Category Archives: Small Business Owner

Don’t Live on an Island

Don’t Live on an Island

The first quarter is already in the mirror but 75% of the year lies ahead. The first quarter was exciting and fast. You are going to see new vendors added to the Acquios Alliance and more coming down the road. I met with many business leaders of various vendors at Vision Expo East. They are ready, willing, and able to help us take Acquios Alliance to a new level. Keep an eye open for many exciting new events to make you and your team better.

Recently, I have seen many posts on social media sites asking others how to help with burnout and dissatisfaction. I responded a couple of times to some but not all. It made me scratch my head and ask a question. Why are people feeling this way? Yes, I think employees have become a key focus of every day. From speaking with various clients, it has been a challenge to get many to work their scheduled hours and more. Many basic  fundamental issues are causing many to be stressed. One simple but important rule of management is to always complain up. But what if you are the owner operator of a single doctor practice? This same rule applies to multi doctor practices as well. Each doctor must respect this rule and follow it to the letter. Failure to do so can cause significant drama and stress in the office should any OD in a single or multi doctor practice shares thoughts of any concern or negative thoughts to staff. Negativity causes doubt and concern within the office. This will force staff to talk and not in a good way. How to correct this?

Don’t live on an island. There are avenues for you to turn. First and foremost, lean on your advisor. Secondly, did you know Acquios Advisors is hosting ZOOM calls in the evening for doctors to participate? These calls are for you to share great times happening in your office as well as to look for support from your colleagues. This will help you to have a listening ear to share what is on your mind and learn from others who may have been in the same boat as you. Support is here and we are excited to offer this time to make your work life better. Watch for information about Cheers with Colleagues in our email announcements and more.

In addition to doctors’ meetings on ZOOM we are also going to begin to offer an open session to managers of active advising clients to join calls every six to eight weeks. Colleague to Colleague calls will be a great resource for managers seeking support and input from their equals in offices across the country. This too is going to help enhance your practice and your team.

There is no reason to go through your days, weeks, and months alone. Please know others have been where you are and worked through it. It is a great idea and plan to share with others what was exciting in your day and why you love what you do! You can make a difference in your colleagues’ day. At times you may need a “pick me up”, through communication and collaboration with us and your colleagues you will find a new avenue to make yourself happier and more successful.

Remind yourself why you became an optometrist. Share those great moments in your practice career where you made a significant difference in your patients’ lives. Tell the story about why you opened your new practice or purchased the location from another OD. Share your passion for why you became a practice owner with your team. They need to know; they will want to own. If you don’t share your vision, they will only think you do this for money. I have never heard a client say, “I want to open my own practice or buy this practice to make more money. It is typically about being in control of patient care, or being able to make the decisions for what is best for my patients and the team I will have. Tell them why you went into business for yourself. You will get their support by doing so.

If you have seen my YouTube video, then you know this. Review your CORE Values, your mission statement, with your team. Challenge your team, ask them, “are we living this mission?” If the answer is no or the staff is not engaged, it is time to say, okay team, let’s develop a new office mission, a new mission for ourselves. Develop a new mission the current staff has a voice in creating. Make certain they are part of the development and finalization of the statement. Why do you ask? If they create and finalize it with you, it is a team mission, one they created and own. When addressing team issues and challenges, the more you involve them when resolving the issue at hand, the more they play a role in the fix, the more they will own it and live it! Make this happen yesterday! It just might help your team to work better for one another, you, your practice, and of course your patients.

As you can see, we are always listening and looking to develop avenues to help each of you be the success you seek. Don’t let 2024 get away. Don’t live on an island. Join us for these sessions and make your days, weeks, and months better. The future is bright and there is no reason to go it alone. We are here and we welcome each of you to participate.

 

Sincerely

Rick Guinotte

President/CEO

Looking Forward to the Future

Looking Forward to the Future

The Holidays are upon us and 2024 will be here before we know it. As this year is coming to an end, it is always great to reflect on what went well and celebrate achievements. It is also a great opportunity for reflecting on experiences you were not satisfied with. Challenge yourself to celebrate exciting achievements in the new year when they happen. Be careful of not saying to yourself, I will tell the team tomorrow. While the situation is fresh in everyone’s mind, talk it through, take notes and learn from all, what could we have done to be better for the next time? You will find this to be helpful for your future and the future of your team. Live in your moment, take the time today to be happy and make the others around feel good for all they bring to you and your family, and your business. When the day does not go as expected and/or an event does not go as you had planned or expected, have a conversation sooner than you have in the past.

The new year is exciting and daunting all at the same time. There is so much opportunity presenting itself. Take the opportunities given to you for comradery, interaction, networking, and more. Here at Acquios Alliance, we have been working hard to provide you with events and connections that are detrimental to making this happen.

This past year we launched our Living Your Mission (LYM) event. It was a great success for all. In April we will host the next LYM in Kansas City, MO. We will have more to offer and deliver than many of you can imagine. Our team led by Scott Cline developed the Executive Management Program. The first class is on track to graduate in January and the second class is off to a thriving start. The next time this will be available is mid-year, June 2024. We look forward to seeing more doctors and managers attend. Additionally, Acquios Alliance and Advisors sponsored a virtual frame shopping event. Eighteen vendors participated; many are asking when the next one will occur. We have great news. January 2024 it will be happening. We are looking to make it easier for you who are working as associate ODs and balancing your time planning and executing all the steps necessary to open a new successful practice easier. Imagine taking a couple of hours out of your day to visit, learn, and understand what vendors have to offer you without making ten to fifteen appointment times to shop for product for your optical.

Building a team can be the most challenging step of being a business owner. I won’t say I am perfect and hit a homerun on every new hire….but I can say the team we have to work with each one of our clients is passionate and eager to help the clients we serve to exceed their expectations and goals. Changes in organizations need to be reviewed and happen for various reasons. There are businesses/practices/offices where a person currently in a leadership role needs to consider stepping aside to allow others to step up and take the business to the next level. This is not a negative action. It is what can be best for your practice. Invest in your team leaders. Do not be afraid to have a conversation to discuss opportunities. As you all know, I am all about communication and making sure everyone understands your mission, core values, and goals. From your Associate Optometrists, Receptionists, Managers, Optometric Technicians, Frame Stylists and Opticians, Claims Management Specialists to your advisors, they all need to know where you are going and learn how they can and will get you there.

The Optometric Industry is continuously evolving. Embrace the evolution. It is great for private practice. We are seeing more and more doctors supporting the independent optometrists. For those of you looking to exit your practice in the coming six to ten years, it is time to plan. There are many optometrists very interested in buying a private practice. It is time to plan and look ahead. Banks are ready willing and able to lend money. But as a seller, you can earn a little more money by doing seller financing.

Look at the technologies available for you to be more efficient in your practice while being more available to your patient base. From Optify, Optikam, Hello Rache, and new VR units for various services and tests for your patients, you can and will compete more with the online competitors. The ace card you are holding is you and your team. Your new year will be a successful one. Know we here at Acquios Alliance and Advisors are here to listen and collaboratively develop your plan to make you the success you seek no matter the goals.

Happy Holiday and Here is to a successful New Year and Beyond for All!

Sincerely,

Rick Guinotte

President/CEO

A Story Goes a Long Way

Times have been interesting for us all. I am not sure there is any business owner or manager today that will not say staffing and HR management have not been a challenge this year. It is important to step back from time to time and reflect on what makes the optometric industry unique and rewarding while offering a secure place for people to work. As I go through each of these items, you will think to yourself, yes, my practice reflects that thought and other times you may say, I don’t see it here, I need to improve on this area or share more with my team to help them see the whole picture.

When I started in this industry many years back, I was in a position to make a difference in a young girl’s life. She was only seven and had never had glasses but needed them badly. When the doctor had completed the exam, he made his recommendations for her first pair of glasses. She had a -2.50 in one eye and a -3.50 in the other with some astigmatism in each eye. I was the optician to assist with her frame selection and lens order. She selected a pink Disney frame with cable temples. A week or so later, the eyeglasses were back from the lab and ready for her to pick them up. She came to the office, so I grabbed her glasses, and we sat down by the window. I placed the glasses on her face and the smile she had was priceless. She looked out the window and asked her mother if those were leaves, followed by, is that a bird? I realized at that moment this industry was amazing. I was hooked. I have been in many offices when an optometrist makes life-saving discoveries or saves a patient’s vision. What starts out as what the patient thought was a “routine” exam, the doctor discovers a retinal detachment, glaucoma, a brain tumor, signs of Multiple Sclerosis, and more.

How many other businesses can help care for patients’ whole-body health with the technology available in your practices today while offering products to improve your patient/customers’ quality of life? Asked a different way, what online service, or commercial owned and operated clinics have the technology you offer?  I can’t think of many. This is a unique industry with opportunities for people to grow and carry forward in it. To make your passion infectious in your office, you need to share your diagnoses and experiences with each and every one of your team members. Make your team proud of the services you deliver patient in and patient out.

The technicians, receptionists, and opticians have numerous patient interactions daily. The receptionist makes it possible for the clinic to have patients to care for. There should be conversations between the receptionist and others in the office about patients coming in and what their needs are. Communication between the team members builds unity on the team and respect for one another. This results in staff retention. Why? The more they share information to make their patient interactions more personable and effective, the more they begin to care for one another.  The same will be said about communication between the optometric technicians to the optical staff. The staff represents you and your brand. The patient experience is not just one area of the practice but the whole. The whole team must be working in unison to make certain your mission and your core values are being represented every minute of every day.

It starts with the doctor, the visionary of the practice. Challenge yourself to share your experiences about those unique patients you have. What was the diagnosis? How did you and your team make a difference in your patients’ lives?  Furthermore, ask your receptionist to share information with the team about the patient she/he has made appointments for. Ask your technicians to share stories about some of their patients and how they adjusted to help a patient to have the best interaction in your practice as possible. Let the opticians share stories about the patients who recently picked up their first pair of glasses. What were the patients’ facial expressions? Were they excited, appreciative, and grateful for the service and the product the team delivered? Every employee needs to share and hear how they all helped your patient in your practice and the care that your team was able to provide. That is the lasting impact that your brand has on the community.

Make time for team meetings and spotlight the highlights of individuals in your practice but most importantly, recognize your team for their contribution to making you and your practice successful. Remember, every person matters. Every employee makes a difference. Every team member represents the whole practice. Each person is a piece of the puzzle and without them, you couldn’t achieve what you set out to do. Acknowledge the positive experiences and learn from the areas the individual and the team need to improve. Tell patients on social media about the great performers in the practice. They need to know they have their best interest in their heart. The result will be increased appreciation for the work the team does, increased collaboration within the team, and increased employee retention. Look at me, one patient about six months into my career, and I still talk about it today.

Sincerely,

Rick Guinotte, CEO and Co-Founder

Draw your line in the concrete

This will not come as a surprise to any of you. Every office we work with has office hours. You have the hours posted on your website, your front door, in your employee handbook, on business cards, and possibly many other places as well.  You have your employees’ hours to be worked on a schedule. The schedule is written to be efficient for your practice. It is also created and produced to make certain you have the right people in the office at the times you need them to deliver amazing service to each and every one of your patients. Whether it is the first appointment in the door in the morning, the person coming in to pick up their new eyeglasses, an adjustment, a repair, or the last appointment of the day, your patients expect the best service on every visit they make to your office.

Remember you have both external customers as well as your internal customers. I have just outlined what you do to care for your external customer. But your internal customer, the people you met, interviewed, and discussed an agreement for them to provide a service to your practice and your patients in return for a product, their paycheck. They agreed in the interview to work with you and your fellow team members to deliver excellent patient care throughout the entire patient production cycle and their visits when necessary. The internal customer made the commitment to work collaboratively with others employed to deliver this patient care during their scheduled hours and when necessary, additional hours.

Over the past few years, because of the pandemic, we had to become extremely relaxed and flexible to accommodate people when not feeling well. If a person they cared for, a relative, their child, or other, wasn’t feeling well, the person needed to be out of the office for an extended period of time to care for themselves and those around them. This left offices short-staffed, and in some cases, they had to close their doors.  We saw high school students, mid-way through their senior years, told to stay home. Proms were canceled, their composite photos were not taken to display in their high schools, graduations canceled or held virtually, and classes were recorded and accessed when it was convenient for them to watch and attend. College students saw much of the same as high school students. Schedules became optional. Study and take your tests when you want but have it done by a specific date and time for your grade. For three years this went on. My daughter who is a junior in college did not have her first in-person college class until the Spring semester of 2022. From midway through her senior year of high school, to the early start of her junior year in college, classes were online and recorded. Imagine those who were in their junior years of college and finished their education in 2022.

These are your future internal customers, your future team members. It is imperative to set the tone and expectations with your current team and future employees and make certain they understand what and who you and your practice is about.  You need to tell the story about what made your practice successful. You need to reignite the fire and culture you had in your practice pre-pandemic. Share the history of your practice, where it was and where it is today! Share with your team the vision you have for your future. Remind them they are the most important asset in the practice. Without them, your practice would not and will not be the success for your patients as it is.  Share with them the fact you need them in the office at their scheduled hours. They need to respect the vacation and PTO policies you have in your practice and not to exceed the planned days off.  We need them in the office to support one another, to care for the patients scheduled, coming to pick up products, adjustments, repairs, or just stopping in to learn about your services to make your practice successful.

It is time to set the tone for the new year, 2023 is here. Now is the time to review all that has been said in this article. Set the tone for 2023. Help them to see you want them here, but we need them here for the hours per year they agreed to work. You don’t want to say these words in 2023, “They’re a great employee when they’re here.”

It is time to draw the line in the concrete. As of January 1, 2023. You must follow through and be accountable to your employee handbook attendance policy. Everyone has been very lenient and patient with each employee through the pandemic. We work in a profession where flex schedules are NOT effective for our patients or fellow team members. They need to be here when scheduled and you must work that schedule to maintain full-time status and retain benefits. Your team is here to care for patients and one another on your team and you cannot continue to have people out of the office for days beyond what we have planned in the employee handbook.  It puts unnecessary stress and work on your team members when people go beyond the days allowed. It is not about the paid or unpaid days off, it is about managing and caring for each one of you to make certain your workload is where it should be. You do not want to burn out or overwork your employees, so enforce the policies. Set a standard. If a person is tardy X times, they are ineligible for a bonus. Coach, counsel, and guide them to improve. Set the standard you want in 2023 now while we are in 2022. Help them to know now the line is drawn and you are going to expect the best from your team. Reteach those that had to be educated during challenging times. Make 2023 the turning point we all want to see. Know not every employee will make the change. The good news is, we are seeing more and more offices collecting more quality resumes over the past 2 months. There are people that want to work. And why not work in what I see as the greatest industry out there. Combine that with your practice and who would not be prouder than to say they work with you and all on your team?

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Sincerely,

Rick Guinotte, CEO and Co-Founder

Easier Is Not Always Better

Easier Is Not Always Better

It is amazing to see that August is already here and the fourth quarter is coming fast. Owning and managing a business in these past couple of years has been anything but boring. We have all faced challenges with staffing levels, availability, illness, changes in the industry, making investments to better grow your business, and of course managing the processes within the office to make certain the patient care is at a level we all want, and they expect. When speaking with many of our clients, discussing appointment book management, inventory management, vision plans, cash flow, and more, one thing we try to find is the easiest solution to the challenges we face.

For example, appointment book management has been a conversation with many. We need to make certain we have the right number of comprehensive exams with the balance of the medical encounters along with understating the ROI of the various vision plans accepted in offices. It is easier to sign up with many vision plans to fill your books but is easier better? Reducing the dependency on the vision plans will require work, time, and marketing efforts. Will it be better for your practice? The short answer is yes. Is it worth the time and work you need to put forth? The short answer, again, is yes.

Eliminating some or all of your vision plans will increase your receipts per patient. You will work more efficiently and increase your net profits. Most all vision plans have changed their direction from what they once were to what they have become today. Their policies have evolved to benefit them while keeping reimbursements to you at statis quo. They have evolved. Should you and your practice evolve?  Acquios Advisors has tools to help you with this.

Your lease, I am certain you have recently reviewed and began to plan for negotiating better terms for the next 5 or so years. Have you explored other options? It is easier to delay or even ignore this important exercise because it is expensive, scary, and unknown. Plan and review your current lease for the renewals now. It is easier to delay and put it off and sign what the landlord presents. But it may not be best for you and your practice. Easier is not always better.

Many offices have been enticed by various labs and their inventory services. There are some optometrists out there who have managed optical departments and know how to do it properly. That number is far fewer than the number of Optometrists that own their own practice. Various labs now suggest specific branded product for optical to make it easier to manage the frame expenses and order the job complete through the lab while reducing the distraction of frame representatives. The labs also say the turnaround time will be shorter. Is a shorter turnaround time important to your patients? Survey them. You will find most patients will say, I just want them done right so I can see properly.

We have some offices that have committed over 70% of their inventory to the brands the labs carry. This removes your opticians voice, your team’s input, what excites them, and what ownership they have in the operations of your optical. As a past frame representative, opticians sell the product they select, the styles they love and support the representatives they build a business relationship with. Yes, there are processes to reduce reps time with your team in the office, but there should be an evaluation of your frame inventory completed by you and your team to identify what is turning and what is not. Decisions need to be made to sell some product down and bring in other new brands. Your optical should represent you and the culture you have developed in your office. If the opticians have no voice in the product they offer, what makes your optical better than a chain location? Your inventory should be different. It should tell about the type of practice you are and will be for years to come. Limiting your selection of the brands you inventory and offer your patients to shop, does that meet your practice mission statement? Is easier better?

Is one frame vendor able to satisfy your patient wants and needs? The answer is no. Why do we focus on only one lab? There are labs that may offer better pricing on better lenses for one lens style or another. One lab may do better than your lab on specific types of prescriptions. We tend to focus on all work going to the same lab as much as possible. Is the product they turn out best for your patient? You have patients with different needs and diffident lifestyles. You have patients with vision plans and some without. Can an independent lab offer you better pricing because like private practice they try to serve too many plans that pay less?  Is there another lab that will represent your mission more closely and prove your office to be better than the other competition? The answer is yes. To only use one lab because you only pay one bill, have one box to send each day is easier. But is easier always better?

Automated answering services, press one for the receptionist, press two for the optical, press three for billing, sounds easier, doesn’t it? Unless you are the one calling in. Do people love those systems? I for one do not, are they easier? Some might say yes, are they best for your practice? In today’s world, people in general want great customer service. They want to hear a voice on the phone, saying “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. Can this be achieved by a robot? What makes your practice different, better, or unique? It is your team and the personality of your employees that make your practice. Embrace them, teach them, guide them to better. Any company can automate their phones, not everyone values the voice, but your patients will. Is easier better?

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, there are systems to be adapted to all practices to address the items mentioned above. We have shown people the way and improve the overall performance of their practices. Imagine if Ritz Carlton replaced their receptionists with kiosks, their cleaning staff with Rumbas and automated cleaning systems, their chefs and kitchen staff with vending machines. They would lose what has made them one of the brands with the highest of expectations. Review your mission statement and your core values, remind yourself of what you set out to accomplish when you became the owning doctor. Stay true why you became an optometrist and why you wanted to own your own location. I am certain it was to deliver the best service and care while offering the best products available in the industry to improve my patient’s quality of life. Do it with a team that is more like family.  Easier is not always better.

 

Sincerely

Rick Guinotte

President/CEO

The Cost of Online Shopping

Online shopping has exploded. More and more people have moved from shopping in a physical store, to shopping through their phone or computer. Whether you are shopping for technology, clothes, beauty products, or even food, it can be found online. With the click of a couple buttons, the item that you have been looking for can arrive at your doorstep in a matter of just days. While this is convenient, many people don’t understand the power behind their online purchases. We as online shoppers need to cut down on the amount of online shopping that we do.

Many stores are now closing doors due to the inability to compete with growing e-commerce. According to CNN, store closing announcements more than tripled to 7,000 in 2017. This count continues to rise as time goes on. A large portion of these are due to online shopping. For example, Radio Shack was put out of business as a result of online shopping. A year before they closed, they made a joke at themselves stating that their store was from the 80s. It simply could not keep up. Sears is another large chain store that has closed 123 of their locations. According to the Chicago Tribune, this put over 50,000 workers out of business. In an interview with Greater Boston News (WGBH), Nancy Koehn, a historian, Harvard Business School professor and entrepreneurial leadership expert explained “Sears is a store that lived through the Great Depression and world wars, but it can’t survive the age of online shoppers”.

The closing of all these stores is taking its toll on employees. As I previously stated, Sears alone caused 50,000 workers to lose their jobs. This does not take into account other stores that have closed their doors for good. Brian Schaitkin, a Senior Economist at The Conference Board, writes that retail has the potential to lose over five million jobs by 2040. These are people that have families to care for and children to feed. According to the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas, over 80 percent of workers in the retail industry do not have college degrees, and over half lack any post-secondary education. When these workers lose their retail jobs, not having further education makes finding another job even harder. For some of these people, the money that they make from this job is what enables them to have a home, food and to be able to support their families. These job losses are leading to poverty and homelessness due to a lack of income.

The biggest contributor to the online shopping trend is Amazon. As Mrinalini Krishna, former television arm of the Economic Times with a Bachelors of Arts with Honors in economics contends, “Amazon has disrupted traditional retail and accelerated the demise of struggling players”. Amazon is slowly suffocating the retail market. It has gotten to be such a large company that lawsuits don’t have the ability to harm them. They have been caught selling counterfeit Mercedes Benz parts, copyright of other companies’ products and forging fake reviews of products. Most of their customers aren’t even aware of these problems. A person may argue that while Amazon reduces jobs in the traditional retail market, they create jobs within their company. However, the amount of jobs created by Amazon does not in any way contend with the amount of jobs that the retail market produces.

Another side of e-commerce that is becoming increasingly more prominent is the world of online optometry. According to the Vision Council, a non-profit trade association for manufacturers and suppliers for the optical industry in the United States, consumers bought nearly $600 million worth of prescription glasses online last year alone. With the growth in purchases of glasses online, there are consequences that many people are not aware of. The American Optometric Association, warns “when glasses are bought online, accuracy, lens durability and fit become questionable”. This is a similar situation to what happened with Amazon and other online stores not having enough product quality control. It is one thing to risk product quality when purchasing a new jacket or pair of shoes, but compromising your health and vision is not worth saving a few dollars. Wearing glasses that have the wrong prescription in them or have false measurements, which has happened many times using online companies, can cause headaches and damage your eyesight over time.

I have to admit, online shopping is palpably easier. You don’t have to take the time to leave the comfort of your own home to go to the store. Instead you can simply pull out your phone, click a few buttons and you are done. However, there is a factor about in-store shopping that simply cannot be replaced by online purchases. When shopping in a physical store, you have the ability to try on clothes to see whether or not they fit or if they are, in fact, of good quality. As projected by Retail Dive, a digital publication reaching over 599,000 industry decision makers, the ability to see, touch and feel products as well as take items home immediately rank highest among the reasons consumers choose to shop in stores versus online. Along with online shopping comes the hassle of return policies in which you are not guaranteed all of your money back. This is due to added on shipping and handling fees. Sometimes, it’s easier to just keep the product than having to go through repackaging it, taking it to the post office and paying money to have a company take back the product that didn’t meet your standards. Instead of having to go through this long and expensive process, shopping in-stores is the best solution.

Overall, the world of online shopping can become dangerous if we continue to abuse it’s usage. Cutting out e-commerce as a whole is simply unrealistic. Instead, consumers need to become aware of the impact that our actions have on others as well as ourselves. Continuing on the path that we are on, (increasing our amount of online shopping) will lead to huge problems down the road for ourselves and for others. So next time you feel as though you need to purchase something online, remember to think about the impact that it has on the people of your community such as the hard workers and small business owners. Make the decision to support stores and put forth the effort shop in store more often than online.