We were contacted the other day by a sole practitioner who felt overwhelmed by admin. They found themselves missing calls, struggling with paperwork and behind with their accounts. They were, of course, too busy seeing clients – they had become so successful, that they needed some help.

However, they couldn’t afford to take on an employee, even part-time. So, what could they do? We suggested a virtual assistant.

Be sure to also read our story on Virtual Counseling Services.

Unlike hiring an in-house member of staff, a virtual assistant is a freelancer working from home, or someone working in an agency office. This means that you don’t have to consider additional costs such as holiday pay or employee-related taxes. If you are working from home or have limited space in your office, a virtual assistant also solves the problem of finding an additional workspace or providing computers, printers or any other equipment an assistant might need.

But how on earth can you work with someone who isn’t there? Won’t it be far more trouble than it’s worth?

Well, thanks to technology, there are many convenient ways you may pass work or notes on to your virtual assistant. Methods include phone, post, email, texting and Skype, so it’s just a case of finding what works best for you and your schedule.

And, if you use cloud-based software (such as Google Docs, Skype and practice management software) to run your practice, it can be accessed from any computer, meaning that your virtual assistant can manage your diary, your accounts and so on, no matter where they are based. We’ve written a basic guide to cloud-based software here.

What tasks could a virtual assistant help me with?

A virtual assistant can take on many of your daily admin tasks, such as responding to email queries, managing your diary and typing letters or email templates. They can also manage your book keeping, as well as interactions with referrers, insurance companies and other practices.

By delegating such tasks to an assistant, you free up more time to spend with clients, work on papers or articles you might be writing or manage your business’ promotion (and claim back your evenings and weekends!). If you find that you don’t enjoy or get the most from tasks such as maintaining your business’ social media, blog or website, you could also consider passing those tasks on to your virtual assistant. The key is to understand what it is that you need, and then find someone whose skills and experience match those needs.

If you would rather take care of admin yourself, but would like someone to take calls on your behalf, you could choose a telephone answering service such as Moneypenny.

How can I find the right virtual assistant?

There are numerous websites relating to virtual assistants, both freelancers and agencies. Once you have established what it is you need from a virtual assistant, you can begin searching through websites and shortlist some likely candidates. Beyond that, interview and screen as you would any other prospective employee. If your chosen candidates are not local to you, you might like to consider utilising phone interviews or even Skype. Conducting interviews also gives you the opportunity to ask questions to ensure that their experience and skills match your requirements. As therapists are often working with confidential and private information, it is also important to ensure that any virtual assistant you hire fully understands the need for confidentiality. Some agencies offer the option of signing a confidentiality agreement.  If you are hiring a freelancer, you can also request references from previous employers to give you additional peace of mind.

Have you hired a virtual assistant for your practice? Were you happy with the results? Comment below and tell us about your experience!