Outsourcing from a Virtual Assistant’s Perspective

After the last post on hiring VAs, I thought it’d be interesting to hear about outsourcing from a different perspective – directly from a virtual assistant!  Specifically, I’m pleased to introduce you to our team member May.

May – a VA based in the Philippines – has been with us for more than three years and has been instrumental to the growth and success of our eCommerce sites.  She is incredibly detail oriented, responsible, hard working, great with customers and very bright.

She has graciously agreed to share some details of her role on the team as well as answer your questions in the comments at the end of the post.  Take it away, May!

Can you describe the responsibilities you’ve had while working on the team?

I was responsible in routing of orders, contacting warehouse representatives, responding to sales and customer inquiries, adding products on the website as well as updating their quantity/status, approving reviews and sending out tracking numbers. There are other tasks I was able to cover but these were the major ones.

What work and educational background did you have before becoming a VA?

Being a VA is my first job. I graduated on March 2009 with the Degree Bachelor in Journalism.

What are general Filipino impressions of US business and US employers?

Before I got into this job, some friend who are working in call centers say things like, Americans are bossy/authoritative and could be demanding at times. They can also become hot-tempered. But since the VA industry started to grow, I think that impression is no longer applicable as a “general” point-of-view. A lot of VAs I know, including myself, are fortunate to be working with good employers and clients.

What will Westerners never quite understand about the Philippines?

I think, it’s the fact that most Filipinos are quite sensitive. We get inspired with every kind word that we get, and could easily get affected with mistakes that we make and/or negative feedbacks that we get. Also, we value respect a lot. We give as much respect as we could and we expect to be respected in return.

What are general Filipino impressions of working as a VA?

Good paying. This, I think, is the general impression of Filipinos about this job. Also, others think that it is very easy when in fact, it’s not as easy as everyone thought it was. Being a VA requires skills and the enthusiasm to learn. Thinking outside the box and optimism is also needed.

What are some of the challenges of working as a virtual assistant?

My personal challenge is working on the night shift. Since I am based in the Philippines, I have to work at night, Philippine time (morning of US time). At first, I really struggled with this schedule, but eventually, I get used to it. It was also a challenge for me to use different softwares and programs which are somehow new to me, but I think, eventually, with continuous exposure, I’m getting used to them.

What are the benefits of the jobs and/or the best part(s)?

Aside from the undeniably good pay that I get from the job, personally, the best part of it is the chance to work with people having different nationality. It made me learn more about a different culture which led me to understanding them better. And on top of that, it’s really the new learnings that I got. Everyday, I get to learn something new, whether it’s on the technical side or the interpersonal communication aspect.

How does the compensation as a VA compare with other jobs / opportunities in your area?

It is way better. So much better that I am able to help my family in paying the bills and even got a chance to enroll myself to school while working as a VA at night.

What mistakes have you seen employers make when working with you and other VAs?

Some of the employers couldn’t afford but to be “rude” sometimes especially when they set too high expectations and the VA fail to reach them. I think, employers should also consider the VA’s skills when setting expectations so that VAs won’t be too pressured when working. Too much pressure can lead to stress and stress could lead to low-quality outputs that are not very acceptable. In the event that high expectations were set, there should be a step-by-step process to attain it and it shouldn’t be a one-stop-shot.

What small things can an employer do to make a VAs life (your life!) and/or job easier or more gratifying?

Being there to provide assistance when I need it is really a great thing. Also, when the client acknowledges our efforts, it also serves as a confidence-booster making us work harder and deliver better (if not the best) outputs.

How does working independently as a VA compare to working under a management firm? Do you like it more or less? Why?

I started working as a VA under a management firm and I initially found it as more organized and structured. The management was there to identify your strength as an employee and find a client for you that will fit your skills. It was also easier to deal with issues and concerns when you are under a company since the management and the technical people are there to assist you with whatever concern that you may have. One of the downside though is that, in my personal experience, VAs like me was not very well-compensated.

I found working as a VA independently more interesting, challenging, and a better venue to learn all these new things on my own. It also taught me to become resourceful and to maximize the use of the computer and the internet to deliver quality outputs. Aside from the fact that working independently gave me a better compensation, it also taught me to manage my time better. I also get to work at home which is a good thing since I no longer have to travel for at least an hour from our place to the office.

What advice would you give to someone getting started with a new VA?

After hiring a VA, it’s always good to put them under probation. This period will give you the chance to test the VAs capacity and reliability and at the same time, it’ll also give the VA a chance to know whether or not they can do the job in a long-term basis.

Be patient. New VAs could have a lot of questions but your answers can be of great help for them to get started in the job. Eventually, they’ll get used to it and be good in what they do, and they’ll recognize and appreciate how much help you gave them. Also, be clear with your expectations and goals. It’ll be a lot easier to work with someone who shares the same goal with you. Keep an open communication between you (the client) and the VA. That’ll contribute a lot to a smooth and long-tern working relationship between the two of you. And of course, respect from both ends.

You’ve recently cut back with your responsibilities with us as you’re pursuing some other goals. What’s ahead for you?

I am currently finishing my Educational Units and by early next year, I’ll be taking the Licensure Exam for Teachers. I am praying that I’ll pass the exam and hopefully, become a full-pledged teacher. :-)

 

What Questions Do You Have for May?

May has graciously agreed to answer your questions about life as a VA!  To ask a question, simply submit it as a comment below.  Please keep your comments appropriate and not overly personal and May will do her best to answer them.  Thanks May!

 

Photo by thewebprincess.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Thanks for sharing, May! Really appreciate your honest answers. It’s been a pleasure having you on our team for the last 3+ years and we’re excited for your teaching future ahead. It will be interesting to see what types of questions you get from ECF readers. ;-)

    • May says:

      Hi Andrew! The 3+ years I have spent with the team have been really great. Thank you for this opportunity you gave me to share about outsourcing from my perception as a Virtual Assistant. Also, I’ll be happy to answer questions related to this interview. Have a wonderful day! :-)

  2. Christy says:

    Hi May, thanks for sharing your experiences. I do have a question for you. When you went from working under a VA management firm to handling your VA employment directly, how did you find the job that you currently have with e-commerce fuel? I am currently looking for a VA for a company I am starting and I want to be find someone that works for themselves, not through an agency. So, where is the most reliable place to connect with people that are working independently?

    Thanks for taking the time to share.

    Regards!
    Christy

    • May says:

      Hi Christy! Thank you for taking time to read this article. Like what I have mentioned, I enjoy working independently as a VA more and I found it to be more helpful in discovering my potentials to help my client and his business. As to finding other VAs who work independently, references are often the best way. You can always ask for recommendations from people whom you know who are working with a VA.

  3. Another shining example of why Filipino VAs are the best! I am so glad to meet you, May! You do the rest of us proud! And I just hope that others can find a client/boss like yours.

    And I definitely agree with you that there should be a probationary period between a VA and their employer. It’s a win-win situation for both the client and the VA — the client gets to test the VA and see if they are a good fit. And the VA can know whether they would want to continue working for the client in the long run.

    Here’s my question: What are your plans after passing the LET? Do you plan on pursuing a teaching career?

    • May says:

      Hi Nica! Thank you for taking time to read this article and for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

      To answer your question, yes, I do have plans to pursue a teaching career after I pass the LET. But if my schedule will permit me, I still want to continue working as a VA. It’s really not that easy to leave something that somehow became a part of your system for quite a while. ;-)

  4. Todd says:

    Very informative interview May and Andrew!
    May, I hope to be able to hire someone like you as my business develops over the next few months. My question for you is: “why did you choose to work with Andrew?”. I am interested in more general terms what was attractive about working with his company as opposed to another.
    Thanks! Todd

    • May says:

      Hi Todd! Andrew’s company served as a good venue for me to learn. On top of that, I believe that, what really made me stay with Andrew’s company for 3+ years now are the people I have been working with. Andrew and the rest of the team have been really good to me. They provided assistance whenever I needed them and they make sure to keep the communication lines open for feedback, questions, and suggestions. Yes, I couldn’t deny that the pay as an independent VA is good, but I think the good relationship between the client and the VA is really the main ingredient for the partnership to last.

      Thanks Todd! :-)

  5. Brandon says:

    Hi May,
    This was a great read and I am interested in a VA for the future of our company. Maybe this is a question for both of you: How did you find each other? I have searched the web for VAs and their are a lot of shady results… May, were you working for a management firm when you first met Andrew and then decided to go independent? Andrew, what dark alleys on the web did you have to go down until you found “the right one?”
    Best,
    Brandon Holmes

    • May says:

      Hi Brandon! I was working for a management firm when I first met Andrew. I didn’t plan to work independently, but when the company I was working for closed down and Andrew gave me the chance to work for him independently, I decided to grab the opportunity. I believe it’s going really well for both of us. ;)

    • Todd says:

      Brandon,
      Saw your post and thought I would reply. Check out Andrew’s previous blog post: http://www.ecommercefuel.com/hire-virtual-assistant-philippines/
      Watch the video and check out the website for hiring VA’s.
      I haven’t used it yet, but plan to when I am ready.
      Good luck!
      Todd

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Brandon! Like May mentioned, we found each other originally through a VA management company initially, and then started working together once that company left the area. If you’re brand new to outsourcing, VA management firms are definitely an option to get started. But you can also consider firms that help you find and connect with top VAs on an individual level: two such options are OnlineJobs.ph and VirtualStaffFinder.com.

      Best of luck!

  6. Jon Ghent says:

    Great interview, May.

    I’m curious: Have you VA’ed for people other than Americans? Europeans? Asians?

    Given a choice, do you and your friends have a preferred nationality?

    • May says:

      Hi Jon! I only VA’ed for Americans and if I were given a choice, I think I will still prefer the same nationality. During the 3+ years I’ve been working for an American client, I got to know the Americans better – their culture, their attitude towards work, and other important factors that helped me in dealing with them and their business/customers better.

  7. Jon says:

    Great Article Andrew & May. This comes at a good time as I have hired also my first Philippine VA. She helped me take care of customer service as well as some operational tasks while I was travelling abroad. I think it is working out pretty good so far, and I am looking for a graphic designer now as I think there are certain skill set that needs to be separated.

    • May says:

      Jon – For VAs like me, it really feels so good to hear positive feedback from clients like you. Great to hear that everything’s working pretty good between you and your VA.

      And yes, you were right when you say that there are certain skill sets that need to be separated. For tasks like programming, graphic designing, website development, and other related tasks, I think it is always best to give them to those who were trained to work on these fields. With that, you can be assured of the quality of output that you will get.

      Thanks Jon!

      • Jon says:

        Two question I forgot to ask.

        1. Whether you have setup a monthly or semi-annual performance review with your boss? ie I also would like to know what difficulties my VA is experiencing or anything she would like to learn more about.

        2. If you use any project based software to assign tasks such as http://www.mavenlink.com

        • Andrew says:

          1. We usually don’t have a set performance review, but instead give feedback on a project-by-project basis.

          2. We use Asana (www.asana.com) for all our project management tasks.

          • Nick says:

            Thanks for mentioning about Asana, Andrew. That looks like a good tool to use. Heading off now to play with it a little.

          • Andrew says:

            Enjoy! I need to learn it better, but it really is a great tool. Hope it works out for you.

  8. Marcus says:

    Thank you Andrew and May for this illuminating interview! I’ve read tons about outsourcing and virtual assistants, and this is one of the only times I’ve read something from the VA’s point of view.

    My favorite part was the question, “What will Westerners never quite understand about the Philippines?” I think that is the key to a lot of problems that might crop up between employers and VAs. Reading about cultural differences is fascinating for me, so I would have loved more details.

    Questions:
    What incentives to Filipino employees like the best? Stability, performance-based commissions, bonuses, etc.

    Do VAs have to sign contracts? What are some example deal points? (e.g. confidentiality, working hours, dispute resolution, etc.)

    What are some common problems with Filipino VAs that Western employers should watch out for? (e.g. “Filipino Time”)

    For May: What are some of the most challenging things you had to learn in your job as a VA? Any tasks you were assigned that school had not prepared you for? How did you deal with them?

    For Andrew: For a follow-up, maybe in a future article you could discuss the tools and software you use to collaborate with each other? (e.g. Basecamp, HiveDesk, etc.)

    Really appreciate the valuable information you’ve shared, Andrew. I’ve seen interviews and one-off articles about drop-shipping. eCommerceFuel is the first I’ve seen that’s fully dedicated to this topic. Already consumed your free e-book. Fantastic content! Looking forward to reading more.

    • May says:

      Hi Marcus! Thank you for the positive feedback. I answered some of your questions below.

      • What incentives to Filipino employees like the best? Stability, performance-based commissions, bonuses, etc.

      I think bonuses come on top of the list, especially when they are unexpected. Next to it is stability/security on the job.

      • For May: What are some of the most challenging things you had to learn in your job as a VA? Any tasks you were assigned that school had not prepared you for? How did you deal with them?

      There were a lot of challenging things I had to learn as a VA especially with the use of softwares and programs that are so-not-common to me. For the tasks, there were also a several. One example is that, I have a Journalism background and school didn’t really prepare me to be a sales personnel answering technical questions from customers about certain products. ;)

      I dealt with these challenging things and tasks by being optimistic, keeping an open mind, and thinking outside the box. I don’t just settle for what I already leaned. Rather, I make sure that I learn something new everyday that will help me improve in my job. Also, I maximize the use of the internet. When there are questions or things that I don’t know, I try to Google them and I often get the answer before the day ends.

    • Andrew says:

      Marcus,

      Great questions. To answer you questions about collaboration and communication, here are the tools we rely on most for working with our VAs and our team in general:

      - Skype for communication
      - Asana for project management
      - Google Docs for sharing and collaborating on documents
      - Jing for sharing screencasts to facilitate training and assignments
      - LastPass for sharing credentials and passwords

      These are the primary tools we really rely on – hope it helps!

  9. Brian says:

    How can I get more tasks completed/hour with my VA’s? I am currently trying two for one month, and will pick my favorite at the end of the trial period. The problem I am encountering is I really have no way to “know” if they are working. Here is the system I am currently using:

    1. Each day my VA’s send me a summary email of what they worked on for the day, and how long they spent on it.
    2. They tell me if they had any problems with the task.
    3. They tell me if I can help them in any way.

    I then provide feedback via video using Jing (which I love by the way). The problem is they will send me this email…

    “I worked on coding the webpage for 6 hours, and researching the problem I encountered yesterday for 2 hours. No new problems, and just provide feedback on the edits I have made.”

    I then look at the edits and it seems like very minor edits. I have ZERO html knowledge so I don’t want to tell them they aren’t getting a lot done when I clearly do not know what “a lot” is when it comes to coding. Any suggestions?

    • May says:

      Hi Brian! I think it will be a good idea to request the VA to at least give an outline or additional details as to what exactly were the edits or modifications made. Perhaps you could request a screenshot from them highlighting the codes that they have edited/modified (if this is possible). I believe there is nothing wrong with being honest and letting them know that you have no knowledge about coding and the reason behind the request for additional details is to at least give you an idea what they are working on. That way, you’ll be able to know if the time they spent for a particular task is really justified by the amount of work done.

      I hope this helps somehow. Thanks Brian!

    • Andrew says:

      Brian,

      That’s a difficult place to be. Without knowledge of HTML / programming, sometimes it can seem that trivial tasks take a really long time. It really takes having a “rough” idea of how those processes work to know if it genuinely is a difficult problem they are working on OR if your VAs aren’t working at a reasonable pace.

      A few ideas:

      1. If your VAs aren’t collaborating, I’d recommend assigning the same project to both and see how long it takes for each to finish it. If one takes 2 hours, and the other takes 10 you know you need to have a conversation with the second one.

      2. While I’m not familiar with it, I know screen capture software does exist that logs the activity on a computer. You could explore looking into this to make sure that work is getting done.

      3. In general, I usually put VAs on a probationary period as discussed previously to make sure I think their work ethic and productivity is at a level I am comfortable with. Then, after that, I simply do my best to treat them well, help when needed and compensate them fairly and ALWAYS on time. If you start with a solid VA – and treat them well – you usually will take care of the majority of the work and productivity issues you’ll face. Not all, but most.

      Hope this tips help, and best of luck!

      • I find many of my staff on odesk or elance . both of these sites have time trackers that you can set to track mouse clicks, keyboard strokes, and take screenshots regularly. just another tool to help in evaluating the work.

  10. Mel PA says:

    Hi May,

    I just wanted to leave a comment to say thank you for this post. I am a virtual VA working in the UK and it is always interesting to read the thoughts and experiences of other VA’s, especially those working in a different country to me – it is great to hear how you work.

    Mel

  11. Lexi says:

    Hi, May!

    This post sums up my relationship with my American employer. I’ve been working for him since 2009 handling operations, management, billing and customer support and I can say that this is the best job I ever had since I graduated from college with a BS in Business Administration degree in 2001.

    My very considerate and caring employer also allowed me to earn and complete 48 Education units in a nearby college so I can pursue a teaching career in the future. So you see, we have so many things in common. Yay! :)

    You’re lucky to have found Andrew. God bless you both!

    All the best,
    Lexi

  12. Rudy says:

    Thanks for this article May and Andrew. Great to hear other peoples experiences.

    I’m in Australia and I’ve worked with a number of people in the Philippines for a couple of years now and have not found a better bunch of people anywhere else in the world to work with.

    There is something in their culture that makes Filipinos as a whole a kind, gentle and honest people that really try hard to please you. But this kindness and honesty comes to you with a huge responsibility to look after them and train them and help them understand you without making them feel shame. As a busy business owner we sometimes flick off many messages about deadlines or quality – without giving much thought that our ‘quick reply’ can cut deeply with someone who really tried hard and thrives on praise (I’m to blame for this sometimes as well).

    I know this might sound weird to some people who want their pound of flesh when they pay people for a job, but these girls are like butterflies – if you want to enjoy their beauty you need to handle them with care and respect. And before you know it, you’ll have heaps of butterflies. This is so much better than sitting in a desert on your own because no one stuck around to listen to your rants.

    Here’s what I found. Business owners are somewhat of a special breed of people. They learn a lot of skills and tend to take a lot of risk and presume that everyone else is the same as them. So their expectations are very high that a VA can do anything they can do. This is where things fall down very quickly. Even if you had a local employee on the ground working next to you, they wouldn’t be able to do what you do. If they could, they would be like you and would start their own business. So as a business owner, you actually don’t want someone ‘like you’ You want people who ‘add’ to who you are and what you can do. There’s a huge difference here.

    Anyway that’s my 2c. I have the highest respect and gratitude for the team I have working with me and I always look for Filipinos first whenever I need a skill I don’t have. Just remember if you’re just starting out and looking to hire a VA, be careful to look after them – if you do, you will be blown away by their dedication to helping you grow.

    Thanks again for your article guys. I wish you well in your teaching May. Teachers are awesome! And the best part time VAs too in my humble opinion. :)

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for sharing Rudy! I agree 100% with what you said: “Just remember if you’re just starting out and looking to hire a VA, be careful to look after them – if you do, you will be blown away by their dedication to helping you grow.”

  13. James says:

    Andrew, of the VA’s that you have hired and put on probation, what percent do you think you have been satisfied with? I have in the past hired Philipino VA’s in the past, and seem to have a hard time finding ones that will consistently get things done.

    • Andrew says:

      I’d say probably about 40% of our VAs have worked out in a long-term role with our company. And by long-term, I mean six or more months. Sometimes they leave for other ventures and sometimes we end the relationship due to it not being a good fit. But you’re right – things don’t always work out the first time.

      • James says:

        Thanks! That is encouraging, to know that I’m not really doing that bad. When I am ready to hire another VA, I’ll feel much more comfortable doing so.

  14. Mandy says:

    This opened a whole new world of options to me – thanks for the interview! Andrew, I was just wondering how hiring a virtual assistant abroad differs, tax-wise, to hiring in the USA. Thanks for lending your expertise!

    • Andrew says:

      In terms of taxes, I “believe” (but am not 100% sure) that you are not responsible for paying any payroll taxes on the VA contractor because they are not a U.S. resident and all the work is being done outside the U.S. However, to be sure I’d recommend checking with a lawyer or CPA. :-)

      Hope this helps!

  15. Great article Andrew, and lots of excellent info in the comments as well. With this much interest, perhaps you would consider a follow up article explaining the resources you mentioned that you use to work with your VA: Jing, LastPass and Asana are new to me, maybe to others as well who are thinking about outsourcing tasks.

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