Tag Archives: working online

Failing at your own business–Content Writing

ce writerThose antennas are helping some with the stability of the internet. It still goes out randomly. I’ve cut my online teaching hours to the bare minimum. However, if I ever want to get a new moto, I need to earn more money than bare-bones survival income.

In December, I made an effort to find another sort of job. I must have filled out at least a dozen online applications for virtual assistants, bloggers, copywriters, and freelance writers. Finally, at the beginning of February, I heard back from one.

The position was for a content writer. With Google changing up how things are indexed and classified and rated every few months, everyone needs more content on their sites just to get noticed, whether they are bloggers or merchants. So content writing is becoming the in-demand job online.

Even though I passed the initial screening, that didn’t mean I had the job. I was given two articles to write, one was about climate change and the other was about men’s bicycles. I had no problems with the climate change topic even though it was considerably longer than most of my posts at 2500 words.

However, I completely bombed the men’s bicycle article. I had a hard time finding information for bikes in the price range I was supposed to focus on. I had never written a Best of type article before, so my formatting was WAY off. Not to mention, this article was also 2500 words.

In order to turn it in, I needed to have a Grammarly grade of at least 90 percent.  Grammarly is like an online spell/grammar checker. Grammarly decided my writing was only worth 88 percent. Even after going through paragraph by paragraph, I couldn’t improve. I had to use the Grammarly Premium app to find those two unclear antecedents that were holding me up.

So now at 90%, I turned in my article and the boss was flabbergasted, not in a good way, mind you. He said I was totally off. He gave me some suggestions, cleared up what I was supposed to be researching, sent me a sample article and asked if I would do it again. He said that my writing was good and they normally didn’t give second chances, but he thought I could do this. Oh, and could I have it in by Monday morning?

So I worked over the weekend because I really wanted this job. When the internet drops, I can go and do something else for a while, and pick back up with my writing when it decides to work again. So much less stress than dropping connection in the middle of a live class!

I also tried out Hemingway Editor, which I’d heard about but had never used. Hemmingway will tell you what grade level you are writing at based on the complexity and length of your sentences. It will suggest ways you can “dumb-down” your writing since the average reader in the U.S. reads at about a 7th-grade level. Short and clear sentences, in the manner of Hemingway (hence the name), are the key.

Just as I was finishing up my revision, I accidentally deleted the file in Google Docs. That gave me about 10 minutes of pure panicked-induced adrenalin before I figured out how to restore a previous version.  Whew! I lost some information but not the entire article.

After more hours than I could count, I finished the article and sent it back. It was perfect. I got paid for both articles, a prompt Paypal deposit, not like that Canadian lady that still hasn’t paid me. Then I got two more articles.

One was another Best of type article, only this time on hot weather tents. I nailed it the first try! The second one was a review article, which I hadn’t done previously. This was a whopping 3,000 words on a prepared meal delivery program–you know, like Meals-on-wheels. I was confused about whether I was supposed to be reviewing the product or reviewing reviews about the product. My article was rejected.

The third week, he only sent me one article so that I would have time to redo the review article. Since my class schedule was so minimal I had no problem fixing the article and completing the new one, about water toys. There was a bit of a problem with a 4% similarity with another site that reviewed two of the same toys. I was introduced to Copyscape, which will search out any possible plagiarism issues online. Since my boss thought I didn’t mean to “copy” he asked me to reword the descriptions, which took like 5 minutes to do. 

I did so well with that, he sent me the second article, this one about train tables. I finished by Wednesday, averaging one article or rewrite per day.

This job has been wreaking havoc with my self-esteem though. Being rejected is never easy. Having my writing rejected was even worse. My best online buddy Daisy kept up a constant flow of encouragement–reminding me there was a learning curve for any new job and that I was more than capable of doing this one, with a little practice. My husband was supportive in his own way–he said it was good I’m learning new things at my age–whatever that’s supposed to mean!

I’m hoping that next week, I can complete both articles without a problem making me MASTER OF THE WRITING UNIVERSE or some such totally cool person. Meanwhile, since I’m done with those articles, I’m working on that book on Mexican healthcare that’s been taking me so long to finish!

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Filed under Education

Failing at your Own Business–Author

The end of January brought me my first 1099-MISC from Kindle Direct Publishing. Would you believe I made $12.91 in royalties from the sale of my books in 2018? Ok, well, that’s not a lot of moolah, but it’s a start, isn’t it? My goal is to double that income this year. Seems obtainable.

January itself was off to a rousing start. I had 107 downloads via Amazon. Unfortunately, they were all FREE downloads from my promotions. 117 pages were read via Kindle Unlimited. That netted me a total of $2.07 in royalties that I’ll get next month. Guess I can’t quit my day job just yet.

writing goingNo one ever said that being a writer was an easy road. Since I’ve decided not to be dismayed, I am continuing work on the 5 books I have planned for this year. I hope to have another ready for publication by the end of February, but with the internet being what it is, uploading the book to Amazon may be delayed a bit.

Additionally, I went ahead and set up a new web site as an official author just in time for National Entrepreneurship Week (February 16-23). Very apropos since I am “setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit” with this venture.

I’ll still be blogging my wild and wacky adventures in Mexico here at Surviving Mexico, so never fear. The new blog will be going in a completely different direction.

content creative heading.jpgContent Creative will be devoted to writing, blogging, and reading. You can expect interviews with authors, book reviews and inspirational articles and how-to guides for bloggers, writers, and reviewers.

So should any of those topics tickle your fancy, you can find me in my new position as a freelance writer/reviewer at:

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Filed under Blogging, Book Reviews, Employment

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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Filed under Employment, Teaching