Some people won’t “get it.” Try not to care. When someone doesn’t buy into our idea it can be such a downer. In those moments, I’ve learned to focus on the kids and families that we’re helping. Shifting my focus to our “wins” helps me get through the tough times.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Vollmer.
Erin Vollmer is a pediatric Speech Language Pathologist and Co-Founder of TherapyWorks. TherapyWorks is a national provider of pediatric speech, occupational, physical therapies and social work via teletherapy.
Erin received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Speech Language Pathology from Marquette University. She has practiced in the Chicago area for nearly 20 years; treating children in a variety of settings including schools, early intervention and private practice.
Before launching TherapyWorks, Erin had a private practice in Chicago. Owning her own practice enabled Erin to have the flexibility to continue the career she loved while also raising her four kids.
With the rise of the gig economy, Erin and her good friend, Michelle Worth, saw an opportunity to apply this concept to the pediatric therapy market. Many of Erin’s colleagues wanted the freedom and flexibility of running their own practice without the administrative burden. Erin and Michelle teamed up to create the TherapyWorks; enabling families access to quality therapy while creating flexible job opportunities for pediatric therapists. Erin lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with her husband and four children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure! I grew up in Traverse City, Michigan which is still my favorite place on earth. I don’t know if it is because the era of cell phones hadn’t yet reached us during my childhood, or if it is always that way in Northern Michigan, but the pace of life felt slower during when I was growing up. My days were spent outside skiing, fishing, boating and hiking.
I was inspired to study Speech Language Pathology by my uncle who had cerebral palsy. He communicated by pointing to letters on a board, one at a time, to spell out words. It seemed so laborious and frustrating for him. I wondered if there was a way to help him, and others in the same position, find an easier way to communicate their thoughts and ideas to the world.
I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Marquette University and moved to Chicago shortly thereafter. I’ve worked in the Chicago area for almost 20 years, in a variety of settings including schools, clinics and private practice. I started my own practice when I had my oldest son, 16 years ago. I wanted to be home with him but didn’t want to leave the career I loved. Having my own practice enabled me to do both.
In late 2017, I teamed up with my good friend, Michelle Worth, to launch TherapyWorks. Michelle is a finance executive and mother of a child that received speech and occupational therapies at a young age. The idea for TherapyWorks came from Michelle’s experience searching for quality therapy for her son and my experience as a therapist, knowing that there were many very experienced pediatric therapists that would love the opportunity to treat private clients but didn’t (yet) have the platform.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that most resonated with me as an entrepreneur is from Katia Beauchamp of BirchBox. When speaking to a group of female founders she mentioned that the most important thing is to “stay in the game.” It’s simple but important advice, especially now, given that we’ve had to pivot and adapt to new situations. I never want to be the one to throw in the towel and say “well, I guess it won’t work.” When something doesn’t work, we figure out why, learn from it and adapt. We’re lucky to have the advice and support of so many incredible female founders!
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love the podcast “How I Built This” with Guy Raz. In each episode a founder is interviewed about their journey. I find it so inspiring and always walk away with a new idea for TherapyWorks. Each founder’s ability to learn and grow from their mistakes has been a huge motivator for me. I’m always impressed by their resilience.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic, all of our pediatric speech, occupational, physical therapists and social workers were providing in-home, face-to-face pediatric therapies in the Chicago area. Word was spreading and we were growing significantly month-over-month. At the end of February 2020, we had just had our biggest month and were high-fiving about future prospects!
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the Pandemic hit in March 2020 and it wasn’t safe to continue in person therapy, we worried that our clients would regress without therapy. We knew we would have to give teletherapy a try. Most of our pediatric therapists had never provided therapy virtually. We had a whirlwind few weeks of setting up our teletherapy platform and training our therapists. We were able to turn it around quickly and we were excited that the outcome was incredibly positive; our clients continued to make gains and build on the progress they made prior to the pandemic.
At that point we decided to permanently shift to teletherapy. We made that decision for a couple reasons. First, insurance companies began covering telehealth, making it much more doable for so many families. Secondly, teletherapy had proven to be successful for our therapists and clients. While research always supported teletherapy, we now had first-hand experience supporting its success.
Teletherapy enabled us increased access to specialized therapists that would be a “good fit” for each child given that the therapist could now connect virtually, from anywhere. We felt that we were better able to deliver on our original goal of providing families with access to high quality therapy while creating a flexible work option for pediatric therapists.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
We didn’t necessarily have an “aha” moment but knew that we would have to do something given that in-person therapy was no longer an option. Michelle and I did not want to sit back and watch our business crumble. More importantly, we wanted to continue to support our families and the needs of the children we work with.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Great! TherapyWorks is now providing pediatric services in over 20 states while continuing to expand at a rapid pace. We have more than doubled our 2019 revenue and are continuing to grow both financially and geographically month-over-month.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am so grateful for my friend and co-founder, Michelle Worth. When we launched TherapyWorks many people warned us that you shouldn’t go into business with a friend. In fact, people said it so frequently that I started to worry. I can now confidently say that our advice-givers were wrong. Building a business together has made our friendship stronger. I think we work together successfully because we don’t have egos. I trust the decisions Michelle makes and vice versa. Working together makes the day-to-day so much fun.
I am also grateful for our awesome administrative team as well as our therapists. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by hard-working, good people.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
One thing I’ve loved about teletherapy is that we get to connect with so many people across the country and from all walks of life. During the pandemic people seem to be looking for any sort of connection. When talking to families or therapists I feel like I’m getting to know them better since they’re more inclined to stay on the call longer. I love those connections!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Just having a great idea isn’t enough. When we launched TherapyWorks I think I expected it to “go viral” (as my kids would say) right away. I quickly realized that it is not quite that easy.
- This will be a roller coaster of a journey. I knew there would be ups and downs but I don’t think I realized how drastically things can change from one day to the next when starting a company.
- There will be no such thing as a day off. That said, while we are working incredibly hard, it often doesn’t feel like work. We are so passionate about our idea that it makes it fun to go to work every day.
- Some people won’t “get it.” Try not to care. When someone doesn’t buy into our idea it can be such a downer. In those moments, I’ve learned to focus on the kids and families that we’re helping. Shifting my focus to our “wins” helps me get through the tough times.
- Making mistakes will put you at an advantage if you learn from them. In hindsight, there are several “mistakes” we made that were incredibly valuable lessons (even though we didn’t know it at the time). I’m sure we will continue to make and learn from our mistakes in the future.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
One thing I’ve done to manage stress is to force myself turn off the news. I also try to remember some of the positives of the pandemic like spending more time with my husband and kids and being forced to slow down.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’m not a person of great influence yet but I hope to be one day. In line with our mission to make high quality therapy more accessible, I would love to inspire healthcare reform that enables more children access to therapies and assistance that set them up for success.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to meet Melinda Gates. My co-founder, Michelle, had the opportunity to meet her and said she is incredibly inspiring. I am so impressed with all she does for women.
How can our readers follow you online?
Find us at TherapWorks.com or @therapyworksco on Instagram and Facebook
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!