Community Story: Staci Cooper, An SLP side hustle

An SLP side hustle

Meet Staci, a seasoned SLP who has worked with adults and kids, both in public and private practice. After her last job transition into a leadership role, she started an SLP side hustle to keep up her SLP practice hours. This is her story, how she maintains her SLP side hustle and for the first time in her career is staying on top of her charting.

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Tell us about you and where your career started. 

I’m from Kelowna and I did my undergrad and master’s in Edmonton at U of A (University of Alberta, Canada). I had always thought I would go back to BC, but it was expensive; Alberta was cheaper. So I moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta, where I thought I would stay for a year and I stayed for 12.

That’s where my first job was working in public health with Alberta health services. I had the opportunity to work in every sort of sector: early intervention, school-age. adult, outpatient, and inpatient. I did it all. It was awesome. 

When we were looking to move back to Kelowna, there were no public health jobs. I started googling private practices in Kelowna, and came across this OT rehab company and connected with them. And they said, “Hey, we were just thinking about adding SLP services to our company. You should come join us.” So I did. And that’s how I ended up in private practice for somebody else. I think when I joined there were about 15 people, I grew into a senior management role and during the almost four years I was there, the company grew to 4 locations and a staff upwards of 100 people. 

At the time, given life circumstances, I decided to go back to public health as a frontline clinician. And after a year, I found myself applying for and being awarded the allied health manager role for the central Okanagan, putting myself back into a leadership role which was a passion I had found. 

Being an SLP in BC, Canada, this means that I went from being a unionized SLP meeting my college’s requirements to being an SLP, without any practice hours. In BC our college has practice hour requirements, and while excited to move into the manager role, I would no longer be able to maintain my registration as a speech-language pathologist. That is a big piece of who I am, and I wasn’t anywhere near ready to give that up. 

Then, I started thinking about doing an SLP side hustle on the side to meet the practice hour requirements. Thankful, for the previous experience working for another private practice, I had some ideas how to start and had the confidence that I could do that. I started seeing 1-2 clients every other Saturday and that’s where the private practice started. Currently, my day job is as manager in the mental health and substance use portfolio for Interior Health. And my SLP side hustle is focused on voice therapy. My company is called “Kelowna Voice Therapy Services”. 


What is Kelowna Voice Therapy Services?

My main priority going into it was to maintain my practice and registration. I wasn’t totally ready to not be an SLP anymore. Knowing I had a demanding day job, I was looking for something fulfilling that could also be contained to one day. 

I’ve always had an interest in voice therapy. Voice therapy requires much less prep and follow-up. I don’t have to do a ton of prep. The client comes and I can do what I need to do with them. I send them on their way and I don’t have much follow-up to do in between sessions. 

“I started out seeing 2-3 clients every other Saturday.”

Now, it’s grown on average, I’ll see five, maybe six people every other Saturday. When COVID started and everything moved to online, the boundaries started blurring, and I was like, “Sure, I could do a Tuesday evening.” And all of a sudden I had like 10 clients. I was paused and thought, “Wait a minute, too many.” As I would discharged them, I was able to scale it back to 5 or 6. Keeping your boundaries is very important in private practice, it’s easy for your caseload to balloon and you need to learn how to say no.


How did working for another private practice help prepare you for branching out and doing it on your own?

It’s interesting. Working for somebody else in private felt a lot more comfortable than working on my own. From my experience in having hired a whole bunch of people into a larger private practice is that – there are a lot of fears around what it would mean to be a private practitioner alone and a lot of unknowns.

Working for another company, there’s some security in that. They have to take care of all the admin and the invoicing or whatever it may be. It makes it seem easier. But what I also experienced is that it doesn’t take very long to do those things. Once you’re working for someone else you realize “I can totally work for myself”. The tipping point is when you look at how much they are billing your services out at and how much you’re getting paid and what the company is getting paid. And of course, those thoughts go through your head a little bit like, “Why am I not doing this for myself?”

“I would say working for another company made it just very easy for me to think, “I could totally do this for myself.” In all honestly having something like Therabyte makes it super easy because you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to store charts for years or handle invoicing.”


When you first started in private practice, what tools were you using for documentation and invoicing?

So it’s funny, one of my colleagues in Alberta who does private practice as well, mocked me. I was using a word document that I had created as an invoice template, I was “saving as” every time I had to create a new invoice and had to remember to change the invoice number, which I often forgot to do. Then I was doing paper charting, and storing them in a filing cabinet at home. 

I tracked all my invoices and payments on an Excel spreadsheet. What became cumbersome is when I would forget to update my Excel sheet, and couldn’t remember if I had collected payment or not, on an invoice. Then I would have to reference my bank account to review deposits. The Excel invoicing part wasn’t really working anymore. I was probably doing that for 6 – 9 months. 


How did Therabyte transform your workflow?

The first thing I did right away, I started using the 3-step scheduler and documentation. That changed things significantly for me. I’ve been notoriously bad for being a delayed charter my whole career. In my second year working, I worked in school-based services and I spent all of July catching up on my chart notes. So like really bad at timely charting.

I was slower to change over my invoicing. I couldn’t decide on a name for my business and felt that Staci Cooper, SLP services looked funny. When I did start using the invoicing, that made me get my charting done even faster, because the invoice wouldn’t start preparing until you click they’ve attended the session. I don’t like sending the invoice if I haven’t finished the note, and because of that workflow, it has helped me stay on top of my charting, for the first time in my career.  

Remember when, I sent you a screenshot of my day and all the client events were green. It was amazing, all my charting was done and invoices sent only 45 minutes after my sixth client. I’d done all my charting and invoicing for the day. I felt very accomplished. I was like, “Yay, me.” 

“The whole workflow between the session events, charting and invoicing items just makes me get it done. And, charting doesn’t feel like a chore anymore. It’s just part of the process of what I do on my Saturdays.”

I have one lingering pediatric client that I see randomly and we do get lost in the conversation. Which means, my note might get done a bit later. For that, I use the month view, to visually see if there is anything outstanding at the end of the month, and I can see, “Oh yeah, I forgot to either sign it or finish the note”. It just really reinforces how visual I am and how helpful that visual cue of the 3 step scheduler is. 


I often hear practitioners say, “I only have a few clients, I can’t afford an EMR.” How do you justify spending the money with only a few clients for a small private practice?

I would say in the beginning when I was only scheduling one, two, maybe three clients on a Saturday, it went through my head at first. Yet, at the end of the day, when you look at what you’re charging as an hourly rate, as a private practitioner, and you realize that is essentially what your time is worth, you’re hourly rate.

The amount of time I had spent, writing and trying to figure out the stupid word document for my invoices, and making sure to cross-reference onto the Excel sheet and all of that takes time and …

“I started to see the value of my time differently as I compared it to my hourly rate. I don’t know why $36 a month seemed like a big deal, but now I’m like, it’s peanuts compared to the time that I save and that it’s just done. It’s in one place, it’s organized and secure.”

My thoughts now, is that, “It’s nothing, it’s a business expense”. Part of running your business, and it’s 100% worth it. I would say if you’re seeing two or more clients, it’s worth it. 


What is your favourite feature in Therabyte?

There are so many really good ones, I’m a true Therabyte advocate and fan. I think what you guys have developed – it’s so logical and the workflow, it creates accountability of documentation and tracking goals, which is so important to keep you on track as a clinician. 

“If I really truly look at what Therabyte feature makes private practice easy for me it’s the invoicing”.

Any single person could do the business side of Private practice, with Therabyte, because it is integrated into all parts of your workflow. I also love the goal trees and the branches. I like having a website that’s cool. The scheduler I find really helpful, how visual it is was an unexpected benefit. Oh, the other one is “tracking the funding”. Sometimes people will say, “I only have this much to spend, or I have a client that has a grant or government funding and I’d always be really terrible at trying to figure out how much money I have left available.” – the funding tracking piece, when that was added, was super helpful.


What would be your advice to practitioners considering a side hustle?

I would say “Just do it, honestly.” I wish that people weren’t as afraid of private practice, particularly those who’ve spent a long time in their career in public. If you have any desire  – either to get a little bit of extra income, it certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings for the extra money that I take home working every other Saturday for half a day.

Life can be expensive in Kelowna and it certainly helps, but I think if you have any inkling or desire to do private practice – it’s actually pretty easy to pick up a few clients and just go with it. My advice would be, “Don’t be afraid of private practice, just try it.” 


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