Article Date: 4/1/2005

business advisor
Your Consultant and You

Understanding the optometrist-consultant relationship.
Jerry Hayes, O.D.

Although I no longer individually consult for optometrists, they still ask me for referrals and suggestions. My standard advice is that before you worry about who to hire, spend some time defining the needs of your practice so you know exactly what you want to get out of a consulting relationship.

For example, a practice grossing less than $400,000 annually and netting 35% has different needs than a practice grossing $800,000 and netting 22%. The owner of a small practice should look for a consultant to help it build volume, while the larger practice doesn't need more volume until the owner learns how to improve his profitability.

Likewise, the frazzled owner of a practice grossing $600,000 and netting 31% who finds himself working 60 hours each week and hating it needs a consultant to teach him how to delegate more tasks to a well-trained staff.

The right chemistry

In addition to hiring a consultant whose strengths seem to fit your needs, it's also important to find someone who you can connect with on a personal level.

Find a consultant who's right for you and your practice by spending time with a few prospects on the phone or, if it's a big assignment, it might make more sense to take the time to meet the consultant in person.

If your engagement with the consultant is going to cost more than $1,000, then have him provide you with a written fee quote plus a proposal of what he's going to do, how long it will take and the desired outcome.

How can a consultant help?

I've had many optometrists tell me that they know they need help, but they just don't understand how a consultant can know more about their practice than they do. The answer is that a consultant doesn't have to know as much about the details of your practice as you do to help you dramatically. Here's why: If you've hit a wall in terms of growing your revenue or raising your net percentage, then it's almost always because (as consultants like to say) "You don't know what you don't know."

Maybe it's your staff's performance or a lack of financial controls. Either way, your practice and your profits aren't going to improve until you put certain key success activities (e.g., planning, budgeting and staff training) in place.

Most problems are fixable

While optometrists tend to have a do-it-yourself mentality, if you've been in a low-growth, low-profit situation for more than a few years, then you almost certainly need outside professional help to take your practice to the next level. I've seen countless optometrists sit back in stagnant practices all the way into their retirement years. These practices had fixable problems, but the optometrists were too stubborn to hire somebody to help them.

Are you ready for change?

In many cases, the primary impediment to the growth of a practice is nothing more than the owner's desire to maintain the status quo. Therefore, you should ask yourself before hiring a consultant whether you're ready and willing to make positive changes in the way you run your practice. If you're not, then I advise you to save your money and continue running your business the same old way.

A frequent writer and speaker on practice management issues, Dr. Hayes is the founder and director of Hayes Consulting.  You can reach him at (800) 588-9636 or JHAYES@HAYESCONSULTING.NET.

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2005