Saturday, November 1, 2008

Being Prepared When the Opportunity Arises

So I had been awarded a job capturing names and addresses from Kids Club applications for Burger King Corporation. Burger King had 6,000+ franchisees at the time and each was a distribution point for these applications. This was huge! I was given estimates of up to 20,000 applications per week. I got to work setting up an office in my garage, hiring and training people. We put six workstations upstairs networked into a Novell server. I also designed the data entry screens that we would need to key into and conversion/upload processes we would use. I wrote it in, are you ready, dBase III. This was a DOS based database language (the mother of all database systems today). It was actually very effective. I designed it as a multi-user back-end system with distributed front ends running on the local PC's. It was fast, safe and, as I said, efficient. We used it successfully for many years. My mantra was, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Over the years I upgraded dBase versions, finally moving into OOP dBase for Windows with SQL. I currently use MS Access, VBA and SQL. You might say I was forced into it by the business world, but I have reached an expert level and am very happy with that decision. I design screens that give me an edge in speed and accuracy. I listen to input from the people that are using the screens and constantly tweek and improve the screens and processes.

Okay, we're ready, where's the work? We waited impatiently, checking our details and loose ends. We had set up a PO Box at the post office and were checking each morning. After a couple of days with no work, Bob the Postmaster called and said "You've got some mail here. I think you better come see this." We were excited, and thought, "Oh boy, maybe we have enough to get one or two of these girls working for a day or two. So we went to the post office, and you could have bowled us over when we saw our mail. We were brought into the back mail room, and as we walked in we saw very large orange plastic bags piled up everywhere. Bob the Postmaster walked us right toward them and said "Here's your mail." "OH MY GOODNESS! That's our mail?" "Yes, ma'am."

After we picked ourselves up off the floor, we went home and got the truck and started carrying those big bags back to the garage. We filled up the downstairs of the garage with them. On opening the bags we found a mishmash of applications, complaint letters, letters from crazy people, little gifts from children, photos of Burger Kings loyal children customers, etc. A large part of the job was sorting and separating that mail. I can picture Rhonda, our mail sorter person, sitting with trays in her lap as she sorted through the bags. We also added several Value Added Services to our responsibilities on this job such as answering the white mail and housing a customer complaint phone line.

Our 20,000 weekly estimate turned into 60,000 in reality, but we geared up and got it done. Needless to say, we got all six people started plus more and kept them working for over 12 years on that job. We eventually rented a local office space, as the job warranted. Burger King franchisees considered this their most effective marketing to date. We only stopped doing it after they awarded their marketing to a different company that chose to use their own in-house vendor. We have recently noticed that Burger King is collecting all the applicants directly online. Karen was the account director for the Burger King Kids Club and who we answered to. She is my idea of a great manager. She was no push over and could be tough and tenaciously accomplish her goals while being reasonable and fair at the same time. She gave us a glowing reference that will ever be appreciated.

They were good years, and we appreciate the opportunities that we were given and the great contacts we made. We kept ourselves working and created in-office and at-home jobs for some good people. At one time we had twelve in-house employees and 40 local people typing at home as sub-contractors. We continue to use some of those same people today and enjoy running into the others around town. A good case for always being fair and kind.

Have you had any memorable job experiences you can share?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Starting a Data Entry Company

Okay - ages since I blogged but here goes.

I left off the Day of Small Things when I lost the job keying insurance forms for a doctor's clinic. From there I again went and found employment out of the house and had to have my son's stay in after school. I was traveling about an hour to work and my husband often made it to school to pick up the kids before me. I started out in a temporary position (Kelly Girls) as a specification typist for a design/engineer company. When a position opened up for an Administrative Assistant for one of the principles, I got it. I moved from there into IT support when a new network was installed (all the new high tech stuff). I enjoyed the job until the company started having financial trouble and a lack of jobs. They began laying off and soon closed up the office and moved the operation to Boston. Again I found myself looking for work. Only this time I had a little severance money. My husband and I thought it out: what could I do to make our lives easier, to be there for our sons? We decided that I would get some schooling in computer networking and get certified as a Novell Network Engineer. I took the classes, passed the seven tests and got my certification. Now maybe I can get something with more flexibility and closer to home. Sorry Charlie, I hunted for a job for a long time and it seems that I was more marketable as a secretary. However, I got a call from someone who knew someone I knew that needed a network installed in their office. It was a very large printing company - American Signature. They had just procured a job managing and processing a Kids Club for a major fast food company. I managed to present them with a network plan and a design for their data entry keying screens and data processes.

This was my real start. They decided not to do the data entry and processing in-house themselves and let me bid on it. I got the job! We had to get to work. To be continued....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Don't Despise the Day of Small Things

It's been a while but I am back to continue the story of my work from home saga. I left off with the purchase of an IBM Mag card machine and I was starting to solicit work. As I mentioned, we left notes on bulletin boards at the local colleges, told everyone we met, and ran an ad in the paper.

I started to get calls from students that needed their thesis and other papers typed. The going rate was $.35 per page but I was glad to be doing something to make some money while at home with the kids. Many times the work came in the afternoon and they needed it done by the morning. I would work late into the night to get it done. That was actually okay for a while because the kids were in bed. Needless to say, that can get old and sometimes did.

Shortly after my start up venture I received a call from a doctor that needed his insurance forms keyed and filed. This doctor specialized in geriatric Medicare and Medicaid patients. I went into his office for a meeting and he explained the job. We arrived at a deal and I happily went home to figure out how I would accomplish it. It was about this time that I upgraded my equipment to a PC. This PC was far from the desktop PC's we are using today. It was a SANYO computer, had 64 KB (not MB) of memory, did not have a hard drive, had a 5 1/4" floppy drive that the operating system (a predecessor of DOS called CPM) and all programs would run off. It came a "suite" of software applications that included WordStar, DataStar and a spreadsheet that I have forgotten the name of. I knew I could key them with WordStart but it was a great deal of work, besides I was only making 35 cents per filing. At that rate I might make $5.00 per week. I starting playing with DataStar to see if I could automate it and save time and eventually came up with a good system. I worked for this doctor for a good while and only lost the job when he stopped practicing.

What I learned from this was that if you are diligent, don't turn down work, don't think too much of yourself to take a lower paying job, and use your brain; you can usually figure out a way to be more productive, give a good product and compete with others if there is a fair playing field. I add the fair playing field because there are some occasions when it is not possible to be competitive. As an example: I gave a bid on some work last year and the customer came back to tell me that I was a few cents per record more than their bid from China. I do not consider that a fair playing field. As I'm sure most readers understand, China has different labor laws (I am happy to have fair labor laws) and lower overhead than we do. What may level out that playing field is that English is our first language, there is the ability to more closely manage the job, we are in closer proximity and when the customer calls we personally answer the phone and understand their job. There is also some expense, loss of control and risk involved in sending the work to an out-of-country service provider, either in hard copy or electronically.

That's all the data entry story for today. To be continued with the next post . . .

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Have Kids - Help them Adjust to your Work at Home

So you finally have a job working at home. Just what you've been hoping for. You are set up and the kids are outside playing, you sit down to type and:

Here comes little Jimmy crying. Big brother hit me and won't let me play with him. Whaw, whaw, will you play with me. What am I goin to do.

Well, Mom, it will take a little patience and creativity to help your children adjust and understand your new schedule. The first thing you can do is consider their schedule and try to work around it. If they are in school during the day, your in like Flint. But what about the summer when they are around the house and bored. Try to plan activities that will keep them busy (a little TV is okay but we all know too much is a bad thing). Do they have some hobbies that they can be involved in during the day, day camp during the summer, can you see them playing in the yard while you are working inside. I actually designed our house so that I could see the kids while I was on my PC. If the kids are loosing it, fighting and crying, take a break, go get an ice cream. Explain to them how their understanding with your new job will help them also. Maybe it will make it possible for the family to make a trip to Disneyland. Now before they demand your attention they may think about that trip to Disneyland.

Can you work in the evening when Dad is home and spending some quality time with his children?

Sometimes you will find it difficult but hang in there and be patient. It will get easier with time.

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Managing Your Time

The NUMBER ONE reason home workers fail is bad time management. A lot of the contractors that we have used over the years are moms so I will present this from that perspective.


Get up early. If you rise 30 - 45 minutes before the rest of the family you will a few minutes to collect your thoughts, have a cup of coffee and start the day prepared.

Have a plan: what needs to be done today. Do you have 5 hours of data entry plus need to pick up the kids and go to ballet lessons. Write down on a note pad what you are going to accomplish and when. This will also help you see if what you are expecting of yourself is realistic. Don't forget to leave a few minutes for personal time and the little chores that will creep in. You might have some items that need to be done through out the week that are secondary. Do most important thing first. Use discipline and stick to the Plan!

Group your running around: If you have to drop the kids at practice and pick them up in an hour, do your grocery shopping.

Get enough rest and relaxation time: Don't fall into the habit of not getting enough rest - it will catch up with you. Ask me how I know. Set some time to go for a walk with your family or get an ice cream. It will keep you balanced and your family will not resent your job (so much).

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How to Loose a Job

I have had many employees, home contractors and job applicants over the the years. I would like to share some of my observations and experiences with them.


PERFECT: She shows up for work on time and dependably, will do anything asked in fact looks for ways to be helpful to me and her coworkers. She recognizes that the company must be profitable in order to be viable and keep her employed and works toward that end. She is pleasant to be around. She will be with me as long as I can keep her.

OKAY: She shows up late occassionally (currently we have a casual flex schedule that works well for us but, in the past, some jobs required a regular schedule), grumbles about what projects she is assigned or complains that somebody else has an easier project, but when all else fails, she does her work fine. I consider her a good employee but guess who is staying if I have to make a choice?

NOT SO MUCH: Complains, not dependable, sloppy work, arguments with coworkers, etc., etc. She's gone as quickly as possible.


Pretty much as above but not under my supervision.

PERFECT: The ideal home worker is dependable, never falls off the map, cares about doing a good job and takes responsibility for the quality of her work. She will also not complain about assignments and makes her self available for whatever needs to be done. I will try my best to keep this person busy and happy.

NOT SO MUCH: The problem home worker pretty much likes the idea of working at home and would like a check but isn't really into the work stuff. She may be unavailable when needed and will be gone ASAP. She makes excuses about missing deadlines and begs more time (because she hasn't managed her time well). You would be amazed at home many of these we have hired, trained, set-up and supported over the years. Turned out I was the one working at their home - not them.


PERFECT: Applicant 1 shows up on time, neatly (but casually dressed for us is okay), passes the typing test without a problem, asks about what our needs are and sincerely considers how it fits with her situation. This person is my ideal.

NOT SO MUCH: Applicant 2 may show up late and not call, gives me a headache with her perfume or cigarette smell, may have a child with her that cries and demands while we are trying to talk, can't pass the typing test (hasn't practiced as I always suggest), is unorganized, asks all about what the job will do for her and tells me all about her requirements for a work at home job. Has no idea (nor does she care) about the companies needs to be viable.

Guess who got the job!

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