Live Consulting with Alisha Sweyd: When to Hire a Virtual Assistant? | PoP 533

What is the most common mistake people make when hiring a virtual assistant? Which systems can you create with your assistant to save the important emails and weed out the rest? Can you hire part-time assistants?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok does a live consulting call with Alisha Sweyd about when to hire a virtual assistant.

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Meet Alisha Sweyd

Alisha Sweyd is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. She specializes in working with first responders and especially enjoys working with couples in the first responder life. When not building her business, Alisha enjoys reading and spending time with her husband, children, and their dogs along the Monterey Coast.

Visit her website, connect on Facebook, and Instagram.

In This Podcast


  • Check the books
  • What’s on your plate

Check the books

Unless you are starting out fresh with your practice, a virtual assistant will almost always pay for themselves. For many clinicians, working an extra session a week is enough to pay for their virtual assistant.

In some states, however, you need to be on the right page with contracts and so forth, and therefore, you may need to hire an attorney for a fee. Or you can hire a virtual assistant through an online VA company.

You can also outsource someone without having the long-term commitment of saying ‘I’ve gotta find 10 hours a week for this person’. You don’t want to be stuck where your budget is going for something you really don’t need. (Joe)

You can then, instead of having a main assistant who does everything, outsource specific tasks to specific people.

What’s on your plate?

Another big bonus of having an administrative or virtual assistant is having a lot more time and energy saved from not having to do the admin work. You can therefore focus on counseling and building your practice while your assistant takes on the back-end tasks.

However, it is important that when you have hired your assistant, do not simply stop with those admin duties. Create a co-working environment around them and have feedback meetings with them regularly, at least for half an hour every week.

  • Compile an archive of responses that your virtual assistant can use when responding as you on an email, although they should still sign the email as themselves.
  • Let your assistant create their own system even though you two work on feedback since they will be the ones using it often and they can keep you informed.
  • With regards to emails, you can set up various systems with your assistant that best maximizes your use of time and energy.

Having these systems in place will also help you and your assistant distinguish which emails are a top priority for you to respond to and which are the ones that your assistant can handle on their own.

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Meet Joe Sanok

private practice consultant

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK]: I’m going to cut to the chase. If you’re starting a private practice, you have to join Next Level Practice. February 15th doors open. Head on over to for more information. Again, February 15th doors open, If you’re starting a practice, this is what you need today.
This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok session 533. Welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. I am Joe, Sanok your host, and thank you for all of you who voted for Practice of the Practice with the Brighter Vision 2020 Best of Therapy awards, we won in three categories, Best Blog, Best Consultant, and Best Free Opt-in. Our 28-step Checklist for Starting A Practice that you can get for free over won Best Free Opt-in, which there’s some hardy competition there. So thank you. All of you who voted.
And it’s just super exciting, you know, to be nominated and to win those awards, but honestly, it’s even better to watch our Next Level Practice people level up and all of you just rocking it out, finding freedom, growing in so many different ways. Today I’m so excited. Alisha Sweyd is with us and Alisha is a Next Level Practice member. She’s been super involved, like many of the people that I’ve been interviewing and kind of doing these live Q and A’s with. I can picture her in my head because she’s been to so many of our Zoom calls and she’s so active in our Facebook group. So Alisha is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. She specializes in working with first responders and especially enjoys working with couples in the first responder life. When she’s not building her business, Alisha enjoys reading, spending time with her husband and children and their dogs along the Monterey coast. Well, Alisha, welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast.
[ALISHA SWEYD]: Thanks, Joe. I’m really excited.
[JOE]: Yeah. Well for the first time in awhile, I can say I’m in the same state as you. Right now, we’re just North of San Diego in our camper. And yeah. So yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I didn’t realize just how East coast centric time is in this country. Like, I mean, I kind of noticed that, but it’s just very interesting to see, like being several hours kind of behind the East coast. It’s just a different way of living out here on the West coast.
[ALISHA]: Yes, it is. That’s for sure.
[JOE]: I love California. Every time I visit I’m like, “I could live here.” But then snow calls me back to Michigan and family and yeah, we’ll just maybe stay in the camper for a while.
[ALISHA]: Yeah, how are you making it in San Diego?
[JOE]: Oh, you know, I mean being in the middle of a pandemic, it’s a little different than if we were just visiting, but the weather’s beautiful. We went to the ocean yesterday and touched it and we had put our swimsuits on thinking that maybe us Michiganders could do it, but there was no way. There was absolutely no way I was going in that ocean. Cool. Well, this is part of our series of live consulting. It’s less interview and it’s all about just letting you ask your question. And these are questions that I have not heard ahead of time. So Alisha, what’s your question that you’re interested in getting answered today?
[ALISHA]: So I’m trying to figure out, like with hiring a virtual assistant, what that looks like, when to do it. Like I’ve really struggled with the idea and figuring it out just because I don’t know what to expect or what to plan for. And I feel like I don’t know what I don’t know, and I don’t know how to ask what I don’t know. And I’m just trying to figure that out if I’m ready or if I should still be waiting and what I can do if I am waiting.
[JOE]: Yeah. Well, let me ask some follow-up questions first. So tell me what your typical week looks like. Tell me about phone calls, tell me the kinds of things that you would dream to have a virtual assistant takeover.
[ALISHA]: So I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and I work 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. And that’s not my normal schedule. That’s my pandemic schedule, and I get about two or three phone calls a week, and I’m really trying right now to build up a little bit more with my blogging and email marketing and then also with developing a podcast to build my trust with first responders, because with first responders, they don’t have trust with other providers very easily in particular, when it comes to mental health. And so trying to build that trust before they come through the door a little bit more. And so I would want a virtual assistant to kind of help with the email marketing and then with answering phones and scheduling people for initial intakes and answering emails for those two.
[JOE]: Gotcha. And then when you think, how many clients a week of that, was it, 10 to eight? So you’re working like 10 hours a day, three days a week. How many sessions a week in that 30 hours are you actually doing?
[ALISHA]: I usually do about 10 sessions within that time, but then the other times I’m like writing blogs and sending out cards and trying to set up networking calls or get-togethers with local departments. And then also really trying to figure out how to do email marketing because that wasn’t something I thought I would and all that kind of stuff. Yeah.
[JOE]: And so what would full be for you? You know, you’re at 10 sessions a week, what would full be?
[ALISHA]: Probably I, like ideally want 18 and to cut my morning hours down a little bit. So that way I can spend a little bit more time at home with my family before going to work.
[JOE]: Okay. And then would you say that you’re catching most of the phone calls that do come through or are they going to voicemail and then you’re calling them back?
[ALISHA]: I do catch a lot of them because I’m working in my office for so many hours, but there are, out of like the two or three calls a week, I miss one, maybe two.
[JOE]: Okay. And then do you see a difference in conversion between the ones that you call back compared to the ones you answer? So, you know, if you get four phone calls in a week and you catch two of them, are those two almost always converting into doing counseling with you versus say the other two, they, you know, maybe found someone or they don’t answer or there’s more kind of back and forth?
[ALISHA]: Yeah. But with the ones that I miss, if they are not first responders, I don’t, there’s not a high conversion rate, but if they are first responders there still is that conversion rate or they still usually end up becoming a client.
[JOE]: Okay. So, it’s, you’ve probably been recommended or vetted, so they know that they want to work with you compared to other people that are just kind of maybe going through Psychology Today and calling you.
[ALISHA]: Yeah.
[JOE]: Yeah. So part of what I’m kind of thinking through is we want to look at kind of the return on investment for having a virtual assistant. And so, and you’re right at kind of that you could go either way phase where, and I can see why you would be confused or not knowing what to do because to say, “Okay, for most of the time, if I call people back, like they’re converting and I have the time because I want to work 18 hours and I’m working 10 clinical hours. So right now it feels like, well, what would they really take off my plate at a lower rate?” So if you’re hiring somebody for 15 or 20 bucks an hour you want to be able to say, “This is worth it.” And so right now it’s sort of like, well, is this worth it to do it this way? And that’s where you want to make sure that you kind of know some of those basic numbers as you’re going into these kinds of discussions. From a lifestyle perspective you’re working 30 hours a week. Do you want to work that full 30 hours or do you just wish some of the email marketing or some of the other marketing you totally could just take off your plate and work, say two days for 10 hours each day?
[ALISHA]: I would like to work three days, but I would like to work like noon to seven, would be ideal or like one to eight.
[JOE]: Okay, so maybe you still then —
[ALISHA]: Yeah. I don’t want to work as long days and I do want to grow my practice into a group practice eventually, and so like planning for that. Also, like I’ve just because I’m got all these ideas and growth, I just feel like is now the right time, or do I wait, like to hire a virtual assistant or should I even wait until I do the group? Like, I don’t know. I just get really confused and overwhelmed.
[JOE]: I mean, there’s a couple of things that we want to think about. So we want to think about the ROI on that, like direct, “Okay, is this person going to make me more money than they cost me?” So in most cases, someone that’s 20 bucks an hour, you know, they’re answering a few phone calls and working five or 10 hours a week, you see one more session a week, you’ve paid for that person. So almost always a virtual assistant, unless you’re just getting started, almost always they’ll pay for their position. Now being in California, you want to make sure that you do it correctly because they have a lot of 1099 laws. And so you’re probably going to have to W2 them. So you’ll have to also talk to an attorney. So there’s that expense or hire through a company like Move Forward Virtual Assistants.
The other thing, a couple of things that you want to think about is finding that unicorn that can answer the phone, that they can write reports, that can do copy for your email, that can do your marketing is probably not going to happen. And if you do find that person, they’re probably going to get gobbled up by someone else pretty quickly. And so we want to kind of parse out, like, what are the actual roles here? So answering the phone and scheduling appointments, that’s probably one category. Marketing, copywriting, email writing, that’s probably another category. And you can have a full-on virtual assistant where you have direct access to them, or you can work with different companies. So for example, like Practice of the Practice, we have copywriters, we have designers, we have people that you can outsource to. And because you’re in Next Level Practice, you get them all at a discount.
So you could hire one of our copywriters to do a series of, “Okay, this month I have three hours in my budget for copywriting, and then next month I’ve got five hours.” So whether it’s Practice of the Practice or someone else, you could kind of outsource that without having the long-term commitment of saying, “Okay, I’ve got to find 10 hours of work a week for this person.” Like you don’t want to be stuck where your budget is going for something you really don’t need. So I would kind of divide that up into, we might call it an administrative assistant, that’s answering phones, doing scheduling, kind of that type of thing and then maybe someone’s more of the marketing and copywriting department.
The other side of the equation we also want to look at, so first we looked at ROI, then we looked at what you want to outsource is your energy. And you kind of touched on that, that the idea that when you’re only putting your best effort into the best things, you level up so much faster. And so if you were just doing counseling and then you, you know, pretty much everything else that you spent your time on with stuff that you feel like was really moving the company forward, it was you’re positioning yourself to be a group practice. It was positioning yourself to be the leading place locally or in your state for first responders. That you’re able to build that podcast. Those are great things to put your time into versus returning phone calls and scheduling. Now you are super overpaid administrative assistant when you’re doing those things. And so even just the shift of, if I had someone to answer my phones, I would feel like a business owner compared to right now I feel like I’m kind of getting by.
That shift in your energy really can help you do things that maybe you didn’t think that you could do as quickly. And so instead of that podcast taking a year, instead of that group practice taking a year, it’s like, well, why couldn’t you have two or three clinicians hired by spring time? Why couldn’t you by mid-summer have a robust podcast? Well, if we were to say, let’s really shorten the amount of time it would take to do these big things through either systems or through outsourcing or through an administrative assistant, like what would we have to take off your plate for you to feel the energy to go after these really big things? So what would we have to take off your plate for you to feel the energy of, I am a business owner, I’m going after big things, I’m not doing the piddly stuff. Like what would we have to take off your plate right away?
[ALISHA]: The emails and the phone calls. That I feel like with those, it just, it’s not my favorite part of the job. And so it takes a lot more energy and focus to do it well for me. And then like with the emails, emailing back and forth, around getting a schedule and getting somebody in that gets frustrating and it takes a lot more time out of my focus because when I’m doing like my writing and my blogging, I do it in chunks of time and I can get a lot done if I’m not seeing the like email blip thing pop up on my screen to schedule somebody.
[JOE]: Well, I mean, I would start with turning that off on your screen and turning it off on your phone and just put time in your calendar. So until you have an assistant I would just say, decide the time once or twice a day that you’re going to do email for 15 or 20 minutes and only do your email during that time. So turn off notifications on Gmail, on your phone, turn off notifications on your computer so you just don’t even see it. So we don’t want any of those distractions, because you’re right it’s going to suck that energy out of your brain into things that shouldn’t be taking that energy. But I would start interviewing, and you could even put it up as a Facebook ad or like a Facebook job post, start interviewing people like Move Forward Virtual Assistants.
They mostly are on the East coast time. So they wouldn’t be able to cover all of your hours, but you might be able to have someone that covers the majority of, kind of the middle of the day. Interview other virtual assistant places, and then look at what that might look like to hire your own person. And you don’t necessarily even have to stay within the state of California. You just want to make sure you have a business associates agreement with that person, that you follow your own employment laws and make sure that you have an attorney or accountant that’s going to look at those things. But really, I mean, if you’re saying, “I’m going to hire for five hours a week at 20 bucks an hour, and I’m going to have them check my emails, they’re going to check the phone calls, they’re going to try to catch as many of those phone messages.”
But if you’re talking four or five calls a week answering the phones, isn’t the main thing. They’re going to kind of do all those things, but then the big kind of thing of where people fail is after they hire someone. They think that it’s, “Okay, I hired someone now I can just stop.” And you definitely don’t want to just stop. You want it to be a co-learning with that person. And so I would recommend having at least a half-hour check-in every week until you feel like you don’t need that. And so what you’re going to do in those check-ins is you’re going to give feedback. Feedback needs to be a regular part of the conversation to say, “I get that you’re new here. You’re going to get it wrong and that’s okay, but we need to keep improving.”
And so for example, if they’re checking your email for you to then blind CC them on anything that they should have responded to on your behalf. And then they need to create a library of all the answers to different things that you want them to answer in a particular way. It’s on you to say, how do you want them to respond to, I don’t take that insurance, or I do take that insurance, or the question of, I have a high deductible and I’m on the insurance you take. Like, how does that person respond in a way that sounds like you? So even right now, before you have a virtual assistant taking the time to just start archiving all those email responses into a folder of ‘Potential virtual assistant responses.’ They can just then go through that whole folder.
For any assistant that I hire, I have them create the system. And so you know, if so for example, we just hired Dana as an accountability coach for Next Level Practice. And she’s in the Facebook group. She’s running the small groups now. She’s really involved, but she and Jess during this most recent cohort that opened, I had her sit in and just watch, just do everything. Not that she’s going to be doing it, but I wanted Dana to understand that system. Dana and I then meet weekly to kind of talk through things. And she’s noticed things that in the onboarding process, Jess and I, you know, we’ve done this for what, 15 cohorts now. So as new eyes, Dana’s like, “I see some things that I think could help people be even more excited and engaged at the front end.” And I said, “Okay, why don’t you and Jess have a meeting, put together what you think might work, and then present that to me as to what you’re going to do to increase engagement when people first join Next Level Practice?”
So I’m putting it on the assistant to create the system, to present it to me. I then poke holes in it and say, “Well, here’s a couple of things we want to change.” But then it’s them that have the ownership. And then later on, they can teach it to someone else so much better than if this, like, “I don’t know why we do this. Joe told me to do it this way,” versus, “This is why I decided that we’re going to do it this way.”
[ALISHA]: That’s really helpful. I hadn’t thought about that, like doing the feedback and check in. I think that that’s where I was getting caught up on was like, “What if they don’t do it like me? What if they don’t do it my way? Or what if they don’t?” Because with the population that I work with that trust is so important.
[JOE]: Yeah. Right from the beginning, say they are not going to do it this way. And even with your clients to say, “Hey, I just hired whatever their name is, and they’re newer. How did that flow go for the onboarding?” So I did that once with a client and it was a new person. We had this virtual assistant in Texas who was answering our phones. And so she’s in Texas. She’s not in Traverse City, Michigan. She’s like, “Yeah, the office is right across the street from Sora Lena restaurant, which is an Italian restaurant.” And she said, “Sora Lena, that Mexican restaurant that’s right downtown Traverse City.” It’s not right downtown. It’s a block over from downtown. And so to then ask a client, like, “How did everything flow?” And they’re like, “Oh, she was wonderful. She did a really great job. She thinks Sora Lena is a Mexican restaurant.” And they, “Oh, she’s in Texas.” And so she, I guess maybe assumed it was a Mexican restaurant. And so just getting those little things that you wouldn’t necessarily get to say, like, “How did that flow feel?” She’s new. Like I want to give her feedback. Your clients will be able to tell you that as well. But yeah, you want to just make sure feedback’s always just like a part of the discussion.
[ALISHA]: Uh huh. I like that. That actually like makes me feel much better about it.
[JOE]: Yeah. Do you ever think about if people are checking email? Just like a couple of things that you want to make sure. So if they’re responding on your behalf, make sure that they sign it as themselves because you don’t want it to them to think that they’re having a conversation with their therapist. And then it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize this wasn’t my therapist.” So you want to disclose that in your paperwork. You want to make sure that you tell them, “Hey, you know, I have this person, that’s checking my email to make sure that that I’m catching up with things. If you ever have something you want, you know, just for Alisha’s eyes only please put that in the subject line. And then my assistant will know that they can’t read it.” So having things like that.
Also what I have Jess, my director of details, do she checks my emails. She often responds on my behalf. Is she’ll go through, she’ll archive everything. She won’t delete it. So then if I need to search it or kind of go back to an email it’s there and she just stars and keeps unread things that I need to respond to. So I go to my email, I just look, I’ve been off for two weeks or so this is my first day back. And so I see that I have 20 some emails that are starred after being off for several weeks, knowing we get hundreds of emails per day. And so she’s gone through 95% of the emails, archived them, responded. And then if I go through those 20 some emails and see that there’s something she could have done, I’ll reply, and then I’ll still BCC her so that she sees, okay, she should have responding to this, add this to the library, this isn’t something Joe should have seen. So then over time, ideally your assistant gets smarter and smarter in regards to how much they’re able to respond on your behalf.
[ALISHA]: Oh, is that like off of the, I don’t remember if it was a podcast or on Teachable or what, but where you said in your emails to do like a read later, respond later, all these different folders. Is it similar to that?
[JOE]: Yeah, I have. I think that’s more of if you’re going to be managing it. I prefer, and this is my own preference. So if you want all those labels, just teach your assistant to do all those labels. For me, I only, when I get my email, I only want to see the things that I need to respond to. And so we leave those unread and starred. And so then I see, okay, I’ve got, and so then if I see anything that’s unread, I know that that’s new and just hasn’t got to it yet. And so I don’t even look at those. I only look at the starred ones. I only go through the starred ones. I also tell her, “Hey, you know, if these certain people email, I want you to text me. So all of my consulting clients that are paying, you know, thousands of dollars a month, if they email me, I want to know that right now. I don’t want to have to wait until on Thursday when I’m going to check my email. Because I only check my email once or twice a week now to go through all those big ones.
Or if my dad emails me or my wife emails me, usually it’s pretty important because they don’t email just for fun usually. And so, like the other day she was like, “Your dad emailed you.” It’s like, “Okay, great, thanks.” So you want to have kind of, when can your assistant say like this is top of the line because if you have 20 emails, those aren’t all equal. You know, if I get an email from Therapy Notes about our podcast sponsorship, like I want to respond to that because that’s bottom line money, that’s a big sponsor. That’s someone that I’m going to respond to differently. So you’ll want to just make sure that those top level emails are going to get to you through your assistant as well, that they can text you and say, “Hey, make sure that you read this email today. It’s really important.”
[ALISHA]: Okay.
[JOE]: I am so excited about one of our podcast launch schoolers podcasts that has just started. Betsy Byers, new podcast, The All Things Substance Podcast is the place for therapists to hear about substance abuse from a mental health perspective. Betsy is on a mission to help her fellow therapists gain the skills and confidence needed to add substance use to their scope of practice. Each episode, Betsy brings you information on substance abuse, topics that impact our work, helping you gain knowledge and confidence. So listen to The All Things Substance Podcast on your favorite podcast player.
[JOE]: All right. So hearing all this, what would you say are your first few actions that you’re going to take as a result of this live consulting?
[ALISHA]: I am going to look into first talking to a lawyer to figure out the 1099, W2 stuff with hiring a virtual assistant in California because California likes to be complicated. And then once I figure that out and what that needs to look like as far as the labor laws, then I would look into, okay, what kind of virtual assistants meet those? Could I hire somebody maybe like a little bit more in the community that I work with to help with building that trust a little bit more with the population that I work with and kind of getting an idea there?
[JOE]: Yeah. That’s awesome. No, I think that’s awesome.
[ALISHA]: I definitely feel like this would be helpful for me right now so that way, I can focus on the things that actually are enjoyable, like running a business rather than the things that are tedious for me.
[JOE]: Yeah. And I think those things are going to change and grow over time where, you know, once that’s off your plate, then you’re going to say, “Well, wait, now what else can I outsource?” And that’s important to keep saying to yourself, “Okay, what is the single best use of my time to run this business now?” So I’m super excited for you. So as you’re listening to this, if you hear yourself with Alisha and saying, “You know what, I’m kind of at that point where maybe I’m starting to grow, maybe I need to have a virtual assistant,” these are the kinds of conversations that we have in our Facebook group for Next Level Practice that we have in our What’s Working. As we support you through our small groups, through our e-courses, that you’re able to then get access and help around.
We don’t learn this stuff in grad school. We have a tough time knowing what to do when it comes to business. And if you’re looking at continuing to level up and if you’re not yet at that six figures, if you’re not at a hundred K Next Level Practice is for you. We have cohorts opening soon. And so if you want to have access to the next cohort and join people like Alisha, head on over to, and you’ll get all the details of when our next cohort is starting and all the things that are included in it. We give you more than what you could ever do in a month all for the low price of $99 a month. So if you have one client come once a month, it pays for it. So it’s a no brainer for most people to look at that next level of their practice. So if you want to join that next cohort, if you want more information about it, head on over to Alisha, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast.
[ALISHA]: Thank you, Joe. I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate all of the stuff that you do in Next Level Practice. It has really just made my, like my business actually successful and not a drain on my energy and life.
[JOE]: Oh, that’s so awesome to hear you know, to see the freedom that people are having as a result of being in it and just building the business they want to build. And you know, it’s a constant process that just makes me so happy.
[ALISHA]: Yeah, it’s amazing. I love it.
[JOE]: Thank you so much for letting us into your ears and into your brains. Have an amazing week, everybody. Bye.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. We really like it. And this podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.

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