By Lilien Vogl, OD
Feb. 13, 2019
Buying a practice, or starting one cold, then keeping it profitably running, requires more than good doctoring and business know-how; it requires an entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve learned that there are specific qualities I have that tie into this entrepreneurial drive.
Fifteen years after graduating from optometry school, I started my own practice cold. I didn’t realize I had the entrepreneurial drive until then. I can remember thinking in the years immediately following graduation that perhaps I didn’t pick the right career.
I even was fired from a corporate optometry firm for not fitting into the refract-and-refer model that was prevalent at that time. I had already tried several associate optometric positions, as well as clinical instructor at an optometry school. I completed a residency in the late 1980’s, which wasn’t very common at the time. I gained a fellowship in the Academy of Optometry.
I was at a crossroads in 2002. I had just left an associate position, and an optometric friend and I were in Munich, Germany, attending an Academy of Optometry meeting. I decided the only thing I hadn’t tried was to own an optometric practice. So it began.
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I can say with absolute certainty that the best part of my career was running my own optometry practice. It was not only financially rewarding, but I was able to become a mentor to others, challenge myself and provide good medical and vision care for the citizens of my community. After running the business for 11 years, I decided there were other things I wanted to do in life, and because of wise personal and business investing, I am able to do those things.
I wish I had the insights at the beginning of my career to know that I always had an inclination to start my own business. Perhaps that is also you! Do you have what it takes? Here are five questions to ask yourself to help you determine if you are enough of an entrepreneur to become a practice owner:
Are You a Fixer?
I just can’t help myself. I see how things could be better for me as a customer or patient, or for me as an employee. This is a great trait for a small-business owner. You see a change to make. You introduce the idea to your team. Work on buy in, and the next day you make this change. When you work for someone else, and suggest changes, that person’s agenda could be different than yours. Some may even be offended. If you work for a big institution, change can be even more difficult.
Is the Status Quo Good Enough?
Along the same lines as above, an entrepreneurial optometrist needs to decide the status quo is not good enough. Question how everything is done from the examination to hiring your team. Look to other industries for ideas and “borrow” ideas. My daughter used to give me a hard time when I would say, “Let’s go shopping.” She’d ask me if we would be shopping to shop or shopping for business ideas.
Are You a Life-Long Learner?
I have nothing against formal education, but I’ve learned more about running a business reading books from contemporary business writers. I’d chose a topic I was interested in, such as marketing, and then read or listen to podcasts from various authors. I knew I had gained proficiency in the topic when the lessons became redundant. I attended business lectures given by ODs who had practices I admired. I’d visit colleague-practices to see what others were doing. I attended business courses outside the industry. Business principles are universal, no matter the industry.
Do You Like Looking Into the Future?
I recently met up with an OD who was three years into her cold-OD start-up. She told me that her ideal office was years in the making. She had been sketching floor plans and collecting ideas about her ideal practice. I had a mental picture of what my practice would be down to the fine detail. I knew what emotions my patients would experience both during and after a visit to my office. I saw where I wanted the business to be five, and even 10, years into the future.
Do You Like Working Hard?
Running your own business is hard work, probably one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but extremely rewarding. You build something that provides for your family and others. You are given an opportunity to be a leader in your community. However, there is a cost. It takes more time than you can imagine – early mornings, late nights and weekends. Your total commitment. Are you able, and willing, to give so much of yourself to your patients and your business?
Are you a practice owner? Do you feel you have the entrepreneurial spirit? What are the key qualities that have contributed to your success?
Lilien Vogl, OD, is the owner of Creative OD Solutions. She previously owned Vision Wellness, an independent practice in Phoenix, Arizona. To contact her: email@example.com