Scott Watkins is the owner of BRUMICON software development based in Marianna, Florida. He’s been using OnlineJobs.ph to hire competent Filipino VAs since 2011 and currently manages a Philippines-based team of 11 experts. Outsourcing to the Philippines has impacted both his personal (he met his wife while on a trip to visit his team in the Philippines) and his professional life, and he has plenty of advice to share.
Tell us about your business; What do you do?
BRUMICON is a software development company. Our goal has always been to design high-quality software that is both innovative and user-friendly.
Tell us about how you got started…
BRUMICON started out creating custom software solutions for small businesses. Our first client was a small financial investment firm that needed a custom solution for automating the process of scanning and filing electronic records.
In 2018 however, a local hurricane (Hurricane Michael) wiped out most of the small businesses in our area. So, we temporarily redirected our resources to creating video games. However, this was successful enough that we just decided to rebrand our company and keep creating games. Which we continue to do today.
Is there something about your business that makes you different from the competition?
Well, the cliché answer is we have a strong passion for creating quality work at an affordable price. But the honest answer is, our people are what differentiate our business from our competitors. Since a large portion of our staff is Filipino, there is just something innate about Filipino workers that allow them to produce better quality work.
They are infinitely resilient and endlessly positive. Even when the worst-case-scenario occurs, they refuse to give up and keep a positive attitude toward solving the issue. That allows our company to provide better quality service/products then our competitors.
Is there something you particularly love about the work you do?
I make video games for a living. I think most people would see this as a dream-job; and it really is. But more than creating games and seeing our ideas come to life, I think the most rewarding part of my job is seeing other people play our games and share their feedback. It’s a real good feeling inside.
Why do you choose this over a 9-5 job?
Working 9-5 for an employer is really a dead-end route. Yes, it’s great for those just starting out their career that depend on a stable income and need to build their skill-sets. But ultimately, if you want the freedom to live the life you want, while doing the work you love, owning your own business is the only path (unless a rich uncle dies and leaves you a fortune).
Do you have any business philosophies you want to share with our listeners?
Learn how to connect with others. Even if you aren’t a people person (though it really helps), train yourself to think of every person you meet as a potential resource. Even if they don’t have any money and will never buy from your company, chances are they probably know SOMEONE who could be a future customer, employee, or just word of mouth promoter. Don’t be afraid to give your contact info to people you meet, and take 30 seconds to acknowledge them. It will pay you back a hundred fold.
You employ VAs in the Philippines – How’d you learn about outsourcing?
First, these platforms generally don’t allow for external communications with the persons you hire. This was a problem for us. Some of our communications included private information like passwords, social-security-numbers, credit-card numbers, birthdates, etc. We didn’t like that all of this information was stored and could be accessed by any number of employees or staff of that platform. It also created a persistent security risk for hackers.
Second, these platforms are transaction or ‘Gig’ based, and were not setup to allow a permanent relationship with a service-provider that would be readily available. Many times, when someone finished a task for us, when we contacted them to work on our next project, they were unavailable or working on someone else’s project. So, we would have to spend the time researching hundreds of applicants, re-explaining everything all over again, and re-interviewing people, ONLY to hope that the person you finally did choose, was as good and reliable as the last person you hired.
Lastly, the cost was not justifiable. Many platforms (I’m looking at you Fiverr) charge a hefty commission to BOTH the seller and the buyer. For example, if I hire someone on Fiverr to do a job for $5.00 (the most common Gig amount), I have to pay an additional $2.00 out of my pocket ($7.00), and charges the seller $1.00. So they’ve made $3.00 off $5.00 worth of services. That’s a 60% commission! We felt the extra $3 could go to the person providing us the service, and was no additional money out of our pocket.
How did you come across OnlineJobs.ph?
I remember one Friday evening, I think around 2011, I was reviewing that week’s tasks and thinking to myself “there’s got to be a better way”. So I did some Google searches, and ended up on the OnlineJob.ph website. Within a couple minutes of reading the information, a chat-box appeared on my screen asking if I needed any help. Turned out to be the founder and creator of OnlineJobs, Mr. John Jonas. So we chatted for about an hour and he explained how I would never get the results I was looking for from these platforms, and then all the benefits of hiring a Filipino. That conversation changed both me and my business forever.
I signed up for the “pro” account that night (back then they had multiple plans you could choose from). The following Monday I purchased a $100 virtual class on how to hire and work with Filipino VAs. I posted our first Job-listing that night, and by that Wednesday, we hired our very first VA.
How many Filipino VAs do you manage/employ?
Currently, we employ 11 full-time Filipino VAs
What do they do specifically in your business?
What do they NOT do? We have two graphic artists, an audio engineer, a server administrator, a Unity programmer, A PHP/API programmer, a marketing manager, a dedicated YouTube vLogger, a social-media manager, a product tester/researcher, an administrative assistant, and of-course Erica, our Operations Manager.
They basically run the entire company.
How did you find/hire your VAs? What’s the process you use to recruit them?
Today, we have really streamlined the process. While Erica (our operations manager) is drafting the job-post, our admin assistant will begin researching potential applicants, and send a list over to Erica. Erica will then invite the applicants to review the job-post, and if interested, complete an online application we set up to filter all the prerequisites (e.g. computer specs, internet speed, microphone, hours available, etc.).
From these, she will usually pick 4 or 5 and complete a first interview with the applicant in their native language (Tagalog). From these, she will choose 2 or 3 for a second interview in English with myself, but I only participate sometimes. The second interview is more about seeing how they communicate in a formal setting in English. Erica may (or may not) ask my opinion, but she is the one who ultimately decides who we hire.
How do you train them? What’s successful, and is there anything that hasn’t worked?
We have learned from experience that spending the time to properly on-board and train an employee directly correlates to the VAs productivity and length of employment. So, Erica begins by adding the VA to our company group-chat and introduces them to everyone. After introductions, Erica will walk them through the different platforms we use, their daily tasks, and the specifics of their role. Our admin assistant (Jazmel) will then hold their hand for a few days and work closely with them until they are acclimated.
As for things that are Successful and NOT successful. We found that having a structured onboarding process, using a checklist type format, is the most successful. VAs respond better when they have clear expectations and a predefined path to completing their assignments.
As for NOT successful…we tried at one point to create a video that explains everything, but this came across as impersonal and the VAs did not respond as well. Having someone hold their hand in the beginning until they are comfortable has always worked out better for us.
What are your favorite ways to motivate and connect with your VAs?
For starters, I really dislike using the acronym VA or Virtual Assistant inside our company communications. Each person hired, whether full or part time, Erica and I always tell them “Welcome to the family”. This may seem arbitrary, but everyone wants to feel like they are part of something. We want each person to feel like they are part of the BRUMICON family, and that their contribution is more than just exchanging money for services.
Also, about once per quarter, we will have “Employee Appreciation Day”. This is usually on a Friday, where we spend the entire day doing activities together. It is a required event and all employees are paid. Our last Appreciation Day, we did a couple Murder Mystery virtual escape rooms, as well as had some contests like ‘find waldo’ or virtual Uno, where employees won prizes like paid time off, bonus cash, or phone loads.
Lastly, once per year, my wife and I fly to the Philippines and invite all our VAs to spend a week with us at a resort or something. Though, we couldn’t go this year due to Covid, but in December of 2019 we all met together in Manila and flew down to Davao together, which is my wife’s home town.
How do you manage them? What software and systems do you use?
OnlineJobs has a very nice employee monitoring system that is included free of charge, which we used exclusively up until like 6 months ago. Which we still use occasionally, but we also began using a third-party solution called WorkPuls. This is primarily because we needed to track employee times/screenshots/and activities by Project; which the free OLJ does not currently offer.
Additionally, WorkPuls tracks the individual programs and activities of the workers. So, if an employee decides to check Facebook, watch unapproved YouTube videos, or goes idle for 10 minutes, WorkPuls can be programmed to notify management and auto-adjust the workers productive hours worked. If you have less than 5 VAs, I would say the free OLJ one by far your best option. But for larger teams, WorkPuls has been a great addition.
We also use Microsoft 365 to collaborate on document and file-sharing. For a few dollars a month, every employee gets a legit copy of Microsoft Office, a shared 1TB (1,000GB) cloud-drive, email and scheduling platform with Outlook, and a bunch of other great tools for remote team collaboration.
When you first came across the idea of outsourcing to the Philippines, how did you feel about it? Has that changed?
I had soooo many misconceptions about hiring a Filipino worker in the beginning. I’m not sure if it still exists, but the $100 class that I took way back when completely opened my eyes to so many things. Over the years, you learn that in the end, Filipino workers are just people too. Just like regular people, they may embellish their resume or skill-sets a little, may bite off more than they can chew from time-to-time, and have personal emergencies that come up. But also like regular people, if you treat them fairly and work with them, they will become very loyal, productive members of your company.
What’s your favorite thing to do with the freetime you create by employing VAs?
I have a wife (Filipina) and three beautiful children. There is nothing in this world that can put a price on the extra time you get to spend watching your children grow, and making lasting memories with them. Obviously, since my children are half Filipino, we love traveling there and spending our time with others from that side of our family.
Due to Covid, we haven’t been able to do this this past year, so I decided to take up blacksmithing as a hobby. A complete opposite from what my company does, but at least I am still creating things others will enjoy using.
Tips for entrepreneurs who are considering hiring a VA?
- Don’t hire just one. Imagine you were stuck home all day working on a project all by yourself. It would be lonely, depressing, and have nobody to bounce ideas off of. They end up just quitting. Hiring a minimum of 2 VAs, even if they work on completely different things, they can chat with each other in their own language, bounce questions/ideas off of that they would normally not ask you, and just overall produces higher quality work.
- Pay your VAs by the hour, not salary. And NEVER less than $2 per hour (but better if $3 or more). Most entrepreneurs will quickly learn that in the Philippines, employees are paid by the month, regardless of how many hours they work. Which for a savvy entrepreneur, this can be very attractive for budgeting purposes. But while it is counterintuitive, my experience over the last decade is hourly is best hands down. If an employee has something come up and needs time off, they don’t get paid. If an employee has unexpected expenses and needs additional money, they can work extra hours to earn more. Both parties are happier in the end.
- Pay their SSS and PayHealth for them. This is the equivalent of social-security retirement and healthcare insurance in the US. It’s like $15 a month or something (a very small amount) and provides them with retirement savings and healthcare insurance. They will never ask you, but a little money will go a long way to them.
- Address the dreaded 13th month pay upfront and in advance. For those who don’t know, the law in the Philippines requires employers to pay their employees double their salary in the month of December. Something unheard of in western cultures. There is nothing worse than having VAs with extremely hurt feelings if they were expecting and counting on this and not getting. So decide in advance how you will address this, and let each VA know when they start how you handle this. For our company, each VA accrues PTO (paid time off) each month they work for us. This equates to basically the same thing, but allows the VA to still get paid when things come up (which they will).
Anything else you’d like to share with our audience?
The Philippines is not like many Western cultures. They have regular and scheduled power interruptions (they call ‘brownouts’). The Internet connections are often overwhelmed and have frequent connectivity issues. And 90% of the VA workers there don’t have air-conditioning (they call ‘aircon’). Also, since Covid started, everyone there has (what seems) arbitrary times designated during the week to go shopping. If they don’t go, they have to wait until the following week. – So, if a VA doesn’t reply to your message right away, there is a good chance they are unable.
If they tell you in the middle of their shift they have to go to the ‘CR’ (or Comfort Room – their word for bathroom) to take a bath, or that they want to rest for a while, it’s probably because they have heat exhaustion and really need it. And if they suddenly disappear for a couple hours, don’t automatically assume they are slacking.
For the most part, most Filipinos genuinely want to do a good job, it’s just they have to deal with things Western cultures don’t.
If you want to see more videos, check out our YouTube channel or our Facebook page for more outsourcing tips. You can also check out how to get started on hiring Rockstar Virtual Assistants.
About Shelane Tuttle
Shelane Tuttle has worked in content development with John Jonas and the OnlineJobs.ph team since 2010. She’s a mother of four, book devourer, beach bum, wannabe music and art connoisseur and she thrives on learning/teaching others about new things, like outsourcing.
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