in 1975 from The Southern College of Optometry was the beginning of my professional
career, as it was for all of my classmates. The early years were full with the concerns
of establishing a practice, building a patient base, generating income, repaying
bank notes for leasehold improvements and equipment notes and much, much more. Naturally
to get a small business started and make it profitable was all that many of us could
focus on in those early days.
Then somewhere in the career of many optometrists,
their practices became more consistent regarding patient flow, income and debt management.
And, then it happened: routine set in. The status quo was good enough and that's
where they stayed. Their student debt was long since retired, their original equipment
was paid off and under the guise of avoiding any further debt, they made no real
attempt to invest in the future of their practices. Many of these O.D.s felt that
debt avoidance, rather than debt management, was the best way to increase the cash
value of their practice.
Let's role the clock ahead 31 years and take
a look at how those plans are now serving optometrists in the later years of their
Many of those 1975 graduates are between
the ages of 55 and 65 today and have either retired, are hoping to retire or in
some cases, realize that they unfortunately won't be able to retire. Some of those
O.D. owners sold their practices as thriving businesses and completed the cycle
of a practice career. Many are now interested in selling their practices and remaining
as an employee in an effort to get their cash out of the business, yet continue
to generate income while others would rather relax on a beach somewhere and never
ask anyone about "one or two" ever again.
Not over yet
For those of you in that middle stage of your
practice's maturation and growth, you have more work to do; it's not time to become
complacent or satisfied with reduced worry about cash flow and where the next patient
will come from. Now it's time for you to develop plans to take your practice to
the next level, as well as develop your exit strategy. Those of you who have already
advanced your practice to a very successful level should focus your efforts on your
exit strategy as well. After all, now that you've built such a valuable business,
who can afford to buy it? Banks are no longer willing to finance a small business
purchase and collateralize the loan with the value of the business. They now require
collateral that many O.D.s don't have.
I write this not as a warning but rather as an
encouragement. I encourage all practicing optometrists new to our profession and
early in their career to look to the future of their practice from the very first
day they open their doors not just the future that exists in the next day,
week, month, or year but rather decades ahead. And to those well into your career,
if you haven't already developed an exit or succession plan, it's time to begin.
Groom your practice by investing in
the technology and well-trained employees who are the platform from which practice
efficiency and profitability grow, thereby increasing the value of your practice
as well as your ability to retire on your terms.