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When I attended optometry school in the mid-seventies, I remember the one piece of
practice building advice the professor gave the class was to join civic organizations.
Becoming active in the community was considered the vanguard of public relations for the
professional man (I’m not being sexist – words like “professional man” were actually used
back then). It was simply not appropriate to talk of marketing or advertising in our
profession. Frankly, the course was really not very interesting to me at the time, but
that imparted bit of wisdom was very sound then and it still is today. Optometrists who
seek to build larger, more successful practices should ask themselves how visible they
are in the community and how they are perceived by the public at large.
A different kind of word-of-mouth
Today, optometric practices, like all of health care, have evolved to embrace many forms
of marketing. We have found that we can remain ethical and professional while we
participate in various forms of promotion. In my experience, however, no form of
advertising is more effective than word of mouth recommendations. Word of mouth is so
powerful for service businesses like ours, that the smart practitioner will seek ways to
expand it. The main way most ODs earn word of mouth referrals is through excellent
service, one-on-one with patients. If you agree that most practices are built that way,
then make sure you are benefiting from the second biggest source of word-of-mouth:
community service work.
When you join and become active in a civic organization, many other people in that
organization and in the general public get to know you and learn that you are a good
person. You develop a relationship of trust with others, and you earn their respect
because you are giving your time for a good cause with nothing expected in return.
This is an extremely valuable reputation to earn, and it’s made all the more effective
by the fact that the people you build relationships with are leaders in the community
While we value all referrals from any source, it’s a fact that some people will have a
major network of friends and acquaintances, while others have a small sphere of influence.
The benefits of a referral grow exponentially as a person tells others and as those
people become patients and they tell others. The people who participate in organizations
like Rotary club or the local chamber of commerce are generally those who know many
people and who have a strong degree of influence. They are bankers, physicians, lawyers,
CPAs, and other successful business owners. They have employees, clients, suppliers and
colleagues within their world, who have more connections.
Not a joiner?
Admittedly, some optometrists have a naturally outgoing personality and love the idea of
showing up at a meeting and introducing themselves to new people, and others are just the
opposite. If you’re the type of person who does not enjoy group social interaction,
don’t give up. I can tell you from experience that it’s not as difficult as it sounds
and after you get past the first few introductions, you’ll find the process quite
rewarding. Many clubs are small groups of perhaps 30 or 40 people. Many meetings occur
over a lunch or breakfast, and have a program, such as a guest speaker. Get past the
first part and you’ll build relationships that will last a lifetime.
What to join?
Investigate the organizations that exist in the community where you practice. Ask other
professionals and business people in town if they belong to any groups and find out about
the goals of the organization, frequency of meetings, time of meetings, expectations of
members, fund raising duties and activities, social events, dues and so on. If a
certain group sounds good to you, find out more specifics by attending a meeting as a
guest. You don’t have to join if you don’t like it. Most groups are now open to men
and women together, but some still have restrictions for either gender.
Possible organizations include:
Chamber of Commerce
Business and Professional Women’s Club
Little League or other sports leagues
How to join?
Ask an existing member if you can attend a meeting as a guest. Don’t be shy – just ask
how one becomes a member. If you know of a group, but don’t know any members personally,
find out who the president is and call him or her on the phone and express your interest.
Most groups are always looking for new members, so you’ll usually be welcomed with open
arms. If you decide to join, be active and regular. Plan ahead for good attendance at
meetings by closing out your appointment schedule so you can arrive on time and stay
until the end. Volunteer to work on a committee and after you gain experience in the
club, seek to serve as an officer or board member.
Have the right attitude
Joining a civic organization should always be done to give of yourself with no return
expected. It is a way to give to the community and may involve raising funds for charity
and worthy local causes. If you join a group, refrain from self-promotion or promotion
of your business of any kind. The word-of-mouth benefit comes over time, and without
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.