The Business of Contact Lenses
Don’t Let Your Small Practice Size Stop You From Innovating
BY GARY GERBER, OD
As we start the New Year and thoughts turn to what new things we can do to improve our practices, “innovation” becomes an often used word. Small businesses often feel at the mercy of bigger players in their industry when it comes to innovation. Yet, when we look at industries outside of eye care, it’s often the young, small, garage start-up company that causes the larger players to change how they’re playing the game. These smaller companies, often formed with a miniscule budget and only one or two people, use their small size to their advantage and their lack of structure as a bonus. They move fast. Without large corporate legal departments and endless marketing meetings, they make changes on the fly and instantly learn by their mistakes. They don’t simply embrace innovation, they often make the innovation.
The challenge to innovation that most practices have is that they have their hands tied—by their own hands! “We can’t do that here because we… ” is often used to answer a number of innovation questions such as:
“Why don’t you let your patients order contact lenses from your website?”
“Why don’t you do corneal reshaping?”
“Why don’t you offer nighttime hours?”
“Why don’t you let your patients book their appointments online?”
“Why don’t you use technology for endothelial cell counts?”
“Why don’t you fit kids under 8 years old with contact lenses?”
Write Your Own Book
So, consider how you can be the industry innovator by eliminating the mental boundaries that are holding your practice back. What can your practice do to break away from the conventional and have others look to you as the innovative force? How can your practice be the contact lens garage start-up that others watch and possibly fear?
Remember that if you’re like most offices, you’re currently paying your staff to do things “by the book,” as opposed to throwing the book out the window and trying something new. Instead of doing things the way they’re supposed to be doing them, how about asking your staff to try to do things the way they’re not supposed to do them?
To this end, consider mimicking a concept used in many large tech companies known as setting up a skunkworks project. A small team of staff is set up with the goal of coming up with something that the practice is currently not doing. There are absolutely no limitations or bureaucratic barriers imposed on their creative process. Of course, the final product or service might require a reality check, but for this step, anything goes. If your staff is big enough, mix up the members who participate in the project. It’s also usually a good idea to appoint those who have no experience with the topic at hand. For example, if you have a technical optical goal, then an insurance biller would be a good person to have on the team.
Finally, set aside uninterrupted time for your team to meet, and let the team know that failure is an option. If they strike out and come up short, there are no consequences with their “real” job.
The only real cost for these sessions is the time the employees take away from their current roles. But considering the potential upside, it should be a risk and expense you’re willing to take.
This concept has been used successfully by Google, JetBlue, and Johnson & Johnson, among a host of others. There’s no reason it can’t be used with equal success in your own practice. That is, if you’re willing to be an innovator and try it! CLS
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company offering proven and comprehensive practice and profit building systems. You can reach him at www.PowerPractice.com and follow him on Twitter @PowerYourDream.