The internet means it’s now it’s as easy to hire a freelancer from India as in your next street. As a result, freelancers and virtual assistants in the west have found their prices under extreme pressure as workers in countries with lower costs of living but high education standards.
Should you embrace it, or run a mile (or a kilometer)? Here’s my guide to considering whether it’s right for you.
Should I be supporting local employment or worldwide entrepreneurs?
This depends on your view on whether you should be providing employment in your own country, or whether you like being part of a global economy with all its market forces. A rate which might be well less than a living wage in the UK could provide a good standard of living for a freelancer in India, so you have to decide, particularly when paying low rates, whether either of those matter to you.
Is one country better than another for virtual assistants and freelancers?
Don’t be swayed by myths that everyone in one country is particularly hard working, or unreliable. It comes down much more to briefing and communication, and the individual people. Two truths: you’ll certainly be able to buy more hours of work in some countries than others for the same money, and good and bad people exist everywhere.
What about language skills?
Visit any greengrocer and you’ll see that being a native speaker doesn’t guarantee fluency or accuracy. If language skills are important for the work someone is doing, you should test them for what you need, no matter what country they’re in.
If it’s specific language skills you’re after, then using freelancers or virtual assistants can be an ideal option. You can get native skills without the headaches of employment or paying locally for expat workers.
Will freelancers overseas understand what I want?
The key to getting a good job done is to be very clear about what you want. If you’re working with anyone in a different country, even if apparently using the same language, it’s worth making your brief particularly clear. Try to keep it clear of turns of phrase or colourful expressions, as well as cultural references. I used to work a lot with US freelance writers on a magazine based in the UK: we never escaped occasional misunderstandings, even though we all worked professionally with words and were aware of the pitfalls.
What about the time difference?
This can work in your favour or be a disadvantage. Many freelancers who work for clients in another country will adapt their hours, but check if it’s important to you. I recently had to backpedal with a virtual assistant service I’d was planning to try, as despite their various shift patterns, their three hours of non-availability fell at a critical point in my work day. On the other hand, freelancers in different timezones could help provide round-the-clock client support, or sort out problems overnight for you.
Is it true that people from some cultures don’t ask questions?
Freelancers in some cultures may find it more difficult to ask questions, particularly if they’re inexperienced at working internationally. While this can be a problem particularly between western and eastern cultures, it can arise anywhere, so it’s good practice to build in time in every briefing to ask whether the other person has any questions, or to check whether they’ve fully understood. It’s also helpful to spot problems early by having a ‘check-in’ time after a short period of work on something, to make sure it’s heading in the right direction.
How do I build a long-term relationship?
If you’re considering working with someone on a long-term basis, ensure you understand their needs and working habits when it comes to holidays, flexibility, personal development and communications. In addition, a freelancer elsewhere in the world won’t necessarily expect you to understand their cultural world, but the more you can learn about how they are happiest working, the better the work you’re likely to get from them.
Should I use a virtual assistant agency?
If you’re thinking of using a offshore virtual assistant service, for example, there are plenty of VA companies to help you, such as Get Friday or Efficise. You’ve got the security of knowing that everyone is likely to have a minimum standard of skills, and there will usually be a team of people to step in if your normal assistant isn’t available. You could also consider one of the companies such as Virtual Staff Finder, based in the Philippines, who will find you someone to employ directly and help you through your legal obligations. Alternatively, if you’re looking specifically for international or multilingual services, you could try a specialist agency such as Worldwide101.