Is it Worth Delivering Phone Books for Extra Money?
Last week, an advertisement in the local free newspaper caught my eye - an opportunity to earn extra money by delivering the new edition of the BT Phone Book for PDCUK. Since the extra money would come in useful, I decided to give it a try - after all, how difficult could it really be? l reasoned that whatever happened, it was only temporary.
I left my details on the given website and two days later I received a phone call. Six days ago, I drove to the allocated location to collect my phone books ready for distribution. Distributors have one week to deliver their books. But was it worth it? And would I do it again?
Before I begin my account of this experience, let me just say that I was already aware the money would not be great. After all, pushing things through people's letterboxes has always been right down there at the bottom of the pay stakes. As agreed during the phone conversation, I was to deliver a total of 1351 Phone Books for the princely sum of £86.00. That is not good money. Before I accepted the job, I enquired exactly how long one could expect to spend on this task. ''Well,'' said the lady on the phone, 'My husband could do all that in one day. But then, he walks really fast. For most people, it should take a couple of days, if you spend about six hours a day at it.''
Basically, if you deliver 1351 books in 14.5 hours, that works out at minimum wage - if (and it's a big 'if') you do actually manage to deliver the goods according to that timescale. I am also wondering if this lady has a supersonic husband who can walk quicker than the speed of light - because I am a perfectly fit and able-bodied thirty-nine-year-old, and right now I am left reeling in his wake (not to mention the fact that I have also accquired a parking penalty, but I'll come back to that bit later...)
Obviously, you need to be able to drive, plus have the use of a car in order to undertake this job. You also have to collect all of your phone books on your own, nobody will bring them to you. I live in a city, so the collection point (at the business area of a self storage unit) was only a ten minute drive for me. You do not get to claim for the petrol you use whilst driving to collect your phone books, so that is a definite point to keep in mind. (You can claim for petrol used whilst transporting your books around your route, but not for travel to and from the route - and I ended up not claiming at all because I had no idea how to work the mileage out.)
When I arrived at the collection point, all paperwork was given to me via a lady in a white van who doesn't bother to get out. She was seated quite high up, meaning I could barely see her through the open window from my lowly place on the ground. Then someone helped me load my 1351 phone books into my car. I had the back seats down - since my car is one of the smallest there is, there is no chance they would have fitted otherwise. As it was, I had to make two trips, and I was extremely concerned about the suspension. It was a heavy load for a Daewoo Matiz. Something that I had not been informed about on the phone was the fact that it was only possible to collect the books on that day between 2.30 and 7.00pm. If you can't load up between those times then you have to wait an entire week, by which time the books are supposed to have been delivered. For most distributors, this might not have presented a problem, but I had children to attend to and an emergency appointment at the vets for a guinea pig (who didn't turn out to be ill at all). I could, of course, have planned around this had I known, but the information given to me was rather sparse.
A Mountainous Task - Quite Literally
The mountain of phone books stacked in my front room was huge. My children thought it was funny and my youngest found that climbing on it was fun. I thought that had I not moved house six months previously, the books would, quite simply, have failed to fit into the house at all (I haven't got a garage). I had been told that this was a large route, so I suppose I should have expected it. All the same, it was a little daunting.
I decided to begin my deliveries as soon as possible the following morning. It was the ideal opportunity, since my partner was on holiday from work and could look after my youngest son who wasn't due to go to school for another three days. I had acquired my late grandmother's ancient shopping trolley, which I was pleased to discover could hold fifty books. You do need something to transport the directories in - and you really do not want to purchase anything, otherwise there is little point bothering to do the job.
My route contained my home address, so I thought I could get away without using the car for a bit. This turned out to be a big mistake. When delivering phone books whilst at the same time trying to ensure that you receive minimum wage, you really do not have time to saunter backwards and forwards between your own home, no matter how short the walk. I walked fast, delivered fast, and am perfectly capable of keeping up with the next person. I needed to deliver just over 100 books per hour to make the job pay the legal minimum wage. On my first day, I spent six hours distributing, and was horrifed to discover that I only delivered about 350. Clearly, this was a complete underachievement. Aside from my initial attempts to head around the corner without the car, I silently cursed the friendly builder who chatted non-stop before showing me round the house he was working on, and the sweet old lady who decided to tell me everything about herself, her children and her eight grandchildren, plus her dilemma over whether to visit her sick friend in hospital. Since I don't like to brush people off or hurt their feelings, I listened patiently whilst wondering how long I had been standing there.
Posting the new slimline phone book through letterboxes should be relatively easy. You are not allowed, however, to leave phone books on doorsteps. If the resident has a ridiculously small letterbox compared to everyone else (and believe me, many people do) you must do one of four things: 1) Knock on the door and hand it over, 2) Hide the book out of view and under cover (even though they are encased in plastic wrapping), posting a slip through the door informing the resident of where you have hidden it, 3) Leave the book with a neighbour and explain on the slip, or 4) Post a slip explaining there was nowhere to leave it.
In addition to all this, you also have to record each method of delivery for every single address on a separate sheet. I carried this around with me, because otherwise the paperwork gets muddled and you will not be able to remember even ten minutes later. Armed with the ancient shopping trolley, the slips, a pen and the rather thick A4 sized paperwork, it was all a bit of a juggling act.
Unbeknown to most of society, BT has VIP Phone Book Customers who must have their directory delivered in a precise manner. I had one such resident - the phone book must be left in the porch and under no circumstances posted through the letterbox, were my instructions. Fine, except that the said address did not have a porch. It did have a perfectly adequate letterbox, and a door leading round to the back garden. Was the porch round the back, I wondered? The beware of the dog sign prevented me from finding out. When I arrived home, I informed PDC of the lack of the all-important porch. I ended up agreeing to knock at the door later that evening, handing the precious book over directly. In the end, I had to go back three times in order to catch the owner at home. I told her I had specific instructions about the porch, and she looked immensely puzzled. Clearly, the instructions were from long ago, when a previous resident lived with both a porch and a phone-book-destroying dog.
On the second day of delivery, my son had his karate grading and so I couldn't fit much else in. Even so, I decided that a late summer's evening would be a fine time to catch up a bit, even though most people were doing much more exciting things. Unfortunately, on that occasion my four-year-old son insisted on coming with me. It was ok at first, and I wouldn't say he really slowed me up. He liked to post the odd book, crying only when his fingers got trapped in the letterbox. He was, however, a mild disturbance in an area where many elderly people lived disguised behind the doors of council houses. Not only did he clunk the letterboxes several times before he could force the books through, but he had taken his metal scooter with him. He likes to jump on his scooter, like the big boys (and his brother) do at the skate park. Fine, during the day. At other times, very noisy and obviously a cause for concern for one resident, who peeked suspiciously from behind his curtains before opening the door to see what was happening.
My route of 1351 residents seemed to contain an overly large percentage of people with dogs. Ok, you might think, except that dog owners like to protect their mail by installing cages behind the letterbox. That might be fine for small letters, but phone books do not drop into the cage. They get stuck. Then you have to ring the bell. Then, if no one is at home, you have to hide the book and fill out a slip. I used so many slips that I ran out altogether by the time I was halfway through. Since the company is not local and wouldn't be accessible until Thursday (by which time the route had to be completed) I was left with no other option but to use my own computer and precious ink to print out more. (If this happens to you, don't forget to keep the last one to copy!)
Dogs are not just a problem when it comes to letterboxes. Or rather, it is usually the owners that are the problem. Two books could not be delivered due to dogs (one sleeping, but one very large and barking fiercely) unsupervised in front gardens. Four books could not be delivered in a small block of flats because someone had left their dog loose on the stairwell. I did not even see it at first and had already ascended to the second floor (out of three). Then it silently crept up on me and followed me excitedly. Although it did not appear to be a 'dangerous' dog, it was big and not a dog that I knew. And, of course, dogs can be rather territorial when it comes to guarding their properties. I made a very quick exit from the flat, hurtling down the stairs with the dog at my heels.
People with cages were not the only problem when it came to letterboxes. I quickly discovered that those wall-mounted post boxes are extremely tiny and will not accommodate something such as a BT Phone Book, no matter how slimline. Like the people with the cages, these post box people require a knock at the door or another means of delivery. And the more doors you have to knock at, the longer it takes you. Especially since, if you deliver during the day, most people are not at home. Then, you end up searching for a place to hide the book. Sometimes there isn't one. I hid a lot behind random bushes and flowerpots, until I realised that they were supposed to be under cover. Then you have to write the note.
On my second day of delivering, I managed a mere 75 books in around an hour. I couldn't manage any more than that since it was getting dark and I was afraid of disturbing any more elderly people. Also, my son was making a big fuss about wanting to go home, even though it was his choice to come with me in the first place. Children are like that - especially little ones. For anyone thinking of sauntering around delivering phone books with young children in tow, my experience is that they will be fed up after an hour, when the novelty of being able to stuff things through stranger's letterboxes has worn off. Better to do it when they are not there - if it is remotely possible.
To summarise, after two days and seven hours of delivering, I had rid myself of only 425 books. Since, to achieve minimum wage, I had to complete the entire mountain in just over 14 hours, things were not going quite to plan. I was at least 250 books behind. Enter my mother.
My mother is a wonderfully supportive woman who offered to come over for the day to help me deliver. Of course, I insisted I'd manage it myself - after all, I took on the job and I fully intended to finish it - but she was adamant. She even said she'd thought of doing the same thing herself once.
My mother might be considered a senior citizen, but she is a fast walker and very organised. On the third day of delivering (after I had been out on my own for an hour) we took different sides of the roads and worked as fast as possible. Admittedly, my son was with us - he was mostly whizzing up and down the roads on his bike. The low point was the numerous blocks of flats that I had not even known existed. They were only three-storey, but there were lots of them. I must admit that my legs and feet ached for the next day after that.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I managed to acquire a parking penalty during my deliveries. Almost all of my route was situated in permit parking zones, which meant that most of the time I was a bit paranoid about my car. Since the route is supposed to be researched by the company, I do feel that the issue of parking in permit zones should have been addressed when I accepted the route. These roads might have been relatively near to my home address, but I actually had no idea that they were in a permit zone (my own house is not). In any case, no attempt was made by PDC to explain the best way to deal with this. Therefore, I decided that the best thing to do was to park the car and deliver the books whilst keeping the vehicle in sight in case of wardens. I thought it was working well, until we headed around a corner for approximately ten minutes, then returned to find the penalty.
I still have to challenge the penalty. The very existence of it spoiled my day, since having to pay £35 for a parking ticket would be almost half of my wages. I made a phone call to the city council. They informed me that I would still have to challenge it since it had been issued, but that they understood that I had to park the car to deliver the phone books. They were not allowed to discuss their opinion on my chances of getting it overturned, but they thought my grounds for having parked in the wrong place were very reasonable. However, it was just another hassle to be sorted out. They also told me they would record my details and ask the wardens not to give me any more tickets - but that they couldn't guarantee it.
On the third day of delivery my mother, my son and I managed to deliver 575 books. Hours spent delivering that day were about seven - I spent one hour on my own and 5 hours working with my mother. She then offered to go out alone for another hour whilst I cooked the children's dinner and looked after the pets - because even when you are delivering phone books, ordinary life does not just stop.
We worked really hard that day, but 575 books between two and a half people is not good going when it comes to fitting the delivery into the time schedule. By this time, I was fully convinced that this must be one of the most poorly paid jobs one can do - and that the lady from PDC was lying when she assured me her husband could do the whole lot in a day.
My mother must have felt sorry for me, because she drove up and helped me the following afternoon as well. With only just over 300 books to go, the pressure was less. We did most of these books without incidence, unless you count the old lady who stuck her head round the door to tell me I couldn't park on the grass verge (in the permit zone) because the fine was very expensive. I didn't have much choice at the time, but spent the whole afternoon in a state of paranoia over acquiring another parking ticket.
We got soaking wet in the rain, and the paperwork ended up very soggy. I walked into a construction site by mistake, looking for the school that I knew was there, but which was being rebuilt with its entrance in another road. I spent three separate attempts searching for some flats that I just could not find. But we got the job done.
Not Even Close to the Minimum Wage
When you have completed your delivery of the BT Phone Book, you are required to fill in the paperwork. You have to list the details of each address to which you could not deliver and state the reasons why. You also have to calculate how many books you delivered per day and how many hours you spent doing it. I calculated that, including collection from the depot, I spent 20.5 hours on a job that should have taken 14.5. I also worked out that, with these figures, the rate of pay calculates at £4.19 per hour. I do not believe that these books can be delivered in such a time that pays the national minimum wage.
I called the distributor to let her know I'd completed the job. She enquired as to whether I'd like to take on another round. I think you probably know what my answer was......