As I look back on writing this weekly column for over 15 years, there are some major themes that stand out as very important in building a successful practice of optometry. Even though we may all define success differently, I’ve identified ten of these factors that I believe can help most independent ODs to achieve their goals.
1. Customer service and convenience. The patient experience is the most important aspect of practice building, but many doctors and staff members don’t really understand the power. They get hung up on their pride and they don’t want to give in. I say, re-examine your policies and make them patient-friendlier. Be caring and understanding all the time, even for the unreasonable patient. Word-of-mouth creates your practice reputation.
2. Think big. Even if your practice is a new start-up or currently struggling in some way, visualize the way you want it to become. Never stop trying to make your practice look and act like that dream practice. Of course, it takes time to achieve practice excellence, but if you know what it looks like, you can continue to take steps toward it. What size would the office be? Describe the equipment and the décor. How many locations? How many staff members and doctors? What services and products would you offer? What would the office hours be?
3. Take some risks. This one goes hand in hand with the previous point: take some risk and stretch to take steps to reach your goals. Of course, you should do this in a safe manner and control the amount of risk, but you have to make things happen. Don’t wait and hope that good things will come your way. Business risk can be present in various ways, but borrowing money is one of the best ways and you should use that tool. Take some action before it is completely obvious that you need to. How do you know what action to take? That is completely up to you.
4. Hire more staff and delegate more. Delegation to others is a huge success factor, but most ODs are not very proactive with this strategy. As you visualize your dream practice, I doubt that your mental picture has you doing everything yourself. You simply can’t increase production if you have to do it all yourself and running faster or working harder is not the answer. The secret to learning to delegate better is to hire more staff first. It will force you to develop a process that will keep them busy and productive. As I stated above, take action before it is obvious that it is needed.
5. Be the CEO. This means think of your practice as a business and think of it as separate from you. When you think about your office hours, don’t think about what you want personally; think about what would be good for the practice as a separate entity. Don’t spend 98% of your time seeing patients; embrace the business aspects. You can do that by compressing your patients into fewer clinic days and delegating more to staff. Associate (employed) ODs can play an important part in the CEO model, but you need to build a lot of patient demand first.
6. Appoint a manager, early. When you visualize your dream practice, it probably has a manager. Staff members need supervision and direction. Left on their own, staff won’t automatically do the right thing or always have the best priorities. And the doctor simply can’t supervise all activities in the practice! Appointing a manager can have an impact on office morale and culture, so it is best to do it early when the practice is smaller. In smaller practices, the manager can have a dual role as supervisor plus another job description (such as optician or receptionist).
7. Supervise and direct your process. Even though many aspects of office administration can be delegated to a manager, the practice owner should remain knowledgeable and involved in all aspects. Don’t allow the practice to become so dependent on any one person that it could be damaged if that person left. That is giving away too much power.
8. Take nearly all insurance plans. This one is sensitive and many won’t agree, but I have to get right to the point in this short article! Most optometric practices need more patients. Far more. Every vision plan I’ve ever seen generates a profit. If you think that is not the case, then you are not looking at it right. The question should not be if you take the plan, it should be how do you maximize your profit with the plan? It is really not that hard once you understand vision plans. The main reason we should accept nearly all medical and vision plans is because our patients want us to. See point number one above. When a patient calls my office, and asks if we accept XYZ plan, we say yes and we are off to a great start.
9. Develop a great office culture. A positive organizational culture is hard to define, but you’ll know it when you see it. It has employees who are generally happy and like their jobs. No one said it would be easy, but a good place to start is to truly care about your employees. How do you make employees (and patients) love you? Love them first.
10. Work with an alliance group. More than ever before, independent optometry is facing many challenges. You should not go it alone. Much of your new competition has deep resources in the form of business talent, technology, leadership and financial backing. You can begin to level the playing field by being a member of a group that provides resources and buying power to independent optometrists without wanting to own them.