burden-1296754_640As your practice grows, so will your administrative responsibilities. You may reach the point where administrative tasks start to weigh you down, but you don't feel ready to hire a full-time (or even part-time) employee. Maybe for now you just need help with one or two specific tasks. That's where outsourcing comes in. The outsourcing business has grown exponentially in the past few years, but the concept is not new. It's akin to the cottage industries of the last century, but global instead of local. You may already be outsourcing some tasks for your business, such as using a web-based claims processing service.

Advantages of outsourcing

  1. While someone else is taking care of time-consuming tasks, you can focus your energy on seeing more clients, meeting face to face with potential referral sources, getting training or certification in a new area of practice, or simply leaving the office and enjoying your evening unburdened by administrative tasks.
  2. You can outsource different tasks to different people from all over the world who are already trained in their respective skills. It's almost like having your own team of experts.
  3. You don't have to pay salaries or employment taxes.
  4. Tasks that you don't enjoy (and that you tend to procrastinate on) will probably get done more quickly when you outsource them. The stuff that you hate doing is someone else's favorite activity.

Tasks that can be outsourced include:

  • Billing and insurance submission
  • Bookkeeping
  • Answering the phone
  • Web design
  • Cleaning
  • Social media posting
  • Research
  • Writing, editing, proof reading
  • Virtual assistant
  • Personal assistant services

HIPAA considerations

Any task that involves protected health information (PHI) must conform to HIPAA regulations. You (as a "covered entity") will need to have a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with any person or agency who has access to your patients' or clients' PHI, in order to ensure the privacy of their records. A full description and requirements of a BAA, along with a sample contract, are at the US Department of Health and Human Services website.

Many business that cater to mental health professionals, such as billing services, have their own BAA contract. But you may have to work up your own if you deal with individual independent contractors.

How to find the right person for the job

Ask colleagues. On professional listservs people often post questions such as "Can anyone recommend a good web designer who has reasonable rates?" Usually several colleagues respond, recommending the person or company that did work for them. These tend to be recommendations you can trust. (TPI has arranged for 5%-10% discounts with My Practice Sites, which has been recommended by several colleagues.)

Contact your local college or grad school. This is an ideal resource for academic specialty-area tasks. Contact the department that teaches students the types of skills you are looking for. For instance, if you are writing a professional paper or a book on a topic related to developmental psychology and need an annotated bibliography, contact the department of psychology and/or education. If you need help in layout of a brochure, or if you need an image photoshopped, contact the graphic arts department.

Find freelancers online. Fiverr.com is a great place to start. Prices start at $5 for tasks such as proofreading, letterhead and form design, technical services such as file conversion and website tweaking. Browse the site for the service you need and read the reviews. Some freelancers have thousands of reviews. The Fiverr system is set up to incentivize freelancers to provide great service, with top sellers moving up through "levels" and being allowed to offer more comprehensive services at additional charge.

For bigger jobs check out Upwork.com or Freelancer.com.

Outsourcing is not just for business tasks

In addition to your business responsibilities, you have lots to do at home: cleaning, cooking, paying bills, errands, yard work and more. These are all tasks you can do, but many of them get pushed aside when you run out of energy at the end of a long work day. And weekends? Well, those walls need painting, but you'd rather spend time with your kids, or you have to catch up on report writing.

If you have trouble enjoying your time off work because you keep thinking about chores or home projects that aren't getting done, that's a signal to start delegating these tasks to others. Some can be assigned "in house" at no extra cost. For example, if you have kids, they may be ready for extra responsibilities - not changing the oil in your car, but certainly chores such as cleaning the bathroom. For bigger projects that you have thought about for a long time, but never seem to get around to doing, hire someone. Yes, you could do it yourself. You could also churn your own butter and knit your own socks, but you choose not to.

The peace of mind you get from getting tasks completed - whether you do them yourself or outsource them to someone else - is worth the money. You can always earn more money, but you only have a finite amount of free time. Use it well!

Tips to minimize problems with outsourcing

Outsourcing frees you from the labor, but not the responsibility, of getting tasks done. You still have to act as sort of a general contractor, overseeing the progress and maintaining accountability and quality control. Problems sometimes arise, but you can prevent many of them by doing the following:

Get personal recommendations. Friends and colleagues who have used the services of a company or person may provide more pros-and-cons details than a review on a website.

Read online reviews. To read reviews of companies, search Google for companyname review or companyname complaint. To get the most recent reviews, filter your search results for the past year or other time frame. You can also check at the Better Business Bureau website. Since most people post complaints there, you probably won't see a lot of positive comments, but you will be able to see how the company responded (if at all) to negative comments. For individual freelancers that you find on Fiverr and other sites, read reviews from other customers. Beware they all sound the same. This suggests that the freelancer may have purchased positive ratings (which is not allowed, but not always well enforced).

Check references for individual freelancers. Ask references to show you a sample of the work they had done. Ask about any problems they had with the freelancer.

Read contracts and terms of service. Contracts often stipulate what is and what is not included in the product or service. If you use Fiverr or other freelance website, read the terms of service to familiarize yourself with what happens in case of disputes, such as when the work is not done to your liking. Always have a written contract for any outsourced project.

Communicate clearly what you want done. If you have a preference for colors, fonts, styles or type of content, spell that out. Freelancers want to please you, but they can't read your mind.

Consider language skills. If a freelancer uses poor grammar or awkward vocabulary in their online profile or in their email correspondence, it may not be a good idea to hire them for projects that involve writing.

Start small. For freelance projects by individuals, start by giving the person a small task, and see how well they do. How quickly do they respond to your emails (taking into consideration any large differences in time zones)? How well do they attend to detail? Did they meet the deadline?

Double check the sample. This is especially important for graphic design projects. Check wording and spelling. Make sure that the work you contracted for is done according to the agreed-upon specifications. Once you give your approval, the job is typically considered done, and any changes will cost extra.

"My outsourced life"

Finally, here's a humorous story by author A.J. Jacobs, which he told on The Moth stage a few years ago. He started outsourcing research projects, but quickly moved to personal tasks, including apologizing to his wife. Enjoy!