Optometric Management Tip # 409   -   Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Act As You Mean to Go

If we examine why some eye care practices grow into large, highly successful firms that gross millions of dollars while others seem to stall at an average income and size level, there is a key factor that jumps out at me. It is the entrepreneurial spirit. Some people seem to have a passion for business that fuels them to become strong leaders. There seems to be a natural aptitude in some people for business, but not every ECP who opens or buys a practice has that spirit. Many doctors end up as practice owners because it is a common career path but they didn't expect all the challenges that come with building a successful business venture.

While it may take more effort for some, I believe many of the factors that make up a great entrepreneurial spirit can be learned. Evaluate your own strengths and hesitations as you read these concepts.

Tactical vs. strategic

The differences between tactics and strategies are much like the differences between a manager and a leader. As business writer Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things.” Said another way, tactics are the how; strategies are the what and why. I think ECPs who are successful in business need to be good at both. I think it is well accepted that the practice owner needs to be a good leader, but it is a mistake to try to delegate all the management duties. The successful ECP is also a good manager of people. As the practice grows, the balance between being the doctor and the CEO shifts toward less clinical time and more management time.

Think big

An entrepreneur visualizes the practice well into the future. This technique goes hand in hand with goal setting, but it is more than that. There is a visual image of what the successful practice will look like someday and how it will operate. It is the essence of a business plan that comes to life. The vision is typically very special and advanced; successful business types do not envision mediocrity.

Business involves risk

The successful CEO is not risk averse. He knows you must spend money to make money and the successful practice owner will stretch to make the practice look like the vision. There are regular investments into the practice, even if it requires a bank loan or lease at times. The entrepreneur is always looking for what he or she can do next. It might be a larger office or multiple locations. It might be a larger optical, an in-office lab, a larger staff, or new clinical instrumentation.

This technique involves making your practice look like the way you hope it will become. I often advise ECPs to “act as you mean to go.” Some have referred to this as “fake it until you make it.” If you make your practice look large and successful, it will become that.

Positive change results in growth

As you progress through any growth phase in your practice, many good things happen. It doesn't really matter which item on your wish list you take action on first because in any case, the staff senses a feeling of excitement and success. This elevates their attitudes and patients sense it as well. This eye care practice is doing great things. Productivity is increased by the new resources and word of mouth referrals grow by leaps and bounds. Quite often the new services or environment provides the confidence that the owner needs to raise fees and patients don't care because they love what they see in the practice.

When should you take the next step?

So, when should you take the next step in your practice? When should you hire the additional employee, or move to a larger office, or bring in that expensive new instrument? My best advice it to not wait until you see a clear signal to act, such as increased patient demand. Instead, develop a safe plan to finance the venture now and you'll be amazed at how the patient demand will follow. That is how all great businesses are built.

Best wishes for continued success,

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