Time For a New Optometrist?

By Ian Davies, OD February 26, 2020

Running your own business is tough. It’s tougher still if you are the sole optometrist proprietor of your practice. Not only are you the boss, with all the responsibility of staff, bills, and premises, but you are also the key revenue generator of the business. Without the eye exam there is no money available to pay the bills. Put simply: “no you, no money!”

It’s actually slightly worse than that. If you are the sole provider of the eye examination in your business, then you are the person your patients come to see. While this is professionally satisfying and gratifying, it is also a limiting factor to the long-term financial value of your business. A business isn’t just valued based on its finances (turnover and profit); it is also valued based on the less tangible measure of goodwill. If the reason patients come through your doors is for your skill in doing an eye exam, then, if you are no longer there, a key component of the value of your business has gone. This becomes a significant issue if you are planning on retiring or selling the practice and moving on.

So, when is it time for a new optometrist? And do you have time for a new optometrist?

Know Your Limits

It doesn’t matter how brilliant we are, there are only 7 days a week and 24 hours in a day. Take away the time to carry out the essential tasks of eating, sleeping, relaxing and socializing and that leaves a finite amount of time available for carrying out eye exams. While it may be tempting to extend examining time into that allocated time for eating, sleeping etc., please don’t. Working longer hours certainly generates more eye exam time, but it does so to the detriment of relationships, health, and ultimately the quality of the service you give. Making yourself ill through overwork is not good for business!

Before committing to a new optometrist on the grounds of capacity, first check that you are working efficiently. Are there tasks that you are doing which could be more efficiently done by others? Say optometric assistants, for example. Are your appointments scheduled to optimize your time and minimize waiting time for your patients? By mapping out and questioning the value of each step of the patient journey in your office, you may find that you can create more appointment time within your existing opening hours. This “lean thinking” has been applied to many practices successfully.

OK, so you are at full capacity, or you want to free up some time for yourself, what are the considerations you should have?

Complementary Skill Sets

One way of expanding the practice is to look at expanding your specialities. Maybe you are passionate about managing patients with low vision but have little interest in contact lenses or pediatrics. Bringing in an associate with those skills will expand the breadth of your practice. That said, it is important, particularly if there are just two of you in the office, that each is comfortable with seeing the others’ patients.

Complementary Attitude Sets

Arguably, even more important than the skills, is the attitude of any job candidate. What are their core philosophies toward patient care? What is it about their past working backgrounds that they felt warranted a move? You should be seeking an associate who has the same belief system and attitudes towards your patients as you do, so that your patients feel equally happy about seeing them.

Career Goals

The days of asking people “what do they see themselves doing in 10 years’ time?” have long gone. The workforce of today is looking at shorter term horizons. That said, it’s really important to understand what someone is looking for in a role and fully explore their motivations for the job. It could be that they are looking to save some money before travelling the world, which may be great for you if you need a short-term solution, but not if you are looking to bring someone in as a partner to the business.

Where To Start

All recruiters will admit that the best way of finding talent is via their existing networks and their so called “Little Black Book” of contacts. Every professional should maintain their own “Little Black Book” (although mine is actually red). It starts with college classmates, people you meet at state association CE events, and national conferences. Keeping in contact with company sales reps and making sure that they know what your plans are is a great way of broadening your net. Then there are the online communities. Developing a robust LinkedIn following and engaging with the specialty eyecare and optometric groups on LinkedIn and other social media will all provide opportunities for you to expand your network. Posting occasional updates about your office and your philosophies will also grow your profile. You want to get to the position that colleagues are expressing an interest in working for you before you even post the job.

Practice Pearls

·         Before considering hiring additional optometric capacity make sure that you are operating efficiently -review potential opportunities to delegate tasks and free up your time.

·         Always ensure that you bring on associates with aligned or complementary clinical skills and attitudes towards patient care. Fully explore what their motivations for the change are.

·         Build a “Little Black Book” of contacts in the industry you could work with or could help you find talent, and always develop your on-line networks.

Ian Davies, OD

Ian is an independent optical business consultant, motivational speaker and coach with over 30 years’ experience working in the global vision care business. He has a unique perspective on eye care having worked in all major markets around the world. He is able to combine his clinical knowledge and experience with insights into business gained through executive positions in one of the world’s biggest health care businesses. He is a sought-after speaker, having lectured around the world and given key note speeches to audiences of up to 25,000 people. Ian supports innovative start-up companies in the development of commercial propositions and is a regular consultant to investment analysts on the global optical business. An optometry graduate, Ian worked in hospital, private practice, academic research, and teaching roles before going into the contact lens industry. Ian is currently Master of The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, the oldest optical professional body in the world.

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