Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Focus International Is The Worst Company I've Ever Worked For

If you are reading this you might be a charity hoping to have them promote you, in which case: don't. Or you might be a job seeker who is being smart and googling the company before applying, in which case: find a different job. Even if you're desperate for a job I can assure you it's better if you go elsewhere. Get a proper job... one with stability. There is the third option where you're someone who actually works at the company and has decided to Google it for whatever reason, in which case: sucks to be you I guess and I'm not sorry for what I'm going to write.

Let's start from the beginning.

Why you shouldn't work there: I was an avid job searcher who desperately just needed employment. If I was not so desperate I wouldn't have sunk low to this clearly dodgy job listing with TOO MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! It promised something like $500 a week or more! Wow! How can this opportunity be too good to be true? Easily! Commission based only! Which means you can work an entire week 7:30-5 (yes, not 9-5, but 7:30-5 or 5:30) without a single bit of pay. The job can easily cost you more money to go to than it gets you back in return! They make you an independent contractor so don't have any responsibilities towards you. There's no stability. If you don't make money (and there's every likelihood you won't) then you don't make money. No sick days. Your success is random. You only have the potential to earn $500 a week or more. There's no actual reason to believe you will... They sold it quite differently though.

I didn't know this though so I tried really hard at the job interview to get the job. I painted myself as fantastic! Turns out all I really needed to do was answer "yes" to all the questions like "can you talk to strangers?" etc. The thing I've learned in life is that the easiest jobs to get are the ones least worthwhile having... because if anyone can get them that's because they're so unpleasant that people keep leaving them and need to be easily replaced. This job entailed trying to get people to sign up to charity (charities don't use their own staff, they hire marketing companies to do it for them) through whatever aggressively sales tactics are necessary and people know that they're not going to enjoy talking to you so they avoid you at all costs. I basically volunteered my entire day to standing on a street corner or in a shopping centre for people to be rude to me. I could have spent a more productive time arguing in a Youtube comment section all day for an entire week and I probably would have made more money off it.

"You're making a difference." "Achieve your goals." "Quitters don't achieve." It was all nonsense. Catchphrases designed to fill some generic colour within the lines business speak. They were also texted to me constantly IN ALL CAPS WITH EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! AND EMOTICONS!!! It all seemed like people believed it until I actually went out onto the field and found apathetic co-workers who scoffed at me like I was some idiot new guy for repeating the motivational mantras we'd been given that had suckered me in into thinking I'd be able to do this. $500 a week was meant to be a good starting point for a trainee but I soon learned that even the experienced coworkers complained about not making sales. One of them spent half the day convincing one of their friends to come down and sign up just so they could get a comission and avoid being fired for not performing well enough. They'd spent over a week working a job where they didn't make money and had to try and cheat the system not to get fired because they didn't have another job!

"If you can find another job, get it" was what multiple coworkers told me. This was not the money making high-earning job it had been advertised as. People were miserable doing it. After a hard day's work everyone went home feeling defeated. When in the office the attitude was CHEERY AND POSITIVE! READY TO ACHIEVE! Out of the office it was escape if you can... this job won't earn you anything... and because you're an indepedent contractor on commission that's your fault. No minimum wage.

My various coworkers also displayed homophobic attitudes, poor regard for mental illness issues, and sexist attitudes were drilled into our sales tactics. From day one I did not feel like I belonged here but despite all the warning signs going off I decided that I would perservere and continue anyway. I needed a job. I also needed this job to make money because I was running out of savings so if it didn't turn around quickly I would have to quit to stop myself from losing any more.

It became apparent that this job was not improving. My coworkers encouraged me to try and pitch in front of shopping centres where we didn't have permission. We were a roaming nuisance, moving only when security or management told us off for being where we were. We camped outside train stations so people couldn't avoid us coming in/out of it. Aggressively sell, aggressively sell, aggressively sell... and illegally park to do it if need be. All for the hope that if you do well enough you get promoted to Leader, at which point you get money off other people's sales. It doesn't matter if all the underlings quit, as long as there's a fresh new supply and sales get made then the upper levels of the company still make money without leaving the room. It sounds kinda like a pyramid scheme.. It was what was keeping my gloomy coworkers around despite their lack of success (they were losing money coming to work too).

So I quit. I couldn't handle such an awful job and my finances couldn't take it either. Imagine that! A job I couldn't afford to do. Who thought of such a scam?

But the problem is it didn't end there... and this is where it gets even worse.

See, I made sales but never got paid for them. Now, there's probably a good explanation for that. I've had issues with being paid in the past so I wanted to check to see if those sales had somehow been cancelled or if there had been an issue with my details. They needed an ABN off me and I don't remember ever giving them one so maybe that was an issue? Anyway, easy fix, I assumed. It's not a big deal I just want an answer. I'll just contact them and find out...

That's when I discovered that there was no contact information available to me. The website on their business cards wasn't real and the only number I had was of one person who could only tell me to call the office and barely even responded themselves. I had no one's email addresses. I got the number for the office... which no one ever answered no matter how much I tried... Eventually I got sick of being ignored so I went into the office itself. They gave me the number of someone in their Adelaide office (which I only know exists because of a sub reddit for Adelaide where someone asks "has anyone ever heard of Focus International before?" to which someone replies "these companies are a scam, avoid it like the plague."

This sets off a three and a half month journey trying to get someone to answer my question about never getting paid. Heck, halfway through it I figured I would never get paid for all the work I did or sales I made. At that point it didn't matter. I just wanted someone to CONFIRM that. I just wanted someone to RESPOND to me like some kind of professional business person.

"Oh they're very busy. Send them a message and they'll get back to you..." is the response I always get regarding the non-existence of the accountant in the alleged Adelaide office. Busy? Busy doing what? Not their job apparently! Because they've spent months avoiding questions I have been directed to them for answers. It is impossible to get a hold of them. Their voicemail message says you've reached the voicemail of "beep". Just a beep. No name. The alleged number of the Adelaide office rings and rings until it cuts out. There's little evidence this person even exists.

The lack of business etiquette that stretches across every facet of this company is astounding. I've had more professional interactions with legitimate scammers who want to trick me into illegal money laundering scams. As someone who runs their own business I would have fired the accountant long ago. Hell, I would have fired most of the office long ago from what I saw of them. A lot of them had really poor work ethics. The company must make sales and profits sheerly on pure volume of employees they hire constantly to replace those who quit. It doesn't matter how many they hire after all as they don't need to pay any of them unless they're making the company money. Quantity far outreaches their quality.

Why have I been chasing an answer for so long with no results knowing full well these people are too incompetent to ever learn how a phone works? Because they have a system where part of your sales get taken away and put into a "bond." See, if you sales get cancelled before a certain period of them then it's a loss to the charity if they pay you for it because they haven't earned back their money on a monthy subscription. They take money out of the bond instead so you get to keep your money and the charity gets reimbursed. Makes sense. It stops you from signing people up who want to then go immediately quit it. When you quit you have to wait out the remainder of those last sales before you can collect whatever is left in that bond. The waiting period is 120 days after you quit. I swear I was told 100 days the first time I was told this but when months later I asked about it I got asked my name first before given the answer as if somehow that would affect the outcome? And the only person I'm getting a response from was that one person I had the contact details from the start, who hired me, and has no connection to the accounting side of things and therefore cannot answer any other questions. Hell, getting numbers of people to call out of him is difficult. He told me to call the office in Perth, and the office in Perth told me to call Adelaide. I'm being run in circles here and everyone claims they can't help me despite being told by a former employee that the Perth office is who I should talk to and never had to go through the same things as I did... I can't get a straight answer out of this company despite only having a simple question...

Anyway... that bond. It has been over 120 days since I quit back in the start of August so it is time to inquire about it. Now, I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist... but I'm not going to just accept that it doesn't without someone confirming for me that it doesn't. It is their responsibility to respond to questions about potential money that belongs to me. It is their job as an accountant and I am not going to be satisfied until I get them to do that job. All I want is a simple response. They could easily resolve our business together by answering one phone call and it would be done but they can't. So far I've gotten a bunch of phone calls that ring out until they can't ring anymore. I don't want to leave them alone with business unresolved and questions unanswered and I believe that I might one day get these answers...

...or they're a scam, a dodgy company with no internal structure other than the pyramid scheme design, and I am wasting my time.

Either way: don't work for them and don't hire them to promote your charity. I don't believe in rewarding lazy or incompetent people nor do I support their sales tactics. I feel less inclined to give to charity now that I know how seedy it is trying to trick people into signing up to it.

The past 4 and a half months (I only spent 3 and a half of those trying to chase up the alleged accountant and the previous month either working, or waiting in my post-quitting period to get paid) have been a wasted mix of frustration, hard work with no results, and indignation at the absolutely poor business etiquette displayed by Focus International. I've never met a worse company. I am more annoyed at how badly they've handled my simple inquiry than I am at how bad the job was. The job itself was terrible and I could have simply gone "well it sucks, but someone has to do it" and walk away and let some other fool give it a shot... but what came after really frustrated me. I've had my fair share of bad business interactions both as a freelancer and with established businesses. None of them compare to this company.

If this blog post stops just one person from signing up to them then I have done a good deed and a service to them. If there is a charity that decides against letting Focus International promote them then I will consider that a shining victory. It might just be the best service I've done for someone besides talking them out of suicide. Let's be honest I think saving a life is more important than saving someone from a bad business decision and I've saved lives before... unlike with Focus, who claims that's what you're doing but I assure you saving children's lives through charity is not what they care about at all.

So take that redditor's advice and avoid it like the plague.


Anonymous said...

i wish i had googled them before starting. i am i glad i realised though once out in the field that this was a a bogus job.

Anonymous said...

Not many of you would have heard of Focus International, some may have seen the company's advertisements on Seek, but all of you would have at one point ran into one of their sales representatives.

Representing local charities such as Guide Dogs SA/NT, Women's and Children's Hospital and Minda Inc - Focus International hire young, impressionable recruits into what is considered a pyramid scheme by some.

The name of the game is to sign up regular donors for charities. This means that when you register for a charity such as Minda Inc, 80% of your first year's donation is given straight to Focus in a lump sum as soon as you register. They're banking on you being a long term donor, except although trained to tell those they register to remain on the program for 2 years, very rarely do the representatives relay this information.

Not only that but Focus employees are subjected to random pay each week due to it being 100% commission. Each morning you're expected to arrive at 7:30. You are subjected to an hour and a half of training, before being put at random inside shopping malls with permission/outside supermarkets with no permission. All transport has to be paid by yourself. Once at your work site it is up to you to do as many sales as possible throughout the day, if you don't manage your quota for the week, you will be terminated. Focus on average paid $70 per sale, even though during the interview we were told it was a flat rate of $100. 20% of whatever you earn is put into a bond, which can never be accessed and which you will never see once you finish working at Focus.

Next time you see someone representing a charity, ask them who pays their wage. I'm sure there are good marketing companies out there, but if the answer is "Focus International" - stay far away.

EDIT: I should say that there was a time when they made a Focus International page on Facebook, and individually checked people's phones to make sure we had liked and shared it with all of our friends, so I won't be surprised to see some backlash from this article. If the mods want proof, please send me a message and I will happily provide you with some.

I only worked there for a while before realising what a money making scheme it was for the people in charge, so would not be able to answer more in depth questions. For those of you who have already signed up for one of their charities. Read the back of the carbon copy. It's all there in writing, it's just in small print so you wouldn't ever check.