IN THIS INDUSTRY, there’s always something new to learn. No matter how strong your business vision, in the long run, paying an expert for advice can save you pain, time and money.
Hiring specialist optometric business consultants has become a popular way to get a grip on key benchmarks for running a business while also picking up best practices from peers. In addition to learning general strategies like planning for the future and goal setting, most consultants offer ongoing real-time advice on specific tasks such as hiring and managing inventory.
In 2013, Dr. Larah Alami and her business partner, Nathan DeDeo, OD, (pictured above) opened their first Hudson River Eye Care location in Tarrytown, NY. Four years later they were ready to expand and opened a second one in White Plains.
The new practice brought a flood of questions regarding staffing, cash flow, partnership issues and leadership. Recalls Alami: “We were eager for someone to bounce ideas off and obtain solid answers to some questions but weren’t actively looking for a consultant. It seemed like it’d be way too expensive and we weren’t sure how to pay for it.”
Dr. Alami and her partner gradually grew more open to the idea of seeking outside help, however, after listening to a trusted eyewear rep whose employer partnered with a well-known consultancy. “She invited us to try a weekend at one of [their] bi-annual meetings… We also had a friend who was already a member … and he was enthusiastic about it.”
In a format that has become popular, the first session was offered in a group setting over a weekend at an event organized by the consultant, Cleinman Performance Partners.
“That first weekend … we spent many hours in a small group setting with other ODs,” recalls Alami. “We took turns discussing our practices and most pressing issues, and we had a great facilitator helping to move the discussion along. It was the first time we had really sat down … and discussed nothing but the practice and our biggest problems.” Alami was appreciative that their consultant was data-driven, an approach that has been maintained going forward. “We complete benchmarking sheets on a monthly and quarterly basis, so when discussing issues, we look at numbers to assess our needs and figure out next steps.”
The service costs about $1,000 a month, plus hotel and airfare to attend meetings twice a year.
Alami says the move left the practice better organized, expedited problem-solving and forced it to set time-specific goals. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed with a to-do list, and not know where to start,” she says. “Number-driven data helped us see where our practice was lacking and focus in on specific problems. For example, we hadn’t wanted to spend the extra money on payroll so we didn’t hire. But we realized that in order to make more money we needed more staff. It was important to have someone standing behind us as we made tough decisions like this.”
She adds that the monthly phone call with their consulting group has been particularly useful since Hudson River Eye Care has gone into crisis mode and been forced to navigate in a whole new business environment due to COVID-19.
As a final caveat, she warns that if you’re not motivated to make changes, no consultant is going to do it for you. Benefiting from outside help “requires some level of follow up on your part,” she says. “You have to be ready to make that time. If you’re ready to go mentally, there can be significant return on investment.”