TV's <i>The Apprentice</i>: Did We Learn Anything?
April 21, 2004
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Granted, The Apprentice TV show was pure entertainment and not really much to do with business training - or was it? Are there any parallels for running an optometric practice in analyzing the Trump dynasty? As different as the Trump business universe is from Main Street Eye Care, there are some important similarities, and lessons to learn. They may sound like clichés, but these business concepts endure because there is truth in them.
Think big. This is what Donald Trump is all about; it's his trademark. It applies well in optometry, too.
Invest money in your business. Mr. Trump did not always have billions, or even millions... he had to borrow money for some of his investments, and in the early nineties he was near bankruptcy. Reinvest some of your profits into your practice, and consider borrowing safely to invest more. Make your own priority list - it could be larger office space, remodeling the optical, an additional exam room, or a new management software system. Doing these things before they're obviously needed will jump-start the practice. For most of us, our practice is a better investment than stocks or real estate.
Build it and they will come. Trump's businesses started out looking successful and looking like they would attract a crowd, and they eventually did. His casinos, hotels and golf clubs all look first class. You may not be able to achieve this all at once in your practice, but as much as possible, make the practice look and feel the way you want it to become. For example, if you can't fill a full week's schedule with appointments (yet), reduce your schedule so it's busy when you're there. This breeds the successful look and feel, and patients sense it. Use the non-scheduled time to train your staff and work on marketing.
Think out of the box. The candidates on The Apprentice were successful when they did this. One assignment was to make money selling horse and carriage rides in New York City, but the team that sold advertising messages on the back of the carriage made more than the team selling carriage rides.
Take risks. Try new concepts - even if they might fail. If you're always afraid of failure, you'll set your goals much too low. When Trump bought the Miss USA Pageant a few years ago, he decided to move the annual contest to Gary, Indiana (he owns a casino there and thought he could help boost the failing local economy). This year it's being held in Los Angeles, where the hype and glamour can help carry the event. He tried an idea, it didn't work, he moved on.
Try new channels of business. Even the Donald has had his share of business failures; recently some of his casino businesses have reported losses. But he just opened up a whole new empire in television, and NBC is busy getting ready for next season's The Apprentice. Optometrists may not be able to be as diverse as Trump International, but in our own world, there are many business areas we can delve into, without straying too far from what we know. Consider: Making the eyeglasses you prescribe in your own surfacing lab, building a new office complex and renting out some of the space, merging your practice with several others and forming a large group, importing your own frame line from Italy, joining with an ophthalmologist to gain the synergy from both professions, starting your own vision insurance and safety eyeglass plan for local industry, or building a sunglass center within your practice.
Concentrate on ways to make money, in its simplest form. The Apprentice candidates found ways to make money every week. They set rental fees for a penthouse apartment ridiculously high, even for Manhattan, but they found people who paid them. One team catered to VIPs only in a casino, because they needed more than just bodies, they needed bodies who spent more.
Delegate - Teamwork. Successful Apprentice team leaders assigned tasks to others, and then let them perform without micromanaging. Many optometrists micromanage their staff every day, which wastes time and hurts morale.
Manage obstacles. These occur in many forms in business every day. The manger that can handle them and stay cool is the one who will succeed. You can probably manage the obstacles just fine, if you build time into your schedule to take care of it.
Manage people, not tasks. Donald Trump surrounds himself with great people, and so can optometrists. Trump questioned why finalist Kwame didn't fire Omarosa when he suspected she was lying to him. Trump has joked that he has become famous for the words "YOU'RE FIRED!" (which he has now copyrighted), but he wrote in his book that he doesn't fire people all that often and he much prefers long-lasting, loyal relationships.
A quick and fun read is Donald Trump's new book, How to Get Rich, Random House, NY. This and other business books often provide insight into how to better manage our practices.