It’s that time of year again. Time for the annual trek to the Big Apple to see and hear what’s new in the optical world. In the past I’ve advocated making a detailed list of what you need, what you want and what you can afford to bring into your practice. That’s still my advice. Going into the big show without a plan is like entering a huge wholesale club without a list. You either need or want everything you see or there’s nothing in the building that you care about. You should have been making notes on patient requests and interests, products that you’ve heard or read about and equipment that you’ve dreamed about owning. Take the time NOW to make appointments with the people you want to work with, use the floor show map to plot your day and make the most efficient use of your time.
Because this year I’m advocating for education. You have successfully navigated your practice through the most difficult and challenging economic waters in recent memory. However, there are still challenges out there and you should be planning on how to respond in the most profitable and responsible way.
- The Internet. We love to hate the internet. We love the convenience of ordering online. Most insurance plans require that we place orders and file claims online. The idea of electronic medical records is tempting, as is the idea of a “paperless” office. We’re afraid that our staff will spend more time on Facebook than on face-to-face contact with patients, so we find ways to restrict access. We hate the internet when our patients begin to shop for their eyewear online. Rather than wail and gnash your teeth, gather information from the classes offered on that subject. Sit quietly, take notes, read the handouts and decide how you can address the attributes that make the internet purchase of eyewear attractive. Decide how or if internet marketing can benefit your practice as a tool to attract new patients and retain current ones.
- Staffing. Your staff is the heartbeat of your practice. Uneven performance from your staff is as dangerous to your practice as an irregular heartbeat. Rather than trying to put out fires every day, find the experts and the classes they offer. No one person has all the answers, so take a variety of classes to develop a staffing strategy that will work for you. Expert staffing isn’t only about who and how you hire, it’s also about how and when to terminate a staff member. You think you have the best staff already? Then find out how to retain them. Most of the experts will tell you that it’s not always about the money, so you need to find other positive ways to motivate and stimulate the people you depend on to keep your practice healthy. When you’re planning your trip, are there classes that your office manager, lab manager or insurance specialist would benefit from? Would taking your key staff members to the show be the best benefit you could offer? Check with your accountant about the financial rewards or tax incentives this advanced training opportunity may offer.
- Systems. If your staff is the heartbeat of your practice, then systems are its backbone. Certainly your computer system and programs are a key element, but a systematic approach to practice operations is absolutely necessary. There are numerous classes being offered on practice management, patient and staff retention, practice benchmarking and a host of hands on workshops and expert roundtable discussions all designed to help you develop the practice of your dreams.
- Technology. I decided to count the number of new lens designs, lens treatments, frame collections and accessories offered up in 2010. I gave up sometime last March. If you think you can keep up by only reading trade publications or simply meeting with manufacturer’s reps, you’re crazy. There’s too much new stuff and too few hours in the day to stay on top of everything. If you believe that one or two manufacturer’s have a lock on every new development, you’re kidding yourself. Talk with your staff and choose courses that will either enhance your current understanding of the latest technology or introduce you to something new and different. You can’t possibly attend every class on every new development, but you can schedule some in-office time to meet with a rep or schedule a training meeting for the entire staff. Make your meeting/training appointments while you’re at the show because you’re going to be inundated with “show mail” in the weeks that follow.
- Technical Skills. The “Boot Camp” courses offered during Vision Expo have grown from a single 2-hour course to 4 separate sessions delivered over 3 days. Contact lens courses have expanded as well. A poorly fitted pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses can torpedo the best exam in record time. Your dispensary is a major profit center in your practice and requires a very specific skill set. As the practice owner you may have the background to train your staff, but you probably don’t have the time necessary to do a thorough job. If you rely on a senior staff member to provide training, then it is essential that he or she is constantly up-grading and refining those skills. I’ve seen enough “7”-shaped temple bends to know that attending a “Boot Camp” will benefit everyone from your patient to your accountant.
So what’s the best use of your time? First, thoroughly analyze your practice statistics from 2010. What were your strengths and where is there room for improvement? Was your marketing plan successful or is it time for a new approach? Is your inventory turning at an acceptable rate or does it need to more accurately reflect your practice demographics? Are your lens options current or are you offering the same options you’ve always offered? Is your office hardware and software up-to-date or is it negatively affecting your office productivity? What does your office décor say to your patients? Is it current and hip or comfortably familiar? Does your staff present themselves as eyecare professionals or just employees?
When you have the answers to these questions, you can begin to make your plans for both the exhibit hall and the classrooms. Yes, I know the parties are fun, but they don’t add to your bottom line and they won’t benefit you, your practice or your professional staff.
You say you’re not going to New York? OK, then cut out this article and staple it to your calendar for July because there’s always Vegas, baby!