How to Start an Eye Care Practice from Scratch
Part 2 of 3

Your To-Do List, Branding, and Marketing

An interview with Courtney Dryer, OD
Autarchic Spec Shop, Charlotte, NC

Dr. Courtney Dryer shares her step-by-step approach to a successful cold start.

Dr. Courtney Dryer may well be the poster child for the DIY start-up. “I wasn’t really mentored,” said Dryer in an interview at Autarchic Spec Shop, her one-of-a-kind eye care practice in Charlotte, NC.

“It was just a learning process. I did a lot of Googling and learning by doing.” Dryer’s practice caters to a specific clientele looking for unique fashion eyewear. “When we first opened, everything was new, and it just kept evolving as a process that eventually led us to become a high-end luxury boutique optical,” she explained. “We kind of stumbled into being something really different.”

In Part 2 of this 3-Part blog series, Dryer shares some hard-won wisdom about what it takes to start your own practice from scratch.

Dr. Dryer, talk to us about what it takes to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. Isn’t there a lot of paperwork that needs to be done before you can hammer the first nail?
Yes. I call it your “to-do list,” and while some of it may seem boring, it’s absolutely necessary. I recommend you start the list early, because it can take 6-7 months to complete.

First, you want to register both yourself and your business for NPI numbers. (A National Provider Identifier is a unique, 10-digit identification number issued to health care providers in the U.S. by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.) Fortunately, it’s a pretty easy process.

Next, register for a business tax ID, then file your business entity with both the state and your state’s board of optometry. This process may vary depending on the state in which you plan to operate. Here in North Carolina we have to file with both the state and county because we offer both goods and services.

Find out how are optical goods taxed in your state. Can you get an exemption certificate?
Begin the process of setting up your business on all social media sites: Instagram, Facebook, Yelp. You can also look into Google paid ads to drive more traffic to your site.

Getting approved for Medicare can take a long time – for me it took about 6 months – so don’t procrastinate on this item.

If your bank loans require that you have disability, malpractice, life and business insurance, then line those up as soon as you can. Evaluate insurance plans and begin the credentialing process.

You’ve positioned yourself as a high-end luxury optical in a very competitive area of Charlotte. How do you make sure you stand out against all that competition?
Through branding. Branding is really the fun stuff, where you get to tell the community who you are and what you’re about. How ready are you to do that? For example, do you have a mission statement? Are you able to clearly articulate your values? What makes you different? Do you have a niche practice? Communicating these aspects of your practice is what will brand you and help you stand out.

If you’re thinking about establishing a niche practice, then be sure to include it in your name – for example, vision therapy or sports therapy. Your name should clearly convey that focus.

Talk to us about marketing your practice. How do you get the word out to draw in customers?
Marketing is tied to branding, but it’s different. Marketing is where you’ll build your brand. A lot of practices send out postcards, get featured in magazine articles, etc., but that didn’t really work for me. What worked for me was word-of-mouth. Remember to remind patients coming in for a routine eye exam that you also treat pink eye, allergies, dry eye, etc., so that they can refer you to friends and family. Don’t be shy about asking for referrals!

Use social media to highlight what your patients find most exciting about visiting your practice. Those are the things you want to emphasize with your social media strategy. It’s very important to me that social media is keeping my core group engaged. Try to have a consistent message and share information that’s exciting about the practice – frames, contacts, whatever’s going on that will be of interest to your patients.

Another way to market yourself is through doctor-to-doctor referrals. This might work better in smaller communities, but it doesn’t hurt to talk to local primary care doctors, teachers, and urgent-cares and let them know you’re in the area and what you can treat.

Be sure to catch Part 3 of our series: The Build-Out, Electronic Health Records and Product Research

Want to hear more tips for starting a new practice? Watch the 9 Essential Ingredients for Successfully Starting a New Practice.

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