Starting From the Ground Up
Amber G. Dunn, OD
Gatti Vision, King City, OR
Pacific University Associate Professor
A Guide to Opening a New Optometry Practice
Opening a practice cold or buying a practice is a very challenging, yet rewarding adventure. There are many ways to go about this business opportunity, however you must have two key elements to succeed: a good mentor and an excellent support system. With these two things, along with the proper research and drive, you WILL succeed.
Why open a new practice?
I decided to open my own practice for the freedom to choose how and when I spend time with my husband and children. When you work for someone else, you are at the mercy of their schedule. I enjoy taking my younger son to gymnastics once a week and volunteering at my older son’s school a few times a month. Sure, this means I might need to work on things from home or work a few late hours, but to me, that’s worth being present for my family. Opening a practice cold requires determination that is often fueled by personal, family or community goals that go beyond being a professional.
Start with a Business Plan. Do you want to open cold or do you want to purchase an existing practice? Whichever you choose, the first, and most crucial task is putting together a well thought out business plan. A business plan outline is the foundation for everything you are going to do. For starters, a business plan is necessary to secure the financing you will need to start cold OR purchase an existing practice. If you put together an excellent business plan, the rest will fall into place.
Do Your Homework. A business plan starts with a lot of research. Have you heard the term: “work smarter, not harder”? This is very important to consider when writing your business plan. There is an endless supply of resources that can make your job easier. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing “easy” about writing a business plan. I made my share of mistakes as I wrote my business plan, but I have learned from those mistakes and hope you can do that as well. For instance, utilizing businesses or associations that are meant to help, will take a lot of stress off your shoulders!
A few of the resources I used were The Small Business Administration of Oregon, Risk Management Association and the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Optometrists. I was also able to meet with someone face to face to help me find additional resources.
Following are the key components of a business plan.
Remember this is not a comprehensive list, but something to get you started.
- Location. Do you have a specific place in mind? Do you know where the need is? Or do you want to open a place because you already live there?
- Consulting group. There are several that can even help you with writing your business plan. I didn’t start with one, but I am glad I ended up engaging one because it was very beneficial.
- Mission Statement/Company Goals. This is the foundation of your practice. Spend a lot of time on this and ask many people to look at it.
- Equipment. TEST EQUIPMENT AT MEETINGS. Don’t just go off of what someone else told you. Equipment is expensive and something you will have for many years. Consider refurbished equipment too, as long as it is from a reputable company.
- Establish an LLC. You need to make sure your company name is not already in use. I would also recommend searching on various search engines to see what other things come up.
- Malpractice Insurance. The American Optometric Association offers a great deal on Malpractice insurance as a member benefit.
- Establish a website. There are companies that specialize in optometry practice websites or you can look into other companies also.
- Doctor groups. There are many to choose from.
- Attorney, Accountant, Banker/Merchant Service Group and Insurance Agent. You need all of this expertise for your business plan and you need to start building relationships with these professionals early. They will be the ones giving their professional expertise and making sure you succeed.
- Professional advisory board. This is something that will not only help you in your professional life, but it can also help you in your personal life. It’s best to include a wide variety of individuals and perspectives. My Professional Advisory board consists of a chemical engineer, a safety engineer, a medical doctor, an optometrist, a rancher, a stay at home mom, a kindergarten teacher and a real estate agent.
- Logo. There are a ton of companies out there that can design a logo for you, or you can certainly do it by yourself. I used crowdSpring to come up with my logo and am very happy with the results.
- Supplemental Income. You must show the bank how you are going to make money. This is not as important if you are taking over an existing practice, but when opening cold, the bank needs to know how you are going to make money while the practice grows.
Now that you have a starting point to the business plan components, where do you go from here? Once you find a location and are given the lease agreement, you must negotiate it. This is where your attorney comes into play. A landlord is going to write the lease in terms that are best for THEM- you need to ensure that it is also best for you.
Once you move into the space, spend time making it your own. Post on social media the changes you are making or ask people in the community to come help. People really love doing that! And speaking of community- become a part of it! Join your local Lions Club, volunteer at retirement homes or schools, host lectures in the office while you are working on building it. These are great ways to “give back” while at the same time marketing yourself and your business.
AHH- what about credentialing? This is such a difficult and time-consuming task that you can actually hire a company to do it for you. Just remember the more you do yourself, the more money you save and the more knowledgeable you are about how your business runs. One huge mistake I made was not doing this soon enough. Being faculty at Pacific, I was already credentialed with nearly every medical plan and health panel so I assumed it would be easy. Turns out, it’s not about the provider themselves being credentialed, it’s about the location. So there are even some panels I am STILL not a provider for at my private practice but am with the University.
Beyond the business plan, there are a few other elements to consider that are an important part of this journey. Finding the proper EHR is critical. Use trade shows and meetings to your advantage so you can check them out in the exhibit hall. You also need to spend a lot of time finding dependable employees to represent your business. Your staff will be the first contact that is made with your patients.
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By no means is this a complete narrative of opening a practice. Opening a practice can sometimes seem like a maze that never ends, but if you have your eye on the prize, with determination, you WILL make it! Remind yourself daily that many have done it before you (like me!) and if you give more that 100%, you can do it too! Make mistakes and learn from them. Never settle, and always strive for ways to be better.
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