Tag Archives: options for working online

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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Failing at your own business–Teaching Chinese kids online

Camille Online

Now that I’ve moved my home office to La Yacata I thought I’d try my hand at teaching at one of the many Chinese online schools since they pay double what I make teaching kids in Colombia. Of course, there are the ungodly hours to contend with since China is on the other side of the world. But again, since my office was now at my home, I figured I could get up early enough and then tuck myself back into my bed after teaching a few hours.

One of my friends has been promoting a school she works with (gogokid). There was a sign-up bonus for her, so that’s where I started. I also decided to hedge my bets and responded to an email from a recruiter on Linkedin. Of course, invitations to interview came rolling my way.

Apparently, the platform my friend works with is in demand, at least for interviews. When I tried to sign up for a slot, there weren’t any available for at least a week. I kept checking back and some evening interview slots came open. Again, since I’m now at home, an evening interview wouldn’t be so bad so I signed up.

I checked in 30 minutes before the interview since it used a video conferencing platform I wasn’t familiar with. I checked the teacher recommendation list provided by the school as well. Believe it or not, one suggestion was NOT teaching in your pajamas. Umm, well, I had my pajamas on, but I put a sweater over it so you couldn’t tell.

Another suggestion or rather as it turns out, a requirement, was adding pretty visuals like words and cutouts to the background. I have some stuff I kept from my elementary and kindergarten teaching days, but they were stored neatly in the boxes piled under the steps and I really didn’t want to dig them out for the interview. The blue background required by the company I already worked for would have to do.

I looked over the slides provided for the sample teaching class. They were simple, maybe about a preschool level. There were some interactive aspects. Clicking on various sections of the slide would cause music to play, chimes to sound and the figures to dance around. Well, ok. And the vocabulary was hand/arm. I figured I could use some TPR (Total Physical Response) to present the material.

I was also able to check my latency or lag time during the interview. I found that on average my latency was around 200 milliseconds behind, which considering I’m in the middle of nowhere Mexico, I didn’t think was too bad. I’m not sure all every online school would be ok with that though.

The interviewer was a young lady from China, in her early 20s if I were to guess. She looked to be in a cubicle at an office, probably the main headquarters for this particular school. She asked me questions about my teaching experience the answers of which she could have easily gotten from my resume. She seemed confused when I explained I had a degree in Education with a specialty in English as a Second Language and not a TESOL certificate. I explained that I also have a teaching certificate from the state of Nebraska and a teaching license from the state of Virginia and have been teaching kindergarten and elementary students in Mexico for the past 10 years. I have also been teaching adults and children online for the past 2 years. Again, all of this was included in my application.

The next segment of my interview was to teach a 10-minute sample class. The interviewer would pretend to be a 5-year-old Chinese child. This part went pretty badly in my opinion. I don’t know any Chinese and this “student” didn’t know any English. I used some TPR and managed to muddle through the lesson but I could tell the interviewer wasn’t impressed.

The feedback the interviewer was quite harsh. She said I should watch videos on YouTube to learn how to use TPR. She said that I should put pretty things in the background. She said that teaching Chinese children was completely different than teaching Mexican children. She said I should design an additional reward motivation system to encourage the child to interact even though the platform provided up to 5 stars that I could give the child for motivational purposes.

Although I kept smiling and nodding as she ripped my teaching session apart, I was feeling quite discouraged. It left me somewhat traumatized in that I have no desire to respond to the other email requests for interviews that are piling up in my inbox. After a day or two, once the negativity was tempered with time, I thought back at her comments.

Yes, teaching Mexican children is completely different than teaching Chinese children. Although I’m by no means an expert, over the years I’ve learned what sort of things motivate participation, what sort of references to use so that the very young understand and I have had the decided advantage that if all else fails I can use my Mexican Spanish for classroom control and basic clarification in addition to my clownish TPR efforts. I didn’t have either Chinese cultural background or the first clue about its language structure going into this interview.

I could have used more TPR. I could have added pretty cutouts to the background. I could have come up another sort of reward system. I could have also put on a business suit instead of teaching in my pajamas covered with a sweater if I was really serious about succeeding.

So I can say, that I did learn a good bit about how I might improve my interviewing skills for this type of position. The question remains whether I really want to.

While I think perhaps teaching Chinese 5-year-olds online isn’t for me, several ladies of my acquaintance do quite well teaching Chinese students online. I follow one blog China Figure it Out who actually lives in China and has been teaching with VIPkids for some time. She chronicles the challenges she has had with cultural issues and teaching techniques. I recommend reading her extremely helpful posts BEFORE taking the plunge into early mornings and late night teaching sessions.

There are a huge number of Chinese online schools out there (Whales English) and it can be quite lucrative when compared to teaching for pesos at a Mexican school so don’t be discouraged by my failure. Rather use my experience to learn what NOT to do and carry on! If one interview goes bad, improve what you need to improve and try again. I’ve included links to some of the online Chinese schools in the post if you want to give it a go!

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