The Rise of Filipino Virtual Assistants as Business Goes Remote
But in October he and co-host Jim Hedger interviewed Robert Nickell, CEO of Dallas-based staffing company Rocket Station, on hiring Filipino virtual assistants.
“About four days later I was giving them my money,” says Davies, whose company is based in Victoria, British Columbia.
Prior to the pandemic, he employed six people across North America. That figure has doubled in recent months, as companies have come to Beanstalk needing to bolster their web presence via Search Engine Optimization and marketing. Davies needed a highly organized and technical employee to help him manage daily operations. As a result, he would be able to concentrate on growing his business.
Davies exemplifies a growing trend throughout the business world. As e-commerce explodes during the pandemic, companies across myriad sectors are hiring digital agencies to bolster their online presence, prompting agencies to hire technical workers to handle repetitive, digital tasks. This could include ranking keywords for a prospective client’s website or adding projects in Trello, the collaborative work management tool.
For its part, Beanstalk has seen huge potential in the power sports industry, because people can ride dirt bikes and ATVs at a safe distance from one another. Prior to the pandemic, Beanstalk had one such client. In recent weeks, however, Davies has sent 14 proposals to other power sports brands.
Amidst this growth, Davies did not have time to post a job online and interview candidates.
How May I Assist You?
“I can find technical skills but I’m not particularly good at the personal side of things,” Davies says. “And it’s not a skill I want to cultivate. I decided that the odds of me making the wrong choice or wasting time making the right choice would be more costly to me than getting the right thing done to begin with.”
That’s where Rocket Station comes in. Davies pays the company $10 an hour for his female virtual assistant. The woman takes notes during calls to identify tasks, sends daily emails with to-do lists to Beanstalk employees, and performs entry-level SEO work. In addition to an hourly wage, Rocket Station gives her, and all its employees, health and life insurance.
“We are seeing a dramatic transformation in what the workplace looks like,” says Nickell, a former real estate professional who founded Rocket Station in 2013 to recruit Filipino virtual assistants to the needs of Western businesses. “Anyone who has been able to pivot at this time has found success.”
The pandemic has changed the way business gets done. Millions of professionals haven’t been to an office for 10 months. Employers, meanwhile, are realizing they can grow their teams remotely.
Rocket Station is taking off along with the increased virtual nature of work.
“All jobs that can be done cheaper in other places will,” says Rishad Tobaccowala, author of “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data.” Tobaccowala is also the former chief strategist and growth officer of Publicis Groupe. “Nothing is going to stop the Darwinian nature of business, because people want low prices and always-on services. Businesses who do not give it to them will fail.”
“Virtual Teams are Doable”
The need to evolve, and rapidly, explains Rocket Station’s growth trajectory. The company has acquired 333 new clients in 2020. That represents an 80% increase in year-over-year sales and hourly jobs for 476 Filipinos.
“Most businesses are run by people who have done things the exact same way as everyone else has done for years. They’d have all these people dressed in business attire…taking up square footage,” Nickell says. “What has changed is that even these people have now realized that virtual teams are doable.”
Rocket Station provides a new take on business process outsourcing, familiar to anyone who’s ever needed tech support for their computer and been transferred to an overseas person reading from a script.
The term “virtual assistant” is also a misnomer. In the digital advertising sector, for instance, Filipino workers create branded fliers and presentations, edit videos, manage social media pages, and write simple blog posts. They are effectively replacing Americans in entry- and mid-level marketing positions earning annual salaries between $40,000 and $80,000.
Nickell has developed an intricate process for evaluating and documenting repeatable tasks. His workers follow road maps documenting every step in a process via a series of arrows and text boxes. Davies, for example, did a Zoom session with Nickell to show how he would like his assistant to set up projects in Trello. Having worked with thousands of companies over the years, “there isn’t a software or tool that we aren’t familiar with,” Nickell says.
Of the 6,000 Filipinos that Rocket Station executives have interviewed, though, only 2% have been hired. In that regard, Rocket Station’s high standards simplify life for clients. “We are eliminating the obstacles to hiring and productivity,” Nickell says. “Digital agencies are great at strategy. Where they fail is execution and implementation.”
Dennis Yu, who co-authored “Facebook Nation,” which is taught at 700 universities and colleges, is another Rocket Station client.
Similar to Davies, Yu and ChiroRevenue CEO Tristan Parmley hired Nickell after interviewing him for an episode of a show. They are the co-hosts of The Digital CEO on YouTube.
Task Oriented: Check
“To an executive in digital marketing, there is a certain way to build sites. There’s a way to produce content to get it edited and turn it into tweets, Facebook posts and Google ads,” Yu says. “Everything in marketing can be boiled down to check lists. You can train that person in the Philippines to competently do the task and be paid what the task is worth.”
Yu says he has been called “unpatriotic” for espousing the value of virtual assistants who are taking jobs away from Americans. He recently attended a private event with Dr. Oz, and showed a sizzle reel his company had produced for a chiropractor. “I got heat from audience members, saying, You should be paying the going rate. But if I have someone in the Philippines who I can pay $5 or $10 an hour, who wouldn’t do that?”
Yu and Parmley hired their first 20 Filipino workers via Online Jobs. They are planning to hire 30 virtual assistants from Rocket Station by the summer. For every three technical Filipino workers, they will need to hire one American who can manage complex projects, service clients, and shoot the video footage that is edited overseas.
The Six C’s of Virtual Assistants
Filipinos make great virtual assistants because they speak English well, love American culture, and possess a high degree of loyalty, Yu says. They will stay at the same job, even if it is repetitive. Meanwhile an American social media manager might jump for a better-paying position after just one year.
“In America, we have freelancing, and consulting, and entrepreneurship, and raising money,” Yu says. “They don’t have that over there, which is why it’s good for VA work.”
Nickell says the rise of virtual assistants means that American society needs to evolve. People need to develop higher-level thinking skills to maintain competitive advantage.
It’s what Tobaccowala calls the six C’s. To be successful now and into the future, individuals will need to possess cognition, creativity, and curiosity, and be able to collaborate, communicate and convince.
“The value of the mid-level employee is essentially gone,” Nickell says. “I’m not trying to be crude or rude about that but take the vast majority of $40K to $80K jobs. In every single US agency, you can…outsource for a fraction of the price. That way our clients can grow strategically. That’s what we allow you to do.”