Starting an optometry practice is an incredible journey but one that requires substantial planning and preparation. Perhaps you are in your final years of optometry school or just hoping to break from a current practice – for many reasons, opening a new practice is a common goal amongst optometrists. In the field of optometry, there are many ways to kickstart your career. In this article we will examine the processes and preparations that go into both purchasing a current practice and starting a new practice from the ground up!
Becoming a Business Owner
In most cases, optometrist don’t have an additional degree in business. Many people’s initial concern when contemplating starting or buying their own practice is the fact they have not specialized in business, accounting, HR, etc. A lack of business knowledge is important to note, but in this modern age, you have incredible resources all around you to help make this big move possible. For instance, local community colleges offer a wide variety of classes, many in the evenings, that can provide more specific business knowledge and instructions.
If like most, you do not anticipate having enough time to enroll in classes, there are thousands of online courses teaching everything from Business 101 to masters level courses. These online courses have a wide range of prices, involvement, time commitments, etc., but finding one that addresses your business concerns while complimenting your schedule is certainly possible. Alternatively, if you are not looking for additional formal education, consulting with experts in the field is another great option. One program in particular, offers incredible mentorship and support to doctors who are in the process of opening a brand-new practice.
The most important thing to remember if you are second guessing your business knowledge is that the greatest strength comes from communities and teams. Do not underestimate the power of asking for assistance, delegating when necessary and TEAMWORK. The strength of your practice is not solely on your shoulders; assemble a team of skilled staff and/or auxiliary contractors with specific backgrounds and knowledge including accounting, HR, legal, etc.
Buying into a Practice
When making the jump from optometrist to business owner, the first major decision is whether to buy into an existing practice or start your own from scratch.
If you’ve decided you do not want to start from scratch, here are two of the most common paths:
- Complete Purchase: a complete purchase is possible when a doctor has an entire practice for sale. Practices for sale can be found online through various listing websites, with options throughout the country. A sale price is presented to the potential buyer, negotiations take place, and if the selling price is agreed upon, the buyer finds the necessary financing and if successful, becomes the proud new owner of an optometry practice.
- Partial Purchase: If buying an entire practice is not financially viable or not your goal, you can purchase a partial practice. Depending on the agreement or offer, owners can purchase any percentage of the business and be responsible for their share. Partial purchases are often much easier to complete as it’s much easier to qualify for smaller loans. This may be an especially attractive option for those freshly out of optometry school.
An important reminder when considering purchasing an existing practice, in full or in part, is to always have a professional appraisal done on the practice before making any big decisions.
Starting Your Own Optometry Practice
Whether you couldn’t find a good-fitting practice for sale or prefer starting fresh, starting your own optometry practice from the ground up is an exciting option with immense potential. The first important step to starting your own optometry practice is completing thorough research.
Location and Market Analysis
Before committing to a specific location or even region, it’s important to thoroughly research the market you are hoping to enter. You must consider population statistics, market saturation with competing optometrists, and cost of living, just to name a few factors. It’s important to remember that each market is unique and always changing, so additional research on current and future trends in the area of focus are extremely important as well. One professional suggestion is to partner with a local marketing or research firm to best understand the local market and minimize the risks.
Once a general location is established, start visiting areas of town and look for potential office buildings or professional plazas. During this step of the research, it’s important to liaise with local officials and be prepared for any required inspections, filings or permits.
Just like every other type of business, your optometry practice needs a detailed business plan. A business plan is a formal document that allows businesses to set specific goals and later, evaluate your business goals based on your practice’s performance, targets, goals and benchmarks. As a business owner, it’s extremely important to have a clear vision and monitor each step of the process – without regularly checking on your business’ functions you could miss important variables, like missing a sales quotas or underestimating the amount of marketing you should be doing. By following a detailed business plan, all stakeholders will know their responsibilities and can monitor each process to ensure nothing is glaringly missing.
Not only are business plans essential for your internal business, they are also required in order to qualify for a loan from a bank. A business plan is universal throughout nearly all sectors and must not be overlooked or taken lightly.
Another aspect of starting a business that is required across all sectors is your business registration. No matter the size or type of business, one must register with local and national agencies to ensure compliance. When registering your business, there are many different types of businesses to consider pursuing, such as a Limited Liability Company, Sole Proprietorship, Partnership or S Corporation. Each type of business has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the ownership structure and goals of the company. In addition to filing as a new company, you must also register and comply with the following:
- Internal Revenue Service
- Secretary of State
- Social Security Administration
- Department of Revenue
- Department of Labour
- And others may apply
With this long list of agencies, we highly suggest consulting with a lawyer to ensure compliance and minimize the risks.
Once you’ve completed thorough market research, secured a location and become fully compliant with state and national agencies, you’re ready to start the exciting process of assembling your team!
This is an extremely important aspect of starting your business and will take a considerable amount of time, as it should. Start by organizing and complying detailed job descriptions with specific requirements for each position. This will ensure the most qualified applicants apply and will save you time from sorting through too many applications. There are countless job posting sites online – use resources like alumni networks or ophthalmology-specific resources like our comprehensive employee assessment to help determine whether potential candidates are a good fit for your practice, or to evaluate current team members.
Additional questions to consider when planning this human resource component include:
- How many staff members do you need?
- How do you plan to interview them? With whom?
- What is fair compensation?
- Will you only hire full-time employees or part-time as well?
- What benefits can and should you offer?
Opening Your Doors
As expected, a blog post cannot provide every detail or process you should consider before opening the doors to your new practice. Without bogging you down with too many activities, the following list (though certainly not complete) can help gauge the work and time needed before making this leap:
- Researching and purchasing required equipment and supplies
- Selecting the inventory and brands you want to provide at your practice
- Establishing vendor accounts
- Formalize and execute marketing efforts
- Organize and prepare systems for medical records
- Create and maintain a professional website
- Establish and prepare payroll, bookkeeping, computer and phone networks
- Confirm your practice’s pricing services and materials
- Put systems in place for patient scheduling and patient flow plans
Importance of Community and Networking when Starting an Optometry Practice
Just like any other facet of life, harnessing a sense of community and support will always be beneficial to you and your practice. Meeting and networking with other optometrists is absolutely essential to ensure your sustainability in the field by learning and sharing best practices and experiences. Not only will this provide you with invaluable professional experience, it will have countless personal and professional benefits for you and your business. At PECCA, we provide optometrists with countless resources to better their business, help their practices run more smoothly and more effectively, as well as host many great networking events both online and throughout the country!