Friday, April 29, 2011

I Was Testing You

My brother and I are very messy throughout our creative process, while his wife and her best friend (my coworker) require a neat and orderly workspace. Naturally, these different approaches create some tension in the workshop.

Well, my brother wrecked the place while working on a very involved project, scattering sawdust, scraps, and tools everywhere. I considered that he might appreciate some help cleaning up, but ultimately chose to concentrate on pending client projects, reasoning that billable work ought to take precedence over cleanliness. After a day or two, I realized that no one had tidied up the mess, and suspected that there was some power play afoot. Not wishing to become the resident janitor, I decided not to clean the mess, but resolved not to add to it myself. Finally, on the fourth day, my brother (and boss) announced that he had purposefully left the mess to test out which employee would take the initiative. Which really meant that he wanted to see who would cave under the pressure—and my readers know that I’m no push-over. Then his wife (also my boss) rolled out the new cleaning schedule which they plan to discuss with us at length come Monday morning.

Although I think that all adult employees ought to be responsible for their own messes, I wish to appear cooperative. If they want to pay me a graphic designer’s pay for sweeping, then so be it. I’m not too proud to push a broom. The part of this that I find disturbing is that they are purposefully trying to stir up competition between their two employees. The best friend and I have overcome many of our fears and competitive drives and have settled into a comfortable routine and divided the workload fairly. She admitted to me that she worries that as the only non-family employee, that she might not be given the same opportunities. I admitted my concern that as the best friend and former coworker of the main decision maker of the business, she was chosen for her skills, while I was merely chosen for my connections as a relative. Now that we’ve become familiar, neither of us feels particularly threatened by the other. So, why do the owners want to bring that spirit of competition back? If they’re seeking a winner and a loser of these tests, it would seem that they only intend to keep one of us long-term.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Commission Sales Debate

The bosses of this new business met with us to discuss an arrangement to earn commission on sales. I was very excited that this was going to be offered, since I’m not comfortable with outside sales, I was glad to have a reward and incentive for extending myself in this capacity. Afterall, it is a small business, so we all need to be involved in sales.

But the structure of the arrangement was very disappointing. Handing someone a business card does not constitute earning a commissionable sale. Any leads resulting from the signage on my personal vehicle do not constitute commissionable sales. Since my job description requires me to promote our products online, those sales are uncommissionable. Prospecting must be done on our own time and any orders that we collect while on the customer site will be paid out at 10% commission. They will not pay commission on any sale under $100.00. If they assign us to prospect during a business networking event, we may collect our regular wages, plus 2% commission on a qualified sale. Also, each of us would be responsible for tracking our own commissionable sales, by documenting and justifying how we earned each sale.

The root problem is, they want to create an incentive without actually having to pay out commission. Who is going to walk into a place of business and stay until they complete a sale? Prospecting is more casual than that. If I do any prospecting, I’m going to simply hand the customer a business card, tell them a sentence or two about what we do, and suggest that they contact us when our services are needed. According to these rules, any resulting sale would not be commissionable.

Sadly, the entire policy was created after this incident: I over-heard the bosses lamenting that they would not be able to attend the Home & Garden Show due to another obligation. I assumed that it was a business networking opportunity, and decided to take the inititative (they are always preaching about how they encourage their employees to take the initiative), sacrifice my weekend to attend and network. I passed out 50 business cards to prime members of our target market, and returned with several solid leads. When I asked how to record my time, I was told that I would not be paid for the time spent prospecting, since the owners had not requested that I do so. They were thrilled that I took the initiative and was so successful, and they hoped that I might earn enough in commission off of the sales to compensate for the time spent. The problem with that is I can’t use work time to work the leads or my commission rate will drop from 10% to 2% and I have no free time to spend outside of work for this. Not much of an incentive, huh?

After the new commission policies were explained, the other employee remarked that she would be happy to have 2% of a sale now and then and would view it merely as a little bonus. I pointed out to her that their objective of offering commission was to incite us to do more than we usually would do, to generate real, substantial sales--which view neither of us had adopted. And even if I could somehow achieve a “qualified sale,” I certainly have no intention of having to argue why I should be paid out commission on each sale.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Another College Graduate

My mother-in-law is a Hispanic American who speaks English with a Spanish accent. She is white-headed at 60-something. She is very protective over her money, always pays in cash, and always counts her change at the register because she has caught so many cashiers short-changing her. Well, she went to pay her cell phone bill at the local office. The bill came to $30.60. So, she handed the clerk one twenty dollar bill, one ten dollar bill, one quarter, 3 dimes, and one nickel. The cashier took one look at the coin change and demanded another nickel, "you owe another nickel; this is only 55 cents. My mother-in-law asked the clerk to recount. She put her finger on the quarter and counted, "twenty-five". Finger on one dime and counted "thirty-five". Finger on second dime "forty-five." Finger on third dime "fifty". Finger on the nickle, "fifty-five." Then she repeated, "You still owe 5 cents." My mother-in-law was baffled at the woman's error. The clerk grew impatient and told the crazy old tightwad to "Nevermind, I'll put another nickel in for you." So, my mother-in-law again insisted that she had already paid in full. The clerk pointed out that as a college graduate, she was certain that she was capable of counting down 60 cents in change. Finally, the clerk realized her own mistake and felt rather silly for having been so argumentative. I told my mother-in-law that if I had been there, I might have reminded her that you don't learn to count change in college, you learn it in 1st grade elementary school.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

New Job, New Challenges

Now that I have accepted a job working for my brother and sister-in-law, I face all new challenges. For one thing, my husband is really uncomfortable with my decision to work for family. He feels that my brother only offered me the job out of pity. While that didn’t seem consistent with my brother’s personality, I considered that husband might be right. But after hearing the job description, I was certain that I could earn the position and please my new employers. Basically, they acquired equipment to run a sign shop, but have little time to devote to growing a second business. They want someone to help them with their online marketing, production, customer service, and graphic design. They need a self-motivated person because they cannot spend mass amounts of time supervising and directing. So, I have take initiative without stepping on toes. I also have to familiarize myself with a lot of software for graphic design. There is all this complicated machinery that I have to learn how to operate and maintain. My brother is an excellent trainer and my sister-in-law has a handle on the book-keeping and general business operations.

I basically have two bosses who are vastly different in temperament and expectations. My brother is easily impressed. My sister-in-law has higher expectations, but is not unreasonable. She is often frustrated with results that fall short of her ideal, but she is to blame for not being available to direct projects hands-on. She has clearly defined ideas, and my brother works in a more general direction and is therefore more flexible.

Then there is the problem of logistics and lack of proper tools inherent with a new business. We have no land phone, and I was given a used cell phone. The fully charged battery goes dead after one phone call and the zero button doesn’t work. We rectified that problem by trading phones. Now that we’ve added my phone to the service, we are going over our contracted minutes. We’re working from our own laptops, which we take to our prospective homes. So, it seems that whenever you need a particular customer file, it went home with someone else on their thumb-drive or their computer.