This is the original version of the article that appears in Eyecare Business Magazine, Business Strategies for Feb 2016.
Hi! I'm Dr. Tanya Gill. I started this column because I wanted to share my journey from optometrist to entrepreneur. When you're in school, you learn how to be a doctor, but not necessarily how to run a business.
By definition alone, an entrepreneur is "a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so." Are you that person that comes to the rescue when there's a crazy person in the lobby? Do you break out in cold sweats at night because you may or may not have enough cash flow to cover payroll? Technically, does your bank own your practice and not you? Never say never?
Well, this is called entrepreneurship. It's the best thing in the entire world and I wouldn't have it any other way. In my 6 part series I want to share what makes this journey worthwhile and how I continue to create my dream practice everyday.
Am I a big tree or am I a unique plant?
The thing about running a business that makes it a challenge is that it actually has to run like a business. Back in 2013, I signed up for an online class: Grow to Greatness. It was a life-changer. There was an image of a person holding 2 handfuls of soil with a little seedling plant growing out of the soil. That was me. All I had was 2 handfuls of soil and my little business that I wanted to grow into a million dollar practice. But how? Where to even start.
After a few weeks, I had my answer. Ever have that moment when the clouds part in the sky and you put your wine glass down because you’re about to face palm because the answer is so . . . simple?
When it comes to growth, am I a big tree or am I a unique plant?
Again. Am I a big tree or am I a unique plant?
Rephrase. Am I a big tree that attracts all the sun or am I a unique plant that attracts the unique hummingbird?
The answer was quite annoyingly simple. Since I wasn’t a Costco or a Walmart or a Lenscrafters, I was not a big tree and I should stop trying to be one. All signs were pointing at the obvious and a unique plant is who I had to become. I had to become a niche player.
Hmmmmmmm. Now how to become that unique plant as related to optometry. I’m thinking bright colored flowers, aren’t you? These are the 3 major strategic moves I made to create a plant with bright colored flowers to attract local hummingbirds. It worked for me and it can certainly work for you.
Frame inventory. The products that you offer have to be different that what the big box stores offer. Price becomes less of an issue as unique products offer value simply because they are more difficult to find. My goal was to replace 100% of the frame inventory from licensed brand name product to independent frame lines. This way, I could stop competing with big box and start creating my own niche.
Back in 2013, I had 99 problems and just didn’t know where to start. So I started with 1. Our strategy soon emerged. We would choose the worst performing frame collection and sell down until we reached the magic number of 12. We would put those 12 frames in a discount area and bring in a new, independent frame line at a similar price point. We repeated this process over and over until we got to where we are today. 90% of our frame lines are now independents. Almost there.
Website. A smart person once told me that a website is a fancy, glossy brochure to get people to make contact. Nothing more, nothing less. So in 2013, I designed a glossy, digital brochure – the website. Over 80% of our new patients come from the internet and they often volunteer how much they love our website.
Websites matter. A lot.
Writing a business website is basically like writing a profile for internet dating. Keep it short, sweet and if you add amazingly flattering photos, you should get a ton of replies. So if you’re not an Annie Leibovitz, no problem. You can purchase professional stock photos for just $50 a piece off the internet. If you are going to add staff photos, just make sure it’s from the same photographer so there is a cohesive look. Lastly, use only beautiful, high-res images to do your talking. Because, 20/20.
Office Remodel. Imagine if you saw a website with beautiful photos then went to a practice with outdated carpet and peeling wallpaper – it would just feel disconnected to the customer. That was our problem. In 2014, it was time to remodel our 1,872 square feet of office also know as That 70’s Show.
The best place to get inspiration for an optometry practice remodel would be from a non-optometry related business. I happened to be in a Chipotle when I noticed the plywood perforated walls. That was my inspiration for the frame displays.
Customers want the look and feel of a special experience – why not give it to them? Ever walk into a store or hotel and love something about it? Bring some of those elements of inspiration to your new remodel.
After creating that new plant with bright colored flowers, the hummingbirds will come and your plant will start to grow. Happy dance. But we don’t want weeds nor do we want our flowers to attract wasps. An entrepreneur must avoid distraction and maintain laser focus on the core goals at all times. At all times.
So grab a pen, a piece of paper and your laser focus and meet me on the corner of Million Dollar Road & Hummingbird Lane. 👓
—Tanya N. Gill, O.D.
Tanya N. Gill, O.D., is the owner of Oakland Vision Center Optometry in Oakland, CA. Dr. Gill is obsessed with ocular surface disease, kick-a$$ female entrepreneurship, never say- ing never, eating vegetables daily, and brightly colored sneaker pumps. She lives in Oakland with her husband and is the founder of We Love Eyes, a company that makes natural cleansing products for the eyes.