focused on teaching the art of conversation by supplying students with useful sentences, natural back and forth examples and pronunciation guidance. They will have already studied the basics like vocabulary and grammar on their own – I’m just there to help bring it all together.

Company three is the leas formal. There is no powerpoint or directed class goal. Really it’s skype built in to a web platform where the minutes spent on a call can be easily tracked. This offers a one to one video connection and the goal is unstructured conversation practice. Think of it this way – someone in a foreign country has spent a lot of energy learning English but doesn’t know if they can take what they know in theory to the real world with effective conversations in English. This company is their way to connect with native English speakers, practice, have interesting conversations and get some advice along the way.

Why I Love my Job(s) – Seriously!

What all of this means is that I spend my day talking to people around the world, literally. They tell me about their homes, the culture and the politics, their travels and their experience with travelling.  They tell me what they do for work, why they like it and what makes it difficult. I learn about and sometimes meet their families.

Secretly, I think I learn so much more than I teach.

I am so lucky to genuinely smile throughout my time working.  Even in hour 12 I am still smiling my face off listening to a 6 year old describe their day at school.

I could work less. Twelve hour days, even if they only happen once or twice a week, are undeniably overkill. Nobody is forcing me to open my availability and allow that many bookings. But its so hard to resist when I know I will more than likely enjoy all 12 of those hours!

I mean, the paycheques don’t hurt either.

My Work Identity: Meet Teacher Carmen

Don’t we all have that person we are at work? That personality we fold up and tuck away in an office drawer when we’re done for the day? I sure do.

She likes tea – and need a  lot of it. But she’ll drink diet coke if there’s no time to make tea. She is obsessed with her planner and anything organizational.

She’s got a bit of a sticky not problem/addiction, and she’s not seeking help.

Sometimes her pets make guest appearances in class.

Her favourite students are the ones that laugh with her or tell her about different cultures.

The practice platform does not require me to send formal feedback to the people I meet but the other two are more formal education platforms so my students always receive feedback. That is how my teacher identity got her name – from my introduction:

Hello, my name is Carmen and I live in Canada.

… to my sign-off:

Sincerely, Carmen in Canada.

 

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Landing that Online Job

So a couple weeks ago I landed two jobs in one week – both of them working strictly online through specific platforms.  So now I want to share a little bit (actually, a lot) about searching for and landing that elusive online job.

My specific jobs (and in case you’re counting, I’m now working with three companies) are all based on teaching English and supporting English learners.  So that’s the experience I’ll be speaking to. There are some general truths that will carry over if you’re looking at other industries online.

Teaching English is a huge online industry simply because the internet is such an excellent way to connect teachers of a language with learners while everybody has the benefit of staying comfortably in their home.

English is the dominant language of business so if you are a native English speaker you have a crazy advantage as many around the world are scrambling to learn our language in order to maximize their business, work and travel opportunities. I have spoken with people from France, Saudi Arabia,  Turkey, Syria, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, India, and China.  They are all different age groups and their reasons for learning English range from personal interest and a sense that it would just be good to know, to learning for academic pursuits like attending an international University to learning for travel and work.

There are a lot of companies out there that you can teach with – hence why I work with three.  It’s a good thing for both teachers and learners that there are so many platforms with similar services and job opportunities because it drives each of them to be competitive.

So, Where do I apply?

There are a few different ways that you can apply. You can research individual companies and apply directly to them or you can seek a recruitment group that will consider your resume and suggests companies you may be a good fit for.

I caution that free websites where you send your qualifications and they match you are probably not worth your time.  I tried it and they sent me an email saying they thought I’d be a good match for a company that was already on my resume.

That was the only company they sent me a notification for, despite the fact that I am a good fit for many companies.  Furthermore, they do not support you through the application process.

So really, you’re no further ahead than if you found the company on your own.

It sounds too simple to be true but I recommend starting the way I did: Google search “Teaching English Online” and consider what companies come up.

You want to understand their target client in order to determine if they are a good match for you.  For example, one of my companies targets students in China exclusively.  China is 12 hours ahead of me so if I want to teach them in their preferred time, after dinner and through the evening, I need to get up and start teaching around four or five in the morning.

I don’t mind but I do encourage people who want to do this kind of work to consider how time zones may impact their schedule and availability to work.

Other companies I work for target students around the world.  They have stronger demand from some regions and therefore still have hours where they highlight demand. However, because they do invite students from all over to learn on their platforms they are able to provide some opportunity to work throughout the day for me.

Company requirements range from preferring a long list of certifications to only requiring that English is your native language.

In summary for where to apply:

  • Research companies yourself
  • Understand the impact of their target clients and timezones for your schedule
  • Do you meet their requirements

The Application Process

How many people would love to work online? And why is that?

Because many people consider working online or from home to mean that the work is easy, low commitment, and open to anybody.

Therefore companies looking to hire English teachers and other online contractors are working hard and developing processes to discourage non-serious applicants.

Assume that competition is tough and ensure that your resume and application answers include relevant keywords. If you’re applying to teach English for example, you should be the kind of candidate that can have the words “teach, taught, tutor, children, adults, learners, English” on their resume.

Assume that your first challenge is to be filtered through an algorithm and use appropriate language accordingly. Don’t write something that would only matter to a human reviewer or a human reviewer may never see it filtered through the system. Straight forward, clear language that relates to the position responsibilities is best.

Furthermore, be prepared for multiple interview and training stages.  You’re going to have to jump through some hoops.  Jumping through hoops both demonstrates your seriousness about and commitment to the position and provides additional assessment opportunities for the company to feel confident they are hiring contractors who are a good fit.

In this process, one of the keys to success is staying organized.  Many companies will have developed their own platform that you would be working through and from the interview onwards they will be trying to teach you to effectively use this platform to meet their performance goals. You want to have clear notes on how to use the platform, all related requirements, and what the performance standards are.

Save any documents they provide you during the process all together in one folder; the documents may be provided through email and through the training platform so collect them in one place where you can access them at a moments notice.

Succeeding Online

Most online companies I have worked with, from transcription to teaching, rate contractors on a 5 star or 5 point system.  Most consider 4.85 and higher to be a generally acceptable range for contractors performance.  Aim higher, always, but especially aim for 4.88-4.95 if you are seeking advancement and bonus opportunities.

The most successful contractors are the ones who treat their opportunities with the same respect, commitment and care that they would be expected to give in a formal office environment. They follow instructions to the letter, follow up on all recommendations (If the company says that something is helpful but not required successful contractors are the ones who go ahead and follow that recommendation!), attend workshops and access all the support offered to them and they take pride in doing good work.

The reality is that it doesn’t matter where you’re working – a more traditional environment, somewhere with a startup vibe, remotely for a brick and mortar company or strictly online – every company favors employees who work hard.

Be that worker.

Developing a Career

I wrote a while ago about diversifying yourself.  I want to reiterate that the downfalls of working online necessitate diversity and maintaining contracts or opportunities with multiple companies.

To most online companies you are an independent contractor.  That basically code for them not owing you anything. No overtime – no matter how much you work, no sick leave, maternity leave or any other leave expected in most Western work environments, no health or wellness benefits, no paid vacation, and no guarantee of work or pay.  You work as much or as little as you want within the limits of how much work they have.  If students don’t sign up for classes my wide open availability means next to nothing. I might open eight, or even 10 hours of availability in a day and still only work 2-4 hours.  The company I work for doesn’t owe me anything for available hours that go unbooked.  The deal is that I work, they pay me, and in all other aspects, I am responsible for myself.

Many people are attracted to working online because of the “set your own schedule” ability and the idea that it is flexible. As I mentioned above though, don’t expect to be paid for any time that you aren’t actively working. You don’t have to open your availability if you don’t want to – but you are going to end up wanting to work as much as possible because otherwise you’re not getting paid.

The Impact of Policy and Culture

There is generally some understanding of uncontrollable circumstances.  For example, a large windstorm took down some power lines near my home and left me without power for 24 hours one weekend.  I messaged my company and was forgiven for canceling my classes because the circumstances were beyond my control and beyond what I can reasonably be expected to cope with while maintaining quality work.

I add the caveat about coping while maintaining a reasonable level of quality in your work because if your online employer is based in another culture you may find they have a different level of tolerance for personal issues than you’ve come to expect.

Some workplaces in Canada have very open and lenient policies for things like sick leave and mental health, for example. You can not expect this from an online company.

Realize this: Your manager might support you staying home from work because of that wicked head cold but it isn’t because they feel bad for you – they just don’t want you getting them sick.  When you work from home your head cold doesn’t affect anyone else.  My sick days with my companies are extremely limited.  Not feeling well is not a reason to not work when you work at home in your PJs.

Even more prominent – mental health and what should be done for people struggling with mental health issues is a cultural knowledge.  In Canada, we have a very empathetic attitude about mental health.  Most workplaces recognize it as a genuine concern and have varying levels of support. I know many companies still fail their employees completely, however, most have good and improving policies.

When working for a company based in a culture like China, I have found that mental health is considered a nonfactor.  It falls under looking after yourself, which is considered separate from your work life and not their responsibility.

Harsh – yes, very much so. However, it is a sacrifice that comes with developing a career that ignores physical borders.  You must work fluidly between cultures and learn to meet expectations that differ from what would be expected of you if you worked strictly within your own culture.

Working from home has its own unique set of benefits – there’s absolutely no doubt about that, for me.  However, those benefits mean mentally letting go of the benefits we may have expected from a more traditional workplace.  It’s a personal decision to favor one set of benefits and deficits over the other and figure out what kind of career is going to bring you the most satisfaction.

Carmen

 

 

Don’t Fall for Spam; Don’t write off Opportunity

Okay so I want to talk about something: multi-level marketing companies.  They are also called direct sales, network marketing, and pyramid schemes, among other clever and legitimate-sounding titles.  These are companies that rely on individuals to sell out of their homes rather than building traditional brick and mortar stores – think classics like Avon and Pampered Chef, and newer companies including Jamberry, Lipsense, and ItWorks.

The first thing I want to say is: I’m not here to bash these companies at all.  I worked for Jamberry for about two years and I loved it. I’m going to be honest in this post and share some tips, the pros, and cons of working as a direct sales consultant and some warning flags to watch for if you’re considering joining a direct sales company.

When I browse the #workfromhome hashtag on any platform an overwhelming number of posts come from direct sales consultants encouraging anyone who wants to work from home to join their team.  Of course, direct sales is generally a work from home gig, although I kind of resent their saturation of the hashtag and more seriously, how spammy and awful some of the methods they use are.

Don’t get me wrong: There are a lot of very hard-working people busting their asses and making a great living with these companies.  My sponsor with Jamberry is one of them. (sponsor = the person whose team I joined, so she gets credit for my joining, and looked after mentoring me throughout my time with the company. I loved her!)

Generalized Problems with the Industry

As much as I had a great experience there are a lot of problems with the industry.  There are a lot of people that do and say ethically questionable things with their business.  They falsely advertise earnings to lure team members and promise those team members success without being honest about what that kind of success will require.

These companies by and large are rightfully accused of preying on societies less affluent women.  They encourage them to go into greater financial duress by promising that this job is the way to pay down all debts and look after their families.  Being able to look after your family and give your family a little bit of luxury is a huge attraction, especially when you can do while being home with the kids.  Advertising success and an affluent lifetyle without being upfront about the work it takes to get there is an aspect of direct sales I’ve never liked.  Consultants or representatives gain team members, at times, by knowingly preying on women who are in financial need and not equipped to critically analyze the terms of the contract they’d be signing with these companies.  Consultants who gain team members by doing this are really all about the financial incentives they get for convincing you to sign on the dotted line, not about sharing with you a great opportunity!

Most companies require you to “join” by buying a “start up kit” of some sort. The start up kits themselves are usually great. You get a healthy sampling of products, flyers, maybe postcards, etc. You get what you need to begin operating in the business – but you don’t get it for free. Some companies have different sizes or types of kits at different price points.  This means that you may see some opportunities as cheap or at least as being a good deal in comparison to other opportunities or kits.  Realistically though, when you’re broke is not the time to start a business.  You shouldn’t be spending your last dollars on a kit like this.

And I do specifically note that as a large and generalized industry direct sales companies specifically tend to prey on women.  We are targeted as both their consultants and their customers (the two, naturally, go hand in hand.) This isn’t new.  Think back – those companies our moms and grandmas know like Avon and Pampered Chef are the pillars of the industry and although it has evolved and diversified, the products and market are still dominated by women.  Can you think of a parallell for avon that was targeted at your dad? Can you even imagine some guy knocking on your door with a suitcase full of guy stuff the way old school avon ladies came around?

Not all companies are like this. More importantly, not all consultants are willing to behave unethically to promote their business. When I first met my sponsor for Jamberry it was because she hosted a sales party with a friend of mine.  She made me aware that if I loved the product I could join the company and get paid to do what she did.  However when I told her I wanted to get to know the product before considering a career with the company she was supportive and understanding.  Her style of interacting with me as a customer is a big part of what attracted me to the company, and her team.

I could see myself wanting to be like her.  That was important.

Generalized Pros with the Industry

Realistically the most important part of accessing and enjoying the pros of working in direct sales is finding the right company.

Companies will generally offer some level of training or at least a set of guidelines on how consultants should represent them. This sets up what the company requires, and where the room exists for consultants to make the business personal and unique to them.

Find a company where their requirements fit you and what you’re comfortable with.

A few things to define a good direct sales company for you:

  • It’s a product you’ll genuinely use and are happy to recommend to others
  • Its requirements are compatible with your commitments and goals
  • You feel confident you can consistently sell the product.
  • You see room for yourself in their market – if 25 people you know are already selling this product, who will you sell to start? (Ideally you’d expand, your friends introduce you to their friends, and those people introduce you to more people as you progress with parties and sales so it’s not always about your friends and fam, but it starts there!)
  • The methods their consultants are using to promote the product are compatible with your ethics and what you’re willing to associate yourself with and be a part of. I’ll tell anyone – I would %100 consider another direct sales company if the right one came along BUT I also have a mental list of companies I would NEVER work for because there are so many spammy consultants, even if I ever tried the product and fell in love I wouldn’t put my name to the company because there’s too much spam.

The claims that many consultants make are generally true when you’re working for it.  You do work from home, you do make money with every sale, you can make money by sharing the opportunity.  It’s a good gig.

However, let’s not forget that if you want to make money in any industry you have to work hard.  So sometimes consultants have a habit of making it sound like direct sales is easy money.  It’s not.  It can be good money but it isn’t easy money.

Major Red Flags

Remember that you’re joining this company to make money.  If the company requires you to spend an obnoxious amount to join and maintain status as a consultant, it’s not a good idea.  Life is not consistent – some months you’ll sell a lot and some months will be weaker.  If you have ridiculous monthly requirements you will struggle to create consistency and build success.

  • Do not sign up for auto-ship.  Some companies require you accept and pay for automatic shipments of product that you will have and sell as personal inventory.  Do not do this to yourself. They’ll tell you that you can easily sell the product but they won’t help you when you have a garage full of thousands of dollars of product you can’t move.
  • On a related note: Do not sign a time based contract that requires you to be active in the company for a minimum amount of time. Much like accumulating a garage full of auto-shipped products, you lose the flexibility that is usually a main attraction for direct sales.
  • Do not pay more than you can actually afford for startup.  Most kits run between $50-300 depending on the company and what they include in their start-up kit.  They are making money off these kit sales, for sure, but they also are genuinely providing you with tools to begin your business. Just don’t get tricked into thinking that to start this business you need to spend thousands.
  • Spammy consultants.  If consultants for this company are generally posting bad graphics with obnoxious pleas disguised as pitches and invitations to buy or join… beware! Spammy posts are a good indication that these consultants are desperate to move product and make goals. Don’t fall for it and become one of them.

Ultimately the biggest thing I can say is that sure – with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, you might be able to make this your main income eventually. Go ahead girl, build you an empire! BUT consider it a side gig until your side gig starts out earning your day job – only when you’re out earning yourself would I recommend assessing it’s potential to be more than a side gig.

Good luck in your potential direct sales journey. I loved working for Jamberry and am entirely willing to work for another company if I am in love with their product.

What companies are you loving and buying from your friends right now?

Working for yourself versus working alone

Just because you don’t work for anybody else doesn’t mean you can’t work with somebody else.

That’s one of the hardest attitude shifts to overcome when seeking success on projects that we own.  At least for me. I get so excited about owning a project and all of the potential it has, and I take pride in working for myself. Especially when the project is walking away from the 9-5 grind and not really just leading a project, but owning my ability to be productive and profitable.  I don’t want to work for anybody else as an employee but I have to separate what it means to work for someone and what it means to work with them.

There are a lot of ways that you can work with others while still working for yourself and from home. I myself am starting just starting to explore what this means and what works for me.

I know that I value the feeling of connection.  Even if we’re just helping each other out in little ways – being generous with “likes” and comments, taking time to share, etc. there’s so much value in making connections.

Then there’s larger projects and affiliations. I’m interested in how these types of profitable partnerships work and can be worked into my current workflow.

A few ways that I know of already to work for yourself without working alone:

If you’re work is largely based on social media reach out to others and exchange engagement (likes, comments, shares)

Doing this works wonders in a few ways. It gets you reading and engaging with what others are doing. There’s no underestimating the value of paying attention to what else is happening around your digital world. However, it’s easy to forget.  We get so busy creating our content, and scheduling, and promoting ourselves that we forget to notice we aren’t the only ones.

Co-Create a Post, a Video, a Series of posts & videos, etc.

When you’re out there engaging with what others are doing maybe you’ll notice someone who would compliment your knowledge and content. Maybe you’ll see a way to work together – go ahead and propose ways that the two of you can create something together and then share it with both your audiences – effectively exchanging introductions.

Find the people who are dedicated to helping you

On sites like Pinterest and Twitter you’ll find lots of groups; boards or accounts that are dedicated to promoting blog content. Personally, I’ve found several dedicated to sharing content created by women and had some success being shared or retweeted by them.

This is kind of a win in that you just need to join the group board or include the appropriate @ or # in your tweet and voila! You’re promoted! It doesn’t have to require that you do a whole lot in exchange.

Be a Gracious Guest

Look for opportunities to guest post on other blogs and websites and benefit from their audience seeing your name.

This is another way to get out there that I am currently investigating. I share these on-going thought processes because putting it out there that I want to know more about this myself puts the pressure on for me to go find the answers, live the dream, and share more with you guys.

One thing I do know is that depending on both your status (knowledge, follower base, the place where you are a guest, etc) there are opportunities that are paid, as well as opportunities that are not.

Opportunities that are not paid may be beneficial, especially when you’re starting out, but if and when you feel confident that you don’t need to share your work for free: don’t.

Once you draw that boundary, keep it, and put your time and energy in to opportunities that meet your criteria as fully as you meet theirs.

Be Open Minded

In the world of work from home, work online, work for yourself dream building the key is always to stay open minded.  Especially while working online, your platform is ever changing.  Embrace changes and opportunities or methods you hadn’t previously thought about.

That’s all for now!

What’s your favourite way to work with people without losing that boss babe feeling?