There has been a lot of buzz over the past few years over the use of overseas virtual assistants. Many small business owners- especially those working on their own- swear by it as a way to get a lot done at a fraction of the cost it would take to hire a "Westerner."
But, then again, working with someone who is literally a world away presents many difficult challenges. So, what is right for you and your business?
A while back, I wrote up a short guide for business owners looking to hire their first virtual assistants. Though I discussed working with overseas VAs over there, I wanted to delve into the topic more deeply.
For many business owners looking from the outside in, the thought of working with a VA located in a foreign country (especially a developing one) brings up many questions like:
- Is this exploitation or opportunity?
- What are the people like to work with over there?
- What can an overseas VA do for me?
- How much money can I expect to save by hiring an overseas VA?
- Can I really expect quality work from someone who is getting paid only $2.15 an hour?
- How do I choose the right candidate?
- What is the best way to train an overseas VA?
- Where are the best sites to go to get hire a VA based overseas?
… and many more.
If you know where to look, there are several sites that clearly and sufficiently provide the answers to these questions. To get you started, I'll mention several great resources throughout this post that will do just that.
What does seem to be missing, however, is a side-by-side comparison of the main countries supplying overseas VAs to business owners. Many business owners wonder how these countries differ culturally and where their competencies lie. There is also the question of when hiring a U.S.-based VA may be your better option. In this post you'll be able to see at a glance some of the overall strengths and weakness each group of people brings. Now, obviously, I'm going to be making some generalizations here, and not every individual will fit the bill, but at least it will give you some perspective, and maybe help you to narrow down your search. I'll also include a list of sites that specifically target each country.
The Philippines Vs India Vs Pakistan Vs The U.S.: Where Should You Hire Your VA?
That said, here is a breakdown of how each of the countries mentioned above stack up as a source for VAs:
The Philippines is definitely one of the rising stars in the overseas VA industry. The country has been getting a lot of press lately thanks to some high profile promoters, such as Chris Ducker. There are many reasons why the Philippines has become one of the top outsourcing destinations:
- Filipinos are a bit more fluent in English compared to other countries like India.
- Many Filipino VAs are highly skilled. It's certainly possible to find a good Filipino VA qualified to do jobs in technical areas, such as web design, programming, and graphic design.
- Culturally, Filipinos tend to be loyal, trustworthy, value work, can easily comprehend instructions, can work lengthy hours, and pride themselves on delivering the desired results.
- Though you can certainly hire on a contractual basis, they seem to be particular suited to longer term positions or assignments.
Even with all of those qualities, here are some things to watch out for:
- Depending on where they are located, their Internet connectivity may be spotty
- Just because they are proficient in English, it doesn't mean they'll be perfect. In fact, expect that the vast majority of Filipinos will make small, but noticeable grammatical errors.
- Filipinos may not take criticism (even if it is given over pleasantly) so well. They respond best to encouragement. Start off with simpler tasks and work your way up to more complex ones as mastery is achieved.
- The VA business is booming in the Philippines, and that means that the price to hire a good worker over there is slowly, but surely rising.
There are many places online to go to hire a VA from the Philippines, and the best option will really depend on your needs.
- You could try freelancing sites, like Odesk.com, for contractual work.
- You could hire a Filipino directly on sites like, Best Jobs Philippines
If you would like some help sifting through candidates as well as training them to work with you, you should consider hiring through a virtual staffing firm. The initial price tag will be little higher, but it can save you a tremendous amount of time and money spent on hiring mistakes. Depending on the organization you go through, you'll get varying levels of help. You could try out Agents of Value or OnlineJobs.ph which offers varying levels of service, starting with offering you the ability to post a job on their boards for a set fee. Offering much more robust packages are companies like Chris Ducker's Virtual Staff Finder, which conducts in-depth testing and interviewing, in order to present you with candidates who are a close match to your needs. I also recommend checking out Chris's free ebooks. Though some of them are specifically written for those hiring Filipino VAs, there's a ton of really useful information that you could really apply to any VA setup.
India has been a popular source for overseas VAs for several years now. There are a few reasons to specifically seek out an Indian VA:
- They have good proficiency in English
- The country has a strong educational focus on science and mathematics which gives them an edge in the Information Technology fields.
- Another advantage that keeps India on the top of the list is its reliable bandwidth systems and its continuous development in their high speed communication technologies.
That said, there are several additional points you should take into consideration:
- Even though they can speak and understand English, most Indians tend to have a thick accent
- Do not expect a high level of initiative from an Indian VA. You need to make a good effort to plan out every task and explain exactly what needs to be done.
- Do not be surprised if your workers seem ready to agree to most things - it is difficult for Indians to show direct disagreement. Your workers will tend to tell you what they think you want to hear. So, watch how you phrase your questions.
- Bottom line: Good micro-management is the key to success
There are several sites you can turn to if you would like to specifically hire an Indian VA:
- My Tasker- Provides both personal and virtual assistant services
- Brickwork India -A virtual Office, providing Remote Executive Assistance (REA), Research & Consulting and IT services.
- GetFriday - Global virtual assistance services for small and mid-sized businesses
- Tasks EveryDay - Virtual staff solutions from virtual assistants to web designers and programmers
Pakistan is perhaps the least well-known source of VAs in this bunch. But, it's definitely a country to consider. Here are some strengths:
- English is widely spoken and understood in the major cities
- People from Pakistan are hard working and used to working overtime or on weekends. Just keep in mind that they appreciate and sometimes expect to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work.
- I've found Pakistanis to be pretty intuitive at times. You still need to offer clear instruction, but many are good at problem solving and filling in any gaps
That said, here are a couple of things to watch out for:
- Though Internet and mobile connectivity is decent in the big cities, the infrastructure is still relatively weak in more rural areas. More importantly, the Pakistani Government has a penchant for blocking out whole websites, and there is often speculation of an Internet-wide ban.
- The other important point to keep in mind is that as a culture, Pakistanis tend to use indirect communication peppered with a lot of hyperbole and similes. Consequently, a seemingly straightforward question does not always receive a clear answer. So, here again, pay attention to how you phrase questions.
If you would like to specifically work with VAs in Pakistan, the best service I've seen is Efficise.
Finally, here are some reasons where a U.S.-based worker would be a more attractive option than an overseas VA:
- There are often social, cultural and language barriers that make business more difficult to transact for overseas VAs.
- While English is pretty prevalent in the countries mentioned above, it's a situation where your mileage will definitely vary. For basic communication or content production where quality and perfection is not important, such a setup could work out just fine. But if you require high caliber content or sales copy and the like, then you'd be better off using a native English speaker (or at least hiring one to edit any content written be an overseas VA.)
- When you're working with people who are literally on the other side of the world, it can be incredibly difficult to manage their work load. If a task is done early, a virtual assistant can wind up clocking out long before you wanted him or her to. If there's a problem, it can take a full day to receive an answer to your questions.
- VAs are generally responsible for their own internet connection and computer. For an individual living in India, internet is certainly available, as I mentioned above, but it may be too skittish for you to handle. You also have to consider outside circumstances like typical extreme weather conditions or political maneuvering that can knock out your VA's access to the Internet for a significant time.
- Finally, it's no secret that many small business owners are specifically drawn to overseas workers because the wages are significantly lower than those for U.S. based VAs. But, be aware that prices have been steadily creeping up over the past few years. When you take into account the extra time and effort needed to get around some of the obstacles mentioned above, your actual savings may be pretty small.
In closing, there are definitely a lot of benefits to working with overseas VAs regardless of the country (or countries) you choose. There are many, many highly experienced, skilled, and competent workers out there. But, the success of your particular setup will really depend on the amount of effort you put into understanding, embracing, and accommodating both its possibilities and its limitations.