Once you’ve hired a virtual assistant and have gotten them busy, the next objective is to develop a long-lasting relationship. Filipinos are loyal, so if you train and manage them properly, they’ll never leave. They way you manage your worker will either build or ruin loyalty, ingenuity, hard work and honesty. Let’s talk about some essential ways to work with your VA that will keep them around for a long, long time.
The four principles of managing a Filipino VA
In managing a Filipino VA, you first need to understand some basic principles about working with people in the Philippines. The Filipino culture is unique. The better you understand their traits, practices and characteristics, the easier it will be to successfully work with them.
1. You hired a human being. Some people that start outsourcing to the Philippines think of their Filipino workers as robots and can be treated as such. They’re humans, just like you and me. This means when working with your Filipino VA you need to be kind, respectful and considerate. Like anyone else, Filipinos have personal challenges and make mistakes. When productivity declines, don’t act too quick to fire them. Instead, find out if something distressing is going at home. Recognize this and show concern and care for their well-being and success. Give them compliments; ask about their families; try to remember their birthdays. Doing these simple things will do wonders for them and for your relationship with them. Here are a few other things you should keep in mind when working with your VA:
• Don’t berate them
• Don’t send “yelling” emails
• Take the blame (at least initially) when something goes wrong
• Be patient
• Treat them the way you would like to be treated
Let me share an example of something that just recently happened.
I was getting frustrated with a VA whose output had been declining over the previous few months. Previously, this person had been a hard worker, so my concern was increasing. Instead of firing this VA, I told her that I needed to see improvements in her work. Her production immediately increased. Not long after, she spent three days in the hospital. I found out that she has chronic heart failure and needs a heart transplant, something she can’t afford. I felt pretty lousy. It was good that I hadn’t fired her, but the right thing to do would have been to recognize she is a human being and ask her if there was anything going on in her life that was contributing to her decline at work. She’s no different than any of us; she has problems and crises like anyone else. Problems like these are even worse in the Philippines. Treat your VAs well and show concern for their welfare.
2. You need to build trust with them. In this relationship, it’s more important that your Filipino VA trusts you than you trust him or her. When your VA trusts you, they’ll be productive and will do excellent work. When they don’t trust you, they’ll disappear. You can gain their trust by communicating effectively, by being responsive and by giving effective training. These efforts should start from day one and should continue consistently.
3. Feedback and positive reinforcement go a long way. Understand that when you hire a Filipino VA, they’re not going to be perfect. They’re going to get stuck, and they’re going to need your help. It’ll be next to impossible for your VA to improve if you don’t let them know how they’re doing. Positive feedback gives them confidence and builds trust (building on what I mentioned above); constructive criticism helps make course corrections and changes behavior. No feedback shows that you’re totally disengaged and that you frankly don’t care.
As far as giving feedback, it’s best to give positive feedback first, followed by any criticisms. Always acknowledge something good the VA did before you point out flaws. Saying something like, “Thanks for your hard work on this project” or “I can tell you put a lot of time into this” can help minimize resentment or feelings of inadequacies when you list mistakes. Build on the positive, and you’ll be pleased with the effect it will have on your VA’s performance going forward.
4. Filipinos don’t want to disappoint you. In the more than 10 years that I’ve been working with Filipinos, I’ve noticed a cultural trait in the Philippines is that the people there have a strong desire to please. It’s simply not in a Filipino’s nature to knowingly do anything to disappoint. It’ll be important to your Filipino VA that he or she gains your approval.
This positive attitude serves the Filipinos well. It motivates them to work hard. This need to please can have potential drawbacks, however. Sometimes, because they’re so concerned about doing things right for you, they’ll disappear when they fear their work won’t be up to your standards. Rather than come to you with concerns, they’ll just leave. Explain to your VA from the very beginning that you’re available for help and that disappearing isn’t an acceptable option.
The daily email: Not optional
Working remotely does present some obvious challenges. If you or your VA has a question or needs clarification on a point, the two of you aren’t just a few desks apart; you’re on opposite sides of the globe. The best way to protect against communication is through the daily email.
This is an essential part of your VA’s job. Every day, your worker should send you an email that addresses these three questions:
- What did you do today?
- What problems did you run into?
- What help can I give you?
The daily email does a few things for you and for your VA. First, it keeps your VA accountable to you. They’ll know you expect a daily report on what work they’ve accomplished. This alone should be incentive for them to be productive and do what you’ve asked. Second, it opens up the lines of communication, which is so important when you’re working with someone on the other side of the world where time and cultural differences can be an issue. Lastly, the daily email gives you a perfect opportunity to assess your VA’s progress and provide training, as necessary.
Also, the daily email does much more than make sure your worker is always busy and productive. This essential communication helps relieve you, the entrepreneurial business owner, of some of the mundane details that would otherwise weigh you down, occupy your precious time and keep you from taking care of the big-picture things that help your business grow. When you use the daily email, you can unload some of these little details onto your VA and focus on making money for your business.
Communication is key
The daily email is just one way to communicate with your VA. You should reach out to your VA by Skype or phone as you feel the need when you see fit. Other great ways to communicate are through project management systems such as Basecamp and the screen capture software Jing.
Constant communication is essential for your worker’s confidence and success. Filipinos need this type of interaction; it reassures them and makes them feel good about what they’re doing. By communicating frequently and effectively with your VA, you can clear up confusion, resolve concerns, answer questions and have a trusting working relationship.
When you do communicate, ask lots of questions. Some things you should ask your VA include the following:
- Do you understand?
- Do you enjoy your job?
- Do you know how to do this?
- What do you think about this strategy?
Creating screenshot videos by using Jing is a great way to communicate to your VA. By using Jing, your worker not only gets feedback and direction on assignments, but they get to hear your voice. By hearing your voice, your VA’s confidence in their job and in you will increase.
On the other hand, if you don’t communicate, your VA’s production is bound to go down. Why? If you don’t bother communicating, your VA will believe you simply don’t care what they’re doing, and they’ll have little incentive to work hard and follow through on projects. You don’t need to micromanage your VA, but staying completely out of the way won’t help their development.
Time to pay up
Before you even hire your VA, both of you should know what the pay rate is going to be. For the first two months, pay each week; pay every month afterward. The reason for the weekly pay at first is because Filipinos are worried about doing work and not getting paid. If a brand-new VA does a month’s worth of work without getting paid, they’ll be quite nervous that they’ve become part of some kind of scam. Paying them weekly at first will help you gain their trust that you are running a legitimate business and that they don’t have to worry about not being paid. After two months and several paychecks, any doubts they have about whether they’ll be paid should be put to rest. You can then move to monthly payments. Paying twice a month is another option I have seen some people use.
How you pay your VA is up to you, but Western Union and PayPal are popular options.
I advise business owners to start their new VAs off at a wage a little on the low side but then to raise it quickly, provided the VA is performing well.
If you are happy with your VA’s work, it’s a good idea to give annual raises. It’s up to you if you want to give more frequent raises.
I’ve previously talked about the 13th month. As I’ve mentioned before, unlike Filipino companies, you aren’t required to make this payment; however, you need to pay it. Your Filipino worker relies on it and bases their life around it. It is expected, and if you don’t pay it, your VA will not think too highly of you. The 13th month is an annual payout, made in December, where Filipino workers are paid one-twelfth of their annual salary. If they worked less than a year during the calendar year, their 13th month payout should be pro-rated.
Make sure to pay on time. Remember, these people rely on this money to support their families. Paying late can put a huge strain on their finances. Be considerate and mindful of this. Also, pay close attention to the exchange rate and make necessary adjustments as it changes.
How to handle the good and bad
You didn’t hire a perfect person, so be prepared for mistakes and missteps. But if you train your VA the right way, they’ll amaze you with their work ethic and abilities. Still, like anyone, your VA is going to have good days and bad days. How you respond to successes and struggles will have a huge impact on your worker.
When your VA does great work, acknowledge it. Shower them with praise and gratitude. You can even give them a bonus. When you do these things, your VA’s performance will only increase.
On the flip side, when something goes awry, it’s important to not overreact and get upset—even though you may really want to. Try these approaches instead:
- Assume it’s your fault
- Don’t yell at them
- Be patient (this is a long-term relationship)
- Realize they want to do it correctly; they didn’t mess up on purpose. They probably tried really hard to do what they thought you wanted.
- Provide constant feedback—both positive and negative, if needed
If you look at this as a long-term relationship instead of something that only going to last a few weeks or months, your attitude, mindset and outlook will change. Provide your VA opportunities to be successful by giving them ownership over projects. Recognize that with time and training, your VA will be able to do all the things in your business you want them to do.
Respect the culture
Working with Filipinos is different than working with people in the U.S. There are definite cultural differences between the two countries that you must pay attention to. If you ignore the customs and traditions of the Philippines, you’ll only alienate your VA.
Learn about the Philippines and be aware of how people there act, think and feel. In many ways, they’re just like you and me. They also grow up watching American TV and for the most part understand and speak English, so they’re very familiar with our culture. This is one reason why outsourcing to the Philippines is so much easier than going to India.
Be aware of Filipino holidays and respect your VA’s desire to take this time off. The Philippines has more holidays than most places. Know what and when the Philippine holidays are.
Also, Filipinos will address you as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” At first, you may not be used to this. When I first started outsourcing to the Philippines, I was caught off guard by being called “Sir.” I really didn’t like it. But I understood it was a cultural thing, so I got used to it. Allow your VA to address you formally like this, and you’ll build a lot of trust.
Time tracking and work time
I don’t use a time tracking system to monitor what my workers are doing. I just don’t like it, and neither do Filipinos. Knowing everything they’re doing during the day is being tracked will be a morale killer for your VA.
Though I don’t recommend using this solution, a lot of employers do. If you feel you want to give it a shot, use TimeProof. TrackLabor is an alternative, plus there are other tools you can use. Just do a Google search for time tracking solutions, and you’ll see all kinds of options, many of which are free.
You should also be flexible with time off. As long as your VA gives you prior notice, let them take paid time off for vacations and personal matters. As far as when they work, it’s much better to have them work during their own daytime (in the night in the U.S.) Working at night is hard. It can take a toll on their bodies and on their personal lives. Your VA will be much more productive during the day, and they’ll like it so much more. If you absolute need them to work when it’s daytime for you (night for them), they’ll agree to it, but they’re probably not going to be happy about it.
Keep things realistic
There’s nothing wrong with challenging your VA and giving them tough assignments. Doing this helps them grow and improve. But whatever you do, don’t have impossible standards. Don’t come up with unreasonable rules and policies. If you do, you’ll set yourself and your VA up for failure.
I have a friend who related a story to me where he worked for someone who required all his workers to be on Skype for morning roll call. During this roll call, all the workers had to wave and say “hi.” If they didn’t do this, they were fired. My friend didn’t do this, so he was let go. Even before this, he had trouble with the company’s rules and culture. He said sharing opinions was discouraged. People weren’t allowed to miss work no matter what, even if they were sick or had family emergencies. The boss was intolerable. My friend dreaded working for him so much that he lost weight.
Don’t be this type of boss. Create an environment where your VA can thrive. Don’t stifle their growth by requiring unnecessary regulations or steps. Be fair and reasonable. You want your VA to progress and to be a valuable asset to your business for years to come. Do everything you can to help them succeed.
What it all means
In order to replace yourself in your work, you need a long-term VA you feel confident can take care of the day-to-day aspects of your business. Carefully managing your worker is crucial in their development and progress. Take this seriously. Invest in your VA and they’ll invest themselves in your business. The more you put into managing your VA, the more you’ll get out of them.