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Side Hustle Fail: Working a Phonathon

by J. Money on Friday, January 28, 2011

cool old fashion phones
(Guest Post by Mrs. BudgetsAreSexy)

My name is Mrs. Budgetsaresexy, and I used to hustle as a Phonathon Associate.

A few caveats on this side gig: 1) I only lasted in the job for a short period of time; 2) I was in college at the time (“I was only experimenting, Mom!”); and 3) I have pretty much always hated talking on the phone, especially to strangers — so to say the least, this wasn’t the best hustling experience for me. Others, however, may have had more positive experiences with this type of thing!

My Phonathon adventure began at the start of my senior year of undergrad. Like any newly-minted 21 year old, I was eager for any chance to make some extra money to stock up on school supplies—namely, beer. So, when I noticed a flier for “easy, part-time work” with “flexible hours,” I figured checking it out was worth a shot.

Boy, was I wrong. After a brief phone interview with the manager (to establish, presumably, that I was both a current student and not demonstrably insane), I headed into my first day of training without actually even knowing what it was that a Phone Bank Associate did – besides, you know, using a phone. It soon became clear that these associates essentially were responsible for calling university parents and alumni to ask for donations to the school. My instructors were quick to point out how engaging – entertaining, even – the work could be. “I even booked a babysitting job from one of my calls!” I recall hearing from one of the more chipper student trainers.

Suffice it to say, the training was the best day of work I had at the Phonathon … and I did not receive any baby-sitting offers. In the few weeks I was there, I was hung up on, scolded, asked never to call back (a BIIIIIG no-no for my Associate rating) – but the hands-down worst call was when I had to try to coax donations out of a struggling single father of a student at the school. He didn’t yell; he just asked me what he was supposed to do when he was scraping to make ends meet just to pay his son’s tuition. Even though I had a script I was supposed to read from – “If they say no to $100, ask them about a smaller amount!” – I had no response. Eventually I just thanked him for his time, and resolved to make that my last night of working the job.

The biggest lesson I learned from this short-term side hustle is that I’m not cut out to be a money-wrangler. This is not a dig at phone bank jobs, per se – we all know that causes have to raise money somehow – but just a personal statement of how completely and utterly inept I am at getting people to give me stuff :) But I suppose it’s better to have learned that lesson in college than to have tanked at a more professional sales task later down the road.

I will say there are few more gems of wisdom I learned from this experience, too:

On the pros of phone bank-related work:

  • Practice at making small talk (good for any profession)
  • Opportunities for extra cash for making big sales
  • General night and weekend hours (ideal for side hustles)
  • Possibilities for networking – (babysitting, anyone??)

On the cons of phone bank-related work:

  • Repetitive and usually micro-managed tasks
  • Berating by displeased call recipients
  • Competitive, sales-driven work environment (in my team’s case, with whiteboard results ticked off after every call)

Obviously, this particular side hustle comes down to a matter of personal preference: if you’re a people person, good at sales, and don’t mind getting yelled at, a Phonathon position might be a terrific fit! (which, as it turns out, suits Mr. Budgetsaresexy quite well). If you’re less inclined toward those traits, though, my advice would be to steer clear. There are plenty of other gigs to explore!

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Guest Post by Mrs. BudgetsAreSexy — who feels better getting this off her chest ;)  If you have a Side Hustle Fail you’d like to share, let us know! Not all jobs are perfect fits.

(Photo by TriggerHappyDave)


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin @ Thousandaire.com January 28, 2011 at 9:50 am

I got trained for a job calling farmers and having them complete surveys, but my car broke down before my first day of actual work and I never worked a single day of the real job. They paid me for the training too. I felt kinda bad about it, but you can’t go to work if you can’t get to work.

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2 Wade January 28, 2011 at 11:41 am

I too am not a huge phone person. I am fine on the phone, but I am sure that I would not enjoy calling people and asking for donations. It sounds like it can be a rough job.

I was a cashier at one of those many big-box stores where they wanted us to ask each customer to sign up for a magazine subscription and sell protection plans. The problem with the retailer that I worked for was that they wanted us to ask the customer over and over again until they said no three times to each question. I found this rediculous and when I kept stopping at hearing “no” once, I was written up. The next day, I informed them that that work day was going to be my last day. It’s a good thing that I already had a full-time position locked up.

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3 Jen January 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm

The phone bank job sounds really similar to a job I almost gave up during the summer after my senior year. I worked for NYPIRG (a consumer advocacy organization), which required walking around neighborhoods, knocking on doors, explaining our causes, and collecting donations.

I took the job because I was really interested in the issue that year, and because it involved walking around for hours in the warm sunshine – I lost about 10 pounds that summer too!

But it was terrifying to start out, because I hated talking to strangers and hated asking people for money! My first day was training, and my second day I was on my own. “Quota” was $120 in donations per day – I only brought in $40 my first full day on the job. That means I didn’t get paid for that day! I was ready to quit, but I didn’t really have anything other jobs I could apply to for the 2 months I would be in town.

A couple weeks in, it got to be so much easier because of all the practice. By the time I left town 2 months later, I was training other canvassers, and regularly bringing in $600-700 in donations every day. Of course, it did help that I could see the people I was talking to, and make a better connection with them. Phone work is tough.

But I look back on it now as a great skill-builder job. I got over my fear of asking people for money, and now I apply that in all areas of my life. I’m not afraid to ask for raises or other benefits at work (like a company-paid cell phone).

Sometimes jobs that start out miserably can have a lot of benefit down the line!

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4 MyMoneyMess January 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I responded to one of those “Part time work, Great Pay” type ads when I was about 21. Turned out that the job was selling toner over the phone. They had a set pitch you were supposed to run through and they paid a pretty good percentage as a commission on the sales you made. The problem was that the whole thing was a bit of a scam. Real toner was sent out to the customers who ordered, but it wasn’t what they thought they were getting.

The wording of the pitch implied you were calling from their regular supplier without actually saying that. The whole thing was bait and switch. Being young and naive, it took me a while to realize that this was what was going on. At first I did pretty well, just followed the script and got sales. As it started to sink in that the whole pitch was BS, I couldn’t do it any more. I learned that I don’t have a problem selling stuff over the phone or whatever as long as the sale is honest.

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5 Catherine January 28, 2011 at 2:57 pm

It’s probably a great job if you’re good at it and have a thick skin, but I’d hate doing it too.

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6 Lindy Mint January 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Oh man, you couldn’t drag me into one of those places! One of my close friends after college had trouble finding a job, and ended up taking one with Target Corporation calling people who hadn’t paid their Target credit card bills. We used to meet up for happy hours once a week and they were always filled with his colorful stories of the crazy people he had to call that day.

If anything though, I guess it would give you thick skin after a while.

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7 Donny Gamble January 28, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I think that everyone needs a side hustle because the main gig sometimes does not pan out

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8 Molly On Money January 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I had a similar job (but skeezier, a for-profit business that raised money for children that had been abused). Once I realized the $ was going in the pocket of the owner I quit.
Can you start a Mrs. Budgets Are Sexy ‘corner’. Regular posts would be fun!

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9 Money Reasons January 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I feel your pain Mrs. BudgetsareSexy!

I too did some telemarketing when I was back in college. Everybody was pretty nice, and I even got a few people to pledge, but OMG, I hated to beg. I couldn’t stand the job, so I quit after 1 week.

That said, my buddy made a career out of it… Go figure!?!

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10 J. Money January 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

@Kevin @ Thousandaire.com – Something similar actually happened to me too. Got trained to work one of those medievel festivals and then never went back to start working. Got a call that my boss and her kids got in a car accident and died :( Didn’t have it in me to go back – was way too sad and freaky.
@Wade – Ewwwww, hate that $hit. One “no” should be enough. bleh
@Jen – Work it, Jen! You are so good at it now!!! wow.
@MyMoneyMess – Hah! I used to get calls from those types of places EVERY week! After almost-falling for it a few times I finally caught on. I really don’t understand why people have to be so shady – especially SMART people. If you’re smart enough to trick people, turn it around and use it for GOOD. You can be just as successful.
@Catherine – Me too. I LOVE talking/helping people, but not selling them or asking for donations…
@Lindy Mint – Yeah exactly – good skills to take down the road, but not fun learning them ;)
@Donny Gamble – Amen, brotha.
@Molly On Money – haha, I will tell her that! in fact, I was thinking of creating a forum so maybe she’ll have a spot there? she can go on and on about money stuff once she gets going, but she’d probably get bored real quick, haha… not so much a fan of it as we are ;)
@Money Reasons – I’m with you on that one. It’s too bad we can’t call people to GIVE them money ;) haha… how awesome would that be?? (actually, we kinda do it at Love Drop – but just once a month)

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11 Jaime February 8, 2011 at 4:37 am

I used to have a telemarketing job with Discover Card and quit. People hate doing business over the phone and worst of all, they hate telemarketers even from their own credit card company. Yeah we used to call up current card members and sell them more DC services.

Lots of people don’t realize that even if you’re on the don’t call list, that as long as you have business with someone then you can still call them up. So that’s how DC got around that rule.

It sucked. The experience also hasn’t made me want to buy anything from other telemarketers either. I still say “no thanks” if someone calls. lol. But since we have skype and a pay as you go phone its really rare.

I currently have a phone job that involves no sales. I call up hospital patients and ask them to do a hospital survey, most people are pretty nice, it involves no sales, you get their opinions, the only problem is the survey is so technical that you have to ask every question even on really long surveys and some people get bored and hang up. Most surveys that we have aren’t that long. Thankfully.

Most of them finish the surveys. Because of my phone jobs it has turned me off from being one of those girls obsessed with their phones. I have no interest in smart phones and I have no interest in upgrading my pay as you go phone. I don’t mean to be rude to people that love their phones, but when you talk on the phone all day you really have no desire to pick up your own phone and use it.

Okay technically we use computers, headsets and applications that dial someone’s number but its still a phone job because you hear ring tones, answering machines, etc. I’m just glad that it doesn’t involve sales. I suck at selling and I hated being that pushy credit card person.

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12 J. Money February 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm

haha, inside scoop on Discover Card, what! that’s pretty interesting. never thought about companies calling up and bugging their OWN customers. target rich environment for sure though – i bet they get a lot of upsells. thx for sharing non-phone girl ;)

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13 Mike - Saving Money Today February 10, 2011 at 11:03 am

I could never do that job. I’m not a big phone person to begin with, and trying to pressure someone to cough up cash? No way.

The closest job I’ve had to that was when i was in college I worked for a small insurance company making cold calls to potential clients. I had no idea what I was talking about and hated every minute of it.

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