People :: The Musings of Tony Gavin, Esq.

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Outsourcing to the Philippines – Change your Expectations

At one time I had quite a large number of outsourced staff (40+) located mostly in the Philippines. I now live in the Philippines and have done for about eight years. I lived in China on and off for a couple of years before that. I’d say that anyone contemplating outsourcing anything more than a few workers to Asia (and the Philippines in particular) needs to understand and accept a few very harsh realities of doing business in this way. Here are the top things that I learned over the years.

Ignore Qualifications

You’ll find it best to virtually eliminate any thought of using university qualifications as a guide to what a prospective employee might (or should) know or be able to do. With the notable exception of the top three or four Philippines universities, the typical standard of graduate that the country pumps out is very ordinary, to say the least. I’ve had the experience of employing graduates of four year IT/programming degrees who were unable to deal with rudimentary HTML, CSS or Javascript. I’ve employed English graduates who were unable to construct an intelligible sentence in English. These are not exceptional experiences. Speak with anyone who’s been employing people from the Philippines for an extended period and you’ll hear much the same thing.

Understand that this lack of knowledge and practical skills are NOT the fault of the young people you’ll be employing. They are very often bright young people and are themselves victims of a corrupt and highly inefficient education system. Rest assured that lack of knowledge doesn’t render them any less capable of learning how to do things properly, with your help and guidance. Be aware that often, you’ll need to get them doing something well outside their area of graduate training. The Philippines call centres are loaded with these types of graduates, who are virtually unemployable in their chosen occupation outside of the Philippines. The call centres feed on them – and you’ll most likely need to adopt a similar attitude in order to make employing Pinoys work for you.

Change your Expectations!

Leading on from ignoring qualifications; if you think for one moment that you will get the same work performance from a typical Filipino that you will from a typical westerner, you are going to be sadly disappointed. There are RARE exceptions to this rule. It’s cultural as much as anything else. That means it isn’t wrong – it just isn’t what most western employers expect. You cannot expect to instil western-style values in a Filipino. They have (and are entitled) to their own set of values. You need to respect and understand that those values will never be what yours are. Accept this right now, or don’t even think about employing Pinoys.

My rule of thumb is to work through what I’d expect of a fresh graduate coming to work for me in Australia and multiply that by 66%. I can’t qualify exactly why but that seems to work for me.

Break Everything into Tasks & Micro-Manage

You cannot leave these people to their own devices and expect decent output any more than you could with a western worker. People need to be directed and managed. They need your feedback about whether or not they are doing a good job. They need to know what the hell they are supposed to be doing! So often, I’ve seen inexperienced employers will hire a VA and just expect the poor person to know what to do. It doesn’t work like that. You have to direct and guide these people, just as you would with any other employee – even people located in your office. They are not mind-readers.

Break all work down into tasks. In fact, if you can’t break the work into very specific tasks, you should not even consider outsourcing to the Philippines (or anywhere else). You need to set out the quantum of tasks to be achieved within the workday, set objective standards for what constitutes satisfactory task completion, have daily reporting mechanisms in place to monitor task completion – and let them know that you will inspect what you expect. Telling people that they are doing a good job never goes astray either. If you like their work tell them and reward them.

Anything less than all of this – and you’re screwed – I give an iron-clad guarantee on this one!

Employ Local Managers

Once you grow beyond a handful of employees (I’d suggest around five is the magic number) hire a local person to manage those people. There are a thousand and one (or more) cultural things that you’ll just never “get”. Having a local person deal with these issues will save you time, money and a load of anguish. I’ve always tended to promote internally. Find somebody who seems to have the right stuff to manage, groom them, give them one or two people to work with, then gradually increase the management workload – and transition them out of the other work they are doing. Works like a charm.

Oh, and don’t forget to manage your new manager!

Pride is Everything

Throughout Asia (and in the Philippines particularly) “PRIDE” and loss of face are something that we westerners cannot relate to in the way that Asians do. For example; Filipinos are “proud to be Pinoy”. There is no discernible reason or logic behind it that we westerners might be able to relate to – but it’s absolutely real to them. Stand on their pride (which is very, very easy to do) and you’re going to have a big staff turnover problem. Piss them off badly enough and they’ll want to kill you. This one is very hard to explain. Just be ULTRA respectful – even on the many occasions that your outsourced staff are going to get it wrong – and hire that local manager ASAP!

Pay People on Time

Any outsourced worker who has been at it for a while will have been scammed by some westerner who gets this wonderful idea to outsource – then fails to pay the worker. You will find a high degree of scepticism amongst experienced outsourced workers and for good reason. Paying people on time gives you the edge because you then have staff that good candidates can call. These staff will tell others what a good company you are to work for and confirm your integrity. Word of mouth carries huge weight in outsourcing. You’ll find too that happy workers will refer their friends, making recruitment of good people a whole lot easier.

Also, a word of caution about the Philippines banking system. It’s genuinely like something from the late 20th century, in the west. When you lump that in with power and internet that frequently do not work and people who work for these organisations that do not care how badly you or your staff are being inconvenienced, you have a serious problem. No matter what you do, paying people on time is often going to be a problem. If you are having issues you need to tell your staff about it at the earliest possible time. Tell the truth and you’ll find them to be generally understanding. I might write another article on making payments to Philippines based employees. it can be a nightmare.

The Final Word

Please spare me the “racist” bullshit because of what I’ve said. I’m not a racist. I LIVE in the Philippines and have a beautiful and intelligent Pinay as my wife. What I’ve said is factual and based on the hands-on experience of doing for the last ten plus years what I hear others talking about doing. I know there are others out there who’ve done this too – and guarantee that if they have done outsourcing in any real numbers that their experience will reflect my own. Outsourcing is a well worthwhile exercise if you can put the systems together to pull it off. No systems = waste of time, money and effort

Put in the groundwork and develop robust systems BEFORE you start employing outsourced staff, or find somebody who already has those systems in place and let them do it for you. Best of luck with it!

Some People Don’t Make Money Because They Are Dickheads

I recently had cause to sack a client. That’s not exactly a new thing for me, but it’s not something I’ve needed to do in quite a while. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve had to do it in several years.

The client in question (let’s call him Richard) runs a professional services business in a major Australian city. We’d built Richard a killer website, and had it ranking like a demon on Google for all of the keywords that really mattered to him. Richard had traffic. He had fresh leads pouring in each month. The problem is, Richard is a dickhead. He’d get new clients, get stoned or drunk (often both) – abuse them – then lose them. Somehow, that became our fault!

You can have the best website in the world. You can fill it up with great engagement and lead capture tools. You can implement killer auto-responder sequences, and have decision and action based sales funnels that would be the envy of any business. You can have a social media presence that makes you look like an expert. If you’re running a small business and you are the front man (or woman) you also need to be somebody that people want to deal with. People are going to need to like you.

I could write this exhaustive list of things that you need to do in order to have people feeling the love. The truth is if you really need a list like that you’re probably a dickhead anyway. I can’t help you. You need a different kind of help to what I can offer. All I can say is “stop being a dick”.

Life is far too short to deal with dickheads. I don’t do it. I find that life is so much better that way.

Social Media Bubbles: Why The World Is Not Like What You Think

I only began using social media actively in December, 2012. Prior to that, I’d been a knuckle dragger and resisted the urge to use Facebook as anything more than a business tool for building social signals. Something I did purely for SEO purposes. I saw it strictly as a necessary evil for somebody like me, who depended upon organic search engine rankings on Google.

My, how things can change!

These days, I’m a prolific user of social media. I live in Asia. My family lives mostly in Australia. I have friends, associates and clients dotted around the globe. For the most part, I keep up with everyone via Facebook. That’s just where people seem to gather. In some respects, it seems to serve the modern-day equivalent of church socials and town hall meetings. It’s a place where people with ties and connections, shared beliefs and common interests gather. Check it out, and Facebook (or LinkedIn, or some other platform) will have a group that meets your interests and needs. Most often, you’ll be invited by friends who know that you have the interest to join these groups – much as might happen in the physical world. That’s great, but I have observed something interesting going on. Something that I’m not too sure I like.

The truth about “friends” revealed!

When I started using Facebook, I became friends with people that I had known throughout (or at some point during) my life. I quickly found my feed filled with pictures of their kids, pets, homes, workplaces, favourite restaurants, and a million other scenes from their everyday lives. I saw posts from news stories that they had commented on, stating their views. I saw posts appearing about those things which were passions within their lives. I saw personal triumph and awful tragedy. I saw humour. I saw great insights, I saw outright stupidity. Truthfully, I didn’t like everything that I saw.

Targeting your worldview

Facebook, Google and increasingly, every online platform try hard to cater to your every interest and need. In doing so, they also try (often successfully) to filter out those things which might displease you. Looking at my own experience, Facebook and I have systematically filtered out the things that I don’t like seeing on my feed. Annoying relative posts too many pictures of their fat, ugly cat – no problem – that’s what the unfollow (not to be confused with unfriend) button is for. Abracadabra – no more fat, ugly cat pics. Some church group feeds you too many annoying pictures of Jesus – no problem – that’s what the report post button is for. Do it enough times and like magic, Jesus just disappears from your feed for eternity (pardon the pun). So, where’s the downside you ask?

Social Media Bubbles

Do enough unfollowing and post reporting, and you’ll soon have a clean, trouble-free feed. The question is, how diverse will that feed be? Will it just become a place where everyone shares your views and beliefs? Has it become a place which blinkers your view of the world? I think that for many (me included), that’s exactly what it does. Do anti-vaxxer views annoy me? You better believe it! Should I really be completely obscuring those views from my world? Damn, that makes me about as ignorant as religious cult nutters, locked in a walled compound! As nutty as I might consider anti-vaxxers to be, I need to know that they’re out there. Right now, I’m hating the protective little bubble that I’ve created.

Time to burst the bubble

Right now, just as soon as I’ve finished posting this blog, I’m going to re-follow the hundreds of people I’ve unfollowed on Facebook. I’ll undoubtedly see the demented ranting’s of Jesus freaks, some horrid snot-nosed children, plenty of fat ugly cats, and the frenzied comments of some virtual imbeciles. I’m going to embrace every bit of it. Facebook, I no longer want you to edit what I see. Just feed it to me baby – and I’ll decide when to just scroll by.

UPDATE: Turns out that I didn’t love snot-nosed kids, fat cats or Jesus nearly as much as I’d hoped I might. The Unfollow and Snooze buttons are my friends!

Be Nice To Customers, or Social Media Might Bite You!

Just a few days ago the image below popped up on my Facebook feed. It was posted by a good friend of mine with the following comment; This was my dealings today with the owner of [DELETED] meat shop in [DELETED].

I clicked on the feed and was amazed at the 50 plus comments which followed – many of which were from people that I know or know of. Here are just some of the comments;

>>> That dude is a complete tool

>>> [DELETED] [DELETED] [DELETED] [DELETED] and other restaurant owners please check

>>> I stop going there mostly because like [DELETED] he is a tool to say it nicely

>>> [DELETED] he is done as a serious meat seller. Just wait until the Manila boys join this. They know how much I love my food

>>> Thanks. [DELETED]. I will save this post in case he comes back here again trying to sell me his meat.

>>> I just can’t believe his response The guy is a fool. Might be a good butcher but terrible at customer relations.

>>> The response “good luck to you” tell me he is a dip stick

In addition to those comments, dozens of restaurant and bar owners in his local area were tagged.

Just another customer

The guy who owns this meat shop probably thought he was just blowing somebody off. In the case of my friend, he was a customer who lived four hours drive away from where the meat shop is located and is probably not a frequent customer at the shop. What he probably didn’t realize is that my friend is very plugged into the expatriate community immediately surrounding where his meat shop is located, and which he relies upon to make a living.

Tell a friend about your bad experience

That expat community is small, but the combined reach of my friend, plus all of his contacts is a lot for such a small community. By now, that image has been broadcast all over the world. I’ll personally syndicate this post out to my 12,000 or so social media followers too. Fortunately for the owner, I’ve blacked out his identity and location. Not everyone did that!

Word of mouth on steroids

I’ve described social media many times before as word of mouth advertising on steroids. Unfortunately for business owners live the guy in the meat shop, social media is a two-edged sword. When you treat customers badly, social media can become a business destroyer on steroids too. Just think of that next time you’re tempted to send that frustrated text or email.