Oct 8 2006, 03:20 AM
Following the general downturn of the radio industry with respect to RF engineers who work in the field, I am faced with the possibility of a forced career change.
One of the things that plagues me with the radio industry is the relatively low hourly wage that clients consider "fair". My published rate is $65, however, I charge clients retained by referral just $50. Despite this modest rate, quite a few clients are indicating that the rate is more than they want to pay. I have lost about 30% of my assignments over this issue.
Now consider the context of different industries: A plumber gets over $100/hr to fix a leaky faucet or unstop a toilet. Usually, the client is not a multi-million dollar enterprise, but a homeowner, struggling to make ends meet. And the leaky faucet won't prevent them from earning an income, as most people's jobs are performed outside of the bathroom.
Now consider my job: I work for clients who have millions of dollars in physical and market assets. An hour of down time (off the air) can literally cost them thousands of dollars in lost ad revenue. These stations have much deeper pockets than the homeowner, yet they are unwilling to pay a rate half that of a plumber's.
The comparison seems to suggest that there is an inequality here. I do important work, often under life-threatening conditions. This means that I sometimes have to work in close proximity to 10,000 volts, or perhaps climb a radio tower to troubleshoot a problem. Often in the heat of an emergency, in bad weather. The plumber generally operates in much less dangerous circumstances.
There are a couple of engineers in my general market area who are religious and set their rates altruistically. As such, my rate is $10-15 higher than theirs. And they get most of the business.
I usually do reasonably well when there's a new station being built, or a station moving to a new building needs new studios constructed, but this happens infrequently.
Another factor is that modern broadcast equipment is so reliable that the owners develop the attitude that it must not really need regular preventative maintenance either. In the old days of radio, each station had a full-time engineer. Today, the large cluster groups have one engineer who is responsible for a half dozen station facilities in a geographical region.
I'm a bottom-feeder--that is, I work for the independent stations which are not corporate-owned. These usually are the non profit classical stations, and many AM daytime stations located in urban areas. Some of these stations are doing quite well, having discovered the power of selling blocks of time to independent programmers (mostly Caribbean in my experience).
The snort story is that I had a negative business profit last year of about $3,000. I spent more than I took in. I'll admit that part of the reason for this was reduced hours of work due to an intense home repair project that is about halfway through the 8-year estimated timeframe that I laid out. Even so, client calls for service dropped precipitously in 2004 and have been flat through this year.
I was ready for a change, and an opportunity fell into my lap in mid-June. An old co-worker I used to know before I retired from the corporate world in the mid 1980s, bumped into me at an ethnic function that my wife attends every year. He mentioned that he was starting a new business in financial services "helping people get out of debt and retire rich." I didn't think the work fit the man's personality, but that's what he told me. We eventually get together, both of us and our Filipina wives (it seems just about every middle aged to retired guy is married to a Filipina these days) for dinner at my house.
The next day, his wife calls my wife and invites us to some sort of 'career overview'. Since it's only 4 miles from the house and the time of day is reasonable, we both decided to attend to find out what possible opportunity would be presented. When I first got to the event, I entered a room full of about 30-40 people. There was a projector in the room and everyone wore nametags. I was asked to sign a roster and put on a nametag. We took our seats and listened to a presentation.
At first, my mind was going "MLM, MLM, let's walk out." But as the presentation progressed, I could clearly see that this was quite a different situation and the services and products the company offered were a great benefit to the minimally-educated (financially) middle class family. The compensation system was not like an MLM, but like real estate. I liked that. The presenter posted checks for all to see from his last month's personal income from this business. He showed an income of $68,000. I was skeptical, but becoming somewhat optimistic that this large corporation was going about business legitimately.
By the end of the presentation, I was pretty much convinced that we should get involved as a business partner and I indicated as such on a blue card they handed out with some questions about the opportunity and whether the viewers thought there was anything that interested them.
I'll say this: it's a good business, but there's a major challenge to overcome before the new entry can partake in this gravy train: you need to recruit a decent number of people and build your own team of trained reps. You get promoted for every X number of hires. With each promotion, the commission percentage increases substantially.
What they have the new person do is come up with a 'builder's list' of contacts--people whom the new trainee/rep will use to bootstrap his/her business. It starts with calling up friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers--anyone that will listen to a 15-minute presentation about the business opportunity. Many people do quite well in this. It's amazing how many people the average person knows, and how large most families are, or how geographically close these families may be. Ethnic groups do especially well due to close-knit community traditions.
When it came to me, I figured it would be reasonably easy to interest a couple of my friends. I have no living relatives left and my wife's relatives are in California and the Philippines, so my options were limited. What with me being a misanthropic reclusive most of my life, I made few friends (and with the advent of the internet bulletin boards, quite a few enemies). But the few friends I do have are either not in the right market, being old, retired, or just too darned business saavy to need the type of financial services we offer to more 'average' families, so I quickly found myself out of names to call up. Which is the death of many new hires in our industry. Usually, once wasted, these new hires drift off, stop coming to the meetings and are lost.
I chose to stick it out. I read about an Ecuadoran couple who basically made almost nothing for the first 3 years they were involved with the firm. They were new immigrants in 1995. This year, they were recognized as top income earners, having earned $150,000 that month in personal income and having hired about 250 people themselves. I set these people as my model. I realized that success in this biz would take time and that I should not expect instant wealth and become despondent when it doesn't happen.
I went on to go to school to study for my life insurance license. I passed the test a couple weeks ago. The license app is pending with the state.
Meanwhile, I get the brilliant idea to try a job search database. I look up Monster.com and am dismayed to find out it costs a couple of grand to buy limited access to a few hundred names for 2 weeks. I look at some competing sites and find similar costs. Those are out. So I talk to my trainer. He suggests going to the state-run job search sites. A lot of Googling and I find Jobsearch.org and I create and account. I can browse 600,000 resumes. "This is great!" I remember thinking. Only problem was that the contact info and names were blocked "not approved to view". The next day, I attempt to login to the site and my username is no longer recognized "user does not exist". I end up creating the same account all over again. Same situation--can't browse the contact info. Can browse the resumes--heck there are 2500 people interested in sales and insurance just in the town where our main office is! But I can't reach these people.
I write an e-mail to the admin of the site asking why the contact info is not available. I get a response the next day to the effect that you have to wait three days for approval and it helps to have a tax ID number and an unemployement tax ID. The following day, I find my account deleted again, so I sign up for a third time. I'm realizing that three days will never pass if the account keeps vanishing ever 24 hours, so I write the admin and inform him that the accounts are disappearing a day after signing up. I'm waiting for a response.
I approached our Regional Vice President at the meeting, about this tax ID requirement for registering. He quickly informed me that 'because you're in your own business, there is none." And he further stated that it's against the rules that we agree to when we signed our independant business application, to call up on resumes. What a blow that was! I had high hopes that by sheer volume of calls, I could build my team. Now I was stuck approaching total strangers in public--many of whom are not looking for a new job. I got this sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, realizing I had invested hundreds of dollars in the business app, training and my toll-free business line, and was in too deep to just quit.
Meanwhile, my trainer and I spent a day at a gas station, conducting a bogus survey, that leads into asking people if they are interested in earning extra money, part time. It was quite uncomfortable for me. I kept thinking about how scary I must look--I mean, here's this big, strapping guy approaching you while you're pumping gas into your vehicle--what does he want? I'd walk up to whomever was just starting the filling process and greet them and ask them if they would mind taking a quick survey 'about the local economy'. Most said no thanks. But out of an afternoon of approaching people, I got four that answered my questions. Three gave phone numbers. One was a salesman himself, but he gave only a postal address.
When I got to my office the next evening to make the followup calls, two of the numbers were wrong numbers, no such person exists at the number. The fourth answered and seemed interested, if mildly. I read my script, invited the woman to the 'career overview' and gave her directions and an address. I even called her the night before the overview, just to make sure that she had not forgotten.
The day of the overview comes, but the guest never shows, and never calls to say that she couldn't make it. So I hung around for 45 minutes after the meeting, talking to a woman who happened to be in my insurance training class. She too, was waiting for her invited guests, who never showed up. We compared notes about our attempts to recruit family, friends, relatives.. her story was not too surprising, as several of the people she had contacted had already been contacted by another person from the same company. One was even working for the company under a person who was her upline! I too had found the some of the people I spoke with in public had been through the business and quit, stating "it was too intense".
So here it is, today, and I'm somewhat defocused on my goal because of the realization that I won't have a database of 600,000 job seeekers to call on and present the opportunity. The electric bill hasn't been paid in three months. The dentist, not since March. My radio business has pretty much evaporated, and I'm pretty much up against the corner, realizing that this opportunity is really all I've got. So I'm not giving up just yet. But I feel tired now and want to sleep. Maybe I'll feel better about it in the morning...