5 Tips to Consider When Opening a Cold Start Practice
By: Jenny Wiley, Practice Operations Advisor, PECAA
Starting a practice from the ground up can be an exciting, and often hectic, time. As the advisor to PECAA’s cold start practices, I’m aware of all of the trials and tribulations eye care practitioners have to undergo to not only get their doors open, but to begin making a profit. It can seem daunting when you are first getting started, but I hope you aren’t under the assumption that you are in this alone! Why not take the advice of industry experts and ECP’s that have already traveled down the path you are headed down?
Based on my 30 years in the industry and my many conversations with members that are currently in the process of, or have recently, opened cold, I have begun compiling a list of helpful tips and suggestions to offer to other industry professionals who find themselves in similar shoes. I am also excited to share with you a cold start timeline I have been developing that will be a helpful guide for you to know when you should begin incorporating certain things into your new practice.
I know there must be a million different things on your mind when attempting to build a practice from scratch, but I urge you to keep these 5 tips in mind that may not otherwise be on your radar…
1) Expect the Unexpected
I can not stress this enough; you can not plan for things that are not under your control. The most common reasons new practices do not meet their open dates are due to construction and permitting delays. While this can be incredibly frustrating, let me remind you, it is out of your control! I always recommend to my cold start practices that whatever they think their target open date will be, give yourself a safety net of 3 months (if not longer), as you never know what may pop up along the way. An important part of this planning process includes ensuring your loan provides adequate working capital to cover potential delays. Having a contingency plan is always a smart idea.
However, instead of worrying about the time that may have been lost, focus your energy instead on what you can do during that possible down-time to give your practice its best foot forward. Start developing your vendor relationships. Interviewing vendors is as important as interviewing staff. Vendors can provide training for you and your staff, marketing materials, and be a valuable resource for your practice. Start drafting up an employee handbook and employment applications for when you are ready to start hiring. Use your time wisely to develop good office habits and procedures during your slow times.
2) Don’t Wait Too Long to Invest in Staff.
Most practitioners will attempt to do everything themselves in the beginning to cut down on costs (act as receptionist, office manager, optician, etc), but don’t hamper potential growth by waiting too long to invest in good staff. Be proactive instead of reactive. Don’t wait until you are too busy to handle everything on your own to start considering the possibility of looking for some help. Finding and training good staff can take an average of 3 months, so make sure to forecast your future employment needs instead of waiting too long to hire and potentially offering the job to a lackluster candidate.
3) Get Involved In Your Local Community.
The best way to build a patient base is to get involved in your local community and get your name out there. Does your town have any street fairs over the Summer you could participate in? Why not join your city’s rotary club and start building professional connections with your (business) neighbors? How about performing some vision screenings at local schools or retirement communities? I’ve had members that have participated in health fairs, hosted local art shows in their practices, participated in relays by handing out drinks to those running by their business… the key is to think outside the box and make the local community of patients you hope to attract aware of who you are.
4) Start Your Social Media Presence Early.
Get ahead of the curve by building an online community of potential patients well in advance of when your doors are slated to open. You should be creating your social accounts while your practice is still in the construction phase. Post updates 2-3 times a week (yes, even in the beginning!) on construction projects, visual display unveilings, potential frame lines you may consider carrying, any community involvement you are a part of (see tip #3!), etc. Your followers who are informed and engaged with your practice’s progress are much more likely to become full-time (and sometimes even referring) patients.
Once you do open your doors, it’s important to have a referral system up-and-running right off the bat. 92% of consumers will check out a business’s online reviews before deciding to visit an establishment. Set up and verify your Yelp and Facebook accounts, and make sure patients know where to review you! Have a link in your e-mail signatures, on your website and on your social accounts. Keep a handful of flyers on your receptionist desk, and personally reach out 2-3 days after appointments to see if your patients would be willing to review you online. Once you have a good amount of reviews under your belt, you may even consider holding a referral promotion or contest. 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations made by friends, so this can be a powerful tool to help grow your business.
5) Develop a Support Network.
Although it may sometimes seem like you are alone in this endeavor, that is simply not the case! There are plenty of other Eye Care Practitioners that have stood where you are currently standing. This is the best network of individuals to reach out to for advice and support, and from what I have experienced, these ECP’s will be happy to offer suggestions and give you their recommendations. PECAA has a wonderful mentorship program where cold start practices are paired with a seasoned member who they can reach out to with questions on the process of opening cold. I would also encourage you to also attend some industry Peer-to-Peer dinners so you can connect with like-minded individuals while brainstorming ideas on how to grow your businesses. Join a forum or Facebook group so you can build a remote support community. And don’t forget to reach out to industry professionals (like your PECAA Advisors!) that can help answer any questions you may have and guide you in the right direction. The important thing to remember is to reach out and ask for advice… there will be plenty who are willing to give it!
I could go on for days with plenty more tips to offer you, but starting with these 5 often over-looked suggestions will be a good place to start.
I would like to also provide you with the timeline I have compiled, based on my many calls with cold start members, that will be a good guide on the steps you need to take and when you need to complete them in order to successfully get your practice up-and-running.
To download this cold start timeline, fill out the form below and you will receive an e-mail with a link to download the file.
I wish you all the best in this exciting new endeavor!
Interested in PECAA’s Cold Start Program?
PECAA’s Cold Start Practice Program supports doctors who are in the process of opening a brand new practice with special membership above and beyond PECAA’s standard member programs. We would welcome the opportunity to speak with you directly to find out how we can help serve your needs. Please fill out an inquiry form here and our Cold Start Practice Advisor, Jenny Wiley, will be in touch with you soon. Or, simply e-mail her at Jenny@pecaa.com or by calling 503.670.9200
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