The language barrier is one of the primary reasons why some people don’t want to hire an overseas virtual assistant.
When I asked my client about obstacles regarding the language barrier, he said, “You can’t even tell that they’re overseas, sometimes. They barely have accents, and most can speak English like a native speaker.”
See, even as a virtual assistant myself, I didn’t know that my overseas counterparts had such a firm grasp of the English language.
Why You Might Not Want to Hire a Local Virtual Assistant
If you want to hire an American as a full-time employee, you’d have them on the payroll with a plethora of taxes (think: federal, state, social security, and Medicare). Having a local employee can be expensive.
A non-employee such as an independent contractor (like me) can be cheaper. For example, I have to worry about paying my taxes, pay for any software to advertise myself (social media management programs, a website, etc.), and have enough left over to pay my personal bills. You’re looking, at the very least, around $35/hour on the cheaper end.
Overseas virtual assistants often have cheaper costs of living, so the American dollar goes further. Some virtual assistants are on the dirt cheap end ($3/hour) but fair warning, you get what you pay for. Cheaper virtual assistants tend to disappear or have less quality of work. Instead, research what the local hourly rate is on the location of the overseas virtual assistant. Knowing their local hourly rate can give you an idea of what a fair wage is for a foreign virtual assistant.
Overcoming the Language Barrier with Overseas Virtual Assistants
Most overseas virtual assistants who work with Americans will have a fundamental grasp of the English language. They might already have experience working with Americans. To get an idea of their ability to communicate, you can schedule a live call with them and do an interview. The initial meeting is important if you are working with a virtual assistant who will be answering phone calls or making calls on your behalf.
For virtual assistants who are doing your customer support e-mails, monitor their e-mails for the first few weeks. Head into your inbox and check out some of the e-mails that are going out and see if they’re up to your standard. You can also create canned responses or give your virtual assistant a guideline of how you’d like your e-mails to sound.
If you’re hiring a virtual assistant for content creation, give the virtual assistant samples of your previous work or content that you’d like to emulate. See if the initial pieces of content match your needs. It’s easier to give your virtual assistant example content than it is to describe what you’re looking for verbally. (“Casual writing with a hint of sarcasm” can be interpreted differently for everyone. Examples cut through the grey area.)
Giving and Taking Feedback
Regardless of what language you speak, communication is a hurdle that everyone needs to refine. No one goes into business being perfect at communicating.
When hiring a virtual assistant who may not have English as a first language, it’s important not to blame everything on a language barrier. Communication is a two-way street. Give the virtual assistant space and permission to ask you for clarification. Have the patience with yourself to explain and reexplain parts of the task that may not be clear.
Communication issues are not limited to overseas virtual assistants. Even when working with native English speakers in the United States, you will encounter communication problems. Clear communication is a learned skill that takes time and patience to perfect.
First Week with an Overseas Virtual Assistant
The initial weeks with your overseas virtual assistant can set the tone of the relationship you’ll have. You’ll probably need to get accustomed to their time zone (since they could have a 12-hour time zone difference) and learn how to delegate your tasks a day prior.
Start slow. Give your virtual assistant a few tasks at a time to allow them to get acclimated to the way you do business. Over time, they’ll become more comfortable with your way of getting things done. Expect to do much explaining and reexplaining on the first few weeks.
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Also published on Medium.