you ever wanted to try your hand at consulting but weren't sure how to cross
the threshold into this area?
The conventional wisdom held by many
optometrists is that consulting is limited to the sports jocks, large
optometric practitioners and contact lens researchers.
Not necessarily. Indeed, those O.D.s are
prime candidates to receive consulting offers. But hundreds of "ordinary
mainstream" optometrists consult.
Here, I'll discuss how you can get started
consulting, and who can benefit from your expertise.
Unlike when I started consulting more than
30 years ago, opportunities abound today. Here are just a few of them:
� Expert witness. Legal cases provide a unique form of consulting. This work involves
giving depositions on behalf of a client, reading depositions from the opposing
side, advising the defendant's or plaintiff's lawyers on strategies and facts,
and, of course, appearing at trials. In our litigious society, occasions to be
expert witnesses are frequent. Most of the O.D.s I spoke with began working
with clients they had a personal relationship with. If you're in a large, urban
area a letter to law firms expressing an interest in consulting is helpful.
Attorneys keep those letters on file.
� Industry consultant on a project basis.A number of companies outside the optical industry
may not think they need your expertise, but they could benefit from it.
o Firms that require employees to work in hazardous
situations need a consultant to advise them on safety eyewear.
o Businesses that compel staff to use computers most of
the day need a consultant to give advice on lighting, glare, ergonomics and
o Firms that require employees to do close vision tasks
or just want to increase efficiency need a consultant.
� Industry consultant on a retainer basis. Many of the businesses listed above might want a
consultant on a retainer basis -- someone who's paid an annual stipend and is
on call for advice. This differs from an employed status and is common these
days, particularly with contact lens and laser vision correction firms.
Retained industry consultants are generally private contractors. Jerry
Legerton, O.D., of Campbell, Calif., who retired from practice to do full-time
consulting in the ophthalmic market, says that "the experienced doctor of
optometry can become a highly regarded consultant to the ophthalmic industry in
the areas of strategic planning, marketing, clinical research and product
� Athletic team advisor. While the number of professional teams is limited,
the number of nonprofessional athletic teams that need optometric advice is
infinite. That advice runs the gamut from routine vision testing for student
athletes to vision therapy to improve athletic skills. School systems and other
groups would benefit from optometric advisors.
� Practice selling/buying consultant. Most O.D.s and M.D.s are as uncomfortable buying or
selling practices as they are working on the business of running practices. How
to set a realistic value on a practice, how to structure a financial package
for sale or purchase, and how to negotiate a fair and equitable deal are three
areas just crying out for expert consultation.
Major credentials to be a consultant here: Understand optometric practice
economics and know how to put them to work.
� Practice evaluation consultant. An optometric practice needn't be up for sale to be
evaluated. Business-minded O.D.s have their practices evaluated regularly if
for no other reason than to advise their spouses what the true practice value
is in case of death.
If more optometrists were aware of the many consultants available who can, and
will, take their practice data and appraise them, they'd willingly invest in
� Practice operation consultant. One step beyond practice evaluation is the advice
so desperately needed by optometrists and other professionals on how to run
practices efficiently, effectively and economically.
Some consultant jobs materialize"out of
the blue." A local lawyer thinks you have a good reputation, so she asks
for your advice in a litigation case. A high school athletic director reads an
article on sports vision and asks you, his eye doctor, for help. A colleague
wants to improve his bottom line.
These calls are unfortunately few and far
between. To increase these opportunities, you can't be bashful. Visit
industries in your locale. Prepare a short, well-phrased letter addressing the
value of good vision and good binocular function on the job, being as specific
as possible to the company. Include with the letter a brochure on the subject.
Getting the proper person to whom the letter should be addressed is a key point
-- it's always better to name a person than a position.
Call and invite the plant manager or CEO to
lunch and explain the value he'll add to his company with a good vision
program. Arm yourself with data and materials -- and be sure to leave something
that he can read at his leisure. Finally, follow up every visit with a letter.
Making yourself better known will also help
your consulting business. Dick Kattouf, O.D., of Warren, Ohio, says that
optometrists and ophthalmologists have discovered his consulting services
"through his lecturing, writing and client referrals -- not advertising."
Publishing articles or lecturing about
clinical or practice management subjects will also boost your consulting
business. People respect those who can write or lecture intelligently on
business or clinical subjects.
Making yourself "an expert" in
certain areas also helps. For example, you could focus on ergonomics in the
workplace, vision training for ball players or vision safety in industrial
plants. Put items on these subjects in your office newsletters frequently,
always ending with the statement "our office is available to consult on
Charging for your services
Want to know what to charge clients when you
consult? Pick a number. But pick one that has some logic to it.
Figure out what you'd normally make working in
your own offices. According to the latest data from the American Optometric
Association (AOA), the average per hour overhead cost for an optometric office
is more than $60 per doctor. So every hour you're out of your office you have
to generate $60 just to pay the overhead. The hourly income for an O.D., again
using AOA median figures, is between $45 and $50.
In light of the above, the minimum rate
you'll need to charge just to break even is $100 per hour. However, is this a
fair amount for the time and knowledge you'll need for the specialized work and
advice required for your consultancy? Absolutely not. So you'll need to add an
amount above the $100.
Dr. Legerton tells O.D.s who are seeking
consultants that "you should be pleased with paying the same daily or
hourly rate you pay your valued attorney or accountant for business
And when you're figuring your fees, remember
there's a great deal of difference between a consultancy and working as an
expert witness. Often the fees for expert witnessing are higher. The last time
I was an expert witness (3 years ago), I charged $300 an hour for advice; $150
hour for reading depositions; and $1,500 plus expenses for a day out of the
office giving a deposition and the like. That was probably cheap.
Paul Farkas, a retired O.D. now living in
Florida, told me that he charged $1,500 as an expert witness that took him out
of the office for a day. And that was in 1989! A fee of $2,000 per day is
probably a fair fee for an expert witness today.
For more general consulting -- to local
industry and to other professionals -- the fee might properly be a little less,
say $1,500 a day (for 6 hours) plus expenses. Broken down, it shouldn't be less
than $250 per hour. If the price tag isn't sufficient to do a good job, the
incentive to do a good job won't be there. And doing a good job requires more
than giving opinions off the top of your head.
Treat it like a business
O.D.s who've consulted find that a great
many "freeloaders" exist. They're your colleagues who want you to
"do a favor," or an investment firm that requests data on a product
and your experiences with it. And, of course, there are the focus groups that
treat you to an evening of conversation and sandwiches with a "thank
you" and a $100 check. If you're in the consulting "business,"
treat it as such and, like any other business, there are financial rules to
create and obey.
The biggest potential for consulting is with
O.D.s and ophthalmologists who are looking to buy optometric practices or add
dispensaries. History has shown that O.D.s are "more comfortable"
paying fees to non-O.D. management experts than they are to O.D.s who offer
similar services. Don't let this upset you; just recognize it as being true.
Over the years, I've had the good fortune to
consult in many of the areas listed above. And so have many of my optometric
colleagues. In each instance the fees varied, often considerably.
Are you right for the job?
Now that you know the basics, realize that
consulting is a lot more than just giving advice.
"Just because someone has an optometric
degree and a busy practice doesn't necessarily mean he'll be a good
consultant," notes Brad Williams, who heads the Williams Consulting Group,
Topeka, Kan. "A consultant is more like a practice partner, interested not
in just teaching you something but in helping bring it to fruition."
Harriett Stein of Baltimore, Md., a
well-respected consultant to O.D.s, says there "must be a level of trust
and honesty for the consulting to be successful." She feels that a
successful consultant must be a person who the client feels comfortable with,
"someone who doesn't intimidate, someone with whom a client can discuss
her fears and dreams." Good advice.
How I Began Consulting
It seems like yesterday that I got the
phone call from Bill Cameron of Titmus Optical Co. Yet, it was more than 30
years ago. Mr. Cameron had just been retained by Titmus to market a new French
ophthalmic lens, called Varilux. One of his first assignments was to line up
some consultants. Our phone conversation went something like this:
BILL: "Dr. Bennett, I work for
Titmus Optical in Petersburg, Va., and we're introducing the new Varilux lenses
in the United States. I understand you're familiar with this product. Would you
be interested in consulting with us on their marketing?"
ME: "Well, I hadn't thought much
about it, but I guess I would."
BILL: "How much do you charge for
ME: "$50 per hour." (Keep in
mind I'd never consulted with anyone before, and at that time there were very
few O.D.s who did any consulting with the optical industry.)
ME: "No, $50 -- a five and an
BILL: "Gee, I just talked with Dr.
(name withheld) from The Ohio State University and he agreed to consult for $15
ME: "Bill, you have to understand,
that doctor is a Ph.D. and I'm an O.D."
BILL: "Oh. (Pause) I'll have to get
back to you."
Bill Cameron did get back to me and, yes,
he did hire me as a consultant. That was in 1965. Considering inflation, the
$50 that I was paid would be $200 today. Not bad.
-- Irving Bennett, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Consulting to Grow Your Practice
Sometimes consulting for free can help
build your practice. It's "not really free," says Jack Runninger,
O.D., of Rome, Ga., who's advised many an athletic coach on vision matters.
"When you consider the public
relations you may get from consulting with a local high school sports team as a
community service," Dr. Runninger notes, "it's a no-brainer."
In cases like this, he suggests, it's
important to let the coaches know that your consulting fee is normally $200 per
hour, but for the community's sake you want to donate your service.
Robert Koetting, O.D., of St. Louis, Mo.,
says that "during my years in practice, I was far less concerned about
individual fees than about raising my profile in the ophthalmic
community." He felt that companies and individuals wishing to engage a
consultant are likely to ask peers for recommendations.
Dr. Bennett is the founder of the Irving
Bennett Business and Practice Management Center at the Pennsylvania College of
Optometry in Elkins Park, Pa. He frequently writes and lectures on practice