How to Find and Train the Best Filipino Virtual Assistants (VAs) in 2019

July 20, 2019 in Blog
How to Find and Train the Best Filipino Virtual Assistants in 2019
A cost-effective way to free up your time

Filipino Virtual Assistants

Starting your own e-commerce business means you’ll have to wear many hats, but when your company starts to grow and you need to scale, being a one-man company no longer makes sense.

Delegating tasks to a Filipino virtual assistant is a cost-effective way to free up your time so you can focus on the big things that matter to your business.

This guide will show you a step-by-step process that will help you in finding, hiring, training, and keeping a Filipino virtual assistant.

Why You Need a Filipino Virtual Assistant

If you’re reading this but you’re unsure about the merits of getting a Filipino virtual assistant (VA), this section is for you.

Delegating keeps your business (and you) alive

Many of us in the e-commerce space start out as solopreneurs. Cash is king, so unless you have a rich uncle with a huge pile of money lying around, it makes sense to try to keep the business as lean as possible.

But as your business grows you’ll be faced with a problem, and for many of us it usually begins with this: a gazillion (and growing) unanswered customer support emails.

cebu virtual assistant shot

Our Filipino VA team based in Cebu City, Philippines.

You can suck it up and clear your support inbox every day, but as your business grows, more and more things will start to come up that will eat at your time.

Eventually, you won’t have any time to spare for the big-picture tasks necessary to grow your business, which is what you should be doing in the first place as the company’s CEO.

Even if you’re a productivity superstar, your time won’t be enough.

If it won’t kill your business, it will kill you.

Also check outPodcast 96: Interview with Filipino Office: Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Incredible VAs

Why Hire a VA from the Philippines and not Other Countries?

In a perfect world, we’d hire someone we could work with within less than a mile of each other. But hiring locally is expensive.

Keep in mind that the basic salary is not the only thing you need to pay for, things like benefits and employment taxes add up to the true cost of hiring a local employee.

Unless your business can support it, or you have the rich uncle mentioned above, it is best to look for someone you can delegate basic tasks to without breaking the bank, even if it means working from opposite faces of the planet.

So why a Filipino opposed to other nationalities?

Filipinos are no strangers to outsourcing. The country is a top business outsourcing destination for Western countries and is, in fact, dubbed as the call-center capital of the world, and for good reason.

Most Filipinos are proficient in English

English, along with Filipino, is one of the Philippines’ official languages. While not all Filipinos have high-level English skills (which we’ll get to later), the majority of the population (76% as of 2008) understand English, with the country being ranked #14 in the English Proficiency Index. (India, for comparison’s sake, was ranked #28)

Filipinos get your culture

The toughest thing about hiring someone overseas is making sure they understand your culture, and the culture of the people they’re going to provide service to.

Filipinos are very familiar with Western culture. They watch American TV series, watch Hollywood movies, and at one point the country even ranked #1 in the list of countries following the NBA.

The Philippines has lower labor costs

The average annual income in the United States is $59,160, in stark contrast to the Philippines’ $3,660.

average income philippines

You could expect to pay a US-based copywriter $49,604 a year on average, versus $3442.41 on average for a Filipino.

How Much do Filipino VAs Earn?

Onlinejobs.ph did a comprehensive guide to determine the average salaries for the most popular VA jobs. It found that customer service and social media jobs have an average of $590 per month, basic data entry is $450/month, and graphics design jobs is $640 month.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on how much to pay your VAs from onlinejobs.ph. In practice, we pay our VAs $550-700/month depending on experience.

We also give them yearly raises depending on their performance.

Other incentives to offer you VAs

  • We have an office (co-working space)
  • We offer the 13th-month pay
  • We give paid holidays
  • We have a morning shift (7:00AM-4:00PM local time)

What You Need in Place Before Hiring Someone

Before you post a job ad, you need to have an answer to the following questions:

What do you need the most help with?

Knowing what you need the most assistance with translates into what you need your VA to do. List down the things that overwhelm you right now. Is it customer support emails? Social media? Inventory management?

Once you have an answer to this, you can translate this into a job post that targets the exact type of person you need.

Do you need your VA to work full-time or part-time?

In connection with the previous question, you need to consider how much help you need per week. Do you need someone to work for you for a full 40 hours? Or are there not enough tasks for them to do yet and 20 is just fine?

If you need someone full-time, do you have the budget to pay for 40 hours of work every week? Jump to the payments section to see how much a full-time VA costs.

If you don’t have the budget or the tasks to warrant hiring a full-time VA and choose to hire a part-time contractor, are you fine with them working for other people while working for you?

How experienced are you with the task you’re delegating?

While there are projects that you can ask a VA to “just figure out”, there are tasks you need to be fairly experienced with before delegating to a VA, especially if those tasks involve a lot of money.

One example is Facebook ads. An employee is going to have a very hard time with the autonomy of “go figure out Facebook ads and get me an ROI of 4x and don’t spend more than $20 a day.”

Tasks YOU need to be an expert in Tasks your VA can figure out on their own
  • Email marketing
  • PPC
  • SEO
  • Influencer outreach
  • Customer support
  • Social media management

Be aware that skill embellishing on resumes is very prevalent. Just because someone says that they are an “SEO Expert” doesn’t mean that they are in fact an SEO expert.

How much time are you prepared to spend on training?

Hiring a VA is an upfront time and money investment, and how well you train them during the first few weeks determines how well they’ll perform later on.

Hiring your VA will be a timesuck during the first few weeks and you need to be prepared for the hours you’ll have to take away from your business in order to train them. Would you be able to spare 2-4 hours each day supervising them?

Once the VA gets the hang of things though, you can slowly scale back on the time you spend training them, until such a point when all you need to do is to have daily check-ins with them.

What tasks do our VAs do?

  1. Majority of our email support.
  2. Majority of our social media response.
  3. Research and put together a social media calendar.
  4. Compose our weekly Facebook live scripts.
  5. Ensure Amazon FBA returns are actually received. Request refund from Seller Support if not.
  6. Calling for technical support (specifically Amazon but other vendors as well)
  7. Content and blog writing.
  8. Post content to our various content sites and repurpose content across different channels.
  9. Manage and respond to negative product reviews.
  10. Writing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

 

The Hiring Process

Now that you have everything in place, let’s get to the part that intimidates most business owners: the hiring process itself.

Hiring can be very time-consuming and frustrating. In this section, we’ll attempt to break this process into manageable chunks. First, let’s talk about where to find VAs.

Where to Find a Filipino VA

virtual assistant websites

As mentioned, there is a multitude of resources online when looking for a Filipino VA. Let’s break down the most well-known ones.

  • Onlinejobs.ph – a job board for Filipinos with a wide variety of skill sets. The most popular job board for Filipino VAs.
  • Upwork – formerly know as Elance-oDesk; it is a global freelancing platform where businesses and independent professionals can connect and collaborate remotely.
  • Mynimo – a job board that posts open positions for employment in and around the Philippines. Used for both VAs and domestic Filipino companies.
  • Freeeup – Similar to onlinejobs.ph but more highly vetted VAs.
  • Recommendations – suggestions from your ecommerce network
  • Forums – an online space where companies and prospective employees discuss job opportunities, here are a few you might want to look into

Related Listening: Episode 154: How to Hire Quality VAs with OnlineJobs.ph

What Cities Should You Recruit from?

According to Freelancing.ph’s Annual Freelancer Report for 2016, more than three-quarters of freelancers can be found in Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. Almost half of them (47%) are located in the Greater Manila Area, the country’s capital.

filipino average salaries

Manila has the greatest selection of VAs, the highest skill-levels, and has convenient direct flights to many major cities. It also has the highest wages and can be difficult to travel in.

We personally hire almost exclusively from Cebu and have a co-working space rented out for our 10+ employees. Cebu has slightly lower wages and is a very idyllic setting but it also has a smaller pool of candidates.

I strongly suggest that you try and recruit your VAs from one of the major cities –  Manila, Cebu, Davao City, or Iloilo if for no other reason than the fact that these cities have the most reliable internet connections.

Internet Connections in the Philippines

Having reliable access to broadband internet in the Philippines is a major issue. Internet speeds in the Philippines can be VERY slow and speeds are, on average, nearly 70% slower than in the United States.

average internet speeds philippines

Another major issue is rolling blackouts in the Philippines. The power situation in many parts of the country can be unreliable and rolling blackouts are common. Your VA may be unavailable to get on the internet for hours or even days at a time.

One of the ways we counter the power and internet issue is to require our VAs to work from a coworking space. Coworking spaces start at around $100 per month and are invaluable.

Five Step Process to Hiring the Best VAs

When you first post a job on OnlineJobs.ph or another job board you will get swamped with dozens or even hundreds of applicants. You cannot interview each of these candidates so the key is to identify the top 10% or so of candidates.

5 step guide hiring a va

We have a five-step process we use to hire all of our VAs. This allows us to quickly filter out the worst candidates and filter in the best candidates.

Application Review

Review the applications you get submitted for your job posting.

Include some basic instruction in your job posting such as a keyword they must include in the subject line or to answer a short question about “Why should we hire you?”. Eliminate all applicants who do not follow these instructions.

Review applications for English. If writing is important to you, eliminate all applicants without perfect English.

Finally, eliminate applications that do not fit your required skill set. Avoid applicants with a long list of “trendy skills” such as when an applicant says they are “experienced with Shopify, eBay, private labeling, arbitrage, Seller Central, Helium 10, SEO, blog writing, and PPC management”.

Aim to select the top ten candidates from your applications.

Test

For all applicants who made it through the application review, let them know that you would like to schedule a Skype interview with them after they have completed a screening test.

Our screening test is created via Google forms and you can see an example of our screening test here (feel free to re-use it for your job).

Our screening test asks the candidate some basic information such as their name, expected salary, and available start date. We also give them some small tests such as:

  • A short typing test with a screenshot for verification.
  • An internet speed test with a screenshot for verification.
  • Asking the applicant to write a short caption for a funny picture.

We know that most applicants will perform the typing test several times to get a “good” score and potentially get someone to help write the caption for the funny photo. This is fine – we just want to see some level of commitment to the job.

Eliminate all candidates who do not complete the test and/or who did not complete it satisfactorily (i.e. couldn’t upload the picture correctly, too high salary expectations, etc.)

Arrange a Skype Interview via Text Chat

Pro-tip: Avoid video interviews early in the hiring process as Filipinos are shy by culture and you may scare away good candidates.

For candidates who successfully passed our screening test arrange a time to have a Skype interview with them via text chat. Only tell the candidate that the interview will be via Skype so they assume that it will be via video and don’t have someone else complete the interview for them.

Arrange interviews with all candidates on the same day and around the same time. Expect 10-25% of your candidates not to show up for the interview.

Ask each candidate mostly the same questions and schedule each interview to take 30 minutes (allow roughly 3-5 minutes for each question, so for a 30-minute interview this would be 10-15 questions). Candidates who cannot complete most or all of the interview should be eliminated if customer service/typing will be a core component of the job.

Select the top three candidates and arrange a Skype video interview with them.

Top 10 VA First Interview Questions

Here are some good questions to ask your candidates on a first interview:

  1. When was your last job and what were the dates you were employed?
  2. Why did you leave that job?
  3. What were the primary responsibilities in your last job?
  4. What experience do you have with [Seller Central, eBay, Shopify, customer service, etc.]?
  5. What is your process for [blog writing, writing social media posts, responding to customer complaints, creating FBA shipments, etc.]
  6. Tell me about your hobbies and personal interests.
  7. What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  8. Why should we hire you?
  9. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  10. Case example, Write a response email to the following customer complaint “I just received your item that I ordered from Amazon two days late. Because of it, I missed giving it to my dad for his birthday. On top of that, the box arrived badly damaged. I am disappointed with your company.”

Arrange a Skype Video Interview with the Top Three Candidates

During the next (and final) interview, arrange a Skype video interview with the top three candidates.

We are looking for two things at this point:

  1. Candidates who may have lied or exaggerated on their resumes and or other red flags.
  2. Candidates who are the best fit culturally for our company.

At this point, you should have three strong candidates who have adequate skills and are trainable. Your final hiring decision will largely come down to gut feel and who you like best.

Final Hire and Contract

After you have selected your final candidate, write to them to let them know and ask them to sign a short employment contract listing with the salary details, the number of hours they need to work per week, etc..

Do not inform the other candidates they did not get the job until after the first candidate has signed their employment contract. If you have two or more great candidates, consider hiring them all if your budget allows – great employees are hard to come by.

How to Train World-Class VAs

How do you train the very best VAs? Before you can, you have to understand some important cultural differences.

The Philippines is a High Power Distance Culture

The Philippines is a very high power distance culture.

power distance philippines

What does that mean? It means that in the Philippines (and most of Asia for that matter), people in lower positions assume decision taken by their authorities without questioning the authority.

What does that mean for you?

  • Your VAs will find it strange if you “ask for suggestions”
  • Your VAs expect you to have the answers to everything
  • Your VAs will perform the tasks they are asked to do with very little push back
  • Your VAs expect you to give very clear direction

Always keep this power distance in mind when working with your VAs

Training Your VAs

The first month is dedicated almost exclusively to training. Unless you’re having your VA work a graveyard shift or you’re working the graveyard shift, most likely you’ll only have a couple of hours of overlap with your VA. Subsequently, it’s important to have your training materials ready from the get-go.

Basic training materials include:

  • SOPs
  • Screencasts
  • Ecommerce training courses

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

SOPs are not just handy during training but throughout your VA’s entire employment. Your SOPs should include clear and step-by-step instructions on how to do a particular task. You can also include checklists for easier follow-through.

Pro-tip: SOPS are just guidelines. Encourage your VA to try and improve processes and continuously update SOPs

Screencasts

Screencasts show your VA exactly how you do tasks and how you want things done. They are especially useful if your VA is a visual learner.

Screencasts are perfect for highly methodical tasks like Amazon PPC management, order fulfillment, and setting up landing pages.

Ecommerce Training Courses

Ecommerce is still in its early stages in the Philippines so don’t expect applicants to be well-versed in e-commerce.

In fact, when we hire our own VAs, we consider e-commerce experience a plus, not a requirement.

Ecommerce training courses like the ones offered by Digital Marketer are a great crash course for hires who are not very keen on ecommerce.

The “Disappearing VA” phenomenon

Probably the most common problem entrepreneurs encounter when hiring a Filipino VA is when the VA suddenly disappears for no apparent reason.

It’s very frustrating–on week 1 your VA is happily doing a perfect job and you prep yourself to do the things you finally have time for, and then on week 2 they completely ghost you. No work done, no emails, no Skype messages, no nothing.

What just happened?

Disappearing VAs are the result of little or no training, failing to give feedback, and unclear expectations of the job.

If you give your VA a very broad job description at the beginning, and worse, give them little and/or unclear training, chances are they will get overwhelmed and will be unsure what to do next.

The problem is Filipinos are culturally non-confrontational. Most of them are afraid that you’ll be upset and fire them, so instead of asking you for help about a task or what to do next, most of them will just simply avoid you.

Giving Your VA Their First Tasks

During the first 1-3 months, give your VA very small bite-sized tasks to acclimatize them to your company (processes, products, and people) and also to test their abilities. Asking them to manage all your Seller Central buyer messaging on their third day is a bad idea.

What are some good first tasks?

  • FBA shipment audit
  • Proof-reading articles
  • Price auditing
  • Social media posting

Don’t expect to get any ROI on your hire for several months. This is normal. This is also why it’s important to reduce employee turnover as much as possible.

As your VAs prove themselves, move them on to more important tasks such as customer service and light product editing.

For VAs who continue to perform exceptionally, give them more difficult tasks. Be warned though, most hires will have a fairly low ability ceiling that raises very slowly over time.

Pitfalls to Watch Out For

Before or after you hire your VAs, there’s a few things you want to keep an eye out for.

Job Hoppers

Another problem we encounter when hiring VAs, and most likely one of the reasons they tend to disappear, is that online jobs are still viewed as a “gig” in the Philippines.

Granted that this perception is changing and working online has been viewed more of a profession over the years, there are still people looking to work as VAs for only a couple of months and then leave when they find a more “normal” kind of job.

And then there are those who leave when they get bored.

There’s no fool-proof way to filter out the first type of applicant, but it’s quite easy to avoid the second.

Carefully look at the applicant’s resume and see if they’ve been able to hold a job for at least two years. If they’ve had 5 jobs in 5 years, that’s a red flag in our book.

We want our VAs to stay with us long term, usually for more than a year, so we want to make sure the person we’re hiring would have no trouble staying with us for that long.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

We’re just going to say it: there’s no surefire way to protect your intellectual property when working with VAs overseas.

Sure you can draft up a non-disclosure agreement, but if your VA does something wrong with sensitive information, it’s not going to be easy to prosecute them.

The only way to do it is to be cautious.

Filipinos are generally trustworthy, but just as you don’t blindly trust someone you meet on the street, you shouldn’t just hand out sensitive information to your VA during their first week at the job.

Start small. Trickle sensitive information to them and get a feel for how trustworthy they are. Gradually increase their responsibilities and build trust.

How to Retain Your VAs

You’ve hired a VA from the Philippines. Everything is going well and you see this employee becoming a long-term member of the team. This article has explored the nuances of successfully hiring a Pinoy VA, now let’s take it further. What do you need to do to make your new VA stay?

Opportunities for Growth and Learning

Filipinos are known to be adaptable, which is the reason why millions have been able to work successfully abroad. A good Filipino VA will thrive when allowed to explore opportunities for learning and expand an existing skillset. Doing so will also benefit you as an employer because that new knowledge can be applied to existing work to make a much better output.

Awareness of Cultural Nuances

John Jonas, the founder of Onlinejobs.ph alluded to some significant cultural nuances when he was on the podcast. Filipinos are generally people pleasers. Being friendly and hospitable is a cultural norm but the need to please can be overshadowed by feelings of inadequacy when they feel that they can’t represent themselves. It is important to be conscious of this, especially during interviews.

The Little Things Matter

It’s the little benefits at work that truly spark joy.  Some examples include:

  • Recognizing a Filipino VA’s efforts
  • Providing a reasonable number of vacation leaves per year
  • Paying for healthcare

Conclusion

Hiring someone–anyone, really–to take over the functions you’ve grown used to when running your ecommerce business is hard.

It’s especially hard when someone is living on the other side of the globe and whom you’ve only met online.

But hiring Filipino VAs has been one of the decisions that contributed to the growth of our business. If done right, it can make a huge difference for your business too, and you get to experience a culture that’s ironically so close but so different from yours.

How many VAs does your company have? Did you find them on onlinejobs.ph or somewhere else?

  • About The Author: Abby Pates

    Abby is based in the beautiful tropical island of Cebu, Philippines. In her past life she worked as a freelance tech and business writer, and was a top customer service representative at a big ecommerce company.

    More posts by


3 Comments

  • Ed
    July 26, 2019 Reply

    Awesome article Abby. Just what I needed. Thanks so much for the very detailed post.

  • Zeb
    November 19, 2019 Reply

    When you suggest ecommerce classes from digitalmarketer.com, do you mean this one https://www.digitalmarketer.com/lp/training/ecommerce-marketing-mastery/ for $500? Or are there alternatives you had in mind?

    • Abby Pates
      November 19, 2019 Reply

      Hey Zeb! Yes, that was one of the training courses. They've become a bit outdated though so we're looking for alternatives. We're looking at a few different courses like Brian Dean's SEO That Works, but we haven't settled on a final list yet. We'll update the article once we do!

Leave a Reply