Is it worth hiring a Virtual Assistant? How will a Virtual Assistant benefit your practice? Do you think you can do it all yourself?
In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks to James Marland about hiring and training a virtual assistant. Part 1 covers the return on investment when hiring a VA for your business.
Success comes with a new set of challenges. Seeing more clients means extra work, and you can no longer wear “all the hats” in your practice. A backlog of emails and voicemails needs your attention, and so does insurance claims and administrative work.
Move Forward Virtual Assistants can help you move your business forward by providing virtual assistant services specifically tailored for mental health practices. Their virtual assistants work with therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. They have virtual assistants trained in Simple Practice, Therapy Notes, and TheraNest. They take the pain out of finding a trained mental health virtual assistant.
Meet James Marland
James Marland is passionate about helping private practice owners achieve more, avoid burnout, and focus on what they do best. He possesses 19-years of experience working in mental health and social services with a Masters in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College and a Masters in Business Administration from Shippensburg University.
In 2019 he took a position with Move Forward Virtual Assistants and began connecting private practice owners with their own mental health virtual assistant. He is enthusiastic about hosting board game nights, upgrading my computer set-up, and being there for his wife and son.
In This Podcast
- Why therapists need a Virtual Assistant
- The difference having a Virtual Assistant can make on your time and your income
- How Virtual Assistants essentially end up paying for themselves
- Changing your way of thinking
- Hiring the right person
- The importance and value of delegation
Why therapists need a Virtual Assistant
80% of Move Forward’s clients have been trying to get to everything themselves or trying to get to it all at the end of the day. They have come to realize that this impacts their enjoyment of their practice and takes away from time that could be much better spent elsewhere.
The difference having a Virtual Assistant can make on your time and your income
If you spend your hour or two doing admin tasks then that’s an hour or two you’re not seeing a client.
- It’s important to respond to potential clients timeously. If you’re in sessions, you can’t do this and the client will go elsewhere.
- Alison’s practice’s intake conversions dropped from 80% to 30% in the month that she was without an assistant.
- Virtual Assistants help to provide value to business owners by keeping them doing what makes their business grow.
How Virtual Assistants essentially end up paying for themselves
Yes, you’re paying for the Virtual Assistant but they are actually paying for themselves. They bring in additional income that you would not normally get if you were trying to do everything yourself.
Changing your way of thinking
You need to be the CEO, you need to be the visionary. You need to have that time to think in that way. And when you’re bogged down with all these little things, you don’t have the bandwidth for the bigger things.
Hiring the right person
- A Virtual Assistant impacts your reputation.
- They are the first contact for people.
- Hire the person who has the same values as you.
- Hire someone who is good at what they do.
- For a practice, it’s important that the person knows mental health, knows the scheduling system, and knows the insurances.
- Hiring the wrong person could result in huge customer service problems.
The importance and value of delegation
If you don’t start to delegate more and more, your business will suffer. You need to start seeing yourself as a CEO. A Virtual Assistant can make you money and give you time to see more clients or grow your business. It impacts the bottom line. Being able to delegate brings peace of mind.
- Frank Arcoleo on How To Sell Your Business | GP 12
- Grow Your Practice to a Group Practice with Start and Scale a Group Practice Mastermind!
- Killin’It Camp
- Digital Timesavers
- Two Steps Forward blog
- Email Alison: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Free resources to help you start, grow and scale
- Work with us
- Consult With Alison
Meet Alison Pidgeon
Alison is a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a 15 clinician group practice. She’s also a mom to three boys, wife, coffee drinker and loves to travel. She started her practice in 2015 and, four years later, has two locations. With a specialization in women’s issues, the practices have made a positive impact on the community by offering different types of specialties not being offered anywhere else in the area.
Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016 and has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.
Thanks For Listening!
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Today’s sponsor is Move Forward Virtual Assistants. We are a virtual assistant company that specializes in helping therapy practice owners. We have US-based, highly trained VAs who are ready to help you with your small to medium size group practice. They are available during regular business hours to live answered calls and take all of those nagging administrative tasks off your plate. If you’re looking for training because you want to hire your own VA, we have an option for you as well. We’ve designed an eCourse all about how to train your VA. And if you’re interested in either of those options, be sure to check out our website, www.moveforwardvirtualassistants.com.
Welcome to the Grow a Group Practice podcast. I’m your host, Alison Pidgeon. I’m a business consultant for Practice of the Practice. I own a group practice, we have 15 clinicians, and I also own a virtual assistant company called Move Forward Virtual Assistants and today I asked James Marland, who is our COO of the virtual assistant company, to come on and do a three part series, all about virtual assistants. I get tons of questions from consulting clients about virtual assistants and wanted to do this series so we could hit all the parts of having a virtual assistant in your practice. And today we are talking about the return on investment with having an assistant, and I think this is such an important topic because every time that we talk to consulting clients about forming a group practice, one of the first things we recommend is hiring a virtual assistant. And usually the answer we get is, Oh, no, I can do all that myself. I’m not big enough to need a virtual assistant right now. And they wait. And a lot of times, what we see is they wait until they’re absolutely drowning in work. And then they’re super stressed out and barely have time to train the assistant because they have so much going on running the practice. So, I absolutely think you should hire an assistant before you think you’re ready. And I believe that that has been a big reason why I’ve been able to scale my practice so quickly, because I always had an assistant who was answering the phones and just staying on top of all the things so that I didn’t have to and that I could focus on the other parts of the business that only I could do.
So today we’re going to be talking with James all about the return on investment with hiring a virtual assistant. The second episode, we’re going to talk about getting yourself ready to have a virtual assistant come into your practice. And then the third episode we’re going to be talking about onboarding and training your virtual assistant. So, I’m very excited to introduce to you my friend and my COO, James Marland.
Welcome to the podcast. I am here with James Marland. He is the COO, or he likes to call himself the chief helper, of Move Forward Virtual Assistants. I am the owner of the company and James has been working for me for almost a year now, running the virtual assistant company and we are doing a three-part series about hiring your own VA. So, in this episode today, we’re going to be talking about the return on investment of hiring a VA in your practice. The second episode, we’re going to talk all about getting yourself ready to hire a VA. And the third episode, we’re going to be talking about onboarding and training a VA. So, I’m really happy to have my good friend, James, here with me today. Welcome, James.[JAMES]:
Hi, Alison. Glad to be here. [ALISON]:
Yeah. So, do you want to give us a little introduction of yourself and a little bit about how you came to work for the VA company? Great. [JAMES]:
Sure. Yeah. Like some people, my career path has taken some winds and twists and turns. But I’m happy to be working for the virtual assistant company right now. When I started my… I don’t know how far you want me to go back. When I started my college career, I wanted to be in sales, which is kind of weird since now, we’ve discovered, Alison, I’m more of an introvert. And probably, sales was not the right thing for me. But I think that that came from the desire to want to be around people and help people and get them what they need. And so, I originally started out taking some business classes and moved on to work… trying to work with teenagers in a youth setting, youth group setting. And that’s where I started working for a mental health company. Can I name them? Is that alright? I don’t know the rules about podcasts… [ALISON]:
Yeah, I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t. [JAMES]:
Okay, so I worked 16 years for Philhaven, a great, great company in southern Pennsylvania. I did everything there from direct care, which is where I started, everybody starts somewhere, then worked at a day hospital, which is where I met Alison. [ALISON]:
Yeah, we shared an office for a while too. That was, I think, in 2006. [JAMES]:
It was so long ago; I don’t even remember the year. It was a great time though; we had a good crew. I thought we were doing good work. I learned a lot about interviewing and insurance companies, because one of my roles… my role was to do insurance pre-certifications. And that’s where I learned… Sometimes I feel like we’re playing basketball and they want to play soccer, with their rules, and I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t want to just approve everything. So, a couple hard lessons there. And so after that, I got a Master’s in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College and then went back to the mental health facility and worked in doing day hospital groups and doing crisis calls and I eventually ended up managing an assisted psychiatric evaluation service. We call it triage, where I would do the interviews for the psychiatrist. And then we would interview the client together and the psychiatrist would do the treatment plan and the medication planning, and I got to do a lot of the paperwork. [ALISON]:
Oh, boy. [JAMES]:
Yeah, that’s the career. That position was the last one there and it ended when they eliminated the position, and I was trying to help some of my friends… I met some other people who were looking for jobs and I posted on my Facebook page that, you know, does anybody have a job for this? And that’s when you noticed that I was, too, looking for a job. [ALISON]:
Yes, and I am so glad that our paths crossed again, because I hadn’t seen you for a long time because I had left Philhaven like four years before. And so, we were just connected over Facebook, and I was trying to run this little, fledgling VA company by myself, and my assistant at the time was helping me and then she got a different job. And so she left and then I was like, eight months pregnant and desperate to find somebody to help me, because I knew I was going to be on maternity leave and couldn’t keep running the VA company as well. So yeah, so then you took a chance on running the VA company that was quite the project when you inherited it. [JAMES]:
Right. I guess we could talk about that a little bit. When we started it had this great idea. In essence, the idea of a virtual assistant’s a pretty simple idea. You have time, and you work from your home, and you help somebody who needs… well, for the for the virtual assistant company, you help somebody who needs help with phones and scheduling and maybe some social media work. And it very, you know, the core of it is very simple, but the details, when you talk about hiring people, and interviewing, and then contracts, the details start to pile up. [ALISON]:
Yeah. And I think where it got complicated for me was the idea of scaling it. When it was small, when it was like one or two people, that was like, Yeah, this is great. Let’s keep doing this. And then, yeah, the scaling part was where it started to get complicated. And then, for me, it was the perfect storm of, I was pregnant, and then I was renovating a building, and I was doing… and it just, yeah, it just became too much for me to handle. So, I’m really glad that James stepped in to take it over. And yeah, you’ve done a really nice job with it. [JAMES]:
Thanks. It’s just evidence of the power of delegation. Just how much more you could do… when we meet weekly or every other, but mostly weekly; we meet weekly and talk about issues and email back and forth, but then you hand it off to me and I run with it and it’s just an example of that power. [ALISON]:
Yes. And that is so, so important; to have somebody who you trust to… you know they’re taking the company in the right direction. Yeah, so today we’re gonna talk about what’s the return on investment with hiring a virtual assistant? I am such a humongous proponent of having a virtual assistant in a private practice. Not just because I own the VA company, but because I’ve had an assistant almost ever since the beginning, when I started the group practice, and I’ve seen what a big difference it’s made. And I know, we get a lot of questions about, Well, you know, I don’t really know if I want to spend that money on the virtual assistant, I’m doing it myself, I could probably just keep doing it myself. But it gets to the point where you’re really shooting yourself in the foot when you’re trying to maintain, like, still wearing all the hats in your business. Have you seen that happen? [JAMES]:
Yes, basically everyone who calls… About 80% of the people say, I’ve been trying to do this alone or, I’ve been trying to do it on a shoestring or, I’ve been trying to do it, you know, at 5pm when I’m done with my clients or, trying to get my calls in between appointments, and that is a treadmill that a lot of… most of the clients that call just want to get off that type of lifestyle, because it impacts their enjoyment of why they got into the business. And so, I get… Every day or every week now… it used to be every day before the crisis here. But every day, I get to talk to people who just want to get off that treadmill, and I get to provide relief for them. People did not get into mental health to spend an extra hour or two a day on the phone, talking with insurance companies or chasing down people and returning their calls. They got in to help in their way, seeing their clients. And so, I see that quite a lot. [ALISON]:
Yeah. And I think to… just, breaking it down for people… I know we did a presentation at Killin’It Camp last October, where we talked about, in one part of the presentation, what a difference it can make when you have a VA in your business in terms of income. And even if you have somebody who can fill those spots where, you know, maybe a client called and followed your cancellation policy and gave you 24 or 48 hours’ notice, but if you are in session all day, and you can’t be on top of calling a client and putting them in that spot, then you know you’re losing money, as well as, we all know, that clients – new clients – call around to make an appointment and whoever answers the phone first, that’s who they schedule with. So, if you’re… if it’s taking you 24 hours to call them back, they’ve probably already moved on and are already going somewhere else. And just keeping the schedules full for the therapists, I mean, is huge.
I had an experience last year – that same assistant I was talking about who left – she gave me two weeks’ notice, but I didn’t have time to get somebody else in there before she left, so there was a gap of about three or four weeks when I just had some random people substituting, who didn’t have a ton of time to really help out, but was just trying to catch things as they were able to. And we went back and looked at the stats because we keep track of all of that on a call log, and normally we convert probably about 75 to 80 percent of the new client inquiries we get. And that month when we really had hit or miss coverage, the conversion rate was 30%. Can you imagine one month not scheduling, like, 50% of the leads you could have scheduled?[JAMES]:
You talked to me about that, and how… you said you’re never gonna go back to that again. [ALISON]:
I know. It was insanity. I was just like… it was one of those things where it’s, like, the blood drains out of your face, and you’re like, Oh, my gosh, all of that money just went out the door. [JAMES]:
Yeah, and you take insurance, right. So, it’s 70% – 80% conversion rate for insurance, so… [ALISON]:
Yeah, so then, I think that’s just such a clear example of how much having the VA not… I mean, obviously you’re paying for the VA, but they are paying for themselves. And then, on top of that, they’re also bringing you income that you normally wouldn’t be able to get just doing it yourself. [JAMES]:
Right, absolutely. And if time is the limited quantity or quality, the practice owner and the therapists, their time is spent doing what they went to school for. Their time is spent bringing in the money and having somebody to… It’s like, do surgeons schedule their own appointments? No, they don’t. They have people to do that so that they can keep doing surgery, and they can keep doing the work that they were meant to do. So, that’s what… We like to help provide value to business owners by keeping them doing what helps their business grow. [ALISON]:
Yeah. Why do you think it is that practice owners have such a hard time giving up answering the phones or scheduling or those other administrative tasks? [JAMES]:
Sure. So, these are some of the reasons that have been given to me; you probably could talk about them for a while too. But I think one of the top reasons is, it’s just one or two phone calls a day, or it’s seven or 10 emails, and I can do all these emails. I can do this, and it costs you know, $25 to $35, or even more sometimes for a virtual assistant. So, I want to save those $30 and work that hour myself. But there’s, there’s a flaw in that, because there’s a certain point where, if you had a person to see in that hour, you would see them, and then – I’m not exactly sure what reimbursement rates are, or even if they don’t pay insurance, you can charge $150 to $200 – but I guess, if you spend your hour or two doing admin tasks, then that’s an hour or two, you’re not able to see the client. So, that’s a big reason. [ALISON]:
Sure. So, it’s like, I think a lot of times we rationalize things to ourselves. I remember thinking about all the things that I was doing in my practice, and I was like, Oh, yeah, one of the things I do is on the way to work literally is the post office and I just stop and will run in there and buy a whole bunch of stamps and it takes five minutes. [JAMES]:
Right. It’s such a little thing. [ALISON]:
Right. It’s such a little thing and you think it’s insignificant, but then, as a business owner, there’s like 30 of those five-minute tasks. And then it’s all swirling around in your brain like, Oh, right, I forgot to buy the postage stamps. And then it’s just the weight of all of those little things on you. And just all the space it’s taking up in your brain. [JAMES]:
Right? I saw somewhere people can only remember so many things, I think it was like seven to 10 items. And then after that, it starts getting… The tasks you have to do? You have to start writing things down and taking lists and putting reminders on the calendar and emailing, reminding yourself. But a virtual assistant can take those tasks completely off your mind and… I have a task list. And I write things down for myself, for my task list. But then I have to do them. So, I still have to have the task list up in front and remind me, but a virtual assistant can take those items and not even just take them off your mind, but then go do them. So, there are lots of little things like that. [JAMES]:
Now, you came up with a system – it’s nothing fancy, but it’s basically listing the things that you do during the week and putting some time next to it, and I have a tool for that. I think I’ve given it away on the website, free, but just a tool for writing down and capturing the things that you would do during the week. And then next to it, I have a spot where you can identify: can a virtual assistant do this or not? So I think there’s like 30 things on the list and you can make your own and then just see, are there things that you do that are taking away from your… that take away from the other things that either help you grow your business or help earn yourself some money. That’s just a little time tracking tool. Is that how you came up with it? Or did you just… how did you come up with what your virtual assistant does? [ALISON]:
Yeah. So yeah, that’s exactly what I did to get started. And I know we had everybody at the presentation at Killin’It Camp do that. We had them literally take out a piece of paper during the presentation and write down all the things that they do in their practice. And that’s what I did when I started out. So, my first assistant that I had, who was really awesome, she… I gave her the initial like, Oh, gosh, please answer the phones and the emails because it’s just, you know, the most pressing thing… [JAMES]:
The major pain, yeah. [ALISON]:
Right, the major pain point that I need to pass off to somebody else. And then as I saw that she was able to handle that and she was really good, then I made this giant list of everything I did, including stopping at the post office to buy the postage stamps. And then I was really ruthless with like, Okay, I need to get this and this and this off my plate because, again, even though it only takes five minutes, and then you have 30 things that take five minutes, it’s pretty unmanageable. So, yeah, that’s what I did. And when we had people do that at Killin’It Camp, I think their minds were sort of blown. They were like, oh my gosh, I’m doing a million little things, yeah. [JAMES]:
Well, it’s just one more thing, though, isn’t it? You don’t think about it in the moment, but when you add it all up together? Yes. It’s like 30 little things. [ALISON]:
No wonder I feel so stressed out. And then it’s like, you only have so much bandwidth, and then we talk a lot about needing to – especially in a group practice – you need to be the CEO, you need to be the visionary, you need to have that time to think in that way. And when you’re bogged down with all these little Oh, I got to remember to buy, you know, the paper towels and the snacks for the office, and you just don’t have the bandwidth to think about those other things. [JAMES]:
That just makes me think how difficult it is to make that mindset switch from individual contributor to CEO or business owner. [ALISON]:
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, it is definitely a different way of thinking. And I think so many group practice owners, you probably started out with a solo practice, seeing clients, and then you just keep seeing clients even though you’re adding other therapists and building a group practice. But at some point, your business is going to suffer if you don’t delegate more and more and start to see yourself as the CEO. [JAMES]:
Do you remember a time when you actually had that thought in your head? Like, when you made the switch? [ALISON]:
Yeah, I actually had a business coach at the time and I was talking to her about how it was really hard for me to stop the thought of not seeing clients anymore, because I could see the finances and I could see how such a big chunk of what I was paying myself was coming from seeing clients. And I was like, how am I ever gonna, you know, start making a salary just from the practice and not necessarily from seeing clients. And she was just like, you just have to do it, you know, you just have to stop taking new clients and just make it work. And she was right. Once I had time start to get freed up because I was not taking any new clients anymore, I was able to spend time hiring new people and thinking about expansion and buying buildings and all that stuff. [JAMES]:
Right. What you said about bandwidth, like, when did you have time to do that when you were seeing 25 people? [ALISON]:
Oh, no, never. [JAMES]:
Never. Yeah. So, I have two mini stories. One was when I was working at the mental health hospital and I became a department leader. And I got that job because I was good at interviewing, I was good at the role, but then all of a sudden, the role was not interviewing people and doing the work. It was managing schedules and hiring and doing the budget. I had to schedule myself out of those things to do the task of management. And then the other mini story is – and this goes back to, I guess, [unclear] and taking time for yourself to think about things. There was a day a couple months ago, I thought… I hadn’t taken any time to think about where the business was going and how to evaluate things and so, I took half a day – this is when you could go outside and get coffee – and just thought about values and customer service and retention and then just put a lot of work in into some framework of the values of the company. And it’s turned into a driver for some change, but I never would have had that without thinking of myself not just as an individual contributor, but as somebody who’s leading people and leading a business and taking care of the stakeholders, you know, the employees and the company and our clients. So, yeah, the big mindset shift. [ALISON]:
Well, anything else, before we wrap up, that you wanted to add? [JAMES]:
Well, I think when you think about hiring a virtual assistant, and just the investment that you’re making and your return on an investment, you want to get it right, because hiring a virtual assistant impacts your reputation. They are the first line, they’re the first contact that people… and if you want to be a friendly, welcoming, accepting group, you got to hire the person who has those same values. And then, oh, man, you need to hire somebody who’s good at what they do, because if you hire the wrong person, who doesn’t know mental health, who doesn’t know the scheduling systems, they don’t know your insurances, you’re gonna end up with customer service problems that you wouldn’t believe. People get scheduled in the wrong spot, or they don’t have the right insurance, and then you have to tell them… you either have to eat the cost or bill them. Double bookings, like, you need to… A virtual assistant, you want to get it right because there’s a myriad of customer service issues that you don’t want to deal with. And then, as we talked about a lot in this episode, the virtual assistant can make you money; they can give you time to either see more clients or grow your business. So, it impacts the bottom line. And then, the peace of mind that comes from being able to delegate these things and then, know that they get done and just verify, Hey, did you do this? Yes. Okay. And then move on, is huge. And I think a lot of business owners are trying to do it themselves. They’re trying to shoestring it or they don’t add up cost and then it eats away at their peace of mind.
So, I want to people to hire the right virtual assistant. I want people, I want practice owners to… I keep telling people I’m a big fan of therapists. Most my friends are therapists. I grew up in the business world around therapists and the great work that they do. I want them to be successful. Because I feel like I’m a part… when they’re successful, I feel like I’m a part of helping their clients, their communities and the world. So, hiring a virtual assistant, getting it right, is incredibly important. If there’s anything I can do to help, you can reach out to me or visit the webpage. I’m always posting free tools or resources so that people can make the best decisions.[ALISON]:
Yeah, thank you. And I liked what you said about peace of mind because I remember the first time I had a really excellent assistant, and I was like, She’s on top of it, I know she’s doing a great job. I don’t need to be checking in on her all the time. I know she’s on it. And that was such an amazing feeling that I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. And I think that’s just so huge as a business owner, because there’s so many things to… things are always changing, or you’re the one who has to solve all the problems, right? And so, when you can give it to somebody else who you know is doing an excellent job, it’s just so wonderful. Yeah. So, James, can you tell us about the website and then also that… you mentioned about the free resources on there, can you tell us where to find those? [JAMES]:
Sure. So, the website is moveforwardvirtualassistants.com. And most of the resources are under the Resource tab at the top. We have a page called Resources. We also have digital timesavers, where there’s free and paid resources there. And then most of the free resources are in the Two Steps Forward blog. Just today, our blog writer, Colleen, wrote a blog about helping people through change and anxiety through COVID-19. I put some resources there for seven quick and long-term streams of income for therapists – that was from Joe. I put his links there. And yeah, so the Two Steps Forward blog on Move Forward Virtual Assistants has the free resources. You can also sign up for the newsletter. I try to recap all the resources in the newsletter. And of course, we’re on Facebook – just type in move forward virtual assistants and you should be taken to our page. [ALISON]:
Nice. Yeah, you’ve developed a lot of nice resources for people. Just as we’ve learned how to… the tips and tricks of what works in VA work, we’ve made, free tools for people. [JAMES]:
Yeah, often somebody says, Well, how do I do this? And so, I make a form or a worksheet or a video, and then I’m like, well, that would be a good blog for somebody. And so, I just put it out there. So, I’d love for comments and for people to just use it, because I feel happy when people are getting more out of their day because of something I did or helped them with. [ALISON]:
Nice. All right, well, today I really appreciate that you joined us, James, and we are going to be talking about getting yourself ready to hire a VA in the next episode. And in the third episode, we’re gonna be talking about onboarding and training a VA. So definitely stay tuned for that and I’ll see you later.
I hope that helps to change your mind set a little bit about hiring an assistant. I know it can be hard thinking about taking on another bill or paying somebody’s salary in your practice but, it absolutely, hands down, has always been a game-changer and has helped me up-level my business. So, I hope that was helpful. Stay tuned for part two and part three of our series all about virtual assistants.
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