From setting goals and aligning values, to investing in technology and asking for feedback, there is no shortage of effective business habits for successful small-to-medium optical enterprises. Four leading Australian optometrists, an optical dispenser and a practice manager from various locations share what works best for them.
Negative feedback provides an opportunity to get better
- Empower the entire team. Every member plays a vital role and is invited to make suggestions on any aspect of the business. I’m constantly asking the team what can we do better? Every suggestion is a good suggestion because it gives a fresh perspective.
- Actively seek feedback from patients – good or bad. Welcome negative feedback as an opportunity to improve. We recently changed our process to dedicate one team member to check-in, pre-test, and discuss lens selection with a patient, so they don’t have to repeat themselves to several staff members. This change came as a result of negative feedback. Don’t hide negative feedback – they’re like jewels. We’ve really listened to what we’ve been told. We celebrate positive feedback and share negative feedback.
- Transfer professional trust at handover by endorsing the dispensing skills of the team. Recognise the business isn’t just about optometrists. We’ve sought to encourage our patients to develop
a relationship with each team member – optometrists, dispensers, optical assistants – as each person plays an important role. We’re a large team but we’re all equals. There is no hierarchy – that’s part of our workplace culture.
- Strive for solution-based dispensing. Acknowledge patients’ frustration with their vision. We’ve learned, again from patient feedback, the importance of managing patient expectations. Nothing replaces natural vision. When having a conversation with a patient about lenses, we explain what a lens will do and – crucially – what a lens won’t do. We set realistic expectations. We’re not pushing key performance indicators (KPIs), or recommending a particular lens based on commission. It’s a good habit to be patient-centric. Trust is number one for success, with patients and your team. Nothing is more valuable in business.
Trust integral to business success
- Self-care. I prioritise my mental and physical health. If I am not functioning well then it makes it hard to concentrate, plan or strive to achieve goals in any area – both personally and at work. I schedule time into every week to exercise, eat well and get enough sleep. Having some basic routines in place during my week also ensures I stay on task, reduce overwhelm and balance family and work commitments.
- Set goals and plan. I am very goal focused, it helps me remain on the right path, with a plan. Each year I take time out to write down my business goals for the year. Goals are then broken down quarterly and monthly. I have monthly meetings with my team where our targets, goals and focus are communicated. This is also written up on a white board in the staff areas of each practice so that it is easy to remember and each week they can check in our how we are tracking. Each day I have a to-do list, with the must do items and then down to things that are required to do but might not be needed until the end of the week.
- Connect. To be able to form strong connections and trust with people is integral to business success. There are multiple facets to this thought – you need to have an excellent team of employees that you connect with, trust and share your vision and goals. By having this connection with your team, you can have better productivity, share ideas, utilise each person’s strengths, and see beyond your own blind spots. I feel you also need to connect with your patients, that they feel valued, listened to, and that you understand their needs and have their best interests in mind. By behaving with integrity and taking the time to build a great connection with your patients, your business will thrive, and your patients will actively promote you to their social group.
- Learn and take note. I remind myself regularly that not one person knows everything. Just because I had a great financial year doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. I am constantly seeking new information. This may be in the form of podcasts, reading articles, listening to audio books, or talking to other business owners. I fit this into my week by listening while I go for a walk or run. Having a notebook with me at all times is also one of my habits. I write all my ideas in there that pop into my head. It creates a bank of all my thoughts, so I don’t have them playing over in my head all the time. Out of all these thoughts there are usually some great ideas that can be implemented in some way into the practice. I share the ideas with the team for feedback and thoughts on how we could use them to improve our practice.
Find your purpose and stay motivated by it
- Focus on delivering one thing. From our perspective it is about delivering peace of mind about eye health. It is not about selling glasses. Glasses are sold as a consequence of the patient’s personal need and lifestyle.
- We buy a new piece of technology every year. Our patients have come to expect that every time they come in for an eye test, we will do it differently and better. We do not bulk bill.
- Most of the eye testing and data collection is done by my support staff. My job is to analyse the data that has been collected and communicate the implication of the testing and recommend solutions for the patient’s perceived and unperceived problems.
- All patients are tentatively pre-booked in the future. This appointment could be one month, three months, six months, 12 months, 18 months or three years into the future, dependant on clinical need. They are advised why there is clinical need and that we will remind them well before it is time. If for some reason they cannot make the appointment, they can reschedule as they will have ample time to do so.
Discover your values and keep them front of mind during recruitment
- Ask for help. This isn’t necessarily referring to day-to-day operations but more strategic aspects of the business. For example, having an accountant who is also a business advisor helps guide the business, as well as personal goals are incredibly important. Advisors can assist with long-term goal setting and implement actions required to reach these goals including what happens beyond retirement.
- Find a team whose values align with yours. You can teach almost anyone to carry out tasks. However, when your team is passionate about what they do and believe in the ethos of the business, this is reflected in the way they serve and treat their patients. Vision, mission and – in particular – values, are important in any business as it is these values which patients also align themselves with.
- Maintain integrity and humility. Having pure and honest intentions at all times when in business is important, especially in eyecare. We are here to help patients and solve their vision issues to the best of our abilities. This also means we should always strive to be better and remain humble even in times of great success. Optometry is a dynamic profession which is constantly developing so staying on top of the latest developments in science and technology is required for continual success.
- Mindfulness and work life balance. Mindfulness is important to prevent work from creeping into other aspects of your life and overshadowing you. Often it is in those ’time out’ moments where our greatest ideas come to mind. Family time and recreational pursuits or hobbies such as – in my case – martial arts and music, play a role in helping me stay balanced spiritually, mentally and physically.
Gain fresh ideas beyond optometry
- I’ve learnt over time not to be afraid to seek professional advice, in both a personal and professional sense. I opened my greenfield practice in a new estate, as an independent, but as the business scaled up, it was no longer feasible to manage on my own, so I sought professional advice, and subsequently joined ProVision.I also seek non-optometry-related upskilling courses as well as professional advice. Venturing beyond optometry in networking has opened my eyes to fresher ideas, and an out-of-the-box perspective that helps me relate to my patients.
- Know when to do less and when to do more. At times, in the practice, I can be juggling multiple tasks; seeing patients, edging glasses, and completing business administration tasks such as communicating with other health professionals and manufacturers. But after having my second child, I had to pull back, and take a break to avoid burnout. Stepping back or stepping sideways can give you a “balcony view” and guide where you can be more productive and add value to the practice.
- Have an action plan and set clear, realistic, achievable goals. If I have a KPI I want to achieve, how do I get to that goal? You need to think forwards and backwards. If you make a mistake, review the process, and don’t repeat it in future. When faced with a difficult or unappealing task, such as re-building my practice website that was created when I first established E Eye Place, I count to 10, then work on it for 10 minutes.
- Be mindful of the purpose of your business. It is the benchmark of success. Knowing your purpose and having that mindset comes first, KPIs come second. I’m here for the long term as an independent practice to look after our patients – that’s the bigger picture.
‘Have a clinical specialty and be very good at it’
- In lockdown, it’s very important to stay open to ensure continuity of care to your patients, as long as you have support staff that can work. Some staff may have family members at a higher risk if they contract COVID so your staff may not want to work. Open reduced hours and space appointments apart, for example 45 to 60 minutes each. This allows you to minimise patients coming in contact with each other, each patient can be well- attended to, and you may be able to take on any urgent cases that need to be seen immediately. Ensure your patients are aware that you are open; have a phone message, a social media message and a clear sign on the front door. Patients will really appreciate that you remained open during these tough times. Have two teams if possible, consisting of one dispenser and one optometrist in case a staff member needs to quarantine.
- Differentiate yourself from other optometry practices or optical stores. Have a clinical specialty and be very good at it. Keep your knowledge in this specialty field up to date. Furthermore, be therapeutically-endorsed as the training that comes with it ensures you are knowledgeable in managing a range of ocular conditions. These skills and knowledge will draw in patients of all ages, whose needs are not met satisfactorily elsewhere. These patients will often become key referrers for new patients.
- Invest in new technology to help you diagnose and manage conditions early and in some cases prevent vision loss. Patients will always remember and be grateful to theoptometrist that saved their sight. Equipment such as OCT scans and ultrawide retinal imaging are a must to provide top clinical care. Have a plan on how you will implement these into routine testing so that you can cover the repayments of these devices. Take time to carefully explain the results of these tests. Report to their doctor or medical specialist if they have a medical condition that potentially can affect the eyes. Again, patients will appreciate this and see that you are taking care of them.
- At the end of each examination, always state the reason why they need to return and when. Tell them your plan for their next visit, for example OCT scan to monitor risk of glaucoma due to family history. Explain that a reminder will be sent to them, either via SMS, email, letter or phone call. Stress the importance that many eye conditions, some of which are sight threatening, will not have symptoms. Provide them a summary of their eye examination. Use a letter or printed template so that you can do this easily at the end of each comprehensive consultation.