The Business of Contact Lenses
Moving Your Practice Forward, Even in an Uncertain Economy
By Gary Gerber, OD
Regardless of your opinion of whether we've seen the bottom of the economic slump or whether more bad times are ahead, one thing our consulting company has seen is that most practices are still in a holding pattern as they wait for things to improve. Many have delayed purchases of equipment, reduced staff hours, put marketing projects on hold, and trimmed inventory. While on the surface this might seem fiscally responsible, there is an argument for doing exactly the opposite, or at the very least getting ready to.
While your competitors retreat to the presumed safety of an economic slow-down bunker, consider doing something different—and do it soon.
Focusing on Staff
Let's first look at the topic of beefing up your staff by either replacing marginal performers or concentrating on staff training.
One of the upsides of higher unemployment is that it's a great time to be an employer. At the risk of sounding mercenary, getting someone talented to work for your practice—at a wage that is historically less than what you've paid before—is the new reality. Take advantage of the swollen labor pool and attempt to recruit a team that is superior to the one you have now. This doesn't necessarily mean “cleaning house” of staff, although many of us often feel that we should! Rather, if you've been settling or tolerating mediocrity with your staff, now is the perfect time to remedy that.
If you decide not to hire anyone new or replace any staff, take advantage of slow periods to make a firm commitment toward staff training or retraining. If you usually see 14 patients per day and are only seeing 10 of late, schedule time into your appointment book for well-planned, carefully executed, and meticulously documented staff training.
Marketing Your Practice
Regarding marketing, there are several reasons to step things up now instead of waiting. First, media rates in many markets are at an all-time low. Because of that, many media that were previously economically out of reach to many practices are now affordable. Next, with fewer competitors vying for ad space, you have a better chance of your message cutting through a historically congested marketplace.
Additionally, if you start a marketing campaign now and the economy turns around in the near future, you have the added bonus of a head start on the consistency and repetition that is so critical for any long-term marketing. You'll also have done it at a reduced cost. Should your competitors jump in later—and now they will have more of a reason not to because you were there first—they have to play an expensive catch-up game.
Finally, new products and services can be a veritable breath of fresh air to patients who have heard mostly negative news and who themselves have felt stuck in a holding pattern and might be ready to make a move. Keep in mind that much of what we do in our industry, especially regarding upgrading patients to new products, is not incrementally cost prohibitive for many patients. Yes, $ 50 more per year might be out of the question for some, but don't let the funk of the current economic climate prevent you from discussing, when clinically appropriate, new products and services with patients because of your perception that patients can't afford them.
Looking to the Future
There's no question that we've all been through some challenging times. But don't let the quagmire of the past cloud your outlook for your practice's future. CLS
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice – a company offering consulting, seminars, and software solutions for optometrists. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or DrGerber@PowerPractice.com.