For the past 10 years, I’ve been outsourcing my work to the Philippines and teaching people to do the same. There is no better place to go than to the Philippines to find talented, hard-working virtual assistants. This doesn’t mean you’re not going to face some obstacles as you work with your VA. But there are also effective ways to handle these challenges and have a positive experience.
Before getting into the problems, here’s something to keep in mind. It’s very likely the VA is more excited about having this job than you are about hiring them. They WANT to work for you. If something isn’t working out, it’s unlikely they’re lazy or don’t want the job. It’s more likely a problem with how you’re treating them or with your expectations.
Having said that, here are the problems you’ll encounter.
1. Vanishing VAs
Without question, the biggest problem I’ve found in working with Filipinos is their disappearing acts. With some VAs, one moment things will be going just fine, but then all of a sudden they’ll stop communicating with you. This causes major frustrations to you and your business. At one time or another, this will happen to everyone who outsources to the Philippines.
The main cause for Filipinos disappearing is their tendency to become embarrassed. It happens so many times: A Filipino VA will get stuck on an assignment, and they’ll be embarrassed that they don’t know what to do. They’re too shy to approach you and admit they’re struggling. Rather than talk to you about the issue, they’ll avoid you because they’ll think you’ll be upset and fire them. They’ll assume that their inability to understand an assignment is their fault. Because they’re shy and non-confrontational, they’ll just disappear.
So what can you do to avoid this problem?
It’s all about communication.
From the first day you being working with your VA, emphasize clearly that they cannot disappear. Assure your VA that when they have questions, struggles or difficulty finishing an assignment, they can come to you for help. Explain that you are always available for support and answers. Put their mind at ease that you won’t be upset if they get stuck on something. Then, stand by what you said to them and be available to help them when they need help.
A disappearing VA is a result of poor training (or no training at all), failing to give feedback, failing to follow up, assuming you’re a good teacher when you’re really not, and creating unrealistic expectations. Work closely with your VA—especially in the beginning—and stand by for help. Help your VA trust you enough to go to you with any issues. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and discouragement if you do these things.
2. Slow, unreliable internet
For the most part, you won’t have much trouble with this one. The internet is available to large number of Filipinos. Most people who have profiles on onlinejobs.ph have a good connection and will be able to do their work without problems. However, if you hire a VA who has no internet access at home or whose connection is slow or intermittent, it’s going to make their job very difficult. Plus, internet problems will make communication difficult, which will lead to increasing frustration on your end.
Solving this potential problem is actually pretty easy. Make sure in the finding and recruiting process that you ask all candidates whether they have fast, dependable Internet at home. Make this a requirement. Once you narrow down candidates who look good, ask again about Internet connection and ensure that the one you choose will have the tools, equipment and resources they need to do the work you assign.
The internet in the Philippines has gotten significantly better over the last several years. However, there will still be times when your workers will have outages.
3. Power outages
It might sound crazy, but this is actually a pretty common occurrence in the Philippines. Unlike in the U.S. where outages are infrequent and generally short, the lights can go off in the Philippines much more often and for longer periods of time. Interestingly, many of these outages are planned. It’s a way the government in the Philippines deals with the fact there is a lack of power to go around to everyone. This is because the infrastructure there is much weaker than it is in the U.S.
In these planned outages, called rotating brown-outs, one area at a time will go a certain amount of time without power. Once power is restored to that area, another area’s power goes out. Filipinos can actually visit a website that lists the schedule of upcoming outages. Everywhere in the Philippines has these outages, and there’s nothing residents can do to prevent them. It’s simply a normal part of their life.
The outages definitely will affect your VA’s ability to work. Yes, it’s frustrating, but you need to work around it. I once had a VA who actually had outages every single day for five hours at a time.
It’s not easy dealing with these outages. Without power, your VA’s productivity will be severely limited (a laptop can run on battery power only so long), but even then, if the power is out, so is the internet. You basically have two choices to cope with these interruptions:
- Don’t worry about it, and spend your time and energy focusing on other, more important aspects of your business, or…
- Worry and stress out about it until it drives you nuts.
If you hire good workers, train them properly and develop mutual trust, you can have confidence that your VA will be productive and complete the tasks you give them, despite the frequent power outages.
4. Not enough work for them to do
It’s vital that you evaluate your outsourcing needs before hiring a VA. The last thing you want to do is find, recruit and hire a Filipino VA, only to have them sitting around with nothing to do most of the work day. Make sure you can assign your new VA tasks that will keep them busy and productive. Keeping someone busy prevents them from looking for a second job.
First, look at your own business and take inventory of what tasks you are currently doing yourself. Then, decide which of these tasks you could hand over to a virtual assistant. Don’t assume that because your tasks are difficult that a Filipino VA couldn’t handle the work. With proper training, you’ll be surprised how well a Filipino worker can do the things you assign. Plus, because of the loyalty of Filipino workers, you can train them to do things you might not have previously considered.
5. Hiring someone to do everything
Would you hire a local U.S. employee to handle every task your business needs? Would you like it if someone hired you to do this? Imagine how overwhelmed and exhausted you would be. This is no way to run a business and certainly no way to work with a VA. Start out by hiring one person to do one thing.
Awhile back, I knew a business owner who was looking to hire a VA. He wanted the person to do the following:
- Build a WordPress blog
- Create headers and logos
- Write articles
- Create videos
- Reply to 20 forum posts per day and provide tips to the forum community
- Create an opt-in page on a blog
- Write a pre-sell sales letter
- Write a 30-page e-book, create e-book covers and convert them to a PDF
- Write 10 autoresponder emails by giving tips and tricks
- Submit daily report for review
Essentially, this person wanted a Filipino VA who was a programmer, graphic designer, writer, social media expert, webmaster and more. There should be plenty of people in the Philippines that fit this description, right? Not so much.
If you’re looking for someone who can jump right in and do multiple things like this for your business, you’re going to search for quite a while. That’s because there is no such person in the Philippines. Sure, over time, you can train your VA to expand skills and take on new roles. But start off by hiring your VA to do one task. You’ll get far more production this way.
6. Hiring multiple Filipino VAs
Working with someone on the other side of the world is much different than working with a local employee in the U.S. There are unique challenges that take some getting used to. That’s why you should start out your experience outsourcing to the Philippines by hiring one VA.
I know some business owners who have hired multiple VAs at a time, only to complain that they didn’t work out. One guy told me “I hired 20 people to do SEO and nothing ever happened. It was terrible!” to which I replied “Of course it didn’t work! Why would you complicate things so much by hiring a bunch of workers at the same time? Would you ever hire 20 people in the USA all at the same time and expect them to be productive?” He reevaluated and realized what he had done was silly.
Hiring multiple workers will only overwhelm you. Plus, the workers’ production will be low. You may very well need lots of help in your business. But instead of hiring several workers to perform these tasks, hire one person to do one thing and gradually teach your VA to do more. Within a few months you’ll likely want to hire another VA.
7. Ignoring your VA/not providing feedback
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not making yourself available and not giving your VA direction. It’s possible this person has never worked for an American before. This is a new experience for them. They’ll be nervous, and they’ll be worried about disappointing you. If you ignore them and fail to provide the tools and resources they need, they may disappear. But if they know they can count on you to answer their questions, they’ll be willing to work things out on their own and come to you for help. When you communicate clearly and frequently with your VA, their work will often exceed your expectations.
All along the way, give your VA valuable feedback. Tell them what they’ve done well on a project. Tell them how much you appreciate the time and effort they’ve put into their tasks. Tell them what improvements they can make and how to better approach their assignment. Doing these things shows your VA that you care about their development and that you’re invested in them.
When you hire a VA, look at it as a long-term relationship. You want to work with this person for years to come. If you have this mindset and commitment, you’re far more likely to treat the relationship seriously and to give your worker all the support he or she needs to succeed.
8. Expecting immediate results
Patience is required when you start working with your Filipino VA. I’ve hired workers before whose first tasks turn out awful. But I work with them; I teach them and train them. Eventually, they do excellent work. I’ve hired others whose work was great from the beginning.
Your VA isn’t perfect. Rock star results won’t always come immediately. You don’t need them to, either. Remember, you’re establishing a partnership you hope lasts a long time. Your VA may struggle at first. Work closely with them and take things one step at a time. If you put in the time and effort, you’ll enjoy a long-lasting, successful business relationship. My best workers were not good when they started working for me. Today they’re fantastic.
9. Unproductive worker
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem. But if it appears that your VA is not working as much as they should (or not working at all), there could be several reasons. Don’t jump to conclusions by firing them without knowing what’s going on.
First, don’t berate your VA; talk to them. Find out what’s happening. Ask if there is anything going on in their personal life that is interfering with their work. Perhaps the tasks themselves are giving your VA problems. Ask these questions to determine what help you can give them:
- What are they struggling with?
- What don’t they understand?
- What things are confusing them?
- Why are things taking so long to complete?
- What are they stuck on?
- What do I need to explain better?
By asking these questions, you may learn that the lack of production is partially (or even fully) due to your unclear or incomplete instructions. Perhaps you didn’t spend enough time training or that your training was poor.
Another possible reason for your VA’s lack of production is that they’re working for someone else. I can usually tell when this is the case. If you suspect your VA is working for someone else, have a frank discussion and call them out. Don’t ask, “Are you working for someone else?” Instead, ask, “Who else are you working for?”
Once you identify the problem, you can work on solving it. It may be that your VA simply needs more training. Maybe they need time to deal with a family matter. Ask lots of questions, find out what the issues are and make appropriate changes.
I’ve had this problem two times with the same VA recently. She’s a great programmer, but I noticed her productivity was down for a couple months. I talked with her about it, and she said it’s because her daughter’s nanny had quit and she hadn’t been able to get another nanny yet. She was also having financial difficulties in keeping a nanny. I increased her pay $50, and she hired a nanny. Problem solved.
Then again, a few weeks ago her productivity declined. I asked what was going on, and after about a week she finally fessed up saying that the task we had given her needed someone with more expert database skills. She’s a programmer (a good one), and what we had asked was just beyond her skill set.
I only found out the problem because she has grown to trust me that I won’t fire her when she can’t do something I ask.
You can do this
When things don’t go well and when there are hiccups along the way—because there always will be—don’t get frustrated or give up. Like anything meaningful, this is going to require hard work, but your efforts will be well worth it.