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Work At Home As A Customer Service Rep For Fortune-500 Companies

Do you know that your neighbor down the street might be working at home as an independent contractor for Carnival Cruise Lines, Office Depot, etc., and keeping it a big secret? No? Don't be surprised. Most people don't like to reveal their work at home secrets.

Well, I'm here to tell you that you can join the thousands of home-based workers that are secretly enjoying a lifestyle of freedom working as an independent contractor (Customer Service Rep) from the comforts of home for Fortune-500 companies.

Check out the following old article from the Orlando Sentinel (Harry Wessel) regarding working from home as an independent contractor for Willow CSN ( www.Arise.com) .

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Orlando Sentinel

ANSWERING CALL OF CHANGE:

COMPANIES ARE TURNING TO AT-HOME WORKERS TO HANDLE CUSTOMER-SERVICE CALLS

By Harry Wessel, Sentinel Staff Writer

Esther DeJesus is unusually close to her 19-year-old twins, Nydiana and Crystal. The trio shops together, takes kick-boxing classes together and works together as call-center phone representatives.

Unlike traditional call-center workers, they do not commute to their jobs. For the past seven months, they have worked in their Orlando apartment: Esther works in the den, and the twins work in their respective bedrooms.

The family is about to move to a new home in Avalon Park, where they will have a 12-by-14 foot "call-center room."

"The room will be hard-wired for three computers, so there won't be messy cables around," Esther DeJesus says.

DeJesus, 41, is an enthusiastic "cyberagent" for Willow CSN ( www.Arise.com ) , a Miramar company that recruits and trains people to handle customer-service calls out of their own home. Willow acts as a middleman between large companies that need help handling customer calls and its cyberagents, who are independent contractors.

Basil Bennett, Willow's chief executive officer and president, says the idea of home-based agents taking calls for outside companies is still in its infancy but growing fast. Willow, founded in 1997, currently has 30 Fortune 500 companies as clients, 14 more than it had last year .

Most of the company's nearly 2,000 cyberagents live and work in South Florida, but it expanded to Orlando in December 2003. It already has about 200 people working out of their homes in Central Florida, Bennett says, plus a few agents working in other states .

About two-thirds of the cyberagents work part time, Bennett reports, and their average age is 38. More than three-quarters are female, 86 percent are college-educated, 16 percent are older than 55, and about 5 percent are disabled .

As a full-timer, DeJesus usually puts in about 40 hours a week, answering calls for AIG Auto Insurance during some periods, and for Office Depot during others. Her daughters, both college students, are part-timers who put in 25 to 30 hours a week .

"That's their job: school and Willow," DeJesus says.

All three average at least $15 an hour, "and there's very little overhead," DeJesus says, "All you need is a regular phone line, a computer and high-speed Internet access. I use my cell phone for friends."

Bennett says he expects to double the number of cyberagents in the next year, and triple the company's revenue, because the business model is sound. Traditional call centers, no matter how well run, have problems handling peaks and valleys -- times when they get too many calls or too few.

Home-based agents can take the overflow calls during peaks and cover the phones during the valleys of nights, weekends and holidays. "We schedule our people in 30-minute increments," Bennett says. "We can have 100 people working at 8 a.m., and drop it to five at 8:30."

The business model makes enough sense that other companies have joined the action. Reg Foster heads Alpine Access in Golden, Colo. His 6-year-old company, which has home-based agents in Colorado, Arizona and Texas, also is booming. "This is the next big thing," he says. "There's the flexibility you can provide to the workforce to select hours that work around their daily schedule, and there's no commuting ."

Foster says home-based, virtual call centers also are an answer to complaints about U.S. companies shipping jobs offshore. "What we do is outsourcing, but it's outsourcing to your neighbor who lives down the street. We call it home-shoring, or home-sourcing ."

Alpine Access works differently than Willow. Its agents are company employees, almost all of whom work part time. They work for a flat rate of $9 an hour .

Willow's cyberagents are required to incorporate as small businesses, and their pay rates vary with the client. In most cases, they are either paid by the call or by the number of minutes they spend on calls. Some clients pay an hourly flat rate, usually about $10 an hour. Cyberagents also are charged $37.50 a month for administrative and support fees, which includes a 24-hour technical support phone line .

The start-up costs total at least $500, not including the cost of a computer. Would-be cyberagents must be PC proficient, go through a background check, a psychological evaluation and a role-playing exercise that tests their ability to handle customer calls .

Then they must take an introductory online course and go through training for the specific company or companies for which they want to handle calls. The cost for the courses, which typically take two or three weeks to complete, ranges from $75 to $225 .

Janet Angelo of DeLand, a single mother with a 15-year-old son, became a Willow agent in February. She has two clients, Office Depot and AAA.

With a varied career that included teaching, call-center management, insurance sales and working in a department store, Angelo, 45, says she was fed up with working for someone else .

"We humans are biologically designed to be self-employed," says Angelo, who adds that single parents are particularly in need of jobs that allow them to set their own schedule so they can be available for their children.

"I usually work 9 to 5, but if I need to release to get my son, I can," says Angelo, who says she makes $550 to $600 a week as a full-time cyberagent. "When he wanted to go to an Aero- smith concert in April [on a weeknight], I scheduled my afternoon so I'd be through by 3 and could go with him ."

Though she loves the freedom and self-reliance the job affords her and expects to continue with it "for the rest of my life," she acknowledges a major drawback. She has no health insurance for herself or her son. She can't afford the plans available to the self-employed .

Many cyberagents get around the health insurance problem by relying on coverage from their spouse's company plan. That's the case with Esther DeJesus, whose husband works for NASA, and with Valencia Champ of Apopka, whose husband works for a construction company .

Champ, 53, is an unlikely cyberagent. She spent most of her career as a "diamontologist" for several high-end jewelry stores and was a self-described computer illiterate .

But she got tired of commuting by bus to her job in an Altamonte Mall jewelry store. She quit last December, and with the help of her computer-savvy husband, made it through the initial hoops with Willow .

Now she's working 40 hours a week or more in a converted back bedroom, where she answers 12 to 16 calls an hour at a rate of $1.15 per call. That usually works out to at least $14 an hour, which satisfies Champ, particularly since she doesn't have to leave her home .

Though Champ, Angelo and DeJesus are relatively new to the cyberagent fold, Shelley and Roger Pratt are old-timers. After five years with Willow in Miami, they moved to Deltona in March -- but only because Willow had expanded to the area, says Shelley Pratt, 52 .

The two have health insurance through Roger's retirement plan and plan to continue working as cyber- agents as long as they can. They work together, each on their own computer, in a guest bedroom of their house .

"You don't have to go through the rituals of waking up at the crack of dawn, putting on makeup, getting dressed," Shelley Pratt says. "You can get out of bed and work in your pajamas. There's nobody there except you."

Though some might find that isolating and lonely, Pratt says many workplaces tend to be cliquish. "I've passed by the habit of being in the working world for socialization. I don't need that any more. "

Crystal DeJesus answers a customer-service call for AAA. She works out of the Orlando apartment she shares with her mother and twin sister,

who also are independently contracted phone representatives.

(GARY W. GREEN/ORLANDO SENTINEL)

Mom Esther DeJesus is among about 200 cyberagents in Central Florida. `All you need is a regular phone line,

a computer and high-speed Internet access,' she says.

(GARY W. GREEN/ORLANDO SENTINEL)

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So why haven't you seen any of these home-based jobs advertised in the newspapers or on the Internet?"

Well, these telecommute-friendly companies do not advertise their job openings because if they do advertise online or in the newspapers, etc., they will be inundated with too many inquiries. They would even receive inquiries from people who are not qualified for the jobs.

Few companies are hiring home-based tele-workers directly, while others are contracting out to companies like Arise, the company I used to work for in Miramar, FL. This is one of many firms that contracts with Fortune-500 companies to answer calls that are going unanswered by on-site call center employees. The calls are then sub-contracted out to home-based workers

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For A List Of Other Companies Besides Arise.com That Are Always Hiring Teleworkers, Click Here.

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