Do you really need a US-based virtual assistant?

The Marketing Team

Unsure whether to get a Filipino or a US-based virtual assistant? Still sceptical as to how location affects your experience? This short rundown will help you finally make up your mind.

There comes a time in every business person’s life when they realise, and thus have to contend with, one unassailable fact:  an increase in revenue is always accompanied by an increase in workload.  In the words of Isaac Newton, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Although newer and smaller businesses might not demand too much from their owners, what happens when they actually do?  Can one person handle everything from production to customer service all by themself?  If your answer to this is no, then it’s high time for you to think about getting a virtual assistant.  

Contrary to what one may think, there is no shame in delegating away tasks.  Many business people inevitably develop a sense of pride in their self-sufficiency, something which is not at all wrong but which may also make them actively avoid enlisting the aid of others when necessary.  In any case, the truism that one must work smarter rather than harder holds true.  It is ultimately not the act of delegating that matters, but instead to whom something is delegated.  

In choosing the right virtual assistant, there are many considerations involved.  But by far one of the chief considerations is location.  In today’s climate of globalised commerce, the Philippines has risen to be one of the most, if not the most, promising wellsprings of outsourced labour, with a gigantic population of educated, industrious, and English-speaking workers1.  Presented with such good prospects half a world away, the question therefore arises:  do you really need a US-based virtual assistant?

US-based vs. Philippines-based virtual assistants

Time Zones

While in the past even the minutest difference in time zones could’ve taken entire enterprises down, the same cannot be said of the modern world.  The incredible interconnectivity brought about by the Internet has made it so that hiring someone an ocean away isn’t as ludicrous as it once might have sounded.  

The difference in time between Manila and New York is 12 hours.  What this essentially means is that your breakfast is your (prospective) virtual assistant’s dinner, and your lunch is their midnight snack.  And even though the Internet does compensate for the vast distances between you two, there is still the issue of coordinating with such disparate timeframes.  Thankfully, the Philippines, just like many other rapidly developing countries, has a robust culture of graveyard shifts.  With the boom in employment has come a decline in crime, to the point that those cities with the biggest outsourcing operations, like Quezon City and Makati, are now actually as safe at night as they are during the day.  Spurred on by this relative security, at least a quarter of all those employed in the manufacturing industry now take graveyard shifts2.  This percentage is even larger for freelancers and others who make their living off the Internet on account of simple convenience.

And so while it may look simpler and more straightforward to just get a US-based virtual assistant instead of a Philippine one, in practice you’ll be hard-pressed to notice any major differences in promptitude between the two.  Plain statistics aside, our experience here at OkayRelax actually attests to this.  The various reviews of our service over the years are flush with customers grateful for their virtual assistants’ uncanny ability to meet, and often precede, deadlines.  

Language

Another important consideration is the language you’ll both be speaking.  With a US-based virtual assistant, you’ll be getting someone who either grew up speaking English their entire life, or have been around native English speakers long enough to have basically attained a similar level of fluency.  And while this is a definite advantage for your business, the U. S. and the Philippines aren’t much different in this case.

Keep in mind that since the start of the 20th-century, the principal language of education, government, commerce, and polite society in the Philippines has been English, a result of decades of American influence3.  In fact, many of its first teachers after its liberation from Spain were American clergymen and soldiers4.  Today, English is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution as an official language alongside Filipino5, and nearly a hundred million Filipinos have at least a basic grasp of the language6

The Philippines is so proficient in English that it has been labeled the “budget English teacher of the world,”7 with uncountable students from all quarters flocking to it in order to further their skills in the language.  By some accounts, the Philippines has even surpassed the U. S. in terms of business-oriented English8.  This is not surprising as Filipinos are taught formal English from a young age, and indeed many apparently archaic and formal elements passed down from the Americans a century ago survive unto this day, like “wherein,” “avail,” “comfort room,” and so forth.

Culture

With culture as well, the enduring influence of the US upon the Philippines has made it so that, although there are definite differences in work culture and culture in general between the two, not much adjustment is needed for an American to work with a Filipino.  Furthermore, globalisation and the Internet has filled in what gaps there are in the Filipino’s knowledge of American culture, a culture so easily seen through the lens of popular media and scholarly literature alike.

There are also those attitudes and dispositions that are universal to all cultures.  Filipinos, just like Americans, are painstaking in their work, making sure to bring forth quality products within a short timeframe.  Both are more-or-less the same in terms of politeness, ease of conversation, work ethic and other such generic traits, which really boil down to the individual rather than the culture to which they belong.  

Whatever unique cultural traits that do manifest themselves are bound to enrich your working environment instead of injuring it.  For instance, research has shown that those exposed to multiple cultures are more likely to exhibit better communication and problem-solving skills than those limited to only one.  Most Filipinos are not only multilingual, speaking English, Tagalog (the native lingua franca), and one of the more than 120 other native tongues, but also multicultural.  Any Filipino worth their salt can tell you the province of birth of their father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, ninong, ninang, and so on and so forth.

Education and value

The label of “cheap labour” usually tacked onto Filipinos is true only in the technical sense.  Yes, hiring Filipinos will be cheaper than hiring Americans, but the work done by the former is far from being cheap.  Virtual assistants from the Philippines are overwhelmingly college-educated, intelligent, and economical to employ.  This is not to say that those from the US are incompetent, or that the lack of a college education necessarily means incompetency, but it is important that we do away with old stereotypes of Asiatic backwardness and docility.  

As regards pricing, a fully-committed degree-holder from the U. S. who can handle general administrative and social media duties might demand from you anywhere from $2,500 a month to over $3,000.  In contrast, even our most expensive plan costs just $299.95 a month when paid annually.

Conclusion

Whether you go with employing a Philippines-based or a US-based virtual assistant, you’ll inevitably have to deal with the channel through which you’ll be employing them.  While freelancers on Upwork and other related sites are popular nowadays, there are not a few downsides to going that route.  For one, freelancers, by the very nature of their trade, are incentivised to rush through the obligations with which they are charged in order to get onto the next client, and thus the next paycheck, as soon as possible.  Although such an approach is no doubt advantageous for the freelancer, it is not so with the client, who has to deal with petty mistakes, misunderstandings, and much more.

Moreover, in dealing with the independent freelancer one necessarily runs into the issue of quality control, something that’s difficult to do on one’s lonesome.  After all, not everyone has the time to verify the veracity of every single credential or certificate.  A mistaken first impression can easily lead to you getting stuck in an undesirable and money-leeching deal.  In the worst case scenario, the freelancer might even run off with the money with nary a word written or an email answered.

Not all errors are malicious.  A freelancer may be burnt out but not have the guts or the self-awareness to actively recognise that.  Alternatively, their current skills and talents might just not be up for the task or at all suited for it.  Whatever the case, a freelance virtual assistant leaving a task unfulfilled or otherwise poorly-done can spell doom for a particular project.

Companies like us are essentially the fix to anxiety-inducing prospects like these.  The virtual assistants in our team are screened and continually trained according to the direction of the market, the standards and consumers thereof, and the skills required therefor.  Additionally, the collectivity that comes with our structure basically ensures that the unavailability of one doesn’t cripple the entire operation, and is instead compensated for by the other members of the team.  All in all, it’s simply more secure to put one’s trust in a collaborative enterprise than in a singular individual accountable only to no-one but themself. 

As a final aside, one Filipino trait that really shines through in this case is their tendency towards keeping faith with one company for years, decades, or even for life.  In fact, it’s very common to find people in their 60’s who’ve worked in the same place for the entirety of their adult lives.  At the end of the day, it’s in the best interest of a virtual assistant to do their job well and maintain their loyalty to those they work with, thereby gaining the security of long-term employment, and it’s in their employer’s best interest to treat them justly, thereby gaining the comfort and peace brought by their assistance.