Founder’s guide to hiring an operations team in the Philippines
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Founder’s guide to hiring an operations team in the Philippines

I wrote this guide to help founders work with global talent (generally in the Philippines). At my last company (Rent the Backyard YCs19), we built an operations team of nearly 20 based in the Philippines. The team helped us with everything from payroll to sales proposals to procurement. The team helped extend my capabilities as a founder while extending the company’s runway and our chance of success.
 
The below methods are a combination of what’s worked for me and what I’ve seen others use.
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Questions, feedback, or want to schedule a free consultation call to see how your business could benefit from or improve an operations team? We have a small team of experts that can help you set up and run these systems. [email protected] || 412-436-9760 || calendly.com/spencerburleigh

Table of contents

 



Why the Philippines?

Great English

Well educated workforce

Filipino culture values education and the country has a strong set of colleges.

Cost-effective

Average incomes in the Philippines are around $300 per month (<$2 / hour). You can hire excellent talent for around the US minimum wage.
Traffic in the Philippines is notorious and post-Covid, many of the best workers in the country are now considering remote work.

Similar cultures

The US administered the Philippines from 1898 until 1941. >90% of Filipinos have a positive impression of the US. Many elements of US culture from TV to food are popular in the country.

Familiarity working with Western companies

It is very common for Filipinos to work for Western companies. Even before Covid, big multinationals like Amazon, Microsoft, and others had large offices in Manila and other cities in the Philippines. Many people work US hours and some restaurants are even open for the 2-am “lunch” breaks. That being said, you can get better talent by offering flexible / largely asynchronous schedules so your team doesn’t have to stay up all night.

What kind of work can operations team members do?

I’ve had the most success delegating tasks that have a well defined goal but require a lot of pattern matching, personalization, or other discretion.
The more you can scope a task and clearly define what success is the better your results.

PDF of 220 tasks that operations team workers can do

Hiring methods

Think about which tasks you need done. If it’s a large quantity of the same work, use a service like Pareto or Mechanical Turk.
If you haven’t ever hired someone abroad for an operations team role, it’s a pretty good idea to work with a headhunter like Catena.

Hire someone yourself directly

Cheapest option with most control. Takes more time.

Source team via onlinejobs.ph
Write very specific job descriptions (as you normally would)
Assign (and pay) for a sample task that is representative of the work they will be doing
I generally do something
See examples below
Contract using Deel

Hire via a headhunter

Let someone else do the sourcing for you. Often with a money-back guarantee for the placement to work out. More expensive.

Catena

Headhunter agency my Filipino ex-McKinsey friend Monty started.
Email [email protected] and tell them Spencer sent you for extra good service :)

Shepard

Headhunter agency buzzy on Twitter. No first-hand reports.

Athena

Expensive but quick if you have no time to get this set up. Quality can be variable.

Work on demand

No need to employ anyone directly or worry if they are being productive. Pay by result. Less direct control or relationship.

Pareto

Great for high-volume work on the same tasks (data collection, sourcing, labelling, etc). Started by my Stanford friend Phoebe.
Email [email protected] and tell them Spencer sent you for extra good service :)

Mechanical Turk / similar

Good for cheap, super high volume work but quality can be very poor

Working with operations team members

I lean towards asynchronous communication. When someone starts managing other people I will start doing 1:1s with them as I would with more traditional hires.

Instructions / tasks

Record instructions using Loom
Just record yourself doing the task and narrate it
Ask the team member to write an SOP (standard operating procedure) for each recording you send

Accountability

Track tasks, deadlines, and priority using Asana / Airtable / similar
Have them track their time in some way (I like Clockify)
You can also just have team members send you a daily email about what they accomplished / were challenged by
Communicate via WhatsApp / Slack / similar

Cultural norms

You will probably be called sir/ma’am quite a bit. Whenever anything is slightly wrong you will probably receive a very quick, sometimes aggressive apology. People will occasionally resign if they think they have done particularly poorly (don’t worry - you can usually get the back and they will appreciate you more).
People in the Philippines are generally very deferential to their bosses. If you would like your team member’s input / honest opinion you should ask them a lot of questions and try to avoid letting them know what your opinion is.
It is generally expected (and is the law for employers in the Philippines) to give “13-month pay” (one month's pay as a bonus) in early December. Many

General observations

You should expect turnover to be fairly high in the first couple of months. Once someone has worked with you for a few months they are very likely to stay for a very long time.

Guide to language / abbreviations

VA - virtual assistant: how the industry has typically referred to this type of worker
OFS - overseas Filipino specialist: a more specific version of the above

Example job posting / flow

I lean towards relatively complex tasks (to make sure they are detail-oriented)
You will get a lot of applicants so requiring they respond in a specific fashion allows you to quickly understand who has read the job description and save everyone time.
Pay will vary based on the type of work you want done. You should look for comps online and put a (fairly wide) range on the job description.

Job description / first request

I'm looking for someone to help me do basic research, stay organized, and help make customized marketing proposals for customers.
Some tasks you will do to help my company, Rent the Backyard:
  • Track purchases being made
  • Prepare presentations for customers by filling out templates
  • Document what questions are being asked in Facebook groups. Maybe help prepare responses.
  • Search LinkedIn for prospective job candidates based on clear background and experience criteria
The most important skill for this job is strong organizational skills and attention to detail - I'm also looking for someone with
  • A “can do” attitude and willingness to take on tasks of any size
  • At least two hours of overlap with US Pacific business hours (09:30 - 19:30 in UTC?07:00) Monday - Friday
  • Pay: TBD. This will depend on your level of skill and other people that apply for the job
I am looking for a full-time employee. Perks
  • You can work whenever you want as long as you have at least two hours of overlap with US Pacific business hours (09:30 - 19:30 in UTC?07:00) Monday - Friday.
  • You can work as much as you want. I will pay you a salary, but if you work extra hours (more than 40) you will get paid.
  • Flexible vacation. If you need time off just let me know.
  • Opportunity to advance / get bonuses. If you do a good job I will give you a raise and bonuses.
About me
  • I run three different companies: a company that builds houses in a factory (Rent the Backyard), an e-commerce business, and a consulting business. I have been working with folks in the Philippines / VAs for about five months now and all my team members have been very happy to work with me. You will be given the opportunity to speak with a current team member before you are hired.
To Apply for this job
  • Message me with the subject line to "I want to work for you [please insert my co-founder's name for my main company]"
  • At the top of the message write 2-3 sentences about why you would like this position, and why you are a good fit. Do not write more than that or your application will be deleted.
  • Under that put the following, and include the letters to make it easy for me to read.
    • Number of years experience helping with research and purchases
    • What software you have used to help with these things in the past
  • Make sure to follow all of the steps above. This is a great opportunity with the ability to get bonuses and raises, so I will only look at applicants that really want the job. If I decide to interview you, there will be a short call between us where video will be required.
Thank you and I look forward to reading your application, Spencer

Your reply to a correctly formatted application

Hi there,
You look like you might be a perfect fit for my job and I would like to interview you.
Could you please go here and pick a time for an interview:
<< insert calendly link >>
Send me an email at << email >> with the title “I have scheduled an interview with you”. In the body of the email, share the time you selected.
Please let me know if no times that I have listed work for you. I normally will not ask you to stay up late or wake up early as I know the Philippines time zone and US time zones don’t match up.
This is a great opportunity so I want to make sure I hire the right person. Before I interview you I would like you to complete a sample assignment which you can find at: << link to assignment >>
You will be paid $10 via PayPal, or Wise bank transfer for completing this task. Please be sure to track how many hours it takes you to complete.
This assignment is due at midnight (Pacific Standard Time) the night before our interview. If you are interviewing today, it is due by 11am PST. If I do not receive the sample assignment I will not interview you and I will assume you are not a serious candidate for this position.
Thank you, Spencer

Example project for a nutritional company

Project for VA - English Writer
I'm very excited to see your results on this small project. Hopefully, it will not take too long. If you need help along the way, please let me know.
The instructions below will help guide you through the assignment. Most of the information will be gathered from the internet. Please send everything in one email to << email >> with the subject line “I am Ready To Start Working”
1. Go to http://www.speedtest.net/ and take a screenshot of your test results and attach it.
2. Take a screenshot of how much free space you have on your hard drive as well. We will be sharing a Dropbox so the more free room the better, but if you don’t have very much that is okay as there are workarounds.
3. Write a one-paragraph essay on the benefits of Keto. 4. This is a link to our website: performancenutbutter.com. Please send back the following:
  • The link to our five closest competitors - Why do you think these products are competitors?
5. Please create a Google spreadsheet with the following information: -Title - Performance Nut Butter Social Media
  • Please make the following columns. Instagram Handle of Account, Instagram Post Link (link to instagram image), Potential Comment, Notes (How you found them) - One of your possible tasks would be finding people who would potentially be interested in buying Performance Nut Butter and commenting on their Instagram. I would like you to find 5 users of Instagram who fit this criteria and come up with a sample comment you would leave on one of their posts as if you were posting from the PNB account. Please also fill out the notes section on why you choose them. - Include a sharing link in the email response to me. I must be able to edit the sheet. Not simply view it.
6. Put the link to your OnlineJobs.ph profile.
Please email this back to me by 11:59 PM (PST) the night before your interview. If I do not receive this from you, I will not interview you. If there's anything that needs to be clarified, please let me know. It's my job to offer help when I can.

If they did well on the project

Thank you, I am excited for our interview.
Please remember it is in US Pacific Standard Time, if you didn't realize this that is fine, please fix it or let me know if none of those times work and we will find a different time to interview you.
Also please remember that it is a video call and video is required.

If they did poorly on the project

Hello,
Thank you for taking the time to complete the project but I am sorry to inform you I do not think you are the right candidate for this specific job.
To save both of us time I will cancel the interview.
That being said, I will put you on my list and consider you for future positions that become available.
Thank you, Spencer

Questions for interview

Schedule interviews for 20 minutes, try to do them in 15 minutes. Skip questions sometimes but always ask about nicknames, if they’ve been a VA before, and if they’ve done work in English before.
Profile Rating
Project Rating
Interview Rating
Other Rating
Desired Salary
Note s
  1. Hi X - do you prefer to be called X or another name?
    1. This is the most important question in the whole interview. Some people go by nicknames that are very different and will often not correct you…
  1. Are you currently working/ what do you do currently?
  1. Tell me about your last job
  1. What did you like most about that job?
  1. How do you think your previous/current manager would describe you?
  1. How would your best friend describe you?
  1. What do you like to do outside of work?
  1. What are you looking to learn or get from this job? Obviously a paycheck but what beyond that?
  1. What does a good manager look like to yoi?
  1. How many hours a week are you looking to work each week?
  1. Do you have your own computer and Internet access?
  1. If the internet goes out what are your other options?
  1. Have you worked for foreign employers before? Were they English speaking?
  1. Where will you work from? [follow up - is that a good, quiet environment]
  1. Where are you in the Philippines?
  1. If you could have a conversation with anyone living or dead who would it be and why?
  1. How much money are you looking to make? I do want to hire someone full-time.
  1. Are you living with anyone?
  1. What are your plans for the next five years?
  1. When would you be available to start work?
  1. I liked you, I liked the interview. As a side note, how many other companies are you interviewing with right now?
  1. Here are the next steps in the application process:
  1. Any questions for me?

Post hiring personality test another person does

“Of the people that do a good job on the sample social media VA project I have them complete personality tests so I can learn more about them. This is an optional stage, but I have started doing this to learn more about the candidates before hiring them. I do not pay them for this because it is tests they can use to learn more about themselves and share with future employers but I think it’s very valuable to make sure they will fit well within your organization.”
 
Subject:I am Interested in Hiring You. Hi << Name >>, I am interested in hiring you.
Before you start I do have one more task for you to make sure you are a good fit for this company and so I can get to know you better before you start. I would like you to complete the following personality quizzes and print your results to PDF and send them to me in an email. I hope to receive them within 24 hours and after I receive them I will make my final decision.
Bird Test: http://richardstep.com/dope-personality-type-quiz/ Myers-Briggs: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp Big 5: http://personality-testing.info/tests/IPIP-BFFM/ Ennegram: https://enneagram.bz/en Problem Solving: http://test.mensa.no/
These tests are things you can keep and are good for you to learn more about yourself as well. Also, future employers may ask for these so even if I don't hire you it will still be good to do.
For the job I plan on starting you at good salary and there will be other bonuses as well.
I will be using Hubstaff to track your hours. I will explain it more to you later. I don't usually check it except for payment unless there is a problem in which case I would check it and usually what happens is I realize you are working hard, but the project takes longer than I thought it would.
My goal is for you to be 100% happy here, but first I need to get those forms.
Thank you, Travis

Hiring email -- send this then send then contract via Deel

Hi << name >> - thank you for taking the time to speak with me earlier today.
Congratulations! We would like to offer you the position of << XYZ >> beginning as soon as today if you are available.
Pay for this position will be USD$<<XYZ>> / month with the opportunity to earn bonuses and some additional perks:
  • You can work whenever you want as long as you have at least six hours of overlap with US Pacific business hours (09:30 - 19:30 in UTC?07:00) Monday - Friday.
  • Fully flexible work schedule - (you can work more hours if you would like, or stick to right around 40), also I will not require certain days or times.
  • Our company has a lot of work to be done. If you work extra hours (more than 40 each week) you will get paid. I would like you to work exclusively for me so we can stay focused and build something great together.
  • 13th month bonus. You will get an extra month’s pay at the end of the year. The first year will be prorated based on how long you have been working with me
  • Group bonus for hitting goals - I will have a bonus that the whole team gets if we hit some goals I set for my companies
  • Virtual Assistant Retreat - Next year around February/March I will fly you and all the virtual assistants out to another country for a 5 day or so retreat all expenses paid. I am currently thinking Bali or Vietnam.
  • Flexible vacation. If you need time off just let me know.
  • Opportunity to advance / get bonuses. If you do a good job I will give you a raise and bonuses.
I have sent you an employment offer via our payroll system, Deel. Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to working with you!
Spencer

First day email (mine)

Hi << name >>,
Welcome to << company >>! We're excited to have you start working with us.
To get you started, please review this onboarding document:
<< link — Generally explain the tools they will use, your expectations. Ask them to introduce themselves. >>
You will be the first person to use this onboarding document to get started so please let me know if you have any questions or if anything isn't clear.
You will be working closely with << other person>> (cc’d) this week and they will help you get set up with some of your first tasks after you complete the onboarding process.
Thank you!

First day email (other example)

Hi, Here is the first day orientation doc
https://docs.google.com/document/d/189Pb3SlNZk8z5SQnfPQywlqnKsmV1PZsEZ464j3jiIg/edit?usp=sharing
Throughout this whole process your job is to tell me anything that doesn't make sense.
I want to hire a second person soon to help me with social media, and I want them to be able to learn everything without me teaching them. Meaning that everything they need to know including the step by step should be organized.
A lot of it already should be organized but anything that isn't it's your job to make it more clear so the next person we hire will be able to read the documentation and know what to do without you having to teach them.
Hopefully get some of this done before your first day so we can hit the ground running but if you don't that is okay.
Please keep track of your time while you are setting everything up. I will be paying you for this time. But in the future we will be using hubstaff to track your time.
Thank you, Travis