By Megan Driscoll
E-P: Can you describe your educational and professional background, and how it led you to launch a professional resume writing firm?
Anne Follis: In early 1990 I completed a degree in English and speech communication with credentials to teach at the high school level. My husband at the time was unemployed and I was looking hard for a job. A national resume writing company needed somebody to take over its Peoria office and I figured I could surely write resumes for a month or two until I found something else.
The company had talked about closing this office, but within just a few months I brought it to the top 10% out of 400 nationwide. Two years later the corporation went bust and I purchased the Peoria office. It turned out to be a terrific investment and a perfect match to my skills: writing and teaching/coaching.
Prior to managing and ultimately purchasing the resume business, I did a lot of freelance writing, including authoring a book that was favorably reviewed by, among others, The New York Times Book Review.
Writing resumes has given me the flexibility to do other things. Since I purchased the business I have taught high school for a year, and I have also taught speech communication part time on and off at Bradley University, all while writing resumes on the side. In addition, I worked for three years as a communication executive for a nonprofit corporation.
I always come back to resume writing, however. I love the freedom, the writing and the client collaboration. It is my favorite job and, at this point. I will probably do some freelance writing, but other than that I'm not seeking any other position.
E-P: Please tell our readers how CareerHappy.com became a work-from-home business, and how you offer your services from home.
AF: When I first started, I worked out of an office in Peoria and all of my clients were local. Gradually, however, clients would move away and still want to work with me, or they would refer friends and family from out-of-state. I begin with an in-depth client consultation, during which time I ask lots of questions to identify each client's key accomplishments and goals. At first I thought, how can I do this over the phone? But I decided to give it a try and it turned out there was no difference!
In 2002, I made the decision to close my local office and work out of my home, and today about half of my clients are long-distance, coming from as far away as Japan! I still get calls from local clients who would like to meet with me face-to-face, and I meet with them at a Peoria location, but most of the work I do is over the phone at home. I also use email and fax - a lot!
E-P: As a career consultant, what do you feel is the most important thing someone should consider when he or she is thinking about working from home?
AF: For those who are thinking about starting or purchasing a from-home business: Do your homework (no pun intended)! I was fortunate, I took over an established business with a pricing structure and protocols. Over the years I've made a lot of changes, of course, but when I purchased the business I'd been running it for some time, so I knew I could make it work.
Before buying or starting an at-home business, ask a lot of questions, research the industry and, depending on your financial resources, you might want to consider working at another job part time, at least until you get things off the ground.
For someone looking to work for another company from home, see below.
E-P: Are there 'good' and 'bad' candidates for working from home? Can you describe the traits that make someone particularly suited for a freelance and telecommuting career?
AF: I've had many people tell me they could not do what I do; sitting at a desk all day is not for them. My talents are writing and communication/collaboration and I love what I do, but if you're going to work at a computer most of the time you need to have the kind of personality that will adapt easily to that lifestyle.
I also recommend thinking about your home-job as a REAL job, because it is. I get up every day and get dressed, put on makeup, and comb my hair, even if I know I'm not going to see another person all day except my husband. I have never succumbed to the temptation to work all day in my bathrobe. It just wouldn't feel professional, and I'm sure that lack of professionalism would come across to clients, even over the phone.
E-P: What would you tell someone who wants to work from home, but is concerned about managing her or his time and keeping work and personal lives apart?
AF: You have to set limits. I work a lot of evenings, so I made the decision years ago to take off Friday afternoons and not make appointments on weekends. Of course, when working from home the phone can ring into the evening and on weekends, and when that happens I am happy to talk to clients and prospective clients, but I only book appointments for Monday-Thursday, morning through evening, and Fridays until about 11:00 a.m. I also let clients know ahead of time when I will get the work to them and, again, I only commit to completing writing projects within those parameters. I don't think I've lost a single client because of those limits, and I've probably saved my sanity!
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E-P: Do you frequently work with clients who are seeking contract and work-from-home positions at Career Happy? How does the advice you give to these clients differ then those who are searching for traditional office jobs?
AF: The world of work has changed dramatically since I first started writing resumes, and this is one of the changes: More employers are offering the option to work from home. I've done a lot of resumes for nurses looking to answer phones from customers for insurance companies, as well as medical billers and other professionals who want to work from home. I encourage them to think of this as any other job: All contact with the employer and customers should be professional in every way. Among other things, I suggest people smile. You can actually 'hear' a smile over the phone!
E-P: Besides your own consulting services, what other resources do you recommend for freelance and telecommuting job seekers?
AF: I have been a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers since 1993, and I have found that affiliation to be invaluable. We have an e-group and share questions, frustrations and suggestions for boosting business. It is a very generous and talented group of people and I don't know what I'd do without them! They help me stay up-to-date in the industry and provide encouragement and support when I need it.
Working from home can feel isolating, so I recommend linking with others in your industry. If you're opening a home photography studio, find a Yahoo! or Google group of photographers and, if it's applicable, join a professional association for your industry. It's critical to link with people who are doing what you do. It will give you a sense of connection while keeping you on your toes with the change and innovation that is inevitable in all aspects of business today.
E-P: There are a lot of scams out there in freelance and telecommuting job ads. Can you give our readers some tips on how to tell the difference between a fraudulent job posting and a real work-from-home gig?
AF: Again, I was fortunate: I got to try out my job before I took the leap. But I am a big believer that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for inflated claims about how much money you can make, and be especially wary of any organization that requires a large investment.
E-P: Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about working from home and the consulting services at CareerHappy.
AF: A good resume is first and foremost a marketing tool. When I started this job, I thought people would be exaggerating their achievements and I'd have to tone them down. I have found it to be the opposite. Most people tend to write generic resumes that read like job descriptions or, worse, an obituary. My job is to find what value they've brought to previous employers, and identify what they've contributed that has improved processes, resolved problems, boosted customer service, etc.
I also help people target their job search, rather than apply randomly for everything. That's why the initial consultation is so important. It is an in-depth brainstorming session, and I am very good at pulling things out of people and getting a feel for how we need to target things to have the highest impact based on their backgrounds and career goals.
It is a joy to make a difference in people's lives, and I believe I do. Not a week goes by that I don't hear from someone who says, 'I got a job and they LOVED the resume!' or 'Your coaching boosted my confidence and made all the difference in my job search.' I don't think it gets any better than that!