Uriah Guilford, founder of Productive Therapist, shares his best tips to increase productivity and work smarter not harder. Many of us have a vision of success but aren’t quite sure what to do once we reach our initial goals. Uriah’s practical approach to scaling, streamlining, and growth is both practical and exciting.
Uriah Guilford is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a group practice owner and the creator of Productive Therapist, a virtual assistant company that serves therapists in private practice. He is a technology nerd, a minimalist travel packer, a rock drummer, and business development enthusiast.
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Jennifer Agee: Hello, hello, and welcome to Sh*t You Wish You Learned in Grad School. I am your host, Jennifer Agee, licensed clinical professional counselor. With me today is Uriah Guilford. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a group practice owner, and he's also the creator of Productive Therapist, which is a virtual assistant company that serves therapists in private practice. He's a self-professed technology nerd, and a minimalist travel packer, a rock drummer, and a business development enthusiast. Holy cow. What a list. That's awesome. Welcome, Uriah.
Uriah Guilford: Thank you. Thank you. Guilty as charged. Those are all true statements.
Jennifer Agee: So, tell me what is something you wish you learned in grad school?
Uriah Guilford: All the things that I know now. Everything.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah.
Uriah Guilford: No, um, I actually had no, I had no, um, instruction or guidance on anything post grad school. I'm sure that's the answer that everybody gives, but it took me years to even consider private practice. So, I, I had no inkling, and nobody even spoke about, okay, once you become a licensed therapist, here are your options. Um, so it took me a long time, longer than I wish it had taken for me to figure out, oh my gosh, I actually love business. I love marketing. I love combining helping people through therapy with these other skill sets that, that I now have. So, that would've been amazing. And I think more people are getting that now, but still probably not enough, right?
Jennifer Agee: Absolutely, and you and I have that in common. We both like the business side of business. I came at it at a different angle. Right outta grad school, my first, um, my first few jobs were actually on the business side. Um, I was the executive director of two different nonprofit organizations, so I got very busy, business heavy information and education right out of the gate. And I've had to do the back end on the other side of going back and, like, brushing off my therapeutic skills. So, I think it's awesome that those of us who do enjoy the business side, um, there's a lot of us now who are really open and wanting to help other therapists really succeed.
Uriah Guilford: Yeah, the resources are astounding, truly. Like, if I had these resources in 2008 when I got licensed, my whole process of starting a private practice and growing it would've been, like, so much faster. So, I'm a little jealous. I gotta be honest.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah. Well, there's all this information. I think even when you first get outta school, there's a lot of courses you can take or, you know, little things you could buy to help you just get the basics of how to start a practice, go, um, going and, and starting to build some success. There's good stuff on marketing. But one of the things we were talking about before we started the podcast actually was, what do you do when you actually get there? Wherever there is, and you're sitting in your place of where you dreamed you'd be, and success is coming. I think that's where the business part really needs to kick in a lot heavier.
Uriah Guilford: Definitely. Yeah. And I don't think anybody really knows how to prepare for the challenges of being successful. Um, just watch any documentary on people who get famous really quick. It's always, it's always problematic. But we all have an idea or sort of a picture in our mind of what achieving my goals will look like. Um, for me, and for probably a lot of therapists going to private practice, it was like, if I could just get 20 clients a week, right, then I'll have enough money to do all the things I wanna do, support my family. And, um, I, I just, but I didn't know what it feels like to be in private practice with 20 — honestly 20 plus — um, with all those clients and then all the tasks that come along with that, the increase in phone calls, in emails, in collaborative work. ' Cause I've done family therapy with teenagers and families over the years. So, like, that sneaks up on you.
Jennifer Agee: Absolutely. The amount of time that it starts to take to manage that caseload, especially if you're seeing minors, um, it really starts to compound on you. And I found for myself the number one gift I gave myself was hiring a virtual assistant because I realized, at the end of the day, I still really loved seeing clients. I loved the butt-in-the-seat time that I had with them. At the end of the day, when I saw the calls I had to return, I didn't want to. I just found myself not wanting to, and clients deserve better than that. They deserve people that call them back.
Uriah Guilford: I agree a hundred percent. Yeah. And you just don't have the mental or emotional energy to do, um, those returning phone calls and handle all the other things that you have to do, especially if you're like, really, you know, a full-time therapist.
Jennifer Agee: Mm-hmm.
Uriah Guilford: Um, so, I think that's a, it's a common challenge. And I'm so happy to hear that you, uh, hired a virtual assistant however many years ago that was. That was part of my story as well. Um, I started working with the same VA that my business coach was using, actually, funny enough, and, uh, worked with her for five years straight. And that was amazing. And it, I was able to start out with just five hours a month, um, back in the day. And that's really all that I needed just to help me enough to take enough off of my plate so that I could focus on, um, doing the, the client work.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah. One of the things I tell my supervisees — ‘cause I'm a clinical supervisor as well — is when you start getting around that 15-, 20-client, um, caseload, it really is time to start looking for a virtual assistant, because the reality is the person who answers the phone, typically gets the booking. And you cannot answer the phone except for every 50 to 55 minutes an hour. And then even that, let's say you have to pee, eat, or you know, just be a human, um, then where does that time go? Then it has to come at the end of the day, the, the time that you set aside to be with your family, or the time that you, you wanna exercise, or things like that. I think one of the things I want us to talk about, are what are some options with virtual assistants? 'Cause I pay mine by the minute, so I always tell my supervisees look, you're not paying unless they're working, you know?
Uriah Guilford: Mm-hmm.
Jennifer Agee: Depending on who you hire and the package you do, so in theory, every time they're answering the phone, they're making you exponentially more money than you were paying out. But, so, I do a by-the-minute kind of a thing with, with my gal — shout out to Sue; you know I love you. Um, how do you do your virtual assistant program?
Uriah Guilford: We do it the same. And you're right, the value proposition is significant. Um, I'm trying to think of what year it was that I first started working with Gina. I can't remember what year it was exactly, but for the entire five years that I worked with her, I paid $55 an hour. And this was, this was quite a few years ago. This was more than seven years ago, and that's a lot of money. But same as your situation, she, um, tracked time by the minute, so 60 minutes of her time was the most productive, most efficient use of those minutes. Um, and she was, also happen to be extremely efficient and good at her job as well, so...
Jennifer Agee: Mm-hmm.
Uriah Guilford: So, if, if you spend $55 — and actually at Productive Therapist, that's even more than we charge, to be honest, maybe we should raise our rates — but, um, it's, it's a great use of, of, of money to create more leverage to grow your practice. Um, and I think this is true for most practitioners who have a solo practice or maybe they're starting a small group practice, um, hiring a virtual assistant is, is the absolute best way to start. It really is.
Jennifer Agee: Absolutely. I'll tell you, I, I mean, vacationing is a part of my self-care. Like, getting out of town is a huge part of my self-care, and when I leave and I know that the calls are gonna be returned, people in my — 'cause I do have a group practice as well — they're gonna get rescheduled with something 'cause, like, it's sorted. I can just go and enjoy my time off. That is worth more than I pay her. I mean, don't tell her that, but it's worth way more than I pay her. The peace of mind that that gives me for sure.
Uriah Guilford: Let me ask you a question. Have, has your virtual assistant ever scolded you for working on vacation?
Jennifer Agee: Yes, indeed. She has scolded me for working on vacation.
Uriah Guilford: Good. That's awesome.
Jennifer Agee: First, she'll start saying things, uh, you know, a message out, and she'll say, if you are reading this, you are breaking your own boundary, I'm, like, yes-
Uriah Guilford: Right.
Jennifer Agee: Sue, you are very right. But I, I have strong workaholic tendencies, so that, that Midwesterner in me comes out really strong. That's my own internal battle I've had to fight. What are some of your other, what are some of your other, um, productive hacks for therapists? What are some things that you think therapists might need to tune into to be able to work smarter not harder?
Uriah Guilford: Um, yeah, absolutely. So, I talk about this a lot, um, but I think the three keys to productivity are very simple and easy to understand and really easy to, to apply. Um, and there's lots of people talking about productivity out there. I am certainly one of the productivity nerds. Um, but the three keys — and I didn't make this up, I stole it — um, are eliminate, automate, and delegate. Have you heard that?
Jennifer Agee: Yes. Mm-hmm.
Uriah Guilford: Yes. So, if you're busy and you've got more, you got less and you don't have enough time to do all the things you need to do, the first thing you should look at is what can you remove from your, from your calendar and from your to-do list. And I'm not talking about delegating. I'm actually talking about just removing, no longer doing that.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah.
Uriah Guilford: And we all have, we all have things and, uh, that we do that we don't really need to do. Whether it's because we think we should — I'll just give an example: maybe we think we should be on three social media platforms promoting our private practice when the reality is that maybe we don't even need to do social media at all. Dare to say that, right?
Jennifer Agee: Yes. You dared. You dared.
Uriah Guilford: I, I said it. I said it. Um, and maybe there's meetings on your calendar that you have every week, or, or occasionally that, um, you, you don't look forward to and it, and it takes up time that you really should be using for something. Just eliminate it, right? Remove it entirely. That's an under, underutilized productivity hack of just, like, yeah, I'm not gonna do it.
Jennifer Agee: Mm-hmm. But I, I think, especially when you come straight outta grad school, you are in worker-bee mode, right? It's go, go, go. You got school, papers, internship, you're probably working a job 'cause you gotta eat at the same time, and maybe raising a family. I mean, there's so much on your plate that I think it takes a little while when you get out to shift down, and take a breath, and go, wait a minute, what is it that I actually wanna do here?
Uriah Guilford: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I'm all about designing your life and designing your time to, uh, to be exactly what you want it to be.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah.
Uriah Guilford: And that is a privilege, and it's a luxury, but it's one that most people have who decide to work for themselves. Obviously, it's different if you work for an agency or for community mental health. You don't have as much flexibility, and you have other people telling you what you need to do. But if you work for yourself, or if you're starting to work for yourself, you get to decide. And that is a mindset shift, hundred percent.
Jennifer Agee: Absolutely. So, one of the, one of the things that I recommend people do is be willing to Etch A Sketch your life, right? Remember, everybody played with an Etch A Sketch when you were a kid, right? And you mess it up, or, you know, you realize I don't really like this picture anymore. And you just shake it, and sand all fixes it, and it just is blank slate. But be willing to Etch A Sketch and take a really honest look at what you like and what you don't like, what you want more of, what you want less of, and write that down. And for, at least for me, because I'm a visual learner, when I see it on paper — I usually do a whiteboard. I have a whiteboard in my kitchen. That's where, that's my go-to for thinking — um, but when I have it in front of me, the answers become very clear. When I'm just running it around in my head, I can talk myself into or out of just about anything. But when you have those, like, come-to-Jesus moments with yourself where you're like, all right, Jen, what do you really wanna do here? And what do you not like? The answers of what to eliminate becomes clear, what to outsource becomes clear, and where to spend your time and energy becomes freer.
Uriah Guilford: I love that. Yeah. It really is a gift to yourself to prioritize the things that, that really light you up.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah, I agree.
Uriah Guilford: Yeah. We should all do more of that.
Jennifer Agee: Okay. Talk a little bit more about the next two productivity hacks.
Uriah Guilford: Yeah, so automation, delegation. So, automation is basically just using technology to cause things in your practice to happen automatically, or auto-magic-ly, if you will. Um, and that is usually, uh, fully utilizing your EHR, um, to do all the things that most modern EHRs can do, such things as appointment reminders, auto pay for balances, um, automatically sending out super bills or statements, all those types of things. I was surprised recently when I was talking to, um, a member of Focus Club, which is my accountability program, and she was using Simple Practice and wasn't using the top three best features of that platform to make life easy. And so, I was like, well, what if you just turned on these three things. And it was so easy. She did it and then saved a bunch of time.
Jennifer Agee: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
Uriah Guilford: Yeah.
Jennifer Agee: I think the automation of things is, it can be very intimidating to those of us who are not techy, right? My son is like into cybersecurity, so I have a phone-a-friend pretty easily, you know? He, I, I burst him, so he answers my calls. I'm very thankful, but the reality is it can be very overwhelming to even know where to start. What are some things that you might recommend? I know fully utilizing your EHR system, so getting some training on it, watching the videos. Are there other places that you recommend people start to look at to automate?
Uriah Guilford: That's the, that's the number one place to start. Um, and most of those things are quite easy and simple to do, so you don't need to be techy to do any of those things. As you can imagine, in the world of, of, um, technology automation, like, you can get really technical. There's tools like Zapier that you can use to connect all your various different, um, software platforms to do all kinds of cool stuff. I guess I'll give one example that might be useful to somebody listening. Um, if you use Google Workspace, which a lot of us do to, kind of, handle our email and Google Docs and Google Drive and all those sorts of fun things. If you create a Google Form, um, to collect information from a potential client and put that on your website, you can just click a few buttons and you can have that information automatically sent to a Google Sheet so that it automatically lines up all of your incoming referrals.
Jennifer Agee: Nice. I haven't been converting things to Google Sheets. I used the Google Forms for, like, the podcast. But I, I, okay, I learned something. That's good. Thank you.
Uriah Guilford: And you can do that in other ways, but, uh, most of us — well, that's actually, that's actually not true — if you're not using a referral spreadsheet, I recommend doing that.
Jennifer Agee: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Uriah Guilford: Just to track all the incoming referrals and make sure that nobody, um, falls through the cracks, right?
Jennifer Agee: Absolutely. Yeah. Um, that's a great idea. Okay. Tell me about the third productivity hack.
Uriah Guilford: So, I think for me, delegation is the biggest win. And it's the one thing that has, uh, given me the most freedom in my business and in my life. Essentially building a team, starting very small and, slowly over time, handing off more and more of the things that I need to do to operate the business. And I have a group practice as well now, so there's like, there's a lot more to do, right, than there was when it was just me.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah, that reminds me of, uh, you know, the, the business adage, and I definitely found it to be true, you hire slowly, and you fire fast, right? As a part of delegating means that you are being very intentional about surrounding yourself with the right people. Just because you really like someone doesn't mean that they're the right person for the task, and just because they're excellent at the task doesn't mean that they're the right person either. It's really a combination of fits because most of us aren't running multimillion-dollar group practices, right, where we have huge layer upon layer before someone gets to us. It's smaller, more intimate environments, and the vibe of a team is important. Um, you being able to really trust and rely on the people to your left and your right that you are giving responsibilities to is important. So be very intentional with who you bring into your inner world when you start delegating.
Uriah Guilford: This is sort of, it might seem like a random tip, but what you just shared made me think of it. Um, even if it seems like an easy way to go, most likely, you should not hire friends and family to do anything for your business. It can work. I'm not gonna say it can't work, but I did hire a friend one time, and it did not end well, uh, which was, which was really tough. So, when [INDISCERIBLE] -
Jennifer Agee: Rental properties don't rent to them either. I'll just tell you that one. That's from personal experience.
Uriah Guilford: Yeah. Oh my goodness. And that's, that one's probably even harder because they, they want to, they're interested, and you're like, ah, that sounds like a good idea, but it's maybe not. Yeah.
Jennifer Agee: Yeah. Mm-hmm. For sure.
Uriah Guilford: Yeah.
Jennifer Agee: But that, that delegation part, um, I think it takes a level of honesty with yourself about whether or not you, you're ready to delegate because that's surrender, right? That is, that is kind of surrendering or, um, choosing to allow someone into a space, and you are trusting them to handle your business, right? This is how you feed your family. This is a big deal — how you care for people, the quality of service, um, that you have with them. So don't say you're going to delegate and then micromanage someone. It's okay to, like, release slowly but surely into greater and greater responsibilities. But if you're gonna say, no, I'm delegating all these things and you're still working the problem and working the project, you haven't delegated squat my friend. You need to work on that.
Uriah Guilford: Oh my gosh. I could talk for hours about that. That is so true. Yeah. And if you, if your listeners are interested, I have a free resource that I can make available called Five Tips for Getting the Help You Need. And it talks about some of these, sort of, roadblocks that, uh, that often get in our way. And you're right, when you've done everything from day one, and you're accustomed to that, and, um, it seems to be working, uh, it's very, very tempting to continue to do that. And it's, and it's just emotionally, um, psychologically challenging to let go of aspects of this thing that you're so connected to, which is your business.
Jennifer Agee: Mm-hmm.
Uriah Guilford: Um, and I, I would say that you could start with, um, getting an insurance biller, or potentially, um, a bookkeeper, or a virtual assistant. Those are the three first things that come to my mind in terms of areas that people could potentially hand off and delegate to. And that, those are not even, those people don't even need to be W2 employees for you. They're likely contractors or just business services that, that, that you can pay for.
Jennifer Agee: Absolutely. Yeah. Um, I, I'm- Having the right accountant and one that you have a good working relationship with, that is worth its weight in gold. Because the reality is we are therapists. Most of us are not statisticians, accountants. Most of us took the least amount of math as humanly possible to get through school through a master's degree. So, the reality is why work harder in an area that you are not naturally good in when you are freaking brilliant in a lot of different areas. Hire someone to shine in the where, in the parts that you, you don't, It's okay. No problem.
Uriah Guilford: I'm giving you double high fives for anybody who can't see, uh, this right now. Yes. That's fantastic. Yeah. So those are the three tips, the three keys rather of productivity, eliminate, automate, and delegate. And if you consistently do those things and continue to do them more, you're gonna find that you're able to go on vacation, you're gonna find that you have less stress, less overwhelmed, less overworking, and you're just gonna enjoy your life more.
Jennifer Agee: Absolutely. The other piece of advice I would, I would give is sit down and know your why. Understand why you're doing what you're doing, what the vision is that you have in mind, because it becomes motivational to take risk. Risk is not inherently easy for a lot of us, um, to hand over, to delegate, to hire people out. But if you have the bigger picture of what you're trying to go for in mind, a better work life balance, uh, being able to travel more, being able to get filthy, stinking rich, whatever your goal is, it's completely fine. But having that vision in mind will allow you to kind of push yourself a little bit to make some of these decisions that in the beginning you see money going out, maybe without seeing the money flow straight back, but keep the bigger picture in mind. And if you need help around creating strategy about that, get the help. Because getting someone on board that has been there, done that has the t-shirt, it's gonna save you in spades in the long run. I promise you that.
Uriah Guilford: That is such good advice. Such good advice.
Jennifer Agee: Well, Uriah, thank you so much for being on today. I really appreciate you sharing your insight with us and just, you know, you being freaking awesome is also nice. So, tell people how they can connect with you, and I will make sure that your offer is available, um, linked below.
Uriah Guilford: Fantastic. Yeah. Everything that we have to offer is at productivetherapist.com. And obviously, we have a team of virtual assistants that can help you. We've got some courses that can help you understand how to delegate, how to work effectively with a virtual assistant, and a bunch of those are actually 100% free, so I would recommend that, and, uh, just be a part of the, the Productive Therapist Community.
Jennifer Agee: That sounds awesome. Thank you so much. If you'd like to connect more with me or the podcast, counselingcommunity.com. I do wanna invite you, I have a retreat I'm co-hosting with Patrick Casale in Portugal. So if marketing is something that you're wanting to focus on, that retreat in October of 2023 is for you. Go to our, the website, and you can join us. All right, get out there, and live your best dang life. Have a great day.