Archive for December 9th, 2009

Unethical Virtual Assistants: Philippines Call Center

Imagine my surprise to see an article I wrote in 2004 that is well-known throughout our industry published in a release with another person’s name in the byline.

Here is a PDF of the screenshot of the release submitted by one “Johnny Law” from Philippines Call Center which contains just about 100% verbatim content from my article, “How to Succeed in the Virtual Assistant Industry:”

Here is the original link (article has since been removed):

Here is my original article:

I tell ya, these Philippine agencies are quickly making a very bad name for themselves in our industry. And it’s too bad because it hurts the reputations of whatever honest, ethical, legitimate Philippines agencies may be out there.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many of them stealing other peoples’ content, committing all kinds of infringements and engaging in unethical practices that I don’t trust a single one of them.

I’ve emailed Official Wire and asked for the release to be removed. Hopefully they will honor the request expediently. We shall see. In the meantime, know that the Philippine agency responsible for posting my content is dishonest and unethical. If they engage in unlawful acts such as this, they are not to be trusted in any manner and should be avoided.

UPDATE 12/9/09: I heard back from the Official Wire site owner, Greg Smith. His comment: “Contact the author.” Um, I AM the author. I wonder if this Greg Smith is familiar with the DMCA? He is as liable for publishing unauthorized copyrighted content as the Philippine agency who submitted it and his site can be taken down. Why do these people need to make it so hard? Why can’t they just be honest? I swear.

If I were you, you may want to also avoid Office Wire. I’m not familiar with them, but on closer inspection, it appears that the site may even be one of those spam/scam sites. Most legitimate sites like this will remove infringing content without too much hassle once it is brought to their attention. You have to wonder why one would choose to favor a dishonest company over the rightful owner and author of the stolen content.

UPDATE 12/10/09: Well, this Greg Smith was a total and utter a-hole. Seriously. Which again leads me to believe that his “press release” site is some kind of front for other intentions. In an email exchange, it turns out he is in the U.K. and seemed to believe he was outside of any kind of copyright governances whatsoever. He flat out refused to remove the release and it became quite obvious he has a huge chip on his shoulder about Americans, stating that “you Americans think you rule the world.” So I asked him, since I’m always curious about how on earth some peoples’ minds work, what does being American have to do with expecting people to be honorable and ethical? I asked him why he would choose to cater to a dishonest company that submitted a plagiarized release over the actual author’s request when he could simply remove it? It’s his site after all. He had no response other than some circular argument that he didn’t have to remove it and to contact the author.

With some help from the awesome plagiarism removal expert Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, we found that is hosted by a U.S. company and thus subject to DMCA provisions. I emailed them today and they very quickly took action and the offending release has now been removed from the site. Easy peasy and also saving my IP attorney dollars for more important matters.

Are There Legitimate Companies to Help You Find Clients?

One of my members wanted to know if there are legitimate companies that help you find clients.

She’d seen many companies that say they employ people to do administrative work, but didn’t know who meant well, who was legit, who wasn’t and so on.

It’s a perfectly good question. I mean, on the surface, who wouldn’t want an easier way to find clients to work with, right?

Unfortunately, as with most things “too good to be true,” it’s not as simple as that.

Here’s the advise I shared with her…

I’ll be honest with you, those sites really ruffle my feathers.

That’s because anyone who works for herself is by definition a business owner. They are not temps or telecommuters (those are people who are employed by others and are paid a wage; companies who employ them must adhere to employment laws, like any other employer).

If an agency “employs” virtual workers, they are a virtual staffing firm, not a VA practice. By coopting our terminology they have created a great deal of confusion in our marketplace to the point that virtual assistance now means anyone doing anything virtually — and that was never what it was meant to stand for. (But it was a poor choice of a term to adopt in the first place for this very reason so it’s no great loss).

The other problem I have with them is that they are very exploitive of the people doing the work.

Many exert a great deal of control over the workers’ schedules and how the work is performed, yet illegally classify them as contractors instead of employees thus cheating them out of rightful employment benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, etc.

They count on these people to be ignorant of the laws that govern these legal distinctions so they can keep getting away with taking advantage of them.

On top of that, they pay very little. No one is going to get rich, much less make any kind of living, working for one of those places.

I have kept tabs on that industry for about five years now, talked to close to 100 people who have worked for virtual staffing agencies and the like, and all of them essentially report the same thing: the work is very sporadic and pays very little (like $10-15/hr on average).

You have to bear in mind that anyone they pay has to be cheaper than what they are charging the client in order to make it profitable for them to outsource the work.

The less they charge the client, the less they are going to pay the worker.

And of course, the less they pay the worker, regardless of what the client pays, the better their profit margin. Their incentive is to pay you as little as possible. They are out to make themselves money, not you.

People who have worked for these kind of agencies also frequently report problems getting paid.

Workers are typically paid after the fact, not upfront. If a client pays the agency late, most of these agencies make the worker wait for payment as well (which is unethical and possibly illegal; these people should be paid on time regardless of when the client pays as they are working for the agency, not the client).

If the client disappears entirely, these workers again will not get paid most of the time because these agencies simply are not big enough to have a margin that will allow them to pay workers regardless of who skips out or not. So those people just worked for free.

I know it can be tough financially in the beginning stages of your practice when you are still trying to find clients and sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Just know the facts going in if you consider going down that road.

My advice: Don’t confuse working for other companies with building your own practice as they are two completely separate things.

When you work for someone else, you are building their brand, not yours.

These are not referral companies. They aren’t in business to find you clients. Any clients you work with belong to the agency, not you.

Be conscious about the fact that the time you expend building someone else’s business is time taken away from your own business-building efforts, where you could be working with your own clients, calling your own shots, making far more money and being paid on your terms, not anyone else’s.