How to Get an Affordable Receptionist, Assistant, Bookkeeper, and other Support Staff!
Many people have asked me how I source, hire, and retain such incredible support staff from the Philippines. So many people have asked that I’ve finally decided to just put it all down into a blog so you can find my “crash course” here anytime you want! You can find excellent receptionists, bookkeepers, personal assistants who can also do basic WordPress updates, general admins, and basically any other type of role you need. Not only is the price low, but I find the culture to be incredible. As an entrepreneur, I have an innate sense of pride and ownership of all the work that happens under my umbrella. I find that Filipinos are generally eager to share in that sense of dedication to working in a high quality, courteous, and reliable manner. Here are my to tips:
- Where to find them? There are several websites where you can hire people from the Philippines. Personally, the one linked here is my favorite. I actually purchased the lifetime membership package from this site, which includes lifetime ability to post as many jobs as you want, as well as tons of MP3 files and written literature on how to have a successful experience with your virtual assistant. However, even if you don’t want to start off with that particular level, you can easily place a one-off ad for just a few dollars.
- How to attract them? Show off! You may not realize this, but you’re probably a very desirable employer. Place an ad that indicates you’re seeking a full time, long term employee that you’re willing to train, groom, and respect. You may not think you want a full time employee, but I encourage you to consider it because the best Filipino employees tend to want full time; if you hire them part time they’ll probably look elsewhere while they work for you. So, place an ad with a subject line that conveys all this, like “New York City Entrepreneur Seeks Permanent Full Time Assistant” or “Busy USA Person Needs Permanent Support!”. If possible, be even more specific (“New York City Therapist Seeking Friendly and Capable Receptionist!” or “NYC Real Estate Agent Needs Reliable Exec Assistant!” In the body of the ad, reiterate that you’re seeking someone who will stay for years. When you indicate pay, describe a starting salary and indicate how it will rise over a two year period (ie “Pay starts at __ per month, and rises to __ per month over a two year period”). Also mention that they can accrue paid sick time and paid holidays. I have a chart that shows how this is accrued at my company over time; I show it to them during the interview process but I at least mention that they can accrue paid sick time and holidays in the body of my ad. Also mention that you pay the “13th month bonus”. This is the Philippine equivalent of a year-end bonus. It is equivalent to one month’s salary. (Don’t worry! It can be prorated, so that if you hire someone in September you only need to pay a bonus of ⅓ of a month’s salary at year-end.)
- How to screen them? You will likely get hundreds of applicants. You’ll need an easy way to screen them. I suggest creating an ad that provides a lot of information about how to apply, and then disregard any applicant who doesn’t follow all of your directions. This is a great starting point to rule out anyone who is unable or unwilling to be detail-oriented. Here are some ideas:
a. In the body of the ad, indicate that you’ll need them to work Monday-Friday 9am-5pm EDT (or whatever your desired schedule is). Ask them to confirm in their application that they’re available for this schedule.
b. In the body of the ad, tell them to use a certain subject line when they apply (ie “FT Assistant for NYC Entrepreneur”).
c. If you’d like someone who can speak English clearly as well as write, indicate it in your ad. To screen for spoken English skills, do the following: In the body of the ad, ask that when they apply they include an MP3 of their own voice reading a sample sentence. This will let you easily screen for how they sound on the phone. Many applicants are great in every way but they just can’t speak English clearly. You don’t want to waste everyone’s time by arranging a Skype interview just to discover this. Listen to MP3s before attempting an interview.
d. Consider requiring applicants to take a short test as part of the application. I use a company linked here that me the percentile ranks for the person’s scores in Math, Verbal, and Spatial domains. It is an easy way to separate applicants. Someone’s verbal skills might seem fine on their application materials because they’ve spent lots of time on their application, and they might do fine in a 1:1 interview where the conversation is very structured, but how quickly can they keep pace with a ton of emails on a busy day? How carefully can they read and track complex conversations? I rely on their Verbal percentile to give me a ballpark. The company also has skills tests for things like bookkeeping and other specialized areas. I’ve known several entrepreneurs who have found it to be a good investment.
e. Ask them to also include a screenshot of their results from a place like Speedtest.net. You need someone who has a strong internet connection with a good speed.
f. Disregard any applicants who don’t follow all of your application directions.
g. Make an alias within your email account like jobs@(your domain) Set your filters so that anything coming to this address will skip your inbox and go into a folder for this (soon, your assistant can handle these types of tasks for you!). This will let you easily review applications on your own schedule without getting pinged every time someone applies.
Interview the applicants who catch your eye and pass your basic starting measures. I use Skype for this. If they can’t show up on time to the Skype interview, I disqualify them. If the interview goes well, I ask them to email me a summary of what we discussed. This helps me check their ability to pay attention, as well as to recognize, retain and convey important points. I tell them at the start of the interview that I may be asking them to do this. I only do this if it’s important that the person has an ability to understand spoken English.
Once you’ve narrowed down to 2-3 really good applicants, tell them the truth: You’ve found 2-3 great applicants and you’re not sure which one to choose. Tell them you feel that part of a good Filipino hire involves not only skills and attitude, but also the ability to show up for work every day in a reliable manner. Many Filipinos live in areas where storms frequently disrupt their ability to be online by cutting off their internet or electricity. You don’t want to spend a week training someone only to find that they actually need to miss work about 2 of every 10 days due to issues like this. So whatever your monthly pay equates in hourly pay (for a 40 hour week, multiply your monthly pay by 12 and then divide the total by 2080 to determine this), tell them you’re taking that hourly pay and adding a dollar to it during this final selection period to show that you appreciate the chance they’re taking by focusing on you for 40 hours per week without a promise of permanent employment.
Give each person the same tasks during your trial period so you can see how they do in terms of speed, accuracy, attitude, and their ability to show up for work in a timely reliable manner. We have several long “busywork” test tasks that can be mundane, but offer good ways to check someone’s ability and willingness to follow directions carefully. If you are trying to select a receptionist, provide them all with the same scripts and then do a conference call where you review the scripts as a group. Record the call so you can have future applicants listen to it if for some reason none of your current applicants works out; or if you want to add an additional person. Next, do 1:1 calls to see who is really mastering the information best. Likewise, whatever tasks are most important for whatever role you’re seeking to fill, make sure you record as much of your training as possible so that it’s easily repeatable if needed in the future. Ask the candidates to type “step by step” directions of whatever you teach them so that you can simultaneously check their learning while also building your training library.
- How to structure the actual day to day work? Once you choose an applicant, congratulate them and give them a warm welcome. Tell them that you know the first 30 days are the hardest, so you’ll give them a $100 training bonus when they complete their 30th day on the job, and a $250 Successful Hire Bonus at the 90 day mark. This helps them to stay motivated during what is typically the most stressful period. Tell them to send a daily report of all they did that day, and to indicate which task was the hardest or most time consuming. Also have them send an email of their workplan at the start of each day. I also have them send me a chat in Skype or g-chat at the start of each day, and I let them know that real time communication is essential so I expect an immediate response whenever I chat during working hours. I tell them that if they need to step away from their computer for a moment during the day to please chat me when they leave and when they return; so that I”m not staring at the chat window waiting for a reply if they happen to be away from their desk for a moment.
I also have a checklist of things I want them to do every day (ie check my business Facebook page for any new Likes to posts and invite the liker to Like my page). I make the checklist WAY too long for any one person to do every day; the idea is that I never want them asking me “what do I do now?” when I’m too busy to think of what would be helpful. Do yourself and your assistant a favor by making a long checklist and explaining that you don’t expect it to all be done every day; but that you just want them to have lots of ideas of what to do. Of course, you can highlight certain tasks that actually do need to be done every day. I use Google Sheets and list all the tasks in Column A, and then have the assistant put the date in row 1, and then mark in each cell which tasks were done. I have them indicate more than just an “X” to show it was done; I get specific info (ie “Indicate the number of new post Likers you invited to Like the FB page). Making it specific lets you see how their workflow is moving, and gives them a chance to be recognized for all the work they’re doing. Also have them add a tab to their checklist doc called “Logins”. Anytime they create a login, have them add it. Also have them list any logins there they may need from you. Also have them add a tab called “Docs” where they put links to any docs they are creating for you (ie powerpoint slides etc). This lets you easily keep track of all the “balls in the air” as things get busy.
Another handy tool I have found is Jing, which is an excellent free screencast tool to show what I need done in certain situations that fall outside of a “daily checklist”. Whenever I send a Jing, I always require the person responds with a summary of what my Jing said. This ensures we are “on the same page”, and it gives me a text-searchable way to find/view my original directions in my email if there’s ever a question about the project.
- How to pay them? When I’m working with them in the trial period, I just use Paypal or something . Once I actually hire the person, I use this company. There are lots of companies; this one is the best I’ve found in terms of fees and reliability; also a lot of Filipino people are familiar with them so it builds trust. They may want to be paid daily during the trial period since many of them have been scammed by unscrupulous people; so be willing to do this while you’re building trust. Obviously, never pay in advance since you don’t want to be scammed either.
I hope you have found the tips here to be helpful. Just like when you do business with someone in the USA, be prepared that the relationship may not work out. There’s no magical panacea that fixes every issue; but these tips have been helpful for me as well as the myriad people who have asked me over the years. Feel free to let me know if you have other questions; I’m here to help!