5 Considerations in Hiring an Overseas Virtual Assistant

In my time of being a virtual assistant, I have heard the same question over and over again from prospective clients. Why should I pay $25/hour or more for a “local” virtual assistant when I can go overseas and find a virtual assistant for $5 per hour?

Now before I start getting screamed at let me just say, I am not criticizing those overseas. After all, they are simply trying to make a better life for themselves and trying to make a living. I am simply showing how the differences can impact businesses in the United States.

Working with a virtual assistant has a learning curve of its own. Both the VA and the client have to get used to each other’s work style, personality, and expectations. Now throw in the fact that there are cultural differences, a language barrier, time zone issues, and an even longer distance between client and VA and it could be challenging to any business.

Cultural Differences-Deadlines may not be met if their understanding of deadlines is different than yours. Overseas workers may value flexibility over deadlines, or may place the deadline ahead of quality. Their interpretation of meeting the terms of the contract may be far different than yours, due to cultural influences.

As the client, overseas workers will look at you as being at the “top”. While this can be a good idea, it can be disastrous as well. Because of the fact that they are taught to have little communication with the “top”, they may not ask questions for clarification. This results in insufficient work, work that needs redone, which results in lost time. They will not offer up ideas for helping your business run smoother, more efficient, and bring in more clients in many cases – they may focus on the task at hand, and no more.

Communication Barrier-Many times when we offer up a direct order we do it politely. For example, “I think we should organize this a bit different.” The overseas worker may take this as a suggestion not a direct order so therefore they will not fix it to your specifications.

Language Barrier-Overseas workers tend to speak faster, have heavy accents, and are more formal. This can cause miscommunication, the need for constant repetition and lost time. Not to mention, if you have them speak to your clients, it can often result in frustration and lost clients.

If they are producing written text for you, their ability to proofread or make common corrections will be compromised. Small grammatical errors which a native English speaker notices, will not be noticed by someone who speaks English as a second language.

Distance/Time Difference-While using a virtual assistant does not necessarily mean the VA is in your own backyard it is still much easier to communicate with a VA in the US than it is overseas. Since they are usually in a radically different time zone, your communication will be further restricted. They may only respond to your emails at night or in the morning, which will limit free flow of information and slow down response times.

One of the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant is the ability to spend more time on your life and your business. That means getting more sleep. If you hire a virtual assistant overseas, you may be required to be up at 2am and be as sharp as you would be at 8am just to speak with your virtual assistant to get a task completed. Also, you must take into consideration should you have a task that needs completed quickly it may be the middle of the night for your virtual assistant so it will not get done as quickly as you hoped and the task is left to you.

You will have to communicate primarily by email or IM. Picking up the phone to clarify something won’t usually be affordable, and may be ineffective if they have an accent that makes it difficult for you to understand what they are saying, or which makes you feel they may not fully grasp your instructions.

Myth of Hourly Rates-A low hourly rate may not be what it appears to be. A $5 per hour subcontractor who takes 20 hours to do a project is less affordable than a $25 per hour subcontractor who does it in 3 hours. Can the difference be that great? YES!

A friend of mine recently contacted an overseas coding company for an estimate on a short database conversion project. They told her the hourly rate should be $10 per hour. A coder in the States quoted an hourly rate of $85 per hour. The overseas company returned a quote of 24 hours to do the job, and quoted it at $15 per hour – higher than the original hourly rate. $360 for the job – my friend was shocked at the quote, since she knew that she could do the job herself in about 5-6 hours, and she is fairly inexperienced with that kind of work and did not have good tools to do it quickly (she figured an experienced coder should be able to do it faster than she could). The coder in the states quoted it at 2-3 hours. $170 to $255.

Higher hourly rates are often justifiable, due to experience, avoidance of lost work, what is, or is not, billed to your account, and other factors. If an inexperienced “inexpensive” subcontractor bills you for learning time, redos, or sub-standard work, you’ve paid for things that you should not have had to pay for. If a more experienced worker is charging a higher hourly rate, but only for the effective work involved in your actual project, you usually come out with the same charges (or less) in the end, but far less frustration in getting there. Judging by hourly rates simply is not a valid means of comparing the affordability of two services.

We all know that the sound of a $5/hour virtual assistant for our business sounds great, but you have to look at all the non-monetary, time stealing consequences that you may face should you hire a virtual assistant from overseas. Only then can you make an informed and hopefully successful decision.

Is Your Web Designer Ripping You Off?

Nobody likes being ripped off – especially if they’re in business.

Yet most businesses are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to their web designer for shoddy, substandard work. Are you?

Luckily, there’s a quick and easy way to find out.

Go to:http://validator.w3.org, type in your website address and click on the “Check” button.

If the page you see says “failed validation” in red writing, you might need to speak to your web designer – especially if there are more than a handful of errors.

Is your web designer one of the cowboys?

Unless you own a cattle ranch, you probably don’t want to employ cowboys. You certainly wouldn’t put up with substandard work from a builder or electrician, would you? What about an accountant that didn’t understand tax laws, would you want them handing your finances?

Well, most web designers produce websites that are shoddy and substandard – and worst of all they don’t even know it.

How can I tell if my site isn’t up to standard?

Many professions and industries have standards. With some professions, like medicine or law, you need a qualification before you even start doing it. Other industries, like food processing or construction, aren’t so strict about academic qualifications, but they do have standards that have to be met – like health and safety or food hygiene standards.

There’s no academic qualification you need in order to become a web designer. All you need is a computer with internet access and the confidence (or in some cases arrogance) to call yourself a web designer.

However, although many people (and most web designers) don’t know it – there are standards for websites.

What’s more – it’s really easy to test your website to see if it’s up to standard. All you need to do is visit a website (http://validator.w3.org/) and you can test your site.

What are Web Standards?

Websites are programmed using a computer language called HTML. There’s a right way to program HTML and there’s a wrong way. The right way to program HTML is called “Web Standards,” anything else is the wrong way.

The difference between the right and wrong way to program a website is technical – so if you’re a business owner you don’t need to understand the details.

However, you do need to understand that if your web designer hasn’t used Web Standards it means:

Your site will do worse in Search Engines – so you’ll get less visitors
It will take longer to download – so you’ll lose more of the visitors you do get
It could cost you more to maintain the website
It’s harder (and more expensive) to make changes to the website
Up to 40% of people might not be able to see your website properly because they use different type of computer or web browser than your web designer.
Your site is probably not going to be accessible to people with disabilities – which could mean you could fall foul of your local disability discrimination laws

Of course, you might not have all these problems if your web designer hasn’t used Web Standards – but you’ll certainly have some of them.

If my site fails to validate does that mean it doesn’t use Web Standards?

Not necessarily.

The W3C validator (http://validator.w3.org/) is a useful tool for checking if your site uses high-quality HTML. However, it’s not a 100% guarantee.

It’s possible for a site to fail the validation on one or two minor points. If this is the case it’s not a major problem, although you could ask your web designer to correct them.

However, if your site has dozens of hundreds of errors this is bad news.

It’s also possible to for your website to pass the validator and still use out-of-date techniques, however this is much less likely.

Should web designers use Web Standards?

Yes.

To put it bluntly, if you don’t know web standards, you’re really not entitled to call yourself a “professional” web designer.

There are some occasions when it’s acceptable to use non Web Standards techniques for practical reasons, but it has to be an informed decision.

How many web designers program websites the wrong way?

Unfortunately, most web designers program websites the wrong way. The sad thing is that many of them don’t even know about Web Standards.

There are plenty of web designers that do use Web Standards, but they’re in a minority.

Because there are no entry barriers to web design, anybody can set up as a web designer. That means there’s plenty of choice but it also means there are plenty of cowboys producing badly-programmed websites.

What do I do if my website hasn’t been created using Web Standards?

Well, you’ve got a couple of choices.

Firstly, you could contact the web designer that created your site and ask them why they didn’t produce your site with Web Standards.

If your site is more than 1 or 2 years old it isn’t reasonable to expect your site to have been created with Web Standards, as they weren’t a well-known technique then.

You might find that your web designer now uses Web Standards and would be able to redesign your website so that it uses them.

They may be willing to do this for free, as a courtesy, or they may charge you for this.

Can’t I just sue them?

I’m not a lawyer and couldn’t offer legal advice.

However, I suspect that unless you have a written contract with your web designer specifying that the site should be built using Web Standards techniques you would find a legal route difficult.

What are my other options?

If your current web designer is unable or unwilling to change your site so that it uses Web Standards you could find another web designer who is able to redesign your site using Web Standards.

Use Google or Yellow Pages to find web designers in your local area and then contact them to see if they use web standards.

If they say yes, check some of their sites using http://validator.w3.org/.

What if I don’t have a website yet?

If you don’t have a website yet, or are planning a new one, make sure you choose a web designer that uses Web Standards to create their websites.

Resources

http://validator.w3.org/ – HTML Validator

Richard Quick is the author of the forthcoming book “Web Design in easy steps.”

Online Games – Entertainment at Its Best

Man cannot live without entertainment. It’s a way of amusing himself in his leisure time. Entertainment can be passive such as watching a movie or opera, or active such as recreation or sports. Games are an active form of entertainment that provides relaxation and diversion. With the development of computer technologies and internet, online games have become the most popular way of entertainment among people including kids.

Online games are played using computer network. They are mostly free and enable the players to enjoy their time without any cost. These stuff range from simple text based games to those that include graphics. There are single player and multi-player online games. Single player online games are played by a single person for his own entertainment whereas a multi-player application is played by a lot of people creating an online community. This serves as a platform for social interaction.

Online games are sorted according to classifications based on their platform, publisher, date, character of franchise, feature, region, genre, technology, license, reception and so on. The most popular types of online games come under the classification based on genre. They are:

Action games which include fighting, shooting and platform games that emphasizes on physical challenges such as good hand-eye co-ordination and high reaction speed. There are action-adventure games in which elements of action are included in adventure games. They are more popular than pure action games as it includes both reflex as well as problem-solving.
Casual games which include puzzle, hidden object, word & trivia, card & board game and so on. This can be played online either in a personal computer or in a mobile phone using a one-button mouse or cellphone keypad. These are extremely simple and do not require any special skills. Final stage is reached quickly and so people can play such games during their work break.
Role-playing games which include online text-based role-playing games and massively multi-player online role-playing games. In online text-based role-playing games, there are many players who require some type of text based interface and an internet connection.
Simulation games which include business, city building, space flight simulator, war games and so on. Various activities in real life are replicated in this type of game. There is no special goal in this game; it involves just running around playing as the character.
Sports games which include playing online a variety of sports such as cricket, soccer, volley ball, formula one race, and so on. The player needs to understand the real sport in order to play online sports game. The games allow testing of precision and accuracy of the player. Online sports games are popular and competitive like real world sports. The names and characteristics of real teams and players are featured in most of the online sports games that makes it interesting and demanding like the real world sports.
Strategy games mainly include board puzzles that require the skill of thinking, planning and making decision to win the puzzle. This type of things takes time to play and complete. There are some action, puzzle and simulation games that require strategic thinking but they are different from strategy games. Strategy games do not involve physical challenge, but it involves conflict between the players to out-think their opponent.
Arcade games are played in coin-operated machines placed in public places where people are likely to have free time. Now it can be played online competing with other people to gain a high score. This game is more unrealistic and mainly focuses on experience in playing the game quick.

Most of them are free and it needs only access of internet. It can be played by people of all ages. There are online games for kids as well. This enable in their learning procedure and in their developmental skills.