When you launch a new practice–especially if it’s a cold start–there is a huge learning curve. The logical question most inexperienced practice owners ask is, “How do I create a top tier practice?” A better question to ask is, “Who can help me create an amazing practice?” What would happen in your life if you asked this question every time you wanted to accomplish something?
The power of having instant access to knowledge, insights, resources and capabilities cannot be overstated because the acquisition of wisdom is accelerated by utilizing the wisdom of others. The clinical skills you honed in optometry school need to be complemented by business know-how and savvy to truly be a successful practice owner.
Here are the professional contacts–some professional and some mentors–who helped me create a practice that grew by 30 percent annually the first six years in business despite opening during the Great Recession in an area already saturated with eyecare.
Individual Subject Matters Experts Vs. One Optometric Consultant I originally thought I might engage one experienced optometric consultant to advise me on all aspects of my new practice–from office environment and culture to marketing, legal, HR, finances and insurance needs. Then I got advice that entirely changed my approach: Reach out instead to experts for each facet of the practice in which you require guidance.
Many consultant firms come with what amounts to a ready template, or “cookie-cutter” approach. They give you the same advice and tools they gave to all their practice owners. It has been said that conventional wisdom leads to conventional results. In this context, the result is a practice that looks and feels almost exactly like any other practice–mediocre. For a more individualized and personalized approach–one that will give patients an experience they will not find replicated anywhere else–individual subject matter experts are far better.
Who Are These “Subject Matter Experts?” Attorney: A lawyer with experience working with healthcare practices helped me negotiate the lease for the building I operated out of when I first opened my practice. They educated me on protocols to institute in the practice to avoid malpractice lawsuits, and helped me understand human resources law, so that I would know how to be the best boss possible while protecting my practice.
Accountant: An accountant helped me create a corporate structure with a system for managing expenses and continues to help limit my taxable income.
Insurance Group: I found an independent insurance group that educated and advised me of all my options for insuring both the practice and myself as a doctor. The advantage of working with such a group is they could show me all my insurance options–from many different providers versus just one–and then facilitated insurance policies that would be best for each area of the business where I needed coverage.
Practice-Patient Communications Consultant: I was offered great insights from working with a communications consultant who helped train my staff on the best way to talk to patients on everything from scheduling exams to the importance of capturing retinal screening images and the value our optical products have to offer versus online retail. This consultant also showed us how to achieve the most effective hand-off from doctor to optician, critical to increasing the capture rate of glasses.
Marketing Consultant: This expert showed us how to create a website that would be easy for patients to find and use and the best way for us to promote ourselves online, including how to optimize social media. We learned how to differentiate ourselves in terms of publicizing our practice to show prospective patients why they should come to us versus another competitor. We also learned about opportunities to promote our services by participating in local health fairs and community events.
Practice Finances Expert: This optometric practice management specialist showed us how to maximize profitability while keeping expenses in check. People get excited about top-line revenue, but profitability is what’s most important because that’s your compensation. Better to be the practice that makes $500,000 in revenues and has $150,000 left over at end of the year than the practice that generates $1 million in revenues and has $100,000 left at the end of the year. A practice consultant, who specializes in financial management, can help you create a practice focused on net profitability by showing you how to keep costs down.
Banker: I established a relationship with a representative at my local bank who helped me set up the right kind of accounts to run my business. I always give this rep is a first chance when looking for a loan, both practice and real estate. This relationship came in especially handy as I waded my way through getting Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans during the pandemic.
Mentors: Another type of advisor comes in the form of a mentor. These people are often not paid, but have more skills in a particular area than me. An example is retired successful business people in the community who are willing to help. Asheville SCORE is a group consisting of retired professionals, who had successful businesses, and who volunteer to help new business owners. Similar groups exist in other markets. I ask these people three key questions:
What was the best thing you did while in business?
What was the worst thing?
What was the thing you wish you had done sooner?
How Do You Afford All These Specialists? I didn’t start paying myself for work in the practice until after the first year to year and a half. I also moonlighted as a freelance OD at other eyecare practices to pay my bills. As I brought on these paid professionals I had to think about what I could afford each quarter–and what aspect of my business most needed attention at any given point in time. So, one quarter it may have been marketing and another quarter it may have been patient communications to help boost capture rate. Some I only used once and some I used once and then again six months or a year later.
The right group of experts and mentors does wonders to help you push your practice in the right direction. It’s about using relationships and being transformed by them to increase your capacity as a business owner. I’m always surprised by patients who focus on price alone to make health decisions. I’m equally surprised to hear when colleagues are too cost-averse to hire an expert. If you’re focused on doing everything yourself, you are dramatically limiting how effective your practice will be.
A great consultant should help your practice generate revenues that far exceed their fees. I have found the experts I used an essential part of growing the thriving practice I have today. So, start building your board of directors–make a commitment to choose one aspect of your practice that needs to improve, and find an expert to help you achieve what you couldn’t as well or as efficiently alone. You’ll be glad you did!