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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor September 29, 2004 - Tip #141 
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Service Clubs and Civic Organizations as Networking Tools

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Judging by the reader email that I receive, the big problem that most practitioners are facing is insufficient patient demand. If we all had a large enough number of private-paying patients wanting more eye care services, our other management problems would be easy to solve! There is no fast or easy way to build patient demand, but there are still many things that the optometrist can do to make the practice grow quicker. Let's look at one proven way to develop your eye care practice - but one that many ODs pass up.

If we examine how optometric practices are generally built, we find that it's mostly word-of-mouth. The practice and doctor gain a reputation in the local community as being a good place to go for eye care. This word-of-mouth process occurs via a network of people (mostly established patients) and the network grows exponentially as more people tell more people how great the practice is. But some people in the network have a bigger impact on growth than others, and some of the big influencers don't even have to be patients. Community leaders and local business people have huge networks of their own, and if your network interacts with their networks, the word-of-mouth effect can be quite powerful. This is why involvement in the community can help your practice grow.

I don't believe anyone should join a service organization for the purpose of gaining business. That is exactly the wrong reason to join. One should participate because he or she believes in the goals and ideals of the group and wants to do good things for the community. Knowing that business owners that give back to their local community through volunteer work usually are successful is a beneficial side effect. It's a very nice bonus for doing good work. Promoting one's own business within the framework of a service club is generally frowned upon, but it happens in the background without even trying.

When an optometrist or an office manager joins Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Jaycees, the local Chamber of Commerce, Business and Professional Women's clubs, church groups, or serves in local town government, he or she meets and builds friendships with other community leaders. These leaders may become patients over time, but that is really not that important; it's the good will and caring reputation that develops that matters. Members of service clubs often work on projects with the general public - which expands the reputation even further. When you and your fellow members roll up your sleeves and serve spaghetti suppers as a benefit for the local high school sports teams, the people of the community learn who you are, and they appreciate your efforts.

Some service groups meet weekly, some monthly. Some meet over breakfast lunch, dinner or in the evening. Many organizations that were once for men only are now open to both genders. Some groups demand much time, some fairly little. Some have projects to raise funds for charity and worthy local causes. Some projects require time and service by the member, others sell tickets to events. Some work with youth, some invite speakers.

Find out what organizations exist in your community and ask some existing members to tell you more. Ask what kind of projects the group works on and what are its goals. Ask how new members are accepted, and ask if you can attend a meeting as a guest. You can find information by reading the local newspaper, doing an Internet search, and the library or town hall may have some information. After you've studied the local scene - pick and organization and join it! Pay the dues as a business expense and arrange your schedule so you can faithfully attend meetings. Work toward becoming a board member or officer of the organization. Giving selflessly ends up helping you in the long run. As Zig Ziglar said: "You can get anything you want in life, if you just help enough other people get what they want."

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

A Proud Supporter of

Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.
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