I’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to effectively building a good relationship with your Filipino VA. There is nothing magic or secret about these things, but there are certainly proven principles you can follow to have success in outsourcing to the Philippines. There are a few additional tips I’d like to share, but I’ll start with some advice from Filipinos themselves.
What the Filipinos are saying
Over the years as I’ve outsourced my work to Filipino VAs, I’ve gotten some good feedback from them on what business owners can do better and how they can ensure a long-lasting working relationship together. Here are a few things they have emphasized:
Communicate constantly using different methods
My own VAs have told me that sometimes I need to communicate better. In fact, one VA once nicely told me I could be more prompt in responding to emails and that doing so would help them be more effective in their work. Filipinos need to hear from you. They love to please, so it’s vital that they know where they stand with you and be reassured that they’re doing a good job. They also love feedback. You should talk with them via Skype and even call them if necessary. Email is usually the best way to reach your VA, and in my experience, they are very good at responding quickly. Also, anytime you need to make corrections or suggestions with work they’ve done, creating audio or video using Jing is very helpful. Doing this with the use of diagrams and screenshots allows the VA to clearly see how they can improve. Sometimes even the daily email isn’t enough.
This communication needs to start from the day you hire your VA. Not only do I send my new VAs a welcome email that explains policies, expectations and duties I need them to fulfill, but I include some audio or video. This helps put the VA at ease by hearing my voice and seeing my face. Plus, anytime I need to give feedback on an assignment, rather than try to explain things in the body of an email, I use Jing to create screenshots and give step-by-step instructions that are much easier to follow. My VAs appreciate this frequent communication and the many ways in which I reach out to them.
A few years ago, a VA named Kiel had this to say about the importance of good communication: “I can say that creating a video seminar, instructions and comments is the best way of communicating to us. It makes us feel your presence even though you’re not around. The way you want us to work like we own the sites that we are working on was so motivating.”
As I’ve stated before, Filipinos are humans, just like you, me and any local U.S. employee you would hire. They’re going to make mistakes or not understand something. Also, complex assignments are going to take them some time to complete, just like they would take any worker. Don’t expect difficult tasks to be done overnight. Besides, for many VAs you hire, there will be a sharp learning curve. Invest the time in them and don’t expect perfection. This is a long-term relationship that will take time to build; it’s not something that will be flawless immediately.
Sometimes patience is even required if your VA’s work quality begins to drop. Obviously this would cause concern and should be addressed. But before you overact and fire them, have some patience and find out exactly what the issue is. I once had a VA whose production began to decline. I was concerned, so I let her know I needed her to do better. Her performance improved at first, but she began slipping again. Still, I tried to be patient, and it’s a good thing I was. It turned out that this VA has a serious heart condition. She needs a heart transplant (which she can’t afford) so she’s going to have an angioplasty. I felt crappy for pushing her, which made her heart condition worse. We talked about this and were able to work things out. It would have been easy for me to fire her, but my patience paid off.
Give proper correction and treat employees well
This is related to the point above. Treat your VA like a human being, and treat them the way you would like to be treated. Don’t berate them or yell at them when they mess up. You would expect the same professional, respectful treatment if it were you making a mistake. You Filipino worker will welcome constructive criticism; they want to know how to do better and meet your expectations. Just provide this direction with the intent of helping them be the best they can be instead of taking out your frustrations by treating them poorly. There is a good way and a bad way to point out problems.
One of my VAs has a friend who once had a boss who treated his employees terribly. The friend related this experience: “A friend of mine was working for this guy who hired a manager. All of them were required to wave on Skype for roll call. If you don’t wave or say hi, you’re fired. He got fired. They were made to do black hat SEO since the guy had no SEO background. He hired managers who had no background, too. When they gave their opinions or discouraged certain strategies, he said they were being difficult. Also, the guy made assumptions and said they are not allowed to be absent, even with storms, sickness or family emergencies. He was a monster. My friend lost weight until he was fired.”
Your Filipino VA deserves your respect. Don’t be the type of boss that has absurd demands or acts like a tyrant. Filipinos are no different than you and me in that they recognize what makes a good boss. They know the best employers know how to treat people right.
Provide excellent training
I’ve emphasized this repeatedly, and Filipino VAs echo my feelings on this topic. One of the biggest concerns workers in the Philippines have is that they won’t be trained effectively—or at all. They readily admit that they often lack crucial skills. The desire to work hard and learn is there; they simply don’t always have the experience or competence in certain areas. In fact, I recall one VA in particular who, when I hired him, knew absolutely nothing about the tasks I did in my business. His skills were woefully lacking. But I trained him, and he soaked in everything I taught him and tried hard to apply the training in his work. Gradually, he learned skill after skill until he got to the point where he can do just about anything I need him to do. This doesn’t happen without tremendous effort on the VA’s part and a commitment on your part to teach and train.
How well you train your VA can be the difference between a long-lasting, productive relationship and total failure. In most cases, your VA will be eager, hard-working and ready to learn. They may not always have tremendous skill and impressive experience, but if you train them properly, you can teach them just about anything you need them to do.
Take for example, the first VA I ever hired. When he first began working for me, he knew nothing about any of the tasks in my business. Plus, his English wasn’t very good. But he had a desire to learn, and I trained him on what he needed to do. Gradually, he learned more and more. Today, he runs multiple businesses for me and checks up on other VAs and lets me know what they’re up to. He even thinks about ways he can help me make more money in my businesses and what we can do to improve them. He does just about everything for me. He does WordPress and SEO; he writes content and gathers data; and he helps keep track of how much the businesses are making. He is an amazing worker.
Another VA, Joven, has thrived in his work in many ways because of the training he’s received. He told me, “You are very willing to teach your employees everything about work. You take time to create video and audio tutorials and make comments about our work to make sure we understand it better.” This type of training is a must for your VA.
Don’t forget to pay
This may fall into the “duh” category, but you might be surprised how often this happens. Most of the time, if a business owner neglects to pay their VA, it’s probably an honest mistake that happens because the boss gets busy and legitimately forgets. But please understand that these people depend on this money to survive. It’s their livelihood. What you pay them is a lot less to you than it is to them. If they do work, pay them, and pay them on time.
I have mentioned many times that one of the most unique characteristics of Filipinos is that they’re honest. Of course, not every person in the Philippines is honest, but in my experience working with Filipinos, I have never dealt with a dishonest VA. In fact, with all the business owners I have taught, I only know of one instance of dishonesty. In this case, a Filipino VA stole from his boss. But the reason this happened was because the business owner didn’t pay the VA the amount they deserved. While dishonesty of any kind should not be condoned or tolerated, this shows just how important this pay is to Filipinos. Everything depends on you paying them fairly and on time.
Along with this, Filipinos appreciate raises and bonus. It motivates them and makes them feel valued. I have a VA who set up websites for me. He confirmed to me this very notion that good pay leads to good work. “Employees work hard if they are being rewarded,” he once told me. “This is the case for most people. We are motivated by rewards. On the sites we set up, I have seen a slow progress. Even though you told us that we should think of a site as our own, we still have inconsistencies and some details are not given attention to. I want you to earn more from these sites. I would suggest an incentive program based on site’s income.”
Paying on time and pay increases will go a long way toward building a strong relationship with your Filipino VA.
A few extras
In addition, there are a few additional things I’ve learned from my own experience that will help you in managing your VA and in getting the most out of your relationship with them.
- Go to the Philippines and meet your team. On occasion, if possible, try to pay your VA or VAs a visit in Philippines. I realize making a trip like this might not be easy, but it certainly would be worth your while, even if you’re only able to go once. A face-to-face meeting would go a long way in establishing trust and building your relationship. This meeting could be held to clear up misunderstandings or confusion in more effective way than you could do through email, Skype or over the phone. You could even make the trip and treat your VA or VAs to a little fun.
- Be careful with phone calls. I’ve stressed many times how important constant communication is with your VA. Often, even the daily email isn’t enough. Before you consider picking up your phone and calling your VA in the Philippines, remember that making this overseas call isn’t cheap for your Filipino worker. The expensive phone calls could be a financial burden for them. Instead of using your cell phone or home to call their home or cell, call one another through Skype. It’s free, and it’s just as effective as a phone call. I almost never make phone calls, and with rare exception, I see no reason why you’d have to.
- Consider hiring all your people in one city. One key principle of outsourcing to the Philippines is to hire one person to begin with. Eventually, you’ll be able to hire multiple VAs. I know many business owners who have several VAs working for them, and their business is flourishing because of it. Once you get to this point, you may want to think about hiring all of your workers in the same city. This makes the most sense if you intend on setting up an office in the Philippines. If you want to go this route, it would be so much easier to get your entire team into the same office if they all live in the same city. Many business owners don’t have an office in the Philippines; in fact, I don’t have a Philippines office myself. But if this makes sense for you and your business, try assembling a team in the same area.
- Pay attention to the exchange rate. The U.S. dollar and Filipino peso exchange rate can vary considerable; it can even change drastically overnight. As of the end of April 2016, one U.S. dollar was equivalent to 46.80 Filipino pesos. This figure has actually dropped by more than one peso in the past three months. However, in the 10 years I have worked with Filipinos, I have seen the exchange rate fluctuate between 38.00 and 50.00. That’s a 25 percent change—what big difference! A 25 percent reduction to a Filipino’s salary would be significant. It’s important to keep your eye on these rates so you can adjust how much you’re paying your VAs. If the rate begins to dip, send your VA a little extra to compensate. As the rate gets back to higher levels, you can pay the original salary once more. Your failure to keep an eye on the exchange rate and adjust accordingly could be detrimental to your VA’s livelihood, so please be mindful of these changes.
- Never give out your employees’ names.
You may be tempted to talk about your VAs by name. You may even want to give them recognition on social media, in podcast interviews or by any other means. This may seem harmless, but don’t do it. The biggest danger to doing this is someone else swooping in and stealing your VA from you. There was a time when I followed some of my VAs on Facebook. The problem with doing this, however, was that other business owners saw that I was following them, realized they worked for me and then offered them jobs to work for their business.
- Have a purpose behind every task you assign. As I’ve said before, one of the advantages of hiring a Filipino VA over a contractor or freelancer is that they will be with you for the long term and that they care about your business. They want to help your business grow. Because of this, they want their tasks to be challenging and meaningful. They want to know the purpose behind what you ask them to do. If you give them mundane, simple tasks just for the sake of giving them something to do, you’re creating a dead-end job that will kill your VA’s motivation. Always make sure there is a reason for every assignment and project and that it is helping them grow and contribute to your business in a meaningful way.