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.