Erin Yinger was named Idaho’s 2010 small-business person of the year by the U.S. Small Business Administration last week. In five years, she built A New Hope Social Services into a company with 84 employees in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.
Q. What is A New Hope?
A. We do outpatient psychotherapy for adults and children with chronic mental health problems such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Q. How did you get started?
A. With just me. Two months later I got a partner, Jeff Williams, and then we hired our first employee. A lot of people who were here at the start are still with us.
Q. Was there a gap in the market A New Hope filled?
A. If you put people first, you’ll succeed whatever the market. We take on really difficult clients. That’s important. We don’t give up on people.
Q. Are your clients able to move on after therapy?
A. Most of our clients need some level of ongoing support.
Q. How did you get your business experience?
A. Trial and error. But I like to look at systems. When I started counseling I just wanted to help one person. Now, I see how collaboration can address more issues, like housing for those with mental health problems.
Q. Do you do any counseling yourself?
A. Not anymore. I did some pro bono, but if you cannot do a patient justice, it’s better to step aside. I feel I can contribute more on a systems level.
Q. Has it been a challenge to build a staff of 84?
A. We have kept our core group, and we get lots of referrals except in more rural areas. You have to have support services to go along with your own staff.
Q. Where is the point below which services become compromised?
A. I think we have crossed that line already. More clients will end up in the hospital, or jail, where they will increase costs to the state. It’s difficult to watch needs go unmet, and it’s concerning on a safety level.
Q. Did you envision yourself as a business person?
A. No. But I do love business. Counselors and business people speak different languages, but there isn’t necessarily a disconnect. If you provide good service, your business will grow. People warn you when you’re getting into business “You don’t know what you’re getting into.” You feel the weight. People depend on you for their livelihood. My most important job is signing paychecks.
Q. What has given you the most satisfaction?
A. The individual client stories, like the 30-year-old able to live on their own, or get a job. Also, creating new programs. The budget cuts have forced us to create new partnerships.
Q. Ever have second thoughts?
A. Of course. The toughest blow was the loss of our psychiatrist, who died unexpectedly two years ago. It was a shock to the staff, and to the patients. They have to have their prescriptions renewed every 30 days, and we had to find a doctor willing to do that until we could find a permanent replacement.
A prayer seems to help sometimes.