Back to School Special: Answer the Phone

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Today’s blog will be short and to the point.

Answer the phone.

The Summer doldrums are coming to an end and your client load is going to build steadily through the holidays. Clients will usually choose a counselor based on the following (not necessarily, but probably) in this order:

  1. Recommendation
  2. Specialty
  3. Which one calls back first
  4. Who can get them in quickly

I’ve talked about building a referral team who is passionate about your services and can show potential clients how to connect with you quickly and easily (see my blog: Back to School Special: Networking). If you are doing this consistently then your phone will ring. The question then becomes; will you be available to answer it?

Making the leap to hire someone can be scary. Allowing calls to go to voicemail can be scarier. I love to talk with counselors in private practice about my biggest mistakes but hiring a professional to answer our phones did much more than just increase our client loads at achievebalance.org. She streamlined our practice, improved client care, created an amazing client experience, and helped eliminate the client-therapist-money triangle.

Here’s what our phone answering professional at achievebalance.org does for us daily:

  • Collects credit card information to secure the first session
  • Utilizes a script which has increased client conversion rates for every therapist in our offices (measured by the number of phone calls who complete a first session)
  • Calls clients the day before (or Friday before) their session to confirm
  • Fills empty slots with wait-listed clients and clients needing to get in quickly
  • Calls late-cancels and no-shows to inform them they will be charged the full amount of their session using the credit card information on file
  • Follows up with past clients to see how they are doing

Still not convinced?

Imagine you decide to hire a professional for $9/hour. And let’s say to start, you want this person to work two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon Monday – Friday. That is $36 per day for five days or about $180 per week. If you are a cash-only therapist, this is probably close to what you charge for one session. One and one-half sessions would pay for one week of part-time professional phone-answering.

If your goal is to average 60 sessions per month at $140 per session, wouldn’t it be worth donating six of those sessions to pay for a part-time professional to answer your phones and KEEP your client roster at 60 sessions per month?

Watch for future video blogs when I share the intake script our phone answering professionals use. You can see a demonstration of our script on our DVD set Private Practice University.

Back to School Special: Networking

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New business owners sometimes have a tough time networking. I remember when I used to sweat making a presentation to a group or talking with a chamber of commerce member over coffee because I thought I was recruiting a client. Certainly that is one way to build a practice, but what if the goal of networking is really to build a referral team? I recommend that instead of recruiting a client, you look at networking as building a posse of passionate advocates who can’t stop/won’t stop talking about how awesome you are to everyone they know in the community.

It’s easier than you think.

Do you remember the shampoo commercial from the 80s? The one where it was such a fabulous product that “you’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…”

It’s just like that; but instead of two people, I want you to tell ten.

There are lots of places where small groups of people meet to interact and learn from one another. Some examples are:

  • Your local Chamber of Commerce. These can be larger groups but you can usually find smaller committees to attend.
  • Toast Masters
  • School PTO and PTA meetings
  • Business Networking International (BNI)
  • Social media local special interest groups that meet in person

12 Seconds of Information

Most of us can only handle about twelve seconds of information before we start to think about how we want to respond or get anxious about the content (think about the last time you went to the doctor and she was explaining your next procedure). As anxiety goes up, cognition goes down. Simply put: your audience can’t remember and store important info about you if you talk too much.

Here’s a simple formula:

  1. Tell them your name
  2. Tell them what you do
  3. Excite their emotions
  4. Tell them how to talk about/connect their friends with amazing you
  5. Tell them your name again and give them a call to action

Sometimes this is called an elevator speech and maybe, back in the age of slow elevators, you had thirty seconds to make your pitch. I don’t know about you but I’ve been in some pretty fast elevators so I stick to my original premise: twelve seconds and no longer.

If you don’t have a phone number or a website stop reading and go get one. You must have a website, phone number or (ideally) a scheduling app that your audience can see on their phone. This is kind of like passing out your card by the way, without all the stone-age communication and dead trees.

Before I start my 12 seconds, I make sure my listener has a phone handy or I tell everyone in the group I’m addressing to get their phones out. I have my own phone or IPad handy with my app pulled up and ready to go. Our practice software Full Slate allows potential clients to self-schedule a 10 minute consultation utilizing a big orange square button placed prominently on the achievebalance.org website.

I don’t want you to leave this blog guessing so the following is exactly what I say and how I say it:

  1. “Hi I’m Dr. Kate Walker and…
  2. …my marriage and family therapy practice is achievebalance.org located in Market Street in The Woodlands.
  3. Everyone in this room knows someone who needs help with a marriage, a child, or a loved one. You feel weird telling them to go to a therapist.
  4. The achievebalance.org Orange Button makes it easy for struggling friends and loved ones to ask tough questions and get answers today, for FREE [I show them my phone/IPad with my orange app prominently displayed].
  5. I’m Dr. Kate Walker with achievebalance.org. Tell someone you love to push the orange button today.

Remember; you are not recruiting clients, you are building a referral team who is passionate about you and has an easy way to tell people they love how to connect with you. Stay tuned to katewalkertraining.com for the video blog where I describe this in more detail.

Cash: The Ultimate Fear Killer

New entrepreneurs know fear is a part of success just like a cramp is a part of winning a marathon. Sadly, fear is also a part of failure. Fear-based decisions, like neglecting marketing, DIY bookkeeping, and solo decision-making, can kill a practice before its third anniversary. Worst of all, the fearful owner of a struggling young practice may start to see each client as a dollar sign rather than a relationship. Don’t get me wrong; fear will be your constant companion on the road to success in business. You just can’t let him drive. In this blog, I’ll cover the number one tool that will help mitigate new-entrepreneur fear and replace it with confidence: cold hard cash.

Cash Bridges the Gap
Cash bridges the gap between the startup phase of a new business and the profitable phase. With a financial safety net, new business owners can be creative and take more risks. They will focus less on the desperate “PLEASE give me referrals” attitude and focus more on building a brand and networking in the community. Best of all, a FSN allows new business owners to take less from their profits and actually invest back into the business. Ideally, when the new business owner is ready to grow he will be debt free.

Let’s take Bob as our example.
Bob has a great job at a supermarket but he’s ready to join the entrepreneurial world and open a real estate office. He has read lots of business books and knows:
• Mistakes are inevitable and expensive.
• It takes time to market and develop referral sources.
• He has to keep the lights on and the rent paid.
• He doesn’t have the expertise to do every job by himself so he will have to hire help if he wants to stay out of trouble and grow.
• He has his own rent to pay and groceries to buy.

Scary stuff.

Where can Bob get the FSN net so when costly mistakes happen they don’t tank his new business? How can he keep the lights on until the community starts banging his door down? What can he do besides get another credit card or bank loan in order to grow?

Here’s what I recommend:
1. Enlist your supportive partner. Bob’s husband Stan has a great job in the oil and gas industry and he fully supports Bob’s decision to go into real estate. They agree that for one year Stan will carry a heavier load paying the family bills so Bob can put any profit he earns back into his business. Because he is less pressed to take home an income, Bob can build his brand, enhance his business skills with continuing education, hire an assistant to take phone calls when he’s with clients, and purchase software to stay organized.
2. Don’t quit your day job. While Bob was going to school to get his real estate license, he kept his job managing a supermarket. Once he became fully licensed and ready to start the business, he managed to reduce his schedule to part time. If the supermarket had refused to allow Bob to work part time, Bob had already decided he would take a job working nights so he could work on building his business during the day.
3. Live on the feathers not the chicken. Bob knew about the cyclical nature of business from working at the grocery store. He and Stan sat down and looked at the family finances and created a lean-but-comfortable budget. They agreed to live off this lean budget even when Bob’s business was booming and put any extra profit into a FSN savings account. Since the family’s basic needs were always met, Bob didn’t panic and make fear-based decisions when cash flow was down.

To be a successful business owner you must realize mistakes are inevitable and expensive; it takes time to build a network of referral sources; and you must reinvest in your business not leach from it. There lots of resources to help you build your FSN. Why not schedule a consultation with Kate Walker Training and create a strategy today?

 

Practice My Way

The title of this blog is inspired by the Jack Nicklaus classic “Golf My Way,” but that’s where the similarities end. As I’ve talked about in other blogs, running a mental health practice is not the same as developing muscle memory for a golf swing, increasing endurance for a triathlon, or any other sports-related skill for a sports-related activity. If it was, I’d be advising you to, “Get in the game before you’re ready!” and, “Get injured!”
Why?
Because in business you must:
1. Recognize mistakes are inevitable and stop being afraid of them.
2. Mitigate the fear of making a mistake by maintaining an emergency fund and/or paycheck-based day job, supportive partner income, or line of credit so those mistakes don’t take your business down.
3. Persist. Never quit. Don’t give up.

Like most of you I started my practice as a solo practitioner. Within five years I added a continuing education component (The 40 Hour Supervisor Training), a non-profit (Ann’s Place), and I had several therapists working with me and from whom I took a percentage of their profits (fee-splitting).
I made a LOT of money.
Unfortunately, taking a percentage of another therapist’s income, while one of the most profitable components of my practice, was also unethical.
When I recognized that fee-splitting was not the proper way to make money in private practice I dropped that component like D’Onta Foreman dropped the ball against Texas Tech in 2016 (see what I did there?).
That was a HUGE blow to my income (I talk about this more in the DVD “My Favorite Mistakes”).
If I hadn’t had an emergency fund I don’t think I would have survived and thrived.
Now, after ten years in practice, I am on the constant hunt for systems, software, gadgets, and hacks to streamline my practice, save time and money, and increase profit and life balance.

Now that I think about it, I do have a favorite sports metaphor. My dearly departed dad was kind of a super hero to me and he kept a sign above the family weight room (another story for another blog) that said, ‘No Pain – No Gain.’ In business if you aren’t willing to accept that there will be some pain (making mistakes, losing money, wasting time) you will never get to experience the gain. At Kate Walker Training we want to help you achieve your highest potential! If you would like free weekly tips, tricks, hacks, cheap resource ideas, and systems to make your that journey MUCH easier, sign up for our newsletter below!

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Running Your Practice: The Three Eyes

Three eyes

Running a business as a sole proprietor means that you need to wear many hats. Michael Gerber, in his book The E-Myth Revisited, calls this phenomenon the “Three Eyes (I’s) of the Entrepreneur.”  Here is a quick rundown brought to you by my good friend and former business coach David Blocker.

  • “I am The Entrepreneur.” This is my favorite. This is also probably the role you were in when you decided, “I am going to open my own practice.” As the entrepreneur you are a visionary, you are creative, and you are excited. This is the role in which you ask questions around growth, expansion, and profitable game changing ideas. This is the role you are in when you spend days picking out your logo, choosing fabric for your office pillows, and designing your homemade website. If only we could stay here forever!
  • “I am The Manager.” This is a role I have a love/hate relationship with. As the manager you are running your business and making sure things don’t break. Systems, procedures, bookkeeping, taxes and the like all fall into this role. Networking, marketing, and converting phone calls to clients also fall here.
  • “I am The “Technician.” This is the role we are in when we practice our trade. Most of us in counseling spent at least three years of school beyond our bachelor’s degree and three thousand hours interning to become the expert in our chosen field. As the technician you are sitting across from clients, counseling, and making money.

The problem? You have roles you love, roles you hate, roles where you excel, and roles where you stink. One role makes money (technician) so you tell yourself you must do more of this. The other roles either cost you time (entrepreneur), money (manager), or both so you tell yourself you don’t have time to do them yourself or hire them out to anyone else.

The result? You have a great month followed by a slow month because you market inconsistently. You pay your bills but you forget to budget for taxes. You want to add another stream of income but you don’t make time to lay the foundation and execute the plan.

This week take about thirty minutes (you can find thirty minutes) and analyze the time you are spending in each role.  You can use amazing free software like https://myhours.com or go old school and use a daily diary. The idea is to record what you do every hour. Then, every evening, sit down and make an honest assessment of what role you were in most of the time that day.

While you can’t spend all of your time in any one of these roles, you ultimately need to spend some time in each. If it is a role in which you do not excel, seriously consider hiring it out or getting an intern to do some of the work for you.