I’m glad to have you back with me today. Today is Winter Business Series #2. Today, I am talking all about US-based virtual assistants and how you can use virtual assistants in your practice to become a more productive testing psychologist.
My guest today is someone that I have spent a lot of online time with. Uriah Guilford is a guy who’s been really active in a lot of the Facebook groups that I’m a part of and has just proven himself over the last two years to be really indispensable with advice, strategies, and ideas about how to run a more efficient and productive practice.
A little bit about Uriah. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He is [00:01:00] the owner of Guilford Family Counseling in California. Over the past two years, he’s really been focusing his energy on productivity and the virtual assistant world. He is the mastermind behind the Productive Therapist, which is a VA business that provides amazing virtual assistance to mental health practice owners.
He’s a technology enthusiast, productivity nerd, and rad drummer, which is a pretty cool combination of traits in my book. He’s always searching for creative ways to provide counseling to youth and their families, and also trying to think of ways for therapists to get more done while working less.
This was a really fun interview. Uriah has a dynamic energy that brought a lot to our conversation. We cover a lot of different topics. So if you are thinking about some help or maybe just in the drowning stage in your practice and feel totally [00:02:00] overwhelmed, I guarantee you’ll walk away from this episode with at least 4 or 5 ideas about how to trim down your workload and offload some of those tasks.
Before we get to our conversation, I want to give a shout-out to the Beginner Practice and Advanced Practice Mastermind Groups. Y’all have heard me talk about these over the last couple of episodes. It has come to be that time again, where the current cohort is wrapping up in the next month or two, and the next cohort will be starting in late March or early April.
These are group coaching experiences where you would be in a group with 5 other psychologists right at your level of practice, and we help each other out. It’s a great option for folks who really enjoy that group dynamic and who would like some coaching but maybe aren’t ready to take the leap into individual coaching at this point. It’s been pretty awesome. A lot of the participants [00:03:00] have had really positive things to say about the experience.
So if you’re interested in getting some help in your practice in a group format, go to thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting. If you scroll down, you can find a link and more information on the Beginner Practice Mastermind and Advanced Practice Mastermind.
All right, y’all, let’s get to my conversation with Uriah Guilford all about virtual assistants in your testing practice.
Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of The Testing Psychologist podcast. I’m very fortunate to have Uriah Guilford here with me today talking all about virtual assistants. Uriah, welcome to the podcast.
Uriah: Thanks so much for having me. A shared topic that we’re both interested in.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve used the phrase virtual assistant or VA on this podcast or in my consulting calls, I’d be rich.
Dr. Sharp: We’ve talked about virtual assistants on the podcast before with Jaime Jay, but his whole thing, like some other companies, is overseas virtual assistants, and your whole thing is US-based virtual assistants, specifically mental health-based virtual assistants.
Uriah: Definitely, which is actually a pretty growing niche I’ve noticed. Even in the last 12 months, there have been, I think about 4 or 5 mental health-specific virtual assistant companies started up just in like 12 months. So I think it’s becoming more and more of an accepted and sought-after thing for therapists, especially folks who are in growth mode, whether they’re solo or group. It’s exciting to see that support come up around our industry.
Dr. Sharp: Well, because you’re a therapist yourself, right?
Dr. Sharp: You get it from both sides.
Dr. Sharp: And it’s cool. Y’all were, I think one of the first to get into the game for US-based mental health virtual assistants. You’ve been around for a while.
Uriah: We’ve only been around for… we’re in our 3rd year now. Prior to starting The Productive Therapist, I was definitely aware of probably only one, maybe two other businesses doing that specifically, and then it’s grown from there. It’s been a lot of fun for me. I’ll tell you more about it, but I love this business. It’s been fantastic. Supporting therapists in their growth and their business success is incredibly rewarding for me.
Dr. Sharp: That’s a nice segue. I always like to ask just why, why are you doing this? Why do you choose to spend part of your life in these activities?
Uriah: That’d be an existential question. Why this, why now?
Dr. Sharp: Yes.
Uriah: Interestingly enough, I have actually been using virtual assistants for about seven years and I’ve been in practice for 11 years total. So I started with a VA about seven years ago, very minimal, 5 hours a month. I was just busy enough to where I couldn’t quite do everything. Once I started working with my virtual assistant, I immediately fell in love with it and unofficially became an evangelist, if you will, for two things; virtual assistants and I have always been passionate about EHRs. So those two things.
I would always tell all my therapist friends, have you ever heard of virtual assistants? I have this person that works with me and helps me. She’s across the country, but she does X, Y, and Z and it makes my life so much better. So I’ve just always been a fan and then fast forward, and I could fill in some of the blanks later, but fast forward into my group practice journey, there’s just the need for admin support on the intake side, on the billing side even on the marketing side just grows.
And so I kind of not intentionally, but I started this business to scratch my own itch to fill my own need and then realized there were a ton of other therapists that could benefit from the same type of thing. And it lined up well with my skills and interests in technology, marketing, outsourcing, organization, productivity, et cetera. So, it just blossomed unexpectedly and wonderfully.
Dr. Sharp: I like how you put that. Well, and that’s what people say, when we’re talking about entrepreneurship or starting businesses, it’s solve your own problem first and the likelihood is that other people will have that same problem.
Uriah: So true.
Dr. Sharp: It’s really cool. We have a lot of overlap in these online circles, Facebook groups, and whatnot, and you definitely have this reputation as someone who is always thinking of new ways to be efficient and productive. At least once a week, it seems like I log on and you’ve posted some awesome flow chart or something to streamline your practice. It seems like you’re pretty well suited to this area, I guess is what I’m saying.
Uriah: Yeah. It’s either because I’m very productive and ambitious or because I’m just very lazy and I want to figure out easier ways to do stuff.
Dr. Sharp: A little of both. That’s fantastic. That’s cool. So y’all been around for three years. I didn’t even realize it’s been that long, to be honest, but it’s cool. It seems like a big growing need.
Before we get into the nuances of VAs and everything they can do, there are a lot of potential income streams for us as mental health practitioners. Did you consider others before you started a VA company or you just knew, hey, this is what I want to do with the field?
Uriah: Outside of being a therapist and growing a successful practice, my first side hustle venture was creating info products. My aspiration was to be very successful in selling courses and eBooks and various different things to parents of teenagers. That was my goal for financial and time independence. Long story short, it didn’t end up being as lucrative as I thought it would be. It was more challenging to break into the parenting space.
I was resistant to the group practice idea, but then that came along in a very serendipitous way. I fell in love with that whole Journey and I’ve [00:10:00] loved that. So that was my second, not side hustle, really, but if you will, my second adventure. And then the virtual assistance business was my third. So, I’ve tried on several different things.
Dr. Sharp: It sounds like it. Just tell us a little bit about the VA company at this point. What’s it look like? How’s it set up? How many folks you got and all that stuff.
Uriah: My company is the Productive Therapist. We have currently actually 13 virtual assistants. We are based in three different states so we got several different time zones covered. The nice thing about that is that a lot of my folks are in California, but then I’ve also got people in Texas and Utah, and we’re able to cover practices all the way to the East Coast because the time zone difference works in the favor of those folks; our time zone works in their favor.
We have about 52 clients right now. Just this year, we’ve grown about 150%. And so I’ve got a small leadership team and we’ve got all kinds of fun things that we’re doing in 2020. We’re not just trying to get bigger, but we’re trying to get better and do what we do at a very high level and stand out for the services that we provide.
We’re trying to stay focused and not do all the things, which is good for any practice. Even in a testing practice, I would assume that there can be a temptation to do all the assessments and all the various things, right?
Dr. Sharp: Yes.
Uriah: We just hone in on three main buckets, and that is phone support and scheduling, general admin tasks, and then digital marketing. So those are the things we do. And then we say no to everything else as much as possible.
Dr. Sharp: I think that makes sense. We talk about specialties and niches, right? I have always said it is, it’s a self-deprecating joke, but it’s also true that I feel like I can only be good at really one thing, maybe two if I’m having a good day. It’s so much easier to just hone in on that 1 or 2 things that you really do well.
Uriah: Definitely. Honestly, the need and the desire for help with intake, phone support, and scheduling was a little bit of a surprise to me. I basically built the business around that request that was coming in from so many people. And it makes sense to me because once you start to grow and you’re busy, you’re doing a lot of therapy, maybe you’re doing a lot of testing, obviously, testing takes up a lot of time. So you just don’t have time to respond to calls and follow up and phone tag and all that kind of stuff. So, I would say that’s our core service and we’re building out the digital marketing as just a helpful add-on.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. For me when I’m consulting with folks, that’s one of the very first things that I try to get people to outsource because we get hit on both sides where we can be in these day-long testing appointments that we might work with someone for 6 or 8 hours out of the day. So we’re not taking breaks to answer the phone, certainly. And then on the flip side, the phone calls to intake people for testing, I think are generally longer than for therapy. They can run 10 or 20 minutes just to explain the process, what the cost is and how that works. So we get pinched on both sides. I’m always trying to get people to outsource answering the phone.
Uriah: That makes a lot of sense. You can fill me in a little bit, but we have several clients that are mostly testing in assessment practices and I’ve definitely noticed that the screening calls are more detailed and like you said, take more time. And then obviously, the client setup process with whatever various assessments or questionnaires they need to get forehand, getting the reports back to them, communicating with other community people, obviously there’s just a lot more involved. So you may be even more need for support. Honestly, whether it’s virtual or it’s in office, both are good, and have pros and cons to each. It’s critical.
Dr. Sharp: For sure. Maybe we could zoom out and just talk generally about who’s a good candidate for a VA versus an in-office person because that’s a pretty common question. People are often hesitant to do a VA, but then they’re also hesitant to do an in-office person. Do you have thoughts on that? How do you decide in the first place?
Uriah: Just recently, I put together a quiz that’s on our site right now, productivetherapist.com. It’s it helps you figure out if you’re ready for a VA. It’s just a real simple 10 questions. And then, if we deem that you’re ready, we have some resources related to that. And then if it doesn’t seem like you’re quite ready for that, we have a resource to help people get ready.
It’s true. Finding a virtual assistant is a daunting process, just like finding a contractor or a dentist or a therapist, and then hiring local in-office support for somebody who has never done that is also a scary process.
There are two different things I think about when people consider outsourcing, specifically the type of things we’re talking about with phones and scheduling admin. It is pretty critical for us, at least with a virtual assistant, to have two different things in place, an EHR and a virtual phone system.
If I talk to someone and they don’t have either of those or one is missing, it’s generally a prerequisite to working with a virtual staff member; you have to have the technology in place, right? So those two things. Most of our clients also use G-Suite because it’s HIPAA-compliant or let’s say referral tracking log or other things related to clients that need to be secure. So the technology…
Dr. Sharp: Can I jump in just for a second?
Dr. Sharp: This is actually very relevant for our practice right now. Virtual phone systems. What are people using now? We cannot find one that works well. I’m lost. What are you seeing out there? What are people using for a virtual… Actually, what is a virtual phone system and what are you seeing people using?
Uriah: Virtual phone system is basically an internet-based phone system. The other lingo is VoIP, voice over IP. So it’s not hardwired, it’s all over the internet. There’s a handful of them that are HIPAA-compliant. So most therapists want to go with those. And then there’s a bunch of other ones that are not, in other words, they won’t sign a business associates agreement and people usually stay away from those. What are you using now?
Dr. Sharp: We’re transitioning away from phone.com.
Uriah: Okay. I’m guessing that’s because you’ve had glitches, issues, and challenges.
Dr. Sharp: It’s been really tough. Yeah, we’re getting voicemails that are lost and delivered to the wrong mailboxes. The call quality seems poor. All those things.
Uriah: It’s such a bummer. Phone.com has a lot of people that will say they have no glitches and they have good experiences, and then people say it’s absolutely terrible. I don’t even know how to account for that, but it’s affordable, it’s HIPAA-compliant, and once you get it set up, it’s pretty easy to use. But if you run into the things you’re mentioning there, you want to quickly move away to something else, right?
Dr. Sharp: Sure.
Uriah: Most of our clients do use phone.com, but the other ones that are standouts are… The new one that’s recommended, I think initially by Roy Huggins from Person Centered Tech is called iPlum. The reviews that I’ve seen from therapists recently are really positive.
Dr. Sharp: That’s good.
Uriah: I don’t know why it’s named iPlum. I honestly think that’s pretty rough branding.
Dr. Sharp: That’s a good point. It’s cool. That’s good to hear though. My assistant director just shot me a message yesterday. She was like, let’s check out iPlum.
Uriah: There you go. I’ve heard really good things about that. And then All Call Technologies is one that Maureen Werrbach from The Group Practice Exchange talks about a lot, and a lot of people are really happy with that. It doesn’t quite have the ability to set up things on your own on the back end. You have to get in touch with customer support, but apparently, their support is really good.
And then the other one is Spruce It seems to be pretty popular. I got to play around with it recently. I don’t if you’ve heard of that one, but it’s kind of a, I don’t know what they call it, a digital healthcare platform. It’s got secure messaging. It’s got all kinds of cool things. It’s a little bit expensive for a larger practice because the per-user cost is high, but it is impressive.
And then the other one I was going to mention RINGR sometimes is in the mix. Those are the main ones.
Dr. Sharp: Okay, great. Have you heard any early opinions on the HIPAA-compliant Google voice, the G suite HIPAA voice?
Uriah: Thank you for mentioning that. It’s really solid. It’s basically the same product as Google voice has always been, except you pay about $10 a month per user and they’ll sign the BA. It’s under your G-Suite account.
The one downside to that, especially for group practices is that it doesn’t have extensions and it doesn’t have a virtual phone tree. So everybody has to have their own phone number and that can get a little bit complicated, especially for just streamlining client communication. That’s the one thing. And so you don’t have the ability to direct the callers and from a virtual assistant standpoint, we want to have an outgoing message that very clearly says, thank you for calling the practice. If you’re a first-time caller, press 1, our intake coordinator will help you out, and that has a phone tree for the therapist. So I don’t recommend it for groups, but for a solo practice, I would 100% use that.
Dr. Sharp: I got you. Cool. So let’s circle back to how that plays into having a VA. So just to walk people through, again, demystifying the whole process here. So you get a virtual phone system with hopefully a phone tree of some sort, and it’s just a press 1 to talk to reception, and the person doesn’t know that they’re actually being routed to California to talk to your VA. Is that how?
Uriah: Yeah. That is a daunting process for some people because they’ve never used a virtual phone system. We do help our clients set those up and take the pain out of that process. So that’s important, but it’s really just a matter of configuring the settings on the backend to route the calls where you want them to go, and then you can set it to ring. Essentially, it’s going to go to a cell phone most likely- the virtual assistant’s cell phone.
Some virtual assistant companies, some virtual assistants, because there are independent VAs out there that are actually good options for mental health providers as well, some of them promise and do live answer. So they will actually some percentage of the time pick up the phone and give a greeting and then other companies focus more on quick response and quick callbacks. So it either goes to be picked up live, or it goes to voicemail and then an email notification goes to the VA so that they can respond to that from there.
Dr. Sharp: Which do y’all focus on if, if either of those, the live answer or the…?
Uriah: It’s an interesting thing that I’ve worked on and thought about a lot. In the beginning, we did do live answer. And then through trial and error, I realized that what we offer, which is essentially shared virtual assistants, which is one very skilled, specialized specially trained VA that works with several practices, the percentage of live answers was so low that it was too low to promise live answer, essentially.
So we decided we’re going to focus on doing the end-to-end caller to the client whole process and having a quick response time. And that’s the best version that we can do. If people want a live answer, and some people do, we have recommendations to virtual call center companies that are really good. They just come along with limitations in terms of scheduling in your EHR and doing much more than just taking a message or directing a call, right?
Dr. Sharp: Right. That’s an important piece. I’ve read some research, I don’t know where I picked this up, it’s one of those things that I’ve put in my mind that I’m not sure where I got it from, that there are some statistics around calling back within a certain amount of time or returning a voicemail within however many minutes or hours increases the client acquisition. Am I making this up or do you know of this kind of information as well?
Uriah: I agree with you that that information is out there, but I can’t quote it either. It’s common sense that the quicker you get back to a potential client, the more likely you are to be able to sign them up with one of your therapists. That makes 100% of sense.
For me, the equation comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, if you will, because the higher the customer service level you have, the higher the cost is. And so, you just have to look at the trade-offs with that because obviously, let’s say you’re a busy psychologist and you got a testing practice and your response time is seven days, you’re going to lose some people guaranteed.
The mom that’s on the phone, let’s say she’s got a teenager who needs some testing right away, she’s going to call around and find somebody else who’s available. Versus if you’ve got, let’s say a shared virtual assistant who calls back within three hours, that’s going to be significantly better. And then just to be honest, if there’s a live person sitting in the office, picking up the phone, talking to the mom right there, that’s going to be even better. There’s no doubt about that.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense. So how do you have it set up with folks then? How is it phrased on the voicemail? It sounds like y’all know right from the beginning we’re likely not going to pick up. So how do people set it up to prep the clients to expect a callback?
Uriah: One of core values with the Productive Therapist is surprise and delight. And the flip side of that is let’s not disappoint people and over-promise and under-deliver. I like to apply the same thing to let’s say my group practice.
And this is generally our recommendation. We say on the outgoing message, we return calls Monday through Friday within 24 hours and often much sooner. So that’s the expectation. When they get a call in 1 hour or 30 minutes, they’re surprised and they’re delighted. That’s our recommendation is to set the expectation at a certain point, but then always do better than that.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I like that.
Uriah: And then, I’ll just tag this on too, and we can talk about it more if you want, but I’m a huge fan of online scheduling for the initial intake call. We’ve implemented that using an online scheduler on our website and we’ve helped quite a few of our clients integrate that into their process. And that makes things even smoother and actually increases conversions as well.
Dr. Sharp: Say more about that because I’m afraid of doing that. We’ve talked about it in our practice and haven’t been able to come to the tipping point to feel like it would be helpful beyond what is going on now. How has that worked for people?
Uriah: There are some people that still want to make a phone to find a service provider. There are a lot of people that want to send an email or a text. So it’s good to have those options, but there’s always going to be people, I say always for a good while now, that are going to want to call and get a callback and talk to a human, right?
So the biggest problem with that is phone tag. It’s very inefficient. It’s just not a good system at all. And so what we do is basically every button, every page on our site, all funnels to the contact page. There are some caveats in there, but essentially people will end up on the contact page and we tell them here’s our contact info. The best way to get an appointment and get in touch is to click this button right here and schedule a phone call with our intake coordinator. There’s a picture of the intake coordinator, Tiffany. She’s really nice. She looks friendly.
Basically, if people click that button, it pops up a window and they can see her availability. They schedule a time and then Tiffany confirms it. And then there are reminders that go out to tell both parties that the call is happening, and then it happens. It’s not perfect but it’s really cool.
Dr. Sharp: I got you. So, people aren’t scheduling an appointment directly with the provider. This is an intake phone call?
Dr. Sharp: I could see that. That’s a nice kind of hybrid.
Uriah: Yeah. We’ve tested online scheduling for the initial appointment with the therapist. Some people have better success with that. It just didn’t work great for us because of so many factors. We really want to screen the callers and make sure they get to the right person. It’s just important.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that makes sense. Random question, but have y’all messed around with chatbots or a messaging platform to get people into their first appointment at all?
Uriah: Yes, I’ve done two different things. The software that I use for scheduling on our site right now is called Schedule Once. It’s my favorite. A lot of people also like Acuity. That’s a good option, but Schedule Once has an option to put a little chat box on your site. And so I used that for a while and realized that not a lot of people were actually using it. And so, I took that off.
Prior to that, I had used a little piece of software called TAR. I think is a throwback to [00:28:00] the computer. I don’t know the reference anyway. I was really proud of it because it was this really cool little thing that popped up on the bottom right-hand side of the site. It was a programmable chatbot.
I don’t know if I can in an audio format give people a visual, but essentially there was a question tree where it gave them options, and then they clicked the options. And then I programmed all these kinds of answers and it looked like..
There was a disclaimer. Just calm down. There was a disclaimer. I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to other people. There was a disclaimer that said, Hey, this is not a real person, not for emergencies, da, da, da, but then it gave them some guidance, and then it directed them towards an initial contact, initial phone call. I thought it was really cool. It even had the picture of my assistant on it. So it looked like, Hey, this is a person. And again, not a lot of people used it, so we took it off. I don’t know. It’s interesting.
Dr. Sharp: It is interesting. I know that there are a lot of people working on that technology. I don’t know that it’s there yet for us specifically, but it’s interesting.
Uriah: Not quite. The article I read this week was about how, I think somebody was projecting into the future and saying, basically we think that in the near future like we’re talking 2030, your healthcare is going to be handled by Amazon, Google, Facebook through smart speakers, smart wearable devices, et cetera. And they’re going to run healthcare a lot better than the private sector or however it’s being done now. It’s pretty wild, but you can imagine that might be the case.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. I’ve read a decent amount on, especially physician’s family practice or general practice physicians, and people prefer robots for…
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, it’s really. And just the brain power that they can harness to make these calculations in seconds that humans have a hard time with when we’re talking about like symptom presentation and diagnosis and such.
Uriah: Yeah. And if you pair that with your Apple Watch measuring your heart rate and other things, and being able to give that data over, it’s scary, but I imagine people probably talk to their smart speakers at home about how to help their depression, how to decrease their stress. I’m sure those types of interactions are happening just like they are with Google search, right?
Dr. Sharp: Mm-hmm. I think a lot of what we’re talking about here is ease of access for clients, and streamlining that client journey. I know VAs can be a big part of that as well.
Uriah: 100%. I think two of the things that are most important to me and drive everything that I do: the first one is making it as easy as possible for people who need counseling services to get them, and then the second one is helping therapists feel successful and fulfilled. So when we’re talking about technology, automation, delegating to virtual assistants, for me, the goal is really two things, getting clients to the services quicker and creating a better lifestyle for the practice owner. Those are the two priorities in my mind.
Dr. Sharp: I’m with you. Actually, I want to highlight that for some folks that a lot of the time we get wrapped up in, can we afford a VA? Is a VA going to be helpful for us? How will that benefit my practice? But on the flip side, we’re really talking about access for clients. You could almost reframe it like we’re doing clients a favor by making sure they can get in touch with the provider they want or need as quickly as possible.
Uriah: Absolutely. You do have to pay attention to your budget and there is an ideal time because you don’t want to start with the VA or any service really and then have to stop short because you can’t afford it. So you do want to make sure that you can afford it. But ideally, if you have the right virtual assistant in place, they will help you make more money faster because they will respond to the clients quicker. You’ll get more appointments booked. Thus you’ll make more revenue and you’ll be able to pay for the VA services. In my mind, with the right person, with the right setup, it’s a virtuous cycle.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Let’s talk about the cost for just a bit. How is that all structured? I know there are different ways to do that with VAs. How do y’all handle that?
Uriah: Interestingly enough, and some people might know that some people might not, but obviously, there are US-based virtual assistants and then there are VAs that are in other countries. You can get a virtual assistant with a good skill set in, let’s say the Philippines for $2 to $7 any day of the week, however, what I’ve found, and I think what other therapists have found is that using a US-based person for some obvious reasons, language and others makes the most sense.
They do tend to be more expensive. We’re looking probably in the range of right about $20 to $60. It’s a big spread. And if you look at different companies though, their prices will be different, some lower, some higher. It is a factor of where they are in the country, what kind of additional services they provide, and those types of things.
Our services, I won’t share the pricing only because it’s changing a little bit in January. People can go to productivetherapist.com/pricing and look at ours, but I will tell you that we have structured things where you purchase a recurring monthly package of hours. Right now it’s 10, 20, or 30. And then for us, this was intentional, the price per hour actually goes down as you go up so that we can grow with you and you save a little bit of money as you grow. So that’s how we work things.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense. I think that’s important and I’m glad you highlighted the difference between overseas VAs and US-based VAs. One question that I get a lot is why are virtual assistants more expensive than an in-office person most of the time?
Uriah: It’s almost like we set this up. That was the softball to me because…
Dr. Sharp: I’m trying here. Okay.
Uriah: No, it’s great. We’re perfect. There’s a blog post that will be on my site within 7 to 14 days literally titled why are virtual assistants so expensive.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, whoa. Okay.
Uriah: Because some people understand it right away and some people need to wrap their mind around why would you pay a virtual assistant $45 for an hour when I could hire somebody for $15 down the street?
There’re two different reasons for that. And again, you got to look at the cost-benefit and look at your budget and look at what you’re actually getting. And so some of the benefits of having a virtual assistant, and I’m going to say some of the benefits of working with a virtual assistant company not just an independent person are that it’s a team.
We were actually dealing with this this week on several ways. Several of our VAs got sick. It’s the time of year and it happens. And so what we provide is a reasonably seamless handoff to the next person. So we have, like I said, 13 people, so we have people to cover when there’s jury duty, vacation, sickness. So that’s really nice. And then you also get other things that we have as a part of our services: quarterly check-in calls with me. I do offer consulting now, which is really fun. And then we have several online courses to help people grow. I give resources to our clients that I don’t share with everybody. So there’s a lot of things that come in with that.
Dr. Sharp: Nice. That does make sense. I’m not sure if this is part of the deal too, but when you outsource to a VA company, you don’t have to worry about the HR component, so to speak.
Dr. Sharp: That’s a big relief to me personally.
Uriah: It is. I’m sure anybody who’s trying to do this, you create a job posting, you put it on indeed, or you put it on wherever you put it and then you get, I’m not even exaggerating, 50 to 100 applicants, 75% that are not qualified, and then you have to weed through all of those, do interviews, hire the right person, train them, discipline them, potentially fire them. And most likely it should be an employee setup, not an independent contractor. So yeah, there’s a lot that goes into that. If you work with us, you bypass all of that, so you can go further faster.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. That makes sense. And just to be super clear for folks, when you hire a “VA” you’re actually just paying for a service from the VA company at least in your case. So you don’t worry about, is this a contractor or is this a W2. It’s just like you’re paying for a service and you get that service.
Uriah: Right. Some companies have different setup. For me, all of my people are W2 employees for my corporation, and then they are independent contractors to all of the practices that we support. That couldn’t be simpler, really. Like if you hired one of our VAs, we would give you 1099. And that’s all you got to do. There’s no worry about classifying workers and misclassifying and all that kind of stuff. It’s super simple.
Dr. Sharp: That’s nice. What are some of the tasks that VAs really help with? I know we talked about phone and reception and I of course love to dig into any of the testing practices you work with. What are folks really doing for the clinicians?
Uriah: Like I said, one of our core services is phone support and scheduling. So that’s number one. And that involves responding to not only phone calls, but emails, web forms. Some practices use secure text messaging of some sort to get inquiries. So handling all that and obviously doing all the tracking that comes along with that. So referral log tracking, monthly conversion tracking. We give the practice better data. If they are not collecting and tracking any of that, we help them do that.
And then, under the category of general admin, there really are a ton of things that we do for practices and a ton of things that a virtual staff member can do aside from depositing checks in your bank. There’s not that much that we can’t do. I know it’s a little bit tricky with testing practices that might use a lot of paper assessments and those types of things, right?
Dr. Sharp: Can be.
Uriah: Yeah, for sure. But there are apps and various ways to securely scan things. And so there’s some workarounds with that but we obviously set up clients in the EHR. We do some billing and invoicing super bills, updating credit cards, all that little stuff.
The one thing in that realm that we don’t really handle is insurance billing, claim filing, and all those things. We do check benefits though, shat’s really helpful, as long as it can be checked online, but we don’t dip our toe into the deep waters of the insurance.
Dr. Sharp: They are deep waters. Do you work with practices that take insurance and they just know they do that themselves or have an in-house person or something?
Uriah: Absolutely. And we can coordinate and work together with either their billing company or their in-house staff. That works quite well.
And then the third thing is digital marketing. So we do help people manage their social media. I’m a big fan of email marketing. So we help people set that up and run that. A lot of people still enjoy blogging, which I think is a great marketing strategy. So we help people update, and manage their blogs, those types of things.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. Do they write blog posts or are you just managing the post that the clinician writes?
Uriah: For a while, we had a great psychologist who was working part-time for us doing writing. But funny enough, we just didn’t have that many requests for a ghostwriter. And I found personally too, I would rather have my therapist write or myself because getting the correct voice it’s hard to do. It can happen. If you find somebody that’s a really great ghostwriter that understands psychology, obviously understands your niche, and maybe only costs $50 to $75 a blog post, that can be amazing.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I wanted to go back to the phone. That’s a central piece of all of this. I think the big concern for a lot of testing folks is nobody can explain this process like I can. Nobody can sell it like I can. How have y’all handled that with the testing practices that you work with?
Uriah: That’s a great question. I did an informal poll with my staff for the testing practices that we do support and it differs depending on the preference of the owner. For some of them, the VA does the screening and then they’ll do intake calls for therapy, but they hand off the intake calls for testing to the psychologist, whether that’s somebody on staff or it is the owner.
And then some of the practices actually have the VA do the majority of the intake call for the testing. I think with the right person and the right training and call script, it seems to me that it can 100% work. And then if there’s things that need to be handled by the psychologist, then that can happen too.
So it’s really just personal preference, but I think it’s absolutely possible to hand off more of that. Those calls take longer. So it’s taking up your time. And if you can delegate that and not lose the client, i.e. the person needs to have some decent, I call them soft selling skills, to understand the value of the service to be able to share the cost, because obviously with testing, it’s even a higher maybe dollar amount and confidently do that, that can be a huge win.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, absolutely. I ended up doing an episode, it’s hard to know the timing with when this will release, but at least sequentially like 2 or 3 episodes ago, just on writing a phone script for testing services.
Uriah: I actually listened to that one. That was a good one.
Dr. Sharp: Nice. Well, thanks. That means a lot from a professional phone answer hirer.
Dr. Sharp: That piece is pretty important and I think people just have concerns that they can’t outsource it, but I totally believe that we can.
Uriah: How do you handle that?
Dr. Sharp: We have an in-office. Our practice is larger, so we have two admin staff. One is a full-time receptionist. One is our billing manager. They do it. I developed a phone script way back when, and over time they’ve really honed it and they do a fantastic job.
Uriah: That’s great. When I was talking to my VAs this week about how the different testing practices handle things, one of my initial thoughts was, we could definitely help these practice owners hand this off. And I think that they would find that it would be worth doing, right?
Dr. Sharp: I think so. It just takes so much time. So, that’s super helpful. I know jobs that I’ve thought of that could be outsourced, I suppose, in addition to the things that you mentioned are things like just organizing the files. We do send a fair number of questionnaires over email. So being able to email those out. We have online scoring programs that allow anyone really with the login to just hit that score button, and then it produces a report that can be saved to an electronic file. Things like that. I think there are a number of tasks that VAs can help us with. Really anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be done in person.
Uriah: No, it’s true. Quick question for you. It seems to me that some testing practices mostly use paper, questionnaires, assessments, et cetera, and then some use more online options. Are there also some people that use a combination of both?
Dr. Sharp: I would say most to a combination.
Uriah: Okay. That’s good to know.
Dr. Sharp: That is a pretty hot topic in our field. The publishing companies, nobody wants to do paper publishing anymore in general and so they’re really trying to push toward electronic assessment means. So we’re moving in that direction, but it’s slow.
Uriah: Yeah, that makes sense. If I was to be a testing psychologist, I would go all in on paperless, online, everything as much as possible.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I think it’s like old habits die hard.
Uriah: Oh, for sure. That makes sense. Can I tag something on there?
Dr. Sharp: Of course.
Uriah: I’m just going back to your previous question about when are you ready for a VA or even take it out to the realm of VA is just ready for delegating to admin support. One of my other answers to that question is before you really need it. I don’t know if this is a funny joke, but if somebody asked you, when should I get marriage counseling, you would say probably before the affair, before it’s stressful and overwhelming. So I think before you need it.
And also, the important question is, if you could get back, so to speak 10, 20, or 30 hours of your time in a given month, what would you use that for? And two answers are very valid. One is to grow the business and make more money and focus on the tasks that are actually high value. And the second one, maybe to spend more time with family or take care of yourself, is also a very valid answer that could lead to more positive things.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I’m glad you highlighted that. Time is the one unrenewable resource.
Uriah: So true.
Dr. Sharp: I’m with you. I was going to ask a little bit about two aspects of time. One is training. When you on board a VA, I know this varies, but generally, how do you set up a practice owner to train them and just set that time aside in their schedule initially?
Uriah: That is important because a lot of the folks that we work with are already in a place where they’re super busy and overwhelmed and their schedule is packed.
So it’s important that you prioritize and realize that you do have to carve out some time. Unfortunately, your personal productivity is going to take a hit as you’re onboarding an assistant. And that is true, even if they are already specialized and trained like our folks are. I keep on saying folks even though I’m in California. It’s not very common. In any case…
Dr. Sharp: Wait, what do y’all say in California?
Uriah: Well, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I was just in Texas, not too long ago, they definitely say y’all a lot. I don’t know what we say in California. We just talk normal. No, I’m kidding. Lost some people there. Sorry.
I would say at least 1 to 2 hours minimum of one-to-one training with the VA. And so the way we have that set up is we have a number of documents and a bunch of information that we collect from the practice owner in order for the VA to be up to speed with that practice with the providers, with the specialties, et cetera.
And then we actually sort of as a courtesy, we give two free hours of onboarding time. So part of that is used for the VA getting up to speed, like I said, and then the rest of that time is meant for the practice owner to talk about the nuances, the details, and how they want things done. That seems to help a lot because people always use more time in the beginning than you think you’re going to use. So we give that credit to offset that, and that helps a bunch.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense. And then the other piece too, just to highlight is that when you’re talking about purchasing packages of hours, that’s the cool thing about using a VA is that they’re tracking by the second how much time they’re spending on your practice. It’s not like they’re just sitting there surfing the internet and that’s being billed to your practice. That’s one of the advantages over a VA that an in-office person is that you’re not paying for any hours that aren’t used.
Uriah: It’s true. And you don’t have to go through the effort of finding them stuff to do because if you hire somebody let’s say 10 or 20 hours in the office, you’re laughing because you know, and there’s not much work to do, there are not many calls coming in, whatever the situation is, you realize there’s money going out the door and you want to give them something to do. And then that becomes another extra thing for you to do, to give them something to do.
So the nice thing about working with a VA is you only pay for the time they work on your project. And for the practices that we support that are using phone support and scheduling, they just work when there’s work to do. When the calls come in, when the email inquiries come in, they handle them. We do have a really nice time tracking software that does track by the minutes.
So, we don’t round things up or anything like that. And then all the practices get a really pretty detailed report at the beginning of the month for the previous month. So you can get an overview of what’s happening even more so than if you had an in-office person because we actually take notes on everything we do and then give that to the practice owners. So there’s a good amount of transparency.
Dr. Sharp: I like that. I think testing folks would like data. So anything that you can write down or record or track
Uriah: or quantify.
Dr. Sharp: Right.
Uriah: Does that make sense?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. People are always asking the question of what would they do? I don’t know if I have enough stuff for them to do. And at least in my experience, you certainly would know better than that I do that it seems like once they take that leap, all of a sudden, there are many things. They find any number of things that a VA could do. And it just kind of grows. I can’t think of anyone who’s decreased their VA time after they started.
Uriah: Absolutely. Then once you realize the power of it, the question becomes, what else can I delegate? What else can I hand off? For me, it’s a little bit addictive because the more that I can share those responsibilities with my team, the more I can grow my business and grow my vision essentially. Do more.
But I’d say, sometimes when I talk to solo practitioners who are exploring the idea of getting a VA and they’re not sure, our packages start at 10 hours, so that’s a chunk of time. It’s not a lot. It’s 2 to 3 hours a week, let’s say. And so I talk to them about how much time they’re spending on handling intake specifically. Setting up clients doing all the other sorts of tasks. And some people like to do a time audit and actually figure out how much time they’re using. But by and large, they’re definitely spending more than two hours a week. And so that answers the question. Okay. Yes, the work is there.
And then the second question for me is, is that person ready and willing to let go of a bit of control to have somebody else do the things? Not always the case. So it’s like, is there enough work? Probably. Are you ready to let go of control? Hopefully.
Dr. Sharp: A good way to put it.
Dr. Sharp: Trust is at the middle of all of this, right?
Dr. Sharp: I think that’s the hold-up for most people is not necessarily the money. It’s trust.
Uriah: It’s true. And it’s a little bit harder to trust a virtual staff member only because you can’t see them, you can’t walk into the office, look over their shoulder, et cetera.
I think one of the reasons why therapists are really attracted to companies like the Productive Therapists and I’ll give a resource to where people can find a bunch of other VA companies specializing in mental health, I think one of the things that attracts people to these kinds of businesses are generally they’re started by therapists. Like, I understand private practice, I understand group practice. I have enough experience to where I’ve been there. And so there’s some credibility built into that. I’m going to do what’s best for the clients and for the practice owner because there are a lot of other VA companies out there, actually, there are a ton. Just Google virtual assistant company and you’ll see so many results. But who do you trust, right?
Dr. Sharp: Yes. So true. Now do y’all do, I know some VA companies do like personality profiles on their employees and things like that to try to match them. Do y’all do anything like that?
Uriah: We don’t, but I actually really want to, whether it’s engram or disk or some other sort of assessment. Up until this point, it’s basically been me doing the matching. I’m actually pretty proud of my record if you will, just because I talk to the practice owner, I get a feel for their personality and we do ask questions like, what type of person do you work best with, what’s your personality, what’s your communication style? We do some of those things. And then I just know my team members really well, so I know oh, okay, that person’s going to vibe really well with this person, et cetera.
Part of the process is we set up an introduction call so they can talk for 15 or 20 minutes, just make sure. And probably, 1.5% of the time the practice owner or the VA comes back and says, that doesn’t feel like quite the right match. We don’t click, et cetera. And then the majority of the time it is. So that’s a great question.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, again, for us doing assessments, that kind of thing is super interesting to me
Uriah: For sure.
Dr. Sharp: Might work out. Gosh, our time is flying, which is great. This has been a great talk. I am curious. You’re a practice owner. You’re a therapist not doing testing granted, but you are a practice owner. What are some of your either favorite or most obscure tasks that you are delegating these days to an assistant?
Uriah: Oh, I like that question. Let’s see. Most obscure or unrelated. Well, there is sort of a, I won’t even say debate, but a question of whether should my assistant take care of personal tasks or only professional tasks? I don’t know where you would fall on that, but some people would say, if you don’t have your assistant handling various aspects of your life, even personal things, then you’re really missing out.
Funny enough, as I say that my assistant generally only does business and work sort of things, but I was just this morning thinking about how I really want to delegate some research around the best place to go for LASIK eye surgery. I think that would have to be my answer to your question. I’m about to delegate that to my assistant. Like, I really don’t want to go read all the articles and find the best place to go. I want my assistant to do it for me.
Outside of personal matters, what would be obscure? Well, I can’t think of anything interesting. So I’m going to go with the LASIK eye surgery. Let’s go with that.
Dr. Sharp: That’s perfect. I love that because I think about that stuff too. And the division between personal and professional. Right now I don’t have a “personal assistant” but I think about that a lot. Is there a way to work that in and how would that work? I think that’s a great answer. So even just opening people’s minds to the possibility that this person could also do personal stuff for you is pretty huge.
Uriah: Absolutely. So what would be your answer to that question?
Dr. Sharp: Oh, wow. That’s a great question. Goodness, I’m not good at thinking on the spot. So for me, this let’s just say it’s aspirational. I would love to be able to delegate flight times and travel arrangements. I get super in the weeds about what flight I’m going to choose and what time and just that whole process.
I’ve gotten to the point where it’s happening enough each year that I would really love to offload that. So to kind of type out guidelines for what I want in my travel arrangements for someone else to do that. That sounds super fancy. I’m self-conscious even saying that. That’s what CEOs do or something, but I just think of like the places where I spend tons of time being very detail-oriented and somebody else could do it. It’s not a special skill.
Uriah: Yeah. That goes to the question of what should I delegate? And usually, the best answer to that is either the things that you’re not good at or the things you don’t enjoy. It sounds like you don’t really enjoy travel planning and all the things that come along with that. So why not? Can I share a couple of resources?
Dr. Sharp: Of course.
Uriah: So one that just popped into my mind, I have actually 10 copies on my shelf right here, but there’s a new book out from Michael Hyatt. If anybody hasn’t heard of Michael Hyatt, he’s a great person to follow. It’s called. Your world-class assistant. It’s a book for virtual assistance. He comes more from the traditional publishing world, but he is also a big fan of virtual assistance. So that book for Michael Hyatt is a great resource.
Also, I’ve been working for the last 2+ years on my master resource list. It’s essentially a list of all the virtual assistant companies that I could find that work with mental health folks. And also on there, I put business consultants that work with therapists, billing companies, and digital marketing companies. So it’s pretty broad. And so if you go to productivetherapist/master, it’s my master list, you’ll see that. I’m not even joking, there are about 18 options for virtual assistant companies. I like to be collaborative and share resources, so I don’t mind publishing that. And then also saying that we’re one of the best choices.
Dr. Sharp: I like it. Both hand. Super cool. I’ll link to all those things in the show notes. As well as just, of course, the Productive Therapist website.
Uriah: That sounds great.
Dr. Sharp: Thank you so much for coming on. This was action-packed.
Uriah: A lot of good stuff.
Dr. Sharp: All right. Well, I hope to meet you actually in person one day.
Dr. Sharp: All right. Take care.
All right y’all, thanks again for listening to my interview with Uriah Guilford. Hopefully, you can take away a few things to act on right away, and if you’re not going to act on anything right away, at least you’re considering a virtual assistant.
I didn’t really speak about this much in my interview there, but we’ve used assistance here in our practice in a number of ways over the years, and it’s been super helpful. I have to give a shout-out to my VA for The Testing Psychologist who helps make a lot of things happen behind the scenes. I couldn’t do it without her. So lots of benefits to a VA. And there are a lot of resources in the show notes that we talked about from the interview. So check those out too.
If you are interested in group coaching, you can check out the Beginner Practice Mastermind and Advanced Practice Mastermind on thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting. These are group coaching experiences where you get the benefit of 5 other psychologists at your stage of practice along with myself being the group leader and facilitator. And these are really cool opportunities to take your practice wherever you would like it to go, whether you’re just launching or you’d like to take it to the next level. So check those out if you are interested and apply to join those groups. They’re almost full.
Okay, y’all. Next up winter business series #3, really digging into finances, numbers, bookkeeping, and how to make sure your practice is profitable. So look for that next week. Take care.