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How to Hire and Train the Best Virtual Assistants from the Philippines

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 whether you’re a solopreneur hiring a remote employee for the first time or are looking to build a whole team overseas.

Why You Need a Filipino Virtual Assistant

Still unsure about the merits of getting a Filipino virtual assistant? Here are some reasons why it’s probably one of the best investments you can make for your business.

Delegating keeps your business (and you) alive

Let’s address something first. Why do you need a virtual assistant in the first place?

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

Our virtual assistants in the 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.

There are various jobs Filipino virtual assistants can handle. We have employed content writers, customer service specialists, graphic designers, and podcast and video editors. Even our People Operations specialist works remotely.

Related Podcast: Interview with Filipino Office: Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Incredible VAs

Why Hire a VA from the Philippines and Not from 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, it’s 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 as 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.

The Philippines has a high English Proficiency Index

Aside from English being one of its two official languages, the Philippines also ranks high in the Education First's 2020 English Proficiency Index and is second only to Singapore in English competency in Asia. Over 92% of Filipinos speak English as a second language, so you don’t have to worry much about the language barrier.

Filipinos get Western 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 low labor costs

The average monthly net salary in the United States in 2021 is $2,730, in stark contrast to the Philippines’ $288.35.

Internet Connections and Power Interruptions in the Philippines

Having reliable access to broadband internet in the Philippines is a major issue. As of September 2021, speedtest.net reported the following stats for fixed broadband in the Philippines and the United States:

Philippines United States
Download 71.85 Mbps 203.81 Mbps
Upload 70.32 Mbps 73.95 Mbps
Latency 19 ms 24 ms

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.

Another solution would be to require or provide your virtual assistant with backup power like this power bank that can charge their laptops while also powering their routers.

How Much Do Filipino VAs Earn?

Onlinejobs.ph did a comprehensive guide to determine the average salaries for the most popular VA jobs. Some of the most common positions ecommerce business owners hire for are summarized below.

Average Wage Per Month Range
Social Media Marketing $590 $210 to $1570
Customer Service $590 $270 to $1320
Data Entry $450 $190 to $1030
Graphics Design $640 $250 to $1540
PPC Expert $850 $350 to $1850
Amazon Expert $370 $170 to $840

Here’s a comprehensive guide on how much to pay your VAs from onlinejobs.ph. In practice, we pay our VAs $600 to $800 per month, depending on experience and the job description.

We also give them yearly raises depending on their performance, as well as quarterly bonuses.

 

Mandatory Employee Benefits in the Philippines

If you’re going to hire a Filipino virtual assistant full-time, you may be considered to have an employer-employee relationship even if you indicated in your contract that they’re working freelance.

If this is the case, there are a couple of mandatory benefits that you need to pay for. This is not a comprehensive list, but these are the most important. Click on the links to know more about the applicable laws and/or contribution sharing.

Social Security System. SSS contributions are based on salary. Employers are required to pay a percentage, but the employee also has to pay his share. Here’s the SSS contribution schedule for 2021.

HDMF. The Home Development Mutual Fund, commonly known as the Pag-IBIG Fund, is a national savings program that aims to provide affordable shelter financing for Filipinos. In 2021, employers are required to pay 2% of the monthly compensation as a counterpart contribution. However, the maximum monthly salary used for Pag-IBIG contribution computation is only P5,000, which means you’ll pay no more than P100 per month.

Philhealth. Just like SSS, this depends on the employee’s compensation. In 2021, contributions are around P350 to P2,450 per month but will increase every year. You and your virtual assistant will have to pay for this equally.

Vacation Leave. According to the Labor Code of the Philippines, employees who have rendered at least one year of service are entitled to a yearly service incentive leave of five days with pay.

Expanded Maternity Leave. The maternity leave in the Philippines has been increased to 105 days paid leave, plus 15 days if the employee is a solo parent.

13th Month Pay. This is equivalent to 1/12 of the annual salary, to be paid on or before December 24 each year. This should not be confused with the Christmas bonus, which is not mandatory.

 

What You Need in Place Before Hiring a Filipino VA

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?

What qualities are you looking for in an employee?

It’s more than just the skills they can offer. How long do you want to work with them? (Remember, hiring and training take time.) If you already have a team in place or are planning to build one, will the candidate fit your company’s culture?

Back view of male employee have online video call on laptop with diverse multiethnic colleagues, man worker involved in webcam conference or virtual event on computer with multiracial businesspeople
Even if you're only meeting online, making sure your virtual assistant fits the culture is important.

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 for 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 to 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.

If you have an Amazon business, we have an FBA for Absolute Beginners Course that you can share with your hires. It’s already part of our own onboarding program.

How to Hire and Train Your Filipino Virtual Assistant

In this section, we’ll take you through our own hiring and training process. You can modify this accordingly, depending on your company’s needs and your VA’s experience.

Best Job Boards to Find Filipino Virtual Assistants

There are a lot of sites you can visit to find Filipino VAs. Here are the most well-known ones, starting with the five we use the most:

Boss Job A job board used by both international and local employers; it has a direct chat and an AI-powered matching feature.
Indeed This American employment website allows you to sort resumes, schedule interviews, and send messages within the platform.
Mynimo A job board that posts open positions for employment in and around the Philippines. Used for both VAs and domestic Filipino companies
LinkedIn The social network for professional services, LinkedIn provides a lot more information about candidates aside from what’s written in their resumes.
Onlinejobs.ph This is the most popular job board for Filipino VAs, where you can find candidates with a wide variety of skill sets.
Upwork Formerly known as Elance-oDesk; it is a global freelancing platform where businesses and independent professionals can connect and collaborate remotely.
FreeUp Similar to onlinejobs.ph but with more highly vetted VAs.

The sites mentioned above allow you to hire virtual assistants directly.

Another place you can look into is forums, where companies and prospective employees discuss job opportunities.

However, the best thing that’s worked for our own company is employee referral. We offer a referral bonus, and a lot of candidates who are recommended by our employees end up getting hired. You can also ask your friends who are also e-commerce business owners where they hired their employees.

Here’s a chart that represents our application sources for a quarter.

candidate sources

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

Steps to Hiring the Best Virtual Assistants

Here’s an overview of our whole recruitment process. We do have a dedicated People Operations (PO) manager, but you can still follow these steps even as a solopreneur.

recruitment process chart

The Screening Process

We have three tiers to our screening process:

Level 1 Resume and application letter review, checking Google Forms submission, and initial interview by PO
Level 2 Exam and interview by the manager and team leaders
Level 3 Final interview by CEO and COO

For Level 1, you can include some basic instructions in your job posting such as a keyword they must include in the subject line or to answer a short question such as “Why should we hire you?” Eliminate all applicants who do not follow these instructions.

For our screening test, we use Google Forms. Here’s an example. Feel free to re-use it for your hiring process. Eliminate all candidates who do not complete the test and/or who did not complete it satisfactorily, e.g., couldn’t upload the picture correctly, too high salary expectations, etc.).

Here’s a summary of the 228 applications we got in a quarter. Less than 35% were qualified after the initial screening.

summary of qualified and unqualified applicants

And out of the 35%, only one made it to the final interview. The majority of the qualified applicants (59%) did not even reply to our emails.

distribution of qualified applicants chart

Expect a couple of interview no-shows (about 5 to 10%). Ask each candidate mostly the same questions and schedule each interview to take 30 minutes (allow roughly 3 to 5 minutes for each question, so for a 30-minute interview this would be 10-15 questions).

Here are some of the most common interview questions that we ask our own candidates:

  • When was your last job and what were the dates were you employed?
  • Why did you leave that job?
  • What were the primary responsibilities in your last job?
  • What experience do you have with [Seller Central, eBay, Shopify, customer service, etc.]?
  • What is your process for [blog writing, writing social media posts, responding to customer complaints, creating FBA shipments, etc.]
  • Tell me about your hobbies and personal interests.
  • What is your greatest strength and weakness?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • 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.”

In Level 2, the applicant will be required to perform tests to determine if they really have the skills needed for the job. This is where you determine if the employee has lied or exaggerated in their resume.

Review their outputs as soon as you can so you can move on to the next process as early as possible. Remember, these candidates are likely applying for multiple jobs, so you’re not the only employer who’s trying to hire them.

The last level is mostly for character assessment. Here, you will determine whether the candidate will fit in your company’s culture. This is also the time to set expectations and get to know the applicant beyond his or her resume.

Contract Signing and Onboarding

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

For the onboarding process, make sure to include the following:

  • An introduction to the company, your products, goals, and team hierarchy
  • Explanation of the company’s culture and employee expectations
  • A training track
  • Schedule of daily (and later on, weekly) check-ins

How to Train Filipino Virtual Assistants

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. It means that in the Philippines (and most of Asia for that matter), people in lower positions assume decisions 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 pushback.
  • Your VAs expect you to give very clear directions.

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, you’ll most likely 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
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.
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.

 

Giving Your VAs Their First Tasks

During the first 1 to 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.

How to Manage Your Virtual Assistant

If you’re thinking about building a remote team, you will eventually promote some of your VAs. Now, we have a manager and team leaders for the brands we own. But until you reach that point, you will have to manage your VAs yourself. How do you do this?

First, get a reliable employee management platform such as Hubstaff so you’ll know what your VAs are working on and how long it takes them to complete projects. Some of these platforms even enable you to pay your virtual assistants without having to send the payments to individual Paypal accounts.

Related Podcast: E285: Effectively Managing Your Team, Wherever They Are In The World

Second, as your team grows, train and promote your best employees to manage people so you’ll have a point person. In this way, you won’t only have an overseas manager, you’ll also provide your employees with growth opportunities.

Pitfalls to Watch Out For

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

Job Hoppers and the Disappearing VA Phenomenon

Most online jobs are still viewed as a gig in the Philippines. 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 or find the tasks too difficult.

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.

There are also VAs who just magically disappear after a few weeks. It’s very frustrating. On week 1, your VA is happily doing a perfect job and you prepare 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.

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 skill set. 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 e-commerce 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? Which job boards did you find your successful hires from?

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.

5 Comments

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

    1. 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!

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