Failing at your own business–Virtual Assistant

Since my internet had been temperamental at best, I decided to try and branch out and find something that didn’t necessarily need a stable connection for hours at a time. So I thought I’d try being a virtual assistant. As a declaimer, even after the experience I’m about to relate, I think becoming a virtual assistant is a viable income opportunity for someone living in Mexico. It just didn’t work out so well for me.

One of my Facebook contacts was interested in setting up a course through Coursera and needed some virtual assistance to get the ball rolling. She let me set my own price. I did a bit of research and came up with a figure of $15 USD per hour flat rate. Although I considered pricing per job, i.e. $X for social media work, $X for proofreading, etc. I didn’t really know how to set those prices. My new boss agreed to my fee of $15 per hour. We agreed on the submission of my hours at the end of each month with net 15 (she would pay interest if the bill was not paid after 15 days of submission).

My first order of business was to look over the website and suggest edits or improvements. Then I began working on a project that would become a published text once completed. Initially, I was overwhelmed, not with the work, but with how the tasks were being assigned. Or rather the disconnect between what my boss wanted to be done and how it was labeled in the task assignment option in Asana. Once that was more organized, things moved along at a brisker pace.

At the end of August, I turned in my invoice requesting payment for the little bit of work I did in July and the much more substantial workload I did in August. My boss said that payment would be deferred until the course was launched. That was a little disappointing, but ok.

My boss, her partner, and I had weekly progress check meetings via Google Hangouts.  Priority tasks were determined for the following week and analytics were well, analyzed. Things seemed to be moving along quite well.

The course was launched in the middle of September and the focus became marketing for a time. I designed a template for questions about the course for the Facebook group. I researched other groups where marketing might take place. I contacted potential affiliates. I even became an affiliate myself and promoted the course on my own time.

I submitted an invoice for work completed in September. Again, my payment would have to be deferred until such time as the course generated a profit. Well, I was still working at my other job, so I’d survive.

The focus again changed to the production of the next course in the series. I listened to a series of interviews, highlighted and time stamped relevant information. I researched and wrote the first two lessons.

Then I had some internet issues at the beginning of October, so wasn’t able to work on the course as much as I would have liked. At the first virtual meeting, I again asked about my pay. I was in need of some cash immediately. In response, my boss told me to cease work immediately on the course since she couldn’t pay me.

I was annoyed. The next day, she removed me from the production channel on Slack, canceled my collaboration status on Coursera and eliminated any tasks that still needed to be done on Asana. She also changed me from administrator to moderator in the Facebook group.

I sat and stewed on this problem. She was in Canada, her partner was in the U.S. and I was in Mexico. What sort of bargaining position was I in? And how true was the cry of poverty if a series of Facebook ads were launched immediately after I was dismissed? Facebook ads aren’t cheap by any means.

I decided to write a polite collection letter. I had it sent registered mail to Canada. Then I sent it as a message to every single social media site I could find either partner on. This included Linkedin, Facebook, Slack, Asana, and direct email. I requested payment in full of the current month’s balance and the 3 previous months overdue payments.

I was underwhelmed with her response. She sent an email saying that she was sorry that I was frustrated with the situation. She also sent $7.25 that was the affiliate commission I earned for the month of September. There was a list of excuses, the course hadn’t generated enough money to pay me yet, the U.S. credit card she had applied for hadn’t come through, she hadn’t been able to set up her bank to send and receive payments through Stripe (even though I suggested she send the money via Paypal). There was no mention as to when she would be able to pay me the $672 still owed.

Although there is some effort on behalf of freelancers to avoid non-payment of services, it apparently happens quite often.  New York City has established the “Freelance isn’t Free” Act requiring clients to pay freelancers in full for work worth $800 USD by the agreed upon date or within 30 days of task completion. While commendable, since none of the parties involved are NYC residents, this wouldn’t be helpful in my case.

So my next step was to send invoices via Stripe and Paypal to the partners. One completely ignored the invoices. The other denied the charges and canceled the bill. With that sort of response, a little social shaming was in order. That’s where this post comes in. I also tagged both owners at the social media sites they can be found at politely asking when I could expect payment. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

I haven’t completely given up on the idea of virtual assisting. I found the work to be diverse and interesting. I didn’t need stable internet for large blocks of time like I do teaching. I was good at what I was doing. However, this not getting paid aspect made me rethink some things.

Going forward, if my first invoice is not paid in a timely manner, I will no longer continue to work for the client until the invoice is paid. I still might not get paid, but I won’t waste as much time as I did with the above job. There are a lot of fish in the sea or rather people who need the services of virtual assistants. I can certainly find someone with enough integrity to pay for those services.

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12 days of Guadalupe on Instagram

Jill Douglas set our little SOTB Bloggers group a challenge this month, to find and share 12 images of the Virgen de Guadalupe on Instagram.

You might wonder why I participated since I’m not Catholic, nor Mexican, and the iconic image doesn’t inspire a spiritual connection to either the Virgin Mary or Tonantzin in me. However, I can appreciate good artwork when I see it, whatever its theme. After all, historically, artists made their bread and butter from murals, statues, and paintings commissioned by the church. For example, Da Vinci created the religious masterpiece The Last Supper and was not what was considered an orthodox Christian and Michelangelo who painted the glorious Sistine Chapel was condemned by the Pope for his religious beliefs.  

Be that as it may, I accepted the challenge and set off in search of La Virgen. The nearest town, Moroleon has whitewashed nearly all religious drawings with the exception of the churches themselves. As I wanted to capture a people’s version of La Virgen, I wasn’t interested in tromping into churches to snap pictures there. So my husband took me to Uriangato, which as you know has a different feel altogether. (Uriangato, Fogatas, tapetes and San Miguel Arcangel) Sure enough, nearly every corner had a shrine in honor of La Virgen de Guadalupe and I could take my pick.

It was evident that each mural was lovingly maintained. Flowers and plants were well-kept. The image was often covered by a roof or had evidence of periodic touching up. And the artwork was good, very good. Some murals only depicted her Majesty, Nuestra Señora la Reina de Mexico, herself. Others included Juan Diego, who was the first to speak with the apparition way back in 1531.  Still others included a crucified Jesus or a prayer asking for the Protectress’s blessing.

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Here is a composite of the 12 pictures I shared on Instagram leading up to today, el Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, which the feast day that kicks off the holiday season known as Guadalupe-Reyes Maraton here in Mexico.

If you enjoyed these pictures, check out the #12daysofguadalupe participants below:

My Life Craft-n-Dab

Jill Michelle Douglas

Surviving Mexico

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Would you like to learn more about La Virgen de Guadalupe?

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Tiene azucar? — Diabetes in Mexico

Tiene azucar? (Do you have sugar?) is the local way to ask if you have diabetes. It’s not uncommon to see people who have had their feet or legs cut off because of complications with diabetes. The lady who talked to herself on the way to La Yacata had untreated diabetes. She died of a diabetic coma a few years ago at the age of 45. When my son was in elementary, parents were required to attend a workshop on how to diagnose diabetes in our children. We were to look for a purplish ring around their necks that looks like mugre (dirt) but that doesn’t wash off. 

According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is the number one cause of death with nearly 80,000 deaths per year. Mexicans with diabetes die on average younger, at 57 years, compared to the overall age of 69. Early death is not the only side effect. Diabetes can cause strokes, kidney failure, foot ulcers, nerve damage, and blindness.  By 2050, health care practitioners estimate that half of the population of Mexico will have diabetes.

One factor in developing Type 2 diabetes is lifestyle choices. Over the past 40 years, Mexicans have gotten fat. Soda consumption is out of control with an average of more than 176 liters per person per year. It’s hard to find a meal not accompanied by a coke, “la chispa de la vida.” Even breakfast might be served as a bolillo de trigo (wheat bun) and coke. In most areas, a can of soda is cheaper than a bottle of water. High alcohol consumption is another factor in the high sugar diet so popular these days, sugar tax be damned.

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You are what you eat!

The diet has changed as well. Moving from a predominantly plant-based diet based around corn, the average Mexican now consumes more than double the amount of meat consumed in 1960. Carnitas (fried pork) stands can be found on nearly every corner.

In addition to poor diet, Mexicans have become less active overall. Children don’t run and frolic outdoors, but instead huddle in corners playing hour after hour on their cell phones, tablets, and Xboxes leading to a rise in childhood obesity and early onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Of course, it’s not all in the diet. Mexicans also have a genetic predisposition towards developing Type 2 diabetes which compounds the problem.

And the prevalence of this disease places a burden on the healthcare system currently in place. Estimates average more than $700 USD per year per person out of pocket expenses for diabetes maintenance (insulin injections, test strips, pills) and that doesn’t include the cost of dialysis and kidney transplants that are services also not covered under Seguro Popular. Since minimum wage is still under $5.00 USD per day, this is a huge expense for many families

More education about the prevention and management of diabetes is needed. The general idea I hear is that we all die from something, we might as well die fat and happy. And you can bet, their death will be celebrated in grand style, carnitas (fried pork) and coke all around at the velorio and novena perpetuating the cycle.

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Inspirational Writers in Mexico–Beverly Wood

Beverly Wood co-authored The Move to Mexico Bible that I reviewed a few weeks ago. Here’s a little more information about her life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was born in Toronto but spent two decades on the west coast of Canada (Vancouver and then Vancouver Island) before moving to Mexico in 2012. We work from home (we are writers, editors, producers) so we could live anywhere in the word that had internet. We briefly considered Europe as I have due Canadian/Irish citizenship but it rains in the winter like it does in BC. We were done with Canadian winters – even though the west coast is much kinder than Ontario.

We explored destinations like Costa Rica and Galveston, TX (where we spent a number of winters). CR did not have the culture, the vibrancy or the food of Mexico and while the weather was spectacular, we found the environment lacking in something. Galveston was comfortable – we had previously lived in Dallas for a year on assignment – but that was in the Ann Richards time period. We witnessed a shift in the US over the years we spent wintering in Galveston and as Canadians, weren’t happy with the direction. So we started checking out more locations in Mexico. It was all research.

To be honest, it’s our environment that has changed – our lives are pretty much the same as they were! We still work at home, so get up, make coffee, go to the office. I do have a housekeeper once a week and gardener once a week,  which was a luxury I didn’t have up north. More sun instead of winter rain, and a longer gardening season, We really don’t eat processed food as much as we did, I suppose.

I actually have a stronger appreciation for Canada, as I watch the news from Mexico (being writers and editors, we are news junkies). And I realize how incredible the health care system is in Canada. I appreciate my home country more than I ever did before. But I do think some of that is the global situation and gaining perspective from distance.

I have been trying to learn the language for six years off and on and finally my latest instructor says I would be considered ‘intermediate’ now, were I to head for a Spanish classroom (I do one on one Skype lessons with a local teacher – much easier to make that happen than a physical class for me).

Emergency medical care in Spanish (my husband has had both a gallbladder attack and an emergency appendectomy) is a gong show for me. I can’t communicate on any medical level, and I am sure they run every test in the book (private hospitals) because we are gringos and have insurance – never mind that we have to pay on our credit card and wait three months for reimbursement, My heart jumps into my throat every time anything happens that might result in a hospital visit, If anything will drive me out of Mexico it will be my own inability to manage the language well enough to deal with medical issues. And the medical system itself. Again, I was raised in Canada where one’s health care is almost taken for granted.beverly3 How does anyone persevere? I stick my head in the sand and pretend we aren’t hitting an age where things start to break. And when it happens, you deal with it. I think it’s probably true that the anxiety worrying about anything is more painful than the event. When anything happens, so far we have dealt with it. We’ll see how it goes in the future. I am very grateful that we have a country we feel is worth going home to, should we decide to leave. We don’t plan to live in Mexico for the rest of our lives  – maybe another five to 10 years. But who knows? Maybe we will. We love the way Mexico deals with death spiritually (the Day of the Dead).

The things that have always been important remain important – friends & family, being honest, not doing harm, trying to do good. We were never very material people and the typical middle-class aspirations have never been important to us. This is an interesting exercise. I hadn’t realized before articulating this but we’ve always been kind of nomads so having things wasn’t really practical. We have a 5 x 10 storage locker in Canada. We moved the important stuff to Mexico, even a couple of pieces of furniture. One is an antique Chinese cabinet that was the first item I ever shipped and imported into Canada on my own and we like it, but if it disappears tomorrow we don’t really care. I’ve gone off a bit here, sorry – but I really don’t have answers for some things. When we came to Mexico – we’d already figured out who we were. I know it can be a complete change for some – but we started freelancing 30 years ago so haven’t participated much in the rat race, lucky for us.

A defining moment for me was looking around at a social gathering in the first town we landed in, where every guest (big catered party) was gringo and speaking English. Incredible home, worth $1 million+. Half a block away, I had noticed a small house with the door open – the floor was dirt and the roof was a blue tarpaulin. I looked around and thought, “This isn’t what we came here for, I could be in any gated community in Arizona”.beverly1We have two dogs, we have a pond, a pool, a large garden. Lots of chores. Paying bills, grocery shopping in the markets – it all takes time.

We are both writers and consultants. We write books and also do ghostwriting of memoirs for select clients.  I am currently working on two ghost jobs for clients – one is a Canadian story – a successful businessman who has run airlines and pubs and the other is a tragic (true) love story that happened in Mexico. move to mexico bible

I was a real estate agent in Toronto and know Mexico well. We have bought and sold several homes in different areas and I have working relationships in assorted cities and have been consulting on possible moves to Mexico for clients. I conduct a series of interviews that helps them determine the area they would like to explore and I will find potential rentals or potential purchases for them to check out when they arrive. I can arrange any facet of their arrival and pre-planning and my co-author of The Move to Mexico BibleSonia Diaz – can assist with visas and other legal requirements/options once they arrive.

I can be contacted at:

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