When talking about a virtual assistant (VA), there are a few different options you have to choose from based on what your needs are. There are managed virtual assistants who work for a virtual assistant company, and they have project/account managers who manage your account and your VAs. There are directory sites who pair you up with a freelance virtual assistant and then step out of the relationship, call centers that focus on customer support and US-based VAs vs overseas. No matter what your needs are, we will talk about each one.
Freelance Virtual Assistants
A freelance VA is an independent contractor who adds their profile to a directory site like Upwork and Freelancer. When you post a project, Upwork will give you a list of freelance VAs to choose from.
The freelancer decides the hourly rate they will work for, and because the hourly rate can vary, you can usually get higher-skilled candidates who can do things like programming, graphic design, and creative writing. However, you do still have the option of cheaper VAs with a more basic level of experience.
The directory sites generally step out of the relationship once you choose a VA, so it will be up to you to manage them.
One time project-based tasks are usually better suited for the freelancer, whereas ongoing and recurring tasks are better suited for the managed model.
With no managing company or managers to hold freelancers accountable, there ends up being very little structure and no standard operating procedures; as a result, freelancers tend to be flaky and unreliable. Many will try and stack tasks from multiple clients to fill their 8-hour workday, if things go wrong with one project, it throws their delicate balancing act into chaos, resulting in missed deadlines and rushed sloppy work. Freelancers tend to over promise and under deliver, so if you find one who can effectively manage their time and are responsive and responsible, do everything you can to hold on to them, they are a rare breed.
-Usually a little cheaper than the managed option
-Potential for higher specialized skills
-Better for one time project-based tasks
-No team access
-If they get sick, take a vacation or go AWOL there is no backup
-Tend to be less devoted and will take another job for more pay.
-Only one point of contact
-VA may or may not be as qualified as they claim
Managed Virtual Assistants
The managed option was born out of the frustration people had with the freelancer. They would regularly go AWOL in the middle of a project never to be heard from again. Companies like TaskBullet pioneered the managed model by assigning a project manager to each client that oversees the account and makes sure the VA is working and meeting due dates. The manager is another point of contact who can help delegate tasks and resolve any issues that may arise.
With managed VA companies, clients typically have the option of one dedicated VA or a team who can perform a wide variety of tasks. Access to a team is critical if you have a variety of needs such as; marketing, accounting, research, data entry, and so on.
Due to the longer-term relationship managed companies have with their staff, they typically spend more time training and developing them. You generally get a higher caliber VA, in areas like communication, reliability, honesty, and dedication. The attrition rate with managed companies is substantially lower than those of the freelance model, which is beneficial if you plan to train a VA for a long term working relationship.
Due to the standardized pricing of the managed model, finding high-level specialized VAs can be challenging. Skills involving creativity and problem solving, like programming and creative writing, may not be up to the level you expect. Knowing what you need and what the capabilities of the VA are will help when deciding which model to choose.
With the industry in general susceptible to flakiness and unreliability, managing the VAs with structure and accountability helps to create a better, more reliable, and longer-term working relationship. Most managing companies have SOP’s (standard operating procedures) that guide the VAs in behavior that promotes better communication, hitting deadlines, time management, and over-all professionalism.
-Access to a team of VAs
-Standard operating procedures
-Devoted staff with a lower attrition rate
-Ongoing internal training
-Multiple points of contact
-Usually a little more expensive than the freelancer
-Less high-level specialized skill and more general knowledge
The Philippines has become the call center capital of the world, due to the low cost of living in the Philippines, their excellent grasp of the English language, and neutral accent. With so many of the biggest companies on the planet now using the Philippines to handle their customer support, chances are you have spoken to a Filipino and didn’t know it.
If you have a high volume of calls in a day and need 24-hour customer support, it makes sense to call Convergys, one of the largest call centers in the Philippines. If you are a small to medium-size business that still needs dedicated customer support, there are smaller call centers available. Techcel, for example, is a call center that lets you start small and grow. They will use their professional phone system, and they will manager your agent. You will need to train and provide a script or answers to common questions to meet the needs of your specific clients.
One of the disadvantages to the call centers is; they typically can’t do other tasks while waiting for calls to come in, so you will need a large enough call volume to support a full-time agent.
Freelancers and managed VAs also work for inbound and outbound calls; however, you will need to provide the calling software, and they will typically be answering the phone from their home. The advantage of this is, they can do other tasks between calls. If you have low call volume, and other tasks, this might be your best option.
Call Center Pros/Cons
-A controlled calling environment
-Professional calling software
-Higher price than other Philippine options
-Agent can’t do other tasks for you between calls
-Medium to high call volume needed
US-based vs overseas
When someone tells you to get a virtual assistant, they are generally referring to someone located in the Philippines; however, there are US and India options as well.
The virtual assistant industry started in India but quickly moved over to the Philippines due to their grasp of the English language and a more neutral accent. India is still the leader when it comes to high-level tech tasks like programming.
All other things virtual assistant is either US or Philippines based. The obvious difference between the two are price. TaskBullet, for instance, ranges from $6.50 to $11 per hour, whereas a similar managed based model like Zirtual with US-based VAs will cost between $28 and $33 per hour. Before you run to the Philippines and grab that low price, you need to understand the differences.
Both US and Filipino VAs work US business hours, the difference is the Filipinos are working the graveyard shift to be awake during US business hours. Most Filipino VAs are accustomed to working the night shift, so generally, it isn’t a problem.
With US-based VAs, you get a higher standard of work, better communication, understanding of American culture, and less of an English barrier. While Filipinos speak and understand English very well, English is still their second language, so writing will be a challenge.
While most of the major holidays are consistent between the Philippines and the US, some Philippine holidays don’t line up with American holidays, so they may request holiday time off where you may need them to work.
The general rule with using a virtual assistant is to take as much of the decision making and creative element out of each task, you want it to be a more step-by-step process rather than a use-your-own-judgment. With US-based VAs, you can dance this line a bit more than you can with Filipinos.
All that being said, I have Filipino VAs performing tasks at a higher level than the Americans clients they support. It took many hours of training to get them to that point, but anything is possible if you are willing to put in the time to train. Filipinos are highly capable and very well educated and can be taught to do almost anything.
Bottom line; US-based VAs have less of a learning curve and have a better understanding of subtle American culture and norms, and are more familiar with US business standards and practices, but cost substantially more. Philippine-based VAs are very capable and skilled and can be trained to do almost anything and cost far less. If a Filipino VA meets your needs, the cost-benefit analysis is hugely in your favor.
The success and failure of a Filipino VA rest more with you and your ability to delegate tasks than it does with the Filipino’s overall skill and expertise. For a great article on how to delegate to a virtual assistant, check out this link.
High-pressure sales are generally outside the wheelhouse of Filipinos; that being said, you can train a Filipino to do sales, just know that the Filipino people are culturally passive and will take “no” for an answer. It is better to have them qualify the lead and then have a salesperson call and close the deal.
For managed virtual assistant services, I recommend
For freelance services, I recommend
For call centers I recommend
Convergys and Techcel
For Philippine-based, I recommend
For US-based, I recommend