Sh*t I Wish I Knew Before I Hired "VA's" (Virtual Assistants)

March 2, 2024

Knowledge From The Trenches

There's a buzz in the entrepreneurial sphere, especially on platforms like Twitter, surrounding "VA’s" or "Virtual Assistants". These are often portrayed as magical entities that promise high-quality output at a fraction of the cost, offering entrepreneurs the freedom to lounge in places like Bali, sipping on almond milk lattes, and frequently scouting for wifi passwords. This romanticized vision, however, can sometimes be far from reality.

Our extensive experience, derived from hiring over 250 professionals ranging from virtual assistants, customer service agents, and executive assistants to full-stack developers, graphic designers, and video editors, predominantly from the Philippines, provides a grounded perspective. This isn't a view from afar; our team has even lived in Manila, immersing ourselves in the culture and intricacies of managing "VA's". We're not just casual browsers of platforms like, seeking low-cost help. Instead, we've genuinely been "in the trenches", navigating the challenges and triumphs of onboarding first-time hires and scaling operations across various companies.

While our team in the Philippines has become indispensable, reaching this point was no easy journey. From navigating the complexities of BPO call centers and forging partnerships with universities to establishing a solid remote team network, we've experienced a myriad of scenarios. Our hope is that our trials serve as a roadmap, sparing you from the same pitfalls.

Establishing Clear Communication Expectations - AFK, Check-Ins & Check-Outs"

There might be stretches when you don't require your VA's services until a crucial moment arises, often unexpectedly. Imagine, at the end of such a day, reaching out to your VA only to find them unavailable. The scramble to determine their whereabouts can be time-consuming and stressful. It's imperative to establish a dedicated communication channel where your staff can indicate when they're "Away From Keyboard" (AFK) and mark their check-in and check-out times during shifts. This proactive approach can prevent unnecessary searches for team members across different time zones. Additionally, always have a backup communication plan. Platforms like WhatsApp, widely used internationally, can serve as reliable emergency channels should the primary method falter.

You Really Do Get What You Pay For

In the realm of virtual assistance and remote staffing, we've discovered a crucial truth – you invariably get what you pay for. The inherent desire to earn a substantial monthly income, mainly to support families, often prompts staff to take on multiple jobs, especially if their salary isn't meeting their needs. Striking a balance by paying a competitive hourly rate between $6-$10 can lead to impressive outcomes. Your generosity isn't just appreciated - it also fosters loyalty among your team members. By offering a premium salary, you enable your remote workforce to stay home, avoid commuting hassles, and even afford personal health care insurance. Such an investment isn't merely financial but also contributes significantly to the quality of life of your staff.

Language Barriers: The Silent Red Flags in Communication

As a dynamic entrepreneur who frequently uses cultural references and sports analogies to articulate ideas, I've been part of numerous video calls that ended in awkward silence with my well-regarded "VA's". The moments immediately following your communication are critical in gauging comprehension. If the response you get is nothing more than dead air or a noncommittal "okay", it's a telltale sign that your message hasn't been understood.

The Keys To Effective Team Communication

Ensuring your instructions resonate and are clear is pivotal. This means providing tasks written with meticulous detail, including essential login information, screenshots, procedural steps, and time estimates for each task segment. Avoid the pitfall of waiting until day's end, only to realize that hours have been misallocated to the wrong tasks. Begin by reviewing the first five task examples, and subsequently check the initial thirty to confirm consistency and avoid any oversights.

The Rule of Three: Adjusting to Remote Work Dynamics

In our experience, we've often hired three remote professionals to fill the shoes of a single full-time colleague who would traditionally work beside me. The rationale? When someone is physically present, they often seamlessly juggle multiple roles due to the immediate feedback loop created by close proximity. When working remotely, it's essential to compartmentalize tasks, playing to each individual's strengths, and sidestepping the pitfalls of context switching.

Maintaining Access Control: Always Keep Your 'Digital Keys'

Don't find yourself locked out of your own house, figuratively speaking. Leverage password management tools such as 1Password to seamlessly share and refresh login details with your team. Additionally, ensure that authenticator apps and two-factor authentication SMS codes are directed to your phone. 

Beware of Burnout: Navigating Time Zone Differences with VA's

Frequently, we've observed team members taking on double shifts, eager to maximize their earnings. However, this intense pace invariably leads to complete burnout within the first year. As your team evolves, it's essential to nurture and protect your standout performers. Structure roles and schedules in a way that ensures long-term sustainability and prevents burning out your star players.

Roosters and Remote Work: The Unseen Challenges of Different Time Zones

The idea of hiring a virtual assistant is to capitalize on the flexibility of remote work, correct? This works brilliantly until about 5PM Eastern Standard Time rolls around. Beyond that point, life's routines come into play: families preparing breakfast, getting children ready for school, and - yes - even neighborhood roosters crowing, oblivious to the importance of your ongoing call. 

The Internet Connection Sucks & There's Nothing You Can Do About It

The Philippines is candid about its internet connectivity struggles. Coupled with exorbitant prices, the nation ranks 100th globally for internet speed, which can significantly impede workflows. Tasks like downloading media assets or loading large CSV files, which should be virtually instantaneous, can become prolonged endeavors. We've been there, and it's a real issue.

(Planned) Brownouts Are Real

In 2021, the Philippines lost 107.5 million consumer-hours due to power outages triggered by natural events such as storms, earthquakes, and lightning, as revealed in a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). Because of supply limitations, the power titan Manila Electric Company (Meralco) has begun implementing two-hour rotating blackouts.

Natural Disasters and... Godzilla? Backup Locations Are Essential

Given the frequent occurrence of earthquakes, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions in the Philippines, it's crucial to have backup locations for business continuity. Cities like Buenos Aires, Argentina offer similar economic conversions to the Philippines, with the added advantage of being closer to U.S. time zones, ensuring seamless operations and assistance.

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March 2, 2024