I’ve previously spoken about some of the most important lessons that I learned starting a private practice. And one of those things I mentioned was that we never truly stop learning. One lesson I learned as my practice became more successful was that I couldn’t do everything on my own. A time came when I couldn’t answer all of the phone calls or return all of the messages and voicemails. It was time to hire a virtual assistant, or VA. Finding and hiring a virtual assistant can be quite the challenge. It has been a couple years since I added a VA into my group practice, and I am excited to report that I could not be happier with my decision. But there have been a few life lessons along the way, which I am more than happy to share with my fellow private practice colleagues:
I Should Have Gotten One Way Sooner
It can be hard to let go of control sometimes. Of all people, we as counselors should know this. Once I did let go of that control though, and found a great person to fulfill my VA tasks, things began running so much more smoothly in my practice. You don’t want to wait until you are overwhelmed before looking to delegate tasks. If you can tell that your inaction to delegate is now visibly hurting your practice, hiring a VA should become priority #1.
You Need to Have Plans & Systems in Place Before Hiring Someone
Most persons that you hire are not going to be mind readers. Which means before you hire someone to do various administrative tasks for you, it is going to be a good idea for you to begin making a list of tasks for them to do. What kind of things do you need help with? What kind of things are tasks that you struggle with or do not enjoy? Once you have your list of tasks, you will want to begin documenting the step by step process of doing those tasks the way you prefer them to be done. If you are diligent enough, upon hiring your VA you will be able to give them a mini Standard Operating Procedures manual on how to do their job for you. This will keep their work going smoothly for you.
You Need to Give Them Crystal Clear Instructions
Once you have that SOP manual for them, you want to continue building on their growth by providing them clear instructions and feedback. Depending on your practice’s foot traffic, you might check in with them once or twice per week on the micro- and macro- things going on in your practice. Just like I tell my married couples: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Delegate Appropriate Tasks
When considering which tasks to delegate in addition to someone answering your phones, start with tasks that are routine or have a repeating process to them. Tasks that you struggle with or don’t particularly enjoy are also good candidates to be delegated.
They Have to Be a Salesperson as Much as a Receptionist
If this person is answering your phones, they are going to be the first person potential clients encounter when inquiring about your practice. That person needs to be a person who is caring and nurturing, but also someone who can help guide potential clients along while they find the right therapist for them. While we are selling a service that we KNOW that our clients NEED, we also aren’t exactly selling iPhones here. No one is waiting outside my office in the rain or cold in line waiting for my practice to open up. It’s a service that is needed, with a client base that isn’t always that motivated.
A VA isn’t an Expense, They’re an Asset
I know people who have experience in accounting will disagree. but hear me out. I truly look at our VA position, as well as the therapists I work with in my group practice, as assets and not expenses. Assets are things that you invest in, that appreciate in value, and give you a return on your investment. If my VA schedules one client, who I otherwise would have missed their call while I was in session, that one client could likely pay the cost of a VA by itself. And as a boss, I really think that treating people like assets and not expenses is a great way of bringing out the best in them and showing that you appreciate them.
Priscilla Hurd is a LPC and the owner of Magnolia Family Counseling, a Metairie counseling practice in Lousiana. She specializes in helping couples get their relationship back on track. When she is not working with couples, she enjoys spending time with family and rooting for the New Orleans Saints.