Optometric Management Tip # 161   -   Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Community Service Still Good Advice

When I attended optometry school in the mid-seventies, I remember the one piece of practice building advice the professor gave the class was to join civic organizations. Becoming active in the community was considered the vanguard of public relations for the professional man (Iím not being sexist Ė words like ďprofessional manĒ were actually used back then). It was simply not appropriate to talk of marketing or advertising in our profession. Frankly, the course was really not very interesting to me at the time, but that imparted bit of wisdom was very sound then and it still is today. Optometrists who seek to build larger, more successful practices should ask themselves how visible they are in the community and how they are perceived by the public at large.

A different kind of word-of-mouth

Today, optometric practices, like all of health care, have evolved to embrace many forms of marketing. We have found that we can remain ethical and professional while we participate in various forms of promotion. In my experience, however, no form of advertising is more effective than word of mouth recommendations. Word of mouth is so powerful for service businesses like ours, that the smart practitioner will seek ways to expand it. The main way most ODs earn word of mouth referrals is through excellent service, one-on-one with patients. If you agree that most practices are built that way, then make sure you are benefiting from the second biggest source of word-of-mouth: community service work.

When you join and become active in a civic organization, many other people in that organization and in the general public get to know you and learn that you are a good person. You develop a relationship of trust with others, and you earn their respect because you are giving your time for a good cause with nothing expected in return. This is an extremely valuable reputation to earn, and itís made all the more effective by the fact that the people you build relationships with are leaders in the community themselves.

While we value all referrals from any source, itís a fact that some people will have a major network of friends and acquaintances, while others have a small sphere of influence. The benefits of a referral grow exponentially as a person tells others and as those people become patients and they tell others. The people who participate in organizations like Rotary club or the local chamber of commerce are generally those who know many people and who have a strong degree of influence. They are bankers, physicians, lawyers, CPAs, and other successful business owners. They have employees, clients, suppliers and colleagues within their world, who have more connections.

Not a joiner?

Admittedly, some optometrists have a naturally outgoing personality and love the idea of showing up at a meeting and introducing themselves to new people, and others are just the opposite. If youíre the type of person who does not enjoy group social interaction, donít give up. I can tell you from experience that itís not as difficult as it sounds and after you get past the first few introductions, youíll find the process quite rewarding. Many clubs are small groups of perhaps 30 or 40 people. Many meetings occur over a lunch or breakfast, and have a program, such as a guest speaker. Get past the first part and youíll build relationships that will last a lifetime.

What to join?

Investigate the organizations that exist in the community where you practice. Ask other professionals and business people in town if they belong to any groups and find out about the goals of the organization, frequency of meetings, time of meetings, expectations of members, fund raising duties and activities, social events, dues and so on. If a certain group sounds good to you, find out more specifics by attending a meeting as a guest. You donít have to join if you donít like it. Most groups are now open to men and women together, but some still have restrictions for either gender.

Possible organizations include:
Rotary Club
Lions Club
Chamber of Commerce
Business and Professional Womenís Club
Little League or other sports leagues
Local politics
Church groups
How to join?

Ask an existing member if you can attend a meeting as a guest. Donít be shy Ė just ask how one becomes a member. If you know of a group, but donít know any members personally, find out who the president is and call him or her on the phone and express your interest. Most groups are always looking for new members, so youíll usually be welcomed with open arms. If you decide to join, be active and regular. Plan ahead for good attendance at meetings by closing out your appointment schedule so you can arrive on time and stay until the end. Volunteer to work on a committee and after you gain experience in the club, seek to serve as an officer or board member.

Have the right attitude

Joining a civic organization should always be done to give of yourself with no return expected. It is a way to give to the community and may involve raising funds for charity and worthy local causes. If you join a group, refrain from self-promotion or promotion of your business of any kind. The word-of-mouth benefit comes over time, and without even trying.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management