Do Your Due Diligence

by Tim Houlne on June 11, 2015

Beautiful vivacious client services operator

Check Before You Accept

The other day, a colleague sent me a Forbes’ story about FlexJobs 2015 list of Top 100 companies for remote work. I’m familiar with the list as CEO of Working Solutions, which ranks #13 out of the 100—based on job postings of 30,000 companies analyzed by FlexJobs.

Published earlier this year, the list focuses on “legitimate work with trusted companies that have a successful track record recruiting and hiring telecommuters.” For Working Solutions, it’s good company to be in, recognized as a leader in on-demand agents for business process services for almost 20 years.

For all of its opportunities, however, remote work for independent contractors does have its dark side—scams are pervasive, as reporter Laura Shin points out in her Forbes piece.

She writes: “So many of us wish we could work from home. But with work-from-home scams taking the top spot for Internet crimes in 2011, we’re understandably wary of such offers.”

In a companion story, Shin cautions applicants about:
1. Fake urls.
2. Being contacted directly by a company you’ve never contacted yourself.
3. Conducting interviews by chat.
4. Lack of verifiable contact information.
5. Being asked to give your personal banking information.

To be better prepared, it’s worth reviewing the scams she outlines. Beyond her advice, I’d like to add a few more points for independent workers to consider:

  • Watch for companies charging fees to gain entry into their workplaces. Pay us before we pay you. I don’t condone this practice. At Working Solutions, on-demand agents are recruited and educated to work on client programs—with no money out of their pockets. In return, we ask them for a commitment to perform on their programs, as agreed upfront.
  • Know the character and culture of any company—before you apply. Glassdoor offers candid reviews of companies by workers. While any company might have a few negative comments, look for patterns of questionable conduct or repeated concerns.
  • Go to the source and check out FlexJobs’ rundown of job scams, with advice from an industry leader in avoiding trouble and finding remote work. Its blogs cover everything from scam keywords to common rip-offs.

Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, says “remote work options are a part of successful 21st century workplaces.”

So is due diligence to be part of a modern, mobile workforce. Be sure to check out any and all companies—and don’t let a disreputable one cash in on you.


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Make Your Own Road

by Kim Houlne on April 22, 2015


Tips for Independent Businesspeople

The road to success as an independent businessperson is exactly that—a road, fraught with hazards and blessed with help along the way.

Most importantly, it is a road of your own making, which requires the three Ps—planning, preparation and patience—anticipating detours and praying for revelations.

As part of a recent panel at the Chase Women’s Symposia at the George W. Bush Institute, I likened it to creating your own Rand McNally, a business road map.

Literally, it means drawing out a route on a piece of paper—complete with mile markers—to gain a point A-to-point B perspective.

In doing so, here are a few points to consider:

1.  Determine your destination. Obvious? It should be. Many businesses go astray, get distracted and sidetracked from success because of no focus of where to go from the get-go. So draw a line, literally, marking your route—starting from “you are here” to where “you want to be.”

2.  Track to a timeline. Once you decide “where,” the next question is: “When?” You cannot gain ground or gauge success if you don’t first have a timeline to track it against. Work needs to be road-mapped. A set schedule brings rigor and routine. IF you follow a process, you will achieve measurable progress.

3.  Stay one step ahead of the hazards. With a sightline and a schedule in hand, next identify the obstacles and opportunities ahead. Along the route, follow the signs to help make good judgment calls to ensure you taking the most efficient and quickest route to success. Make certain everything is in plain sight to size up. You can’t solve or savor what you can’t see.

4.  Select progressive partners. Bad company makes for a bad company. Building any business is a journey. Choose partners you trust and “get” your business. Working Solutions pitched eight to nine bankers before finding one that “got it” and understood its virtual services business model.

5.  Plan for the unexpected. You have a business map. Great. Now, act fast—there’s an accident up ahead, or worse, a bridge is out. Translated: Your building floods. A supplier goes bankrupt. It is always best to build in business continuity. Don’t let a hiccup turn into a Heimlich. Always back up the backup.


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“Be water, my friend”

by Tim Houlne on March 31, 2015

Fluidity in Thought and Action

Let’s state the obvious: To deliver great service, you first must understand how a business runs—becoming one with it.

A service provider has to know the ins and outs of a client’s operations, from customers to processes to lifecycles. By definition, responsive service has to be fluid—in thought and action.

That means being insightful, with the ability to listen and learn the business. It also requires flexibility to respond to whatever the business needs, with ready capabilities in hand to adapt and achieve.

It brings to mind something that martial arts legend Bruce Lee once said:

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless—like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

I’m reminded of this while looking at a series of photos in my office, which show my family running the rapids in a rubber raft on the Nantahala River in North Carolina.


There weren’t enough river guides, so I volunteered to navigate, with all of us equipped with life vests, helmets and brave hearts.

If you look closely at the photo, you can see a range of emotions in the faces of my wife, Kim, and our sons, Nick and Jack, as we shot the rapids.

“Flow or crash,” as Lee would say. Right?

To succeed, heck to survive, we became the water. Thinking fast and moving as one with it.

The services business calls for the same resourcefulness and resilience. It’s understanding what’s in front of you, underneath you, all around you, to best serve clients and their customers.

You become whoever they are, whatever they need you to be—which is water, my friend.

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What Was—and Still Is

by Kim Houlne on March 9, 2015

It’s funny how a piece of paper, decades after the fact, can bring it all home.

In business, some things change. Like goals and initiatives. And other things don’t. Like the reason why you started your company in the first place.

A case in point: In preparing for a panel at the upcoming Women’s Business Symposia, I found a forgotten piece of paper in my office.

Dated 1998, it lists the corporate mission statement, a few business goals and a handful of initiatives for Working Solutions, the company I’d founded two years earlier for home-based contact center agents.

Before 8-to-5 became 24/7

Though common today, work-at-home was a brave new world back then.

Basically, Working Solutions took the U.S. government’s 1938 definition of the workday and made it into a virtual workplace for independent contractors. This is before 8-to-5 became 24/7.

Almost 20 years ago, the company’s goals were simpler:

  • Earn $60,000 in revenue the first year in business.
  • Contract with at least two “home agents.”
  • Work with at least five clients on a regular basis.

The results, in order, were: Achieved it. Did it. Continue to do it—plus more.

Now, I have to admit that I smiled when reviewing the initiatives. By today’s standards, they’re small in scope.

The thinking behind them, however, still applies:

  • Tell as many people as possible about the business.
  • Join as many hot links as possible—HotBot, Yahoo and more.
  • Join two local professional business associations to network.

Today, we’re still telling people about the company. Leveraging the “hot links” of social media. And reaching out, this time speaking at the women’s symposia on March 10 at the Bush Institute.

Virtual proved viable

And what about Working Solutions’ original mission? Become widely known for home-based agents being a viable business alternative.

Well, virtual proved viable. These days, we call them work-anywhere agents™. They’re part of a registered network that’s 110,000+ strong and operating in all 50 states.

The one-page idea for Working Solutions helped pioneer homeshoring and the remote workforce industry, now supporting tens of millions of workers nationwide and generating billions of dollars in revenue.

It’s funny how a piece of paper, decades after the fact, can bring it all home. I plan to share it at the symposia with guest speaker, Lori Greiner, my fellow panelists, Angelle Albright and Carmen Montalvan, and attendees.

And instead of filing it away afterward, I plan to frame and display the page at our offices. It’s good to remember your roots—and let others see them as well. Keeps things in perspective, after all these years.

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Working Solutions (WSOL) welcomes being recognized by FlexJobs as #13 of its Top 100 Companies to Watch for Telecommuting and Remote Jobs in 2015. Turns out the number 13 can be lucky.

We’re in good company with name brands such as Amazon, American Express, General Electric, 3M, McKesson, Salesforce and Xerox—all chosen after FlexJobs analyzed more than 30,000 companies in its database.

And we subscribe to what FlexJobs founder and CEO Sara Sutton Fell said: “The organizations on this list are among those leading the charge to show that remote work options are a part of successful 21st-century workplaces.”

Her words resonate and align with the business philosophy we’ve practiced since founding Working Solutions. And we know they ring true in serving our clients and their customers for almost 20 years.

It’s a belief that’s lived out every day through our national network of independent agents who pride themselves on delivering great technical support, service and customer care.

Our Work Anywhere Agent™ model affords them the flexibility not found in the traditional workplace. It gives them the freedom to decide when, where and for whom to work. It enables them to prioritize their time to earn an income, raise a family, care for elderly parents or go to school.

Time and again, agents tell us what it means to live, work and succeed on their own terms:

  • “I can’t stress to you as a single mother the importance of this company, its vision and goals. I have been in the hospitality industry for 32 years now and these last 10 years with WSOL has been the best. You have allowed me to create time, and more importantly, an income to be a successful person and mother.”
  • “I researched many companies trying to find a job I could work at home and still be able to take of my family. Kudos to you and your peers that have made this company what it is.”

I’m inspired when reading agent comments. They go to the heart of why we started this company. They reflect opportunity for agents, their passion for the work and belief in what we do.

Today, the modern, mobile workforce continues to grow. FlexJobs experienced a 26% increase in postings of telecommuting or work-from-home jobs in the past year. Add to that, industry analyst Forrester reported that 63 million American workers will be telecommuting by 2016.

Those are big numbers. More important, they’re even bigger validation of the value a 21st-century workplace can bring—anywhere, for anyone.

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