INVISION rounds up experts to answer your most pressing business questions.

Sometimes asking the Magic 8-Ball just doesn’t cut it ... especially when you’re trying to find answers to questions about how to run your business better. Some things shouldn’t be left up to fate. So, we’ve compiled a list of some of the questions we get over and over to provide you with expert solutions that are a bit more reliable than “signs point to yes.”


Q: What’s the secret to attracting clientele as a new practice?

A: You want patients. But first, we counsel patience. The age-old qualities of trust and reputation are the not-so secret sauces for growing a client base for any medical practice, and they take time to build. Nevertheless, you can speed up the process with a good referral program and more active community involvement. Pauline Blachford, who consults with optometrists across North America, suggests your first act should be to install a referral program to motivate existing clients to recommend family and friends. Then, “Find ways of going to where potential clients are,” she says. “Are there events where you can set-up a booth? Networking events for local professionals?” Perhaps at one of these events you market that your business has started a community fundraising event and you match the donations of your clients/visitors to encourage appointment making to people already clearly engaged with their community. Lastly, tempt them to come to you. “Offer weekly ‘open house’ evening events, addressing different eye health issues for different age groups or host regular group walks that can be joined by anyone in the community. Not only do they promote a healthy lifestyle, but they allow community members to ask an expert any questions they may have,” Blachford says. 


Q: How can I grow my business when only so many dollars are spent in my rural market?

A: The first thing to test in any rural location is your assumptions, says retail trainer Bob Phibbs. Don’t think that just because you operate from a small town, everyone in that market knows your business or its services.

“People probably drive from farther away to go to your office, so as a business owner, you have to give them a good reason to keep coming back,” he says. Phibbs recommends doing your own research, including walking around your area and knocking on doors to find out how many people are aware of your services. Second, test your hours. “If your store is closed on Sundays, you may be missing out on two of the top four money-making times,” he says. Third, through interactions with customers and even studying your parking lot, find out where your customers are coming from. With this information you will able to tweak your marketing and other outreach activities. It’s possible you could run targeted Facebook ads or rent billboard space to catch traffic from a much wider area. But first, you need to know exactly whom to target. 


Q: Is paying for the Think About Your Eyes Doctor Locator worth it for my independent practice?

A: When it comes to marketing, we’re big believers in experiments, especially of the digital and trackable kind like the Think About Your Eyes Locator.  From what we’re hearing, the service  seems to be delivering on its promises. Dr. Mario Contaldi, founder and president of Southwest Vision Center in North Richland Hills, TX, signed up last year when the Texas Optometric Association, to which he belongs, offered a basic listing as a no-cost member benefit. He opted to upgrade  to a premium listing because it “offers better visibility, more patient engagements and higher ranking in local Google searches.” Dr. Contaldi said that all told he’s identified almost 100 patients in the past 18 months who have requested an appointment, found his website, read his profile or clicked through to call his office, all from the online locator. “With my premium listing, I also get access to statistics about patients finding my office, which just increases the value of participating,” he says. 

Beyond the direct benefit of patient growth, he believes the TAYE campaign is doing great things for optometry and the public. “As a doctor of optometry and a small business owner, participating is a no-brainer for me. I’m not only helping to promote eye and vision health, but being smart with my marketing dollars,” he says.


Q: We’re struggling with building a loyal and engaged fan base who advocate on our behalf with referrals and word of mouth. What can we do? 

A: With more than 1 million social media fans, Costa knows a little bit about seriously engaged fan bases, and Amanda Sabin, the brand’s community  leader manager, lets us in on a few of the brand’s secrets.

Rule One: Attend your community’s events, and bring food. (And drinks. And other goodies. Heck, you can even sponsor a band.) 

Rule Two: Support the causes your community cares about. Says Sabin: “Once we learn what a specific community has a heart for, we find a way to support it.” For Costa, that means support for conservation efforts to protect fish in their natural habitats. “If you learn that your community needs a new park or is hosting a breast cancer walk, as an ECP you should get behind that,” Sabin says. 

Rule Three: Identify your “insiders,” and make them feel special. For Costa, one key group of influencers the brand targets is fishing pros. For these key players, Costa provides complimentary eyewear, meets with them on product tours, and briefs them first on latest releases and technological advances. Plus, Costa frequently features these high-profile clients on their social media channels. 

Who are the influencers in your community? Identify them and make them yours.


Q: What’s the formula for figuring out how many appetizers I’ll need for an evening event at my business?

A: Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis shares her rule of thumb at the Food Network Blog: Plan on making or buying about four pieces per person (and have a few extra snacks on hand like chips or dips for people who show up with a genuine hunger).


Q: Do testimonial pages on websites mean anything in the age of Yelp? 

A: The game has definitely changed, and today’s consumer is unlikely to click on a “Testimonials” link to read a collection of positive comments. That said, testimonials still have a role as “support tools” throughout your website, says Shane O’Neill, vice president of Fruchtman Marketing.

One interesting option, says  O’Neill, is integrating the review site (assuming your reviews are positive) into your own site. 


Q: My wife wants to spend thousands on a professional logo designer. I’m artistic and would rather take a DIY approach. What do you think?

A: Sure, you could download a $99 logo design off the Internet and futz around with the typography, but you risk doing your business a massive disservice. Logos really don’t get the respect they deserve. “In my experience, a logo sets the stage for all of your strategic messaging,” says Dan Antonelli, creative director of Graphic D-Signs, and author of Building a Big Small Business Brand.

According to Antonelli, a great logo “conveys expertise, establishes a brand promise, and creates an expectation for quality.”


Q: What length of radio ad — 15, 30, or 60 seconds — generates the best ROI?

A: We could answer that in two seconds: It depends ... Which would get our message across but not be very helpful. Brevity is always preferred in advertising except:

  • When the issue is complex.
  • You need specific details to persuade prospective customers or answer a question lurking in the listener’s mind.
  • You need (some) time to set the emotional scene.
  • You need to create the realization of a need before you can sell your solution.

In those cases, you will probably need 60 seconds. That doesn’t mean you should take license to waffle — many ads are too long and lose the listener’s attention. The bottom line, says Roy Williams, author of the “Wizard of Ads,” is that your radio ad should be exactly as long as it needs to be.

“Use 30-second ads when your product or service category is clearly understood and you’re making an easy-to-understand offer,” he says, stressing that you should aim to make only one point per ad. Williams advises using 15-second ads when you have an incredibly powerful, simple message or there is little competition in your market and getting your name out is all that matters.



Q: How to deal with a new hire who has so far put off her start date three times for health or other reasons?

A: Sounds like you’re Plan B or she’s a worker with a lack of enthusiasm for honest labor. If you hire her, prepare for her to take her full entitlement of sick days, be reluctant to help out in emergencies and just generally have an extremely one-sided view of the labor contract. Send her a note thanking her for her interest but telling her that recent developments have forced you to reconsider the position and that you are rescinding the offer. Staffing is too important to bring on someone who is less than 100 percent committed to the cause.


Q: How do you get the most out of team-building exercises? 

A: Think recurring motif. A great example of this was chronicled in a recent Knowledge@Wharton profile of John Zillmer, who was  appointed to lead an underperforming division of Aramark . On taking the job, Zillmer told his management team to spend that night going through the unit’s weak numbers and then show up for work the next day at a local car racetrack. After a day of burning rubber he told them: “All right, it looks like you can learn new tricks. So what I want to know is, what are you willing to do as a team? What’s possible here?” According to the story, the group began to challenge one another, and came up with goals that outstripped those the CEO had envisioned. Zillmer looked at the targets and laid down a challenge — meet your goals and come back next year to do the three-day racing course.

We’ll let Knowledge@Wharton take it from here:

“So first quarter, they were making their numbers. John sent them racing gloves and a note that said, ‘Congratulations.’ Second quarter, they’re still making their numbers. He sends them the racing suits with their names on them. Third quarter, they’re making their numbers. He sends them helmets. And sure enough, they make it, and they show up the next year and do this wonderful three-day program. It was a testament of how a leader manufactured commitment in a team by creating a shared experience. Building on that experience, they took ownership and delivered results.”


Q: How can I get my staff to show some enthusiasm in the store?

A: Sales trainer Ivan Levi suggests you try this exercise: Form a circle and have each person state what he or she appreciates about fellow team members. The positive comments may well surprise you (especially the ones about you).

“I have seen the grumpiest team member walk on air for days after this exercise,” says Levi, who recommends you run the exercise monthly in sales meetings. The result will be a smiling, more confident sales force. And the best part is that your customers will notice a positive change in your practice, he says.


Q: I have a great relationship with my sales staff, but sometimes the chatting seems to happen at the detriment of output. How can I get everyone focused on work without killing the good spirit in the store?

A: Getting that communication/camaraderie balance right is always tough, especially in a small business environment. Consultant Andrea Hill, owner of StrategyWerx, recommends scheduling time for both. Be forthright, she says. Tell your staff how much you enjoy your conversations and what you gain from them, but that one of the things you’re working on is “learning to minimize my conversation during the day and maximize my focus on work.” Suggest starting each day with some time to catch up — personally and on business issues. And then add: “The rest of the day, let’s keep our conversation focused on business issues. At the end of the day, let’s spend another 10 minutes recapping our day.” This approach will help your employees understand that your limitation of conversation is based on a business objective, and not on unfriendliness, says Hill. “It also helps you when an employee starts talking during the day, because you can say ‘I’d love to discuss that with you. Let’s save that for our end-of-day recap — it will be something for me to look forward to!’”


Q: What are some spiffs I can use to generate some excitement — and hopefully better sales — from my staff?

A: For inspiration we can’t do better than recommend Harry Friedman’s The Retailer’s Complete Book of Selling Games and Contests, which includes over 100 games for boosting sales-floor performance, everything from Pass the Buck to variations on H.O.R.S.E.

We love spiffs — they add fun and bring out the enthusiastic inner child in everyone. But a few things to keep in mind: 

Make sure the same person doesn’t win the prize every time. That’s just discouraging.

It’s often better not to focus on the ultimate target (higher sales). Make sure the spiff is encouraging the right behaviors like getting customers to try on frames or consider an add-on, or getting staff to be pro-active with phone calls. 

Financial rewards can excite staff, but it doesn’t have to be about money. Make the prize an offer to wash the winner’s car, be their slave for a day, or to shave your head for charity, and you can greatly boost team bonding. Finally, add a touch of ceremony, like beating a gong to announce the winner at your weekly meeting. That will cement the impression that your business has its own rituals and is not just another commercial enterprise.


Q: I’ve decided to fire a staff member for failing to perform. How should I break the news to the rest of the team?

A: For legal and morale reasons, our advice is to avoid going into detail. Shortly after the employee is fired, make a brief statement to your other workers, saying that the employee is no longer with the business. Tell them who will handle the tasks that person was responsible for, and ask them to direct any other questions to you.


Q:  Are there any special considerations when interviewing candidates for a new optical manager?

A: There are two things you’re looking for with a manager: skill set and culture fit. The first is fairly straightforward to ascertain. Do they have a genuine desire to bring out the best in people, and do they have the know-how and industry experience to do that? The second is a bit trickier, in part because one of the things about interviewing a manager is that they’ve likely conducted many interviews themselves. Ask questions that bring out a person’s true character: “What makes you howl at the moon?” or “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?” or “Tell me what you think would be a great night out in New York” ... and so on. Your goal should be to determine if this is someone you would want to hang out with, even if they weren’t working for you. Are they going to be good for the culture of your practice? Are they going to make it a fun place to work?


Q:  Is it true that as a business owner I can’t ask a job applicant whether they have used illegal drugs in the past?

A: It’s true. Drug addictions and alcoholism are basically considered illnesses under the Americans With Disabilities Act. You can, however, ask, “Do you currently use illegal drugs?” or “What illegal drugs have you used in the last six months?” (Note the emphasis on “illegal;” it’s against ADA rules to ask people what prescription drugs they may be taking.) Depending on your state, you can ask candidates to submit to a drug test but it’s usually on the proviso that if they pass, you must offer them the position. Here is a list of drug testing rules by state.


Q:  Should I tell my staff early that I’m planning to sell?

A: Yes, yes, and yes. Here’s why:

1. You want to be able to reassure your workers that you have their interests at heart as you consider a sale; and a late, panicked exodus of staff will not help you close the deal.

2. A prospective buyer will be eager to find out how indispensable you are to the business, so a well-prepared transition plan that phases you out of the day-to-day running of the practice or store may well boost the value of your operation.

3. And possibly the most important factor: insider sales, where the business is sold to staff, are often among the most successful sales. And even if your staff isn’t interested in taking over the business, the more people they tell the better.


Q:  My best salesperson is quitting to take another job. Should I try to woo her back with more money?

A: Money talks but it also sets bad precedents. If other staff find out there could be a stampede to your office with similar ultimatums. First, evaluate the position and figure what it would take to fill it with a good worker. Second, find out why she is really leaving. Money is rarely the main issue. Be careful what you say or promise, says sales trainer Dave Richardson, adding that in such situations bosses often react irrationally. If you give away too much to keep the salesperson you may well find yourself later resenting the individual. If nothing can be done, accept her decision and make plans to find a good replacement. The woman’s mind will probably be on her new job but ask her to help with the transition for the time she’s still on your payroll. “After all, this is your best employee. They usually do things right,” says Richardson.



Q: Is the customer always right?

A: Ah, the classic question. From a business viewpoint, we think it’s a good idea to take the view that every customer-service problem starts with you (“take extreme ownership” as former Navy SEAL trainer and business book author Jocko Willink puts it). But in reality, “the customer is always right” adage is poppycock. A more helpful saying is that the market is always right. When it decides you must change your pricing or business model or whatever, then obey. Or perish.


Q: I’ve always done my own books and taxes, but I’m thinking of hiring a CPA to take over. However, the cost worries me.

A: You sound like a lot of entrepreneurs with that DIY frontier mentality. To be sure, CPAs aren’t cheap and they don’t even keep your financial paperwork in order (that’s the bookkeeper’s job). But hire the right one and he or she should return the investment many times over in strategic advice with regards to tax, sourcing capital, operational weak spots, financial red flags and competitive opportunities. Indeed, after tax season is over, a good accountant should be acting almost as an outsourced chief financial officer, looking how to drive performance over the next year and into the future. Be sure to look for someone who will take the time to really understand you and your business. And, be sure he or she communicates well and speaks in a language you understand.


Q: Can I hook my iPhone up to the store stereo system? I even paid for the music via iTunes.

A: What iTunes sold you was basically a lease, it doesn’t allow you to even play the songs as “hold” music on your phone system. Easiest, safest way to proceed is to cough up for business-use plan from a provider like Pandora (from $24.95 a month).



Q: Our family has built a significant eyecare business over the last five decades, but I fear the curse of the third generation. How can I be sure my kids don’t blow it?

A: You have good reason to be worried, says John Hartog of Hartog & Baer Trust and Estate Law. By the end of the third generation, nine of 10 family fortunes will be gone, he says, citing Boston College Center for Retirement Research figures. To prevent this, have honest conversations, pass along family values, and teach children from a young age how to manage money. If your children are already adults, Hartog recommends giving them a substantial amount of money now to see how they handle it.

“I had a client who gave both children $500,000. After 18 months, one child had blown through the money and the other had turned it into $750,000,” Hartog says.

Along with the cash, you must be willing to relinquish some control, says Jim Kohles, a CPA and chairman of RINA Accountancy. “We must give our successor the freedom to fail,” he says. “If they don’t fail, they don’t learn, so they’re not prepared to step up when the time comes.”

Perhaps the most important move is to implement an ongoing dialogue that involves all members of the family. If that is going to be a painful process, bring in a mediator and set strong ground rules. If your family gets along but are still reluctant to tackle this subject, try gathering everyone around for the $Hirtsleeves To $Hirtsleeves board game by GenSpring, which was designed to help families raise this topic in a non-threatening environment.


Q: How do I deal with a browser behaving in a suspicious manner?

A: Walmart founder Sam Walton once observed that if you were to hire a sweet old lady just to say hello to incoming customers, none of them would dare steal. Similarly, saying hello and asking for an Rx “so that we can properly assess your frame requirements,” lets your possibly sinister visitor know that he or she is being watched. If you haven’t got one yet, you should also come up with a security code word or phrase to alert staff to a potentially dangerous situation. Any store item can be used, with a slight twist, such as the color. So if a staff member shouts out, “Sally, have you seen the red stapler?” everyone will know that means one thing: Call 911 now!


Q: What kind of return on investment can I expect from renovating my interior?

A: Ruth Mellergaard, principal of GRID/3 International, a New York-based interior design firm, puts the figure at a “conservative 10-15 percent,” adding her clients say they find it much easier to sell better quality, higher priced merchandise following a full redesign. The bottom line is that when you offer an appealing environment, people stay longer and buy more. A professionally designed layout allows you better control of the shopping experience, drawing attention to what you want to sell. Hard numbers aside, we can reliably say if you’ve haven’t updated your interior in five years, you’re almost surely missing out on sales.


Q: Every time I try to shake things up at my store it seems sooner or later we revert to the old ways of doing things. How do I make change stick?

A: For often extremely irrational reasons, humans just don’t like change. In 1995, Harvard professor John Kotter published groundbreaking research that showed only 30 percent of business change programs are successful. Thirteen years and a lot more research later McKinsey & Co. followed up and found the rate of success for change programs was still 30 percent. To improve performance you need to change behaviors. But improving behaviors isn’t simply about articulating new ways of doing things and building capabilities — because it is mindsets (thoughts, feelings, beliefs) that drive behavior. The key to getting people to do what you want is to find what motivates them (and it usually isn’t money, at least primarily). Figure out what people are good at and give them tasks aligned with that, work out what motivates them, build up social and structural supports (routines and skills training), and hold people accountable to the new ways on a day-to-day basis. Finally, be prepared to communicate your message over and over again.


Q: What’s the secret to a good practice management / EHR system? How do you choose the right one for your practice?

A: “Optometric software should enable your practice to maximize the time spent focusing on your patients, not dealing with multiple clicks, taps or errors,” says Dr. Ian Lane, EHR expert at VisionWeb. “So, for a good practice management and EHR system, you need one that is quick, intuitive and adapts to your business. And, since staff turnover is often high, it must be easy to learn.” It’s also important to choose an optometry-specific solution. The medical field is so vast, that specialty software is a must. You also need technology that is secure and adaptive, he says. “Modern EHR and practice management solutions need to be cloud-based and certified for intra- and inter-specialty interoperable communications. It should come standard with clinical decision support and third party solutions (like e-prescribing, patient recall, frame catalogs, patient education, and real-time code verifications). Finally, it should connect with other healthcare professionals, your patients and ophthalmic devices. “A solution that enables you to securely communicate with your patients in the patient portals or quickly send a referral with a comprehensive care document will help you give your patient the care they need sooner,” adds Dr. Lane. He says, the key to finding the right solution is to ask questions based on your practice and technology needs, as well as economic requirements. Knowing what features and tools come standard can help save a lot of money and headaches from trying to tie multiple systems together. “Most importantly, you need a system that is easy to use, from a provider who walks you through the implementation process and provides ongoing support,” he concludes. 





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