We’ve talked about the benefits of having a virtual assistant. Hear what it’s like to BE a virtual assistant from professional VA Joanah Mandilag
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Joanah Mandilag: This has already given me the freedom to work and stay beside my daughter and be able to also helped my husband.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Hi, I am Bethany Fishbein, the CEO of the Power Practice and Host of the Power Hour Optometry Podcast. In Power Practice and also in Optometry in general, there’s been a lot of conversation recently about virtual assistants. People in the US are having trouble finding staff to fill positions in their office and a number of people have turned to virtual employees, usually outside the country to fill positions traditionally held by people in the office and we know people using virtual assistants for scribes, reception, insurance,back-office work. I did a podcast a couple of months ago and have had a lot of conversations with a lot of people asking questions since about incorporating virtual assistants into the practice. And I wanted to give a different perspective today about how to be a good employer to a virtual assistant and what it’s like on the other side. So my guest today is Joanah Mandilag. Joanah is from the Philippines. She spent the last five years working as a Professional Freelancer Virtual Assistant starting in 2017. And recently took a new job working with us as a Virtual Assistant at the Power Practice. We’re so excited to have her and Joanna grateful that you were willing to spend this time and talk about the experience of being a virtual assistant. So thank you so much for giving me the time to do this.
Joanah Mandilag: Thank you so much Bethany for inviting me and for being part of the power practice as your virtual assistant. I’m very grateful. And yes, I’m so excited. A bit nervous. This is my first time being part of a podcast. I hope I will be able to share my experiences as well as give knowledge to employers about what are they need as well. So how can we help our clients?
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Great, just to give people a little bit of your history. Talk about your life before your Virtual Assistant. What was your education and did you work in a corporate go-to work kind of job? What did you do? Before?
Joanah Mandilag: Yes, I took on Information Management. So that’s a Bachelor of Science in Information Management and I did a Major in airline Operation and Procedure. My first job was working in the Airline industry here in the Philippines. I was a ticketing agent at the airport. I was excited to work since I’m very near to the airport, and it’s like my dream job. But when I’ve learned about the stress, the pressure of working there, I have duties like three in the morning and then if there are canceled flights I have to do overtime like five hours, six hours for the first six months is very stressful. And then I shifted my work to the business process outsourcing or call center here in the Philippines. That is one of the top industries at the moment here in the Philippines. So I’ve worked there for almost two years as, a Customer Service Specialist. So every day, I was working the night shift because our account is a medical account. We’re handling customers from the US. So I’m working from nine to six and then I was getting promoted that time so every three months, they assess this and we get promotion and I reach the highest level already for customer service, which is senior Customer Service Specialist. And then my manager asked me, What do you want to do next? Do you want to be a trainer or a team lead? And then I realized, will I be stuck to the schedule? Will I be stuck in this industry? And then I thought should I go back to what I’ve studied. So I did resign that time and then I applied and try my luck overseas. So I’ve worked in Dubai as a Customer Service as well Dubai airport, so work there for two years. It was fun because I was able to meet a lot of people, from different cultures. I was working with not only Filipinos but with different nationalities. So being there, it was fine, but there are times that you will miss home. So when I went back here to the Philippines, I learned that I was pregnant, which was 2017. And then because I was used to working, I wanted to work and I’m scared that my child that I’m carrying would be affected if I work in the airport, the X-rays because every time you go inside the airport, there’s like security. I have to pass through 3 x-rays. So I thought it’s not healthy for me it’s not healthy for the baby. I have to look for a job that I will be staying at home and then, that time my sister, my older sister, she’s already working as a Virtual Assistant because she’s a mom of I think four years old that time and she introduced me with freelancing. She told me since you have a lot of backgrounds already you can do admin tasks, you can do travel booking, why don’t you try being a Virtual Assistant. And then she asked me open one of the freelancing platforms, which is known as Upwork or online jobs, freelancers. I’ve created my account and then started to look for a job and finally, I found, after a month, I think I found a client and my first job was as a salon receptionist.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: When you upload your information like you set up your account on Upwork. Are there jobs listed that you apply for or do people usually find you like how did you get connected with that salon
Joanah Mandilag: They list their opening and then you will apply when you apply you have a limit of which positions you can apply for they will give you as well openings that can be related to your work. So it will be easier for you to match with the client. But my first job a Salon receptionist. She was half Filipina, that’s why she tried to hire Filipinos as well. She invited me to apply and the interview as well. We also did a practice call she wants to like listen and hear how will I be assisting their clients. She was happy with how I was able to handle their bookings and assist their customers’ incoming calls and emails.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So in 2017, You’re working for this salon in New York. Was it set up that when somebody called the salon it rang in your house?
Joanah Mandilag: Yes, I’m answering the phone to RingCentral we have that application downloaded on my end. And then it’s automatic that the call from that salon will be forwarded to me like I’m in the salon, but I’m doing the booking and I’m even giving directions on how to go to the salon by just looking at Google Maps. So you have to be very flexible and you have to be able to research a lot of things even you don’t know or you’re new to that industry,
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Right so you have to learn all the different services they do and everything you mentioned your sister was a virtual assistant and I know as we’ve gotten to know each other somebody else in your family is also a virtual assistant. Who else
Joanah Mandilag: My younger sister is also a virtual assistant. She is more on audio and video editing. But she also has a background in virtual assistant she started with admin tasks I think all of us started with the admin tasks and with data entry, and email handling, that basic knowledge, and then we grow. We found which one will be our focus and my younger sister found that she will be focusing on audio and video editing. My elder sister found that she will be more on quality and checking calls. I think you will find because of freelancing and virtual assistant, there are a lot of things that you will be learning there are a lot of things that you will be seeing that you didn’t know that, that could work. So for me, I thought what I will focus on will be social media and marketing, but I think I’m doing great with all of them. So my sister would call me the “Joan of all trades” and I can share my knowledge with everyone My sister is sharing their knowledge to me. So even in the community in the Facebook community, we have groups that support and share knowledge and even share opportunities like they will be hosting, okay, our company’s hiring those things you will be able to share a lot of things.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: In the Philippines. It sounds like you’re connected with a lot of people who are doing not the same thing you’re doing but are working as virtual assistants. Is it usually to US companies? Are they working for companies all over the world?
Joanah Mandilag: I would say all over the world. My sister currently has clients in the US and also in Australia. Then I had a client from the UK. So as long as they are looking for someone who would be able to help them do some admin tasks and they will be able to stay focused on their top priority. I think they will be posting an opening on the platforms available for Filipino freelancers.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And are there differences? From your side? If somebody hires through Upwork or Fiverr online jobs what’s the difference from your end?
Joanah Mandilag: The difference is that since with Upwork, I’ve used Upwork a long time already with the payment system, of course, they have a cut, from the total amount that I’m earning, but it is for the security of the client as well as the security of us the virtual assistant because I had an experience that I was scammed. And I work for a week and they didn’t pay me and they didn’t respond. That was a lesson learned from me. That’s why I’m asking if you would like to hire me through Upwork or if you have time-doctor or any platforms that you want to use because security is always important as well to clients and us. After all, we don’t want to waste time working and we’re not getting paid. So for Upwork, I think yes, it is very secure, but you have to check as well with a client. With Upwork, they will be posting there how many hours you’ve been working for this company. There is feedback so it will help you as a virtual assistant as a freelancer because other clients will be saying oh, she has a five-star review from this client. It will be easier for us to apply for another client or the client will be able to see she has already an experience with this. So why don’t we try her unlike other platforms or on Facebook, if you will saw the posting you can just send your resume but with Upwork, they are posting reviews and as well. They are giving you badges there are top-rated, Top Rated is showing that you exceeded a total of hours of work and you have five clients who gave you five stars review. So it means that you will be prioritized once the client search for freelancers so it’s a big help.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So it gives a little bit more security for boasts a company that’s hiring you because they know they’re getting somebody who has done a good job for other people has done this before. Then some security for you because you know that you’re gonna get paid and you’re not gonna get scammed. Talk a little bit about the lifestyle of being a virtual assistant because I’m aware when I say oh, let’s set up a meeting for this afternoon and your timezone is 12 hours ahead of my timezone so I know what I’m saying. Let’s talk at three this afternoon. I always am aware that that’s three o’clock in the morning for you What’s the lifeline working like that?
Joanah Mandilag: For me, in the beginning, it was hard that I have to stay awake the whole evening and then in the morning when I was pregnant. I was used to staying at night because I came from Dubai there is a time difference but when I was working already like waiting for the calls, I think during weekends it was hard because there were like two or three calls coming in and I was getting sleepy and all that. So I think that’s why my client asked me okay study social media, study this so that at least you will be awake. It was a bit harder because of the time difference and I go to sleep at six in the morning here in the Philippines. I have to make sure that the room is dark so I can sleep and there is no noise. But after a month or two I get used to it even the light is on I can sleep even my daughter is jumping on the bed, I can see that depends on the person if you will be able to adjust and if you are willing to work and to accept this lifestyle because I think for me even I’m currently working at night because I am productive at night. I’ve noticed that when it comes to working, I’m more productive at night and in the morning I’ll be sleeping from six. Once I log out or I finished my job I would make sure that I’ll be beside my daughter already. So when she wakes up I’ll be awake and then I’ll be preparing her for sitting beside her during class. And then when she takes her afternoon nap I’ll be taking my nap as well. I am already used to this lifestyle and I enjoy what I am doing because this has already given me the freedom to work and stay beside my daughter and be able to also help my husband because he’s working in a corporate job. So I’m helping him in a way that I could still prepare his food for his job. I couldn’t prepare his clothes. Those are little things that I think I would be taking myself more in the future. Because I was able to spend time with them.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Absolutely. that’s the nice side. How does this compare in salary and status to working a corporate job like what you had before in the call center or for the airline?
Joanah Mandilag: Of course, the benefits of working in a corporate than the freelancing are different because working in the corporate, they will be the one paying the taxes giving you a health card and all the computation they will do and then you’re just working in receiving your salary by the 15th or the end of the month, and then what freelancing what I’m doing. I’m paying my own taxes here in the Philippines. I got my own insurance, got my own health card, those kinds of things that additional job for me because I have to always know I have to pay for this at the end of the month and they have to go to this office to make sure that I pay my taxes and then for the salary, the difference is that of course here at freelancing or as a virtual assistant. We don’t have a fixed salary unlike in the corporate job where you will be receiving this amount for the whole month for freelancing if you have a full-time job yes you will be receiving the full amount but if you will be doing project base which is like okay, we will be doing this project for one week, then I’ll be paying this amount. So you have to look for another client to be able to reach the monthly salary that you will be looking for. But here with freelancing, I’ve learned that yes, you will be starting at the lowest rate that you will be asking but since you will be gaining knowledge and know spending a lot of time working. You will already know how much you work. So you will be already adding a couple of dollars to the minimum salary that you already have in mind. And I think I’m earning more as a freelancer than when I was working the corporate because, in the corporate show, I was only earning half of what I am earning now. So it’s a very big help even though I’m paying my taxes. I’m still earning more than what I was earning in the corporate.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: What are some of the benefits when you’re working corporate obviously, the US employer can’t get you a health card or can’t pay taxes for you. But what about some of the other benefits like were you getting paid time off or pay for holidays? How does that work?
Joanah Mandilag: Some clients will offer, once I reach three months, I will be getting paid leaves for the year or you can get like 15 sick and vacation leave. Clients do offer the same vacation leave and fees from the corporate. You just have to be open to your client. You can ask, there are Filipinos that are too shy to ask their client but if you know your client then they are open and are asking what they can do for you. You can always inform them you can always try because if you are not trying you will not know right. For example, I will be asking Bethany for the weekend. I will be going on a vacation is it okay can I use my vacation credit so that I will still get paid for the whole week. So if my client or you Bethany will be allowing me then I am already happy because I’m on vacation I’m getting paid. Communication is very important as trusting your client and also giving them the opportunity to know you and give you what they can offer. I think it will be a long relationship for the assistant as well as the client.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: When you were talking in there. You just said the word Trust and I think that’s one of the things that comes up as a question when we’re talking to someone here who’s never worked with a virtual assistant before and you’re handling sensitive information for people whatever it is right even for making a hair appointment. You’re getting someone’s name or their address or their phone number and you could look them up where you had another job I know you’re doing e-commerce and so you’re handling sensitive information. How do you build trust with a virtual assistant and for you, how do you build trust with one of your clients that it’s okay to do that?
Joanah Mandilag: For me, I think when I started handling that information, they asked me to sign a Non-disclosure form. And when I say that and they also asked “Can you handle all the information and keep it secured?” I make sure that I inform my clients that all the data that was given to me will be handled professionally because this is work. This is the job. I’m handling their business I’m earning from their business. So I need to make sure that all this information that I am receiving is secured and that they can trust me because if I lost your trust, I’ll be losing my job, which is giving me food giving me the money to be able to pay my bills my taxes so I always think that I should earn and keep all the trust with my client. And of course my trust in my client. During the interview. I always wanted to see my clients even virtually I wanted to know them virtually I checked their profiles. Yeah, I told you earlier I was scammed twice during my five years and it was sad and that time I was even, I just gave birth and my daughter was just five months and all the emotions are there. And I was crying. I was scared. So it was hard to build trust again that time but I just have to make sure that my clients are real-life people. I asked them if we can do a video call first. If they can pay me on a weekly basis, not on monthly basis, those kinds of things would also earn my client’s trust.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: One of the things that you asked when we met initially when we were interviewing each other I guess is you asked if we had worked with a virtual assistant before. What are you hoping to tell from the answer to that question?
Joanah Mandilag: I was hoping to hear that this is the first time and there is also a part of me that I was waiting for if you have already a background with Virtual Assistant, because if this is the first time I’m excited and happy because I am the first person that will be helping you or assisting you with your business. But I was also scared that maybe they don’t know much of stuff with a virtual assistant. I was just hoping that everything will work well with the company because yeah, I checked your website and I’ve been looking on LinkedIn as well. I just have to have faith and make sure I check everything for me to be able to trust the company and then the part of me that was asking or was looking for that you had a virtual assistant before is so that I have someone to communicate with because it’s fun communicating with other virtual assistants. You can ask them how was this client with you, information that we would love to share with someone else, I receive already positive feedback from one of your virtual assistants that I thought so yeah, she was very friendly and accommodating and she told me that she enjoyed working with a company. So I was very excited to stay with the company and I’m looking already that I’ll be looking forward that I’ll be in the company for the next year or two. So that’s the reason why I asked.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Interesting question. I noticed it when you asked it and I noticed the amount of research that you had done and what you knew about our company and about me and I found it impressive because you’ve done your homework. And also now my understanding is a little bit more than it’s not just doing your homework on the company for the sake of going into an interview prepared. It’s letting you know that we’re real people and you’re gonna get paid for the work you’re doing and all of that which obviously is very important. So if a company here in the US had not worked with a virtual assistant before, what advice would you give them to make the relationship as successful as possible?
Joanah Mandilag: For companies that don’t have virtual assistants at the moment? I would suggest for you hire someone for you to hire a virtual assistant because we also are knowledgeable. It’s just that we are working at home we are from different countries, but we do a lot of research. We are very eager to work. So why don’t you give the opportunity to those people especially if you are already handling a lot of stuff we can always help you and you will be able to stay focus on your top priority while we make sure that everything is okay and handled by us. So that is one and then I would always inform or I will be suggesting them to be able to communicate with their virtual assistant because it’s very hard, like for me to tell you honestly, when I open my laptop at eight in the evening I was looking for an email like from you from Denise from anyone from the company just to make sure that I have something to do but since I have a checklist, I just move forward and do those things and then I will be receiving an email. Okay, I’m still in the company. I’m still working so those type of communication emails, WhatsApp. Just make sure that you can send the message hey, how are you doing? Those little things that give security to us that we are still working with you so that communication will grow not just us knowing you are there and we are here in the future communication will become friendship. So I think that is one of the best advice I can give is to be open and be able to communicate with your assistant. And also if you are hiring a virtual assistant that they gave you the price or the amount that they can work with hourly or monthly, you can always ask what is the lowest rate that they can give you but do not compare the rates because we have different bills to pay. We have different expenses. So for me, I’ve offered my minimum rate, salary, or minimum rate because I know I can ask for a higher rate if the company already knows what I can do, and how much I can help the company. So with the rate of the assistant, always check if that is the lowest rate or if that is the rate that they can work with and don’t compare. And the last one is for you to be able to hire someone new. I guess I think virtual assistants there are a lot of people currently that are trying to apply. Why don’t you hire someone new if you will be giving training because giving opportunity to those who are new to the industry of freelancing, you are giving them the hope and the chance to know more about freelancing because a lot of Filipinos are trying freelancing at the moment because of the pandemic and a lot of people lost their job, especially in the BPO industry. So when I was looking at the job openings, this pandemic the clients did lower the rates because there are a new freelancer who are willing to try freelancing or virtual assistant at that rate so you can hire a new freelancer and you can train them. They are knowledgeable and they are very eager and willing to learn. Remember in our interview I told you I’m open if you will be hiring someone else who is knowledgeable and who is new to this industry, giving opportunity to everyone, not only those who are experts, but those who are new to this industry that are that advice I could give.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Solid advice. So I think the message is, to give it a chance, work together, continue to build trust, and people who’ve been listening to me know that we use virtual assistants in our practices. We have three other virtual assistants that work with us in the offices. This is our first time at Power Practice working with a Virtual Assistant and we are all have four days in three days and at this point and have been very positive so far. So Joanah, thank you so much for doing this and lending your insight. You’ve taught me a couple of things. I’ve written a few notes, and I appreciate all of the comments and insight that you gave. So thank you so much for being here.
Joanah Mandilag: Thank you so much, Bethany, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to do something today that my future self will be thanking me for.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Absolutely! for listeners, one of the things that Joanah is working on with us is analyzing the online presence for our clients and some prospective clients. So part of what we do is we want to make sure that an office that wants to grow has a funnel for new patients and a big part of how patients find an office is by looking online. And so Joanah with her Online Sales and Social media experience is helping us by going into getting a detailed view for our clients of what their practice looks like to a patient looking in from the outside. So she’s giving us valuable information. If you’d like that information about your own practice, just let us know and we’d be happy to help you. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our website www.powerpractice.com. Thank you so much for listening!