Cyber Agents: Work from home

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Set your own hours and work from home. ABC7 checks out the latest work trend growing popular with parents.

If there was a job description that says you can set your own hours, work straight from your house, as many or as few hours as you want in between picking up your kids, laundry and dishes... Would you think it's too good to be true? In fact, it is a hot trend sweeping across the country. People who need ultimate flexibility are finding work as cyber-agents.

Camela Granados is among the newest wave of working women. Granados, mom to 9-year-old Olivia, she was tired of coming home exhausted from her 90-minute commute.

"I was there as a person, wasn't there emotionally and I was cranky a lot of the times , just not emotionally available"

Today, she literally walks down the hallway of her home to work as a cyber agent.

"There are a lot of companies who operate 800 numbers and they need someone to answer those calls... I'm sitting at home answering that phone call"

Tory Johnson is the author of "Take This Book To Work", she's also Good Morning America's workplace contributor. Johnson says cyber customer service agents is a legitimate and fast-growing opportunity to work from home.

"You can literally set your own schedule, average is 20 hours people doing 40-60 hours pay is 8-15 dollars an hour"

There are things to watch out for if you're looking for a cyber agent job. Don't fall for quick easy money promises, she says. Cyber agents go through an intense training course. Make sure you talk to someone in person before signing up for the job. And be careful of how much money you have to pay up front.

"You don't want to sign up for something where you have to pay big bucks, but you may have to pay a little bit of money so you want to make sure you talk to someone first. Then it's okay to put up a little money up front," said Johnson.

Granados did have to pay for the cost of incorporating herself working as an independent contractor, and she paid for a cyber-agent course.

"This is equivalent to any college course I've taken in my life, very intense," said Granados.

Now, five months into her new job, answering calls for an emergency roadside service, she's says her husband loves the paycheck and she loves the flexibility.

"I can put laundry in, fold some clothes do what I have to do around the house, and go pick up my daughter," said Granados. "And, I love it!"

The hard part--You do have to have computer knowledge. Many of the companies will put you through a computer competency exam. Most also require you to incorporate because you're working as an independent contractor for a client.

Companies that hire Cyber Agents:


    Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire has additional advice when considering this career choice.

    Here are some important questions to ask yourself:

    Do you have the basic requirements to become a cyber agent?

  • To become a virtual customer service agent where you'd accept incoming phone calls from customers of large companies, you must have a computer, high speed Internet access, a landline telephone, and a quiet work space.
  • You must provide all of that at your own expense. You will be not reimbursed.

    Are you a punctual self-starter?

  • Are you entrepreneurial? Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work. You have to thrive on running your own show. If you work best in a more structured environment, this kind of home-based call center work probably isn't for you.

    Do you have a pleasant phone manner, common sense, and a desire to solve problems efficiently?

  • Prior sales or customer service experience is a plus, but not a requirement. Bilingual skills are also an asset.
  • In addition to typing, writing, language and computer tests, be aware that the application process, which differs with each company, may include background checks, credit checks and drug testing.
  • Hiring is handled online and on the phone, which mirrors the type of work that you will be doing.

    Research the companies you might want to work for.

  • There are two distinct business models in this industry: independent contractor or employee.

    One company, Alpine Access ( hires virtual agents as employees.

    Other companies, including Willow CSN (, LiveOps (, and VIPdesk (, among others, require agents to incorporate, and they're hired as independent contractors. The main difference is that as a contractor, you are responsible for managing and paying your own taxes, as well as some other start-up costs. Visit their sites and explore the sections on how to become an agent.

    Aside from determining on your own - or with the advice of an accountant - whether employee or contractor status is best for you, there are several factors to consider when deciding where to apply:

    Location: At any given time, one company may be hiring virtual agents in your state while others are not. Check with each company to determine its current and ongoing needs for your area.

    Type of Client: You'll likely want to work on clients that you have a connection with. A horticulturist would enjoy working on a 1-800-Flowers account through Alpine Access. A savvy traveler might want to work for Willow CSN as an agent for Virgin Atlantic.

    Compensation Structure: Hourly wages range from $8 an hour to $15 an hour, which is determined based on experience, skill level, and the specific needs of the client you're serving. Ask in advance how the company pays its agents. Some pay hourly from when you clock in until you clock out. For others, the meter runs only while you're on an actual call; you're not paid for downtime between calls.

    Volume: While most companies want you to commit at least 15 hours to 20 hours a week, ask about the anticipated workload. Find out whether they'll have enough work to keep you busy consistently or on a seasonal basis.

  • Some clients have low volume in summer months, and they're swamped during the holidays.
  • Other clients experience high volume in the evenings, while others peak on the weekends. This is important when trying to determine how much time you can devote and how much money you can make.

    Upfront fees: Some companies, such as Alpine Access, have no fees to get started. Others may require applicants to pay for their background and/or credit checks. These fees are typically under $30. Others require you to pay for a training manual or to attend unpaid training sessions. This will depend on the company you work for, as well as the types of clients you opt to serve. If you become an independent agent, you'll have to assume the costs of incorporating in your state. .

    While insurance and other benefits are not paid for by the companies, virtual agents often can purchase coverage through designated providers that offer group rates.

    Rest assured, becoming a home-based customer service agent is not an envelope-stuffing scam and it's not a pyramid scheme where you're signing up simply to recruit other people.

    This is legitimate home-based work for which more than 100,000 people across the country are being paid for their part- and full-time services handling customer inquiries for some of the biggest brands in the world, including AAA Auto Clubs, Walgreens, Virgin Atlantic, 1-800-Flowers, J. Crew, and many more.

    You can find more information including a copy of Tory Johnson's new book "Take This Book to Work: How to Ask For (and Get) Money, Fulfillment and Advancement" (St. Martin's Press; Sept 2006) on her website

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