By Oliver James
I threw away a $100k+ a year career for my community. I live in City Heights, San Diego, California and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. And this is why I did it.
Let’s rewind a bit back to 2010. I was working for a marketing company providing design and marketing services to the financial industry. I was making around $65k a year and life was good (or so it seemed).
Don’t get me wrong $65,000 a year was great. But I wasn’t really, truly happy. At the time I thought it might be my work environment, it was pretty hostile. One of the owners would consistently scream at the sales department (which I was a member of) for not hitting our numbers.
I should note that the sales team hit and surpassed their numbers almost every month. But the owner would subtract all the business lost that month from the sales teams’ numbers at the end of the month. Even though most of the drop off business wasn’t even sold by the existing sales team. (If the word unfair just popped in your head we’re going to get along just fine)
Not only did he subtract the lost business from the sales numbers but that subtraction also eliminated the chance for the sales team to get their bonuses, which made up over 60% of their income. Myself and other members of the sales team tried to negotiate with the owner. We suggested that he hire more customer service staff, since the number one reason customers left was lack of adequate support. We got a NO.
We even suggested allowing us, the sales team, to give support to the clients we sold if customer service wasn’t available. This was turned down just as fast and was followed by a company meeting were the owner degraded the sales team in front of the entire staff. Saying and I quote “It’s not like you’re selling cocaine and all your clients are dying, get those f’ing numbers up”, “If you want me to come in here and put a gun to your head, I’ll do it”.
Two weeks later 6 of the 8 members of the sales team, including myself, and the other owner quit. Who could blame us?
Right about now you’re probably at least feeling a little bad for me.
I was one of the lucky ones. Two years prior I had already started my own company to bring in extra funds for those months when the owner eliminated our bonuses with his wonderful math skills. I also found another job two weeks after leaving.
So I guess that bring us to 2012. I found myself working for the third largest market research company in the world. Again money was good, $75k a year from the market research company and 30k a year from my company. I was doing OK.
Then the company asked me to come up with a 5 year marketing plan. I assumed it was since they were so happy that I increased their user engagement on facebook by 5,022% and increased their conversions/revenue by 255% in a 2 month time span.
Oh boy was I wrong. I turned in my extensive 5 year marketing plan. 15 minutes later I was called into HR. They were letting me go and were using my 5 year marketing plan to give to an outsourced rep from India. They asked me to fill the new rep in on anything that wasn’t in the plan. I refused and then quit.
This time I was more prepared than ever to really build and grow my own company. I had some money saved and had more skills and knowledge than at any other point in my life. But I was torn.
Did I really want to build a company around the same mindset and principals that abused and took advantage of me?
My girlfriend was working in the Non-Profit and Labor Sector. Sure she had stressful situations too but the passion for the people she was helping more than made up for it. At the time she was working for UTWSD (United Taxi Workers of San Diego), she asked if I could take a look at their website. I had plenty of new found time, so I said of course.
Their site was pretty basic. It consisted of one page and really not much else. For the next month a worked on customizing a new template for their site. It was truly a labor of love.
Sarah and I worked on every detail, including: Homepage, Blog Section, Events Calendar, Donation and Membership Payment Forms and much more. When I presented UTWSD’s President, Mikaiil Hussein with the new site, he was more appreciative than any other client I’ve ever had. I really liked that feeling. It was better than any paycheck or bonus that I’ve ever received.
But that was just the beginning. Since I volunteered with UTWSD at member meetings and the like, I actually got to see how my work was helping others. I got to meet the drivers and their families. Many of whom learned about UTWSD by going to the new website.
It’s been 3 years since I rebuilt http://utwsd.org/ and I continue to host the site and make edits free of charge. In that time we have added an email auto-responder system and SMS text message system that I built from the ground up.
Just 2 weeks ago we sent a text blast to around 500 drivers to show up for an important city council meeting. Over 300 of those 500 drivers showed up to the meeting. That’s a 60% conversion rate.
Try getting that many people to care about anything, let alone 6 out of 10. I of course was volunteering at the meeting as well, helping drivers fill out comment sheets to speak or give their time to another speaker.
The UTWSD site and following services were just the beginning. I continue to dedicate over 30% of my companies and my own time to non-profits, unions and community groups. Most of whom I charge nothing or 70% off retail rates, which essentially works out to my cost. The only non-profits I charge regular rates to, are those that have any employees that make $100k or more a year.
I still service the for-profit industry to pay the bills, but money is no longer my motive to wake up in the morning. My family, friends and the good fight they fight every day are.
Oliver James is the owner and Marketing Director of Realize Internet Marketing and San Diego SEO. Oliver dedicates over 30% of every work week to local San Diego Non-Profits and Community Groups helping them with design, code and training. You can follow him on facebook, twitter and YouTube.