The ability to bring on the businesses I needed for the discount card project I thought were going to be based on the number of business that could be contacted and pitched. All common sense said that the more people I had going out with the marketing material and talking to decision makers meant more businesses on board. As it is with most things in Costa Rica you can throw common sense out the window.
Growing up in family, sports team, and work environments, taught me that you had to work hard to prove your worth. This lesson that was so internally ingrained in me was that no one deserves anything until they put in some time and effort. The ethic of hard work in business and life seems to have been forgotten not just in Costa Rica but the world. I look north to the USA and see that apathy and laziness are now being rewarded by a government that knows if the people rely on them for their basic needs, they will always be able to control them. Free thinking, innovation, and creativity are things that are frowned upon by the rulers as they want to make sure they stay in power…wow…sorry went off on a tangent there. Now, back to Costa Rica.
The goal was to find 3 to 5 reliable employees that would be paid straight commission on every single business they brought to the table for the program. As I knew that this was a vital part of the growth and implantation of the card program, I did not need to make any money on the businesses joining the program. We set up a program where there were 3 options for the business, the least expensive being $20 for 6 months of marketing. For the $20 they got an article written in both English and Spanish about their business, a small amount of SEO, inclusion in the brochures, and links to their business on the website that was already getting close to 100 people visiting each day with the content that I was placing on the site.
All of that $20 went into the pocket of the sales person and if they hit an area in San Jose they could knock out 5 businesses in one day. If they went for the more expensive programs they would make more. To make sure it could be done I went out an afternoon and sold 4 businesses in one day. With everything in place; marketing materials, commission plan, real discount cards, and the sales pitch down it was time to bring on the recruits.
The easiest way to get leads in for employees in Costa Rica is through Craigslist. The ads are free and you normally get about 5 to 10 people applying each time you post an employment advertisement. You just have to say the right things and do not overstate how much they will be making. Also, a good recommendation for commission only jobs is to list it directly on the ad. At least they will know that when they contact you and it saves you time and effort in the emails, interviews, and all other pre-hiring procedures.
Going through the resumes and emails for the sales position was both funny and frustrating. I know that I was not a Fortune 500 company but I would think that being professional in the job application process would be important to the applicants. When applying for a job both in the USA and Costa Rica, I would include a cover letter as the initial email and my resume. In that initial email I would state reasons I thought I was qualified for the position for which I was applying. After seeing the responses, I had to assume that this was not something that is being taught in the school system in Costa Rica, and it seems that in the world of gringos in Costa Rica they have forgotten. It was quite normal to receive an email with misspellings, no resume, and demanding a high base salary. Multiple times the resume itself would be terribly formatted and filled with grammatical errors. If you are not going to take the time and effort to put together a decent email and a professional resume, what are the chances you are going to put in any effort for me? Slim to none.
After a week of sifting through the applications and resumes, I had my first employment class ready to meet. I had a list of 8 people of which I figured half would perhaps work out, or at least I hoped half would work out. The meeting was set and I printed out marketing material for the 8 applicants. All confirmed that they would be coming at the 1 pm meeting.
We set a central location near San Jose for the meeting. Although I knew that not everyone would show up on time, I arrived early to prepare the area. Each of the 8 table places had their employee informational packets, a pen, and a notepad…I did not expect the majority to bring a pen or paper. The first potential hire arrived about 10 minutes early and said he was bringing another guy that was interested. Little did I know that this guy was my ex-boss that ran the Valcor Investment scam that I had spoken of earlier. Vince of course arrived with whisky on his breath and looking like he was still recovering from a 3 day binge. Not wanting to cause any drama I let him sit down and acted like I did not know him. How he actually stayed in that entire meeting amazed me, but I guess his desperation outweighed his pride.
Of the 8 employees scheduled to come only two arrived. I could tell by the end of the meeting and discussing the project that only 1 of the people there was actually going to work out and the rest were just going to take my marketing materials and throw them away or let them collect dust in a corner somewhere. Although I was frustrated, I had my first potential recruit to participate in the project. What I did not know was that this gringo was going to want me right next to him to show him how to do everything. After spending 3 days and $200 babying this half brained gringo, I knew I needed to get some other employees.
This process of trying to find decent hard workers went on for about another 30 days. Over that time period I went through over 120 applicants, set up meetings with about 45 of them, printed out marketing packets for each of them, and in the end had 2 working for me. After the hiring meetings most would drop off the face of the planet, ignore phone calls and emails, and normally ask for a salary after about a week of producing ZERO new members into the program. I was getting to a point where I wanted to never hire an employee in Costa Rica again, gringo or Tico.
I think my favorite incident was when I had a Costa Rican employee that came to one of the meetings and sounded promising. After he left I was unable to reach him by email or phone to see how he was doing. I gave up trying to contact him after about a week. Three weeks later I received his resume from him from the same email I had tried to contact him on. He was applying again. I sent him out the exact same information as before and told him that we would be meeting at 2 pm for orientation. He showed up, went through the entire meeting again and then again disappeared. A month later I received an email asking for a base salary to work for me…only in Costa Rica.
Through the drunken applicants, to the no shows, to the half brained nit wits, it was becoming more and more obvious that I had to rethink how I needed to implement this card program.
One night I was sitting down with a friend of mine. He and I were talking about the idea as his business had already signed up. He said something that really hit home…”Get the gringo businesses and then go back after the Tico owned ones. Once they see gringo businesses signed up they will be more willing to join the program.” Although this seemed like a very roundabout way to get to my final goal, I would try anything to get this project going. My ultimate goal was to sell the card on college campuses to the local population as I know that saving cash is hugely important to the college kids in Costa Rica and around the world.
I had to pack my bags and head to the beach…..Jaco here I come.
Next Up – The Business Crashes and Burns