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Where once failure, the f-word, was the domain of losers, it’s now a cause célèbre, a hard-earned badge of redemption and authenticity.

In ads for sneakers, athletes relish in how many times they missed the winning shot, in magazine articles CEOs take pride in recounting their blunders, politicians and celebrities their lowest moments, even their disgraces. Business gurus tell us to “fail forward,” governments roll out programs to encourage acceptance of failure in entrepreneurship and colleges offer courses for new students on dealing with the fear of failure.

The benefits of failure shouldn’t be news to us. Toddlers develop into autonomous, well-functioning selves by testing boundaries. Fall over, pick yourself up, fall over with a little less pain the next time. It’s as basic and fundamental as evolution. Indeed, in his book Why Most Things Fail, theoretical economist Paul Ormerod argues that failure is the defining characteristic of successful biological, social, and economic systems; “99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. And, like species, most firms fail. On average, more than 10 percent of all companies in America disappear each year,” he says.

The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible, and the benefits manifold. From preventing recurring mistakes, to spurring innovation, to helping you find your true course, to uncovering opportunities, it often begins with failure.

Yet for most of us mortals, this advice is still hard to take: failure is painful. Failure also involves some very real costs — it wastes money, destroys morale, infuriates customers, damages reputations, and can sometimes lead to legal trouble/malpractice suits. For small business owners, there is the very legitimate risk that a major failure — choosing a wrong location, for example – could be fatal.

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Further, there’s a concern among many managers that encouraging failure presents a moral hazard, that a fear-no-failure culture will lead to an anything-goes environment among staff.

As a result, despite all the good talk about failure, most businesses continue to do the opposite. They punish mistakes, shoot the messenger bearing cautionary news, deny errors, blame others, make no systematic effort to study it and basically ignore whatever messages failure has to teach them.

And in doing so, they double down on their errant course of action, stifle risk taking and take a step toward creating the very thing they are trying to avoid — a terminal misstep.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure by Tim Harford

As the business world becomes more complex and uncertain, the issue is becoming more critical. In 2019, leading a business is not so much about good management, as it is about how you respond to new threats, new trends, new technologies. Nobody gets it right the first time anymore.

“It’s not about effective planning. It’s about trial and error,” Tim Harford, a Financial Times columnist, writes in his book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure. “Those who can afford to fail more times will succeed in the long run, he says echoing the famous quote of IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr.: “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”

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Amy Edmondson, a professor in management at Harvard Business School, sees three kinds of failures: Intelligent or good failures (when we expect to fail and learn something), preventable or bad failures (when we’re sabotaged by errors in judgment or ineptitude), or unavoidable failures (when complex systems break down).

Intelligent failures are the easiest to deal with, at least from a psychological perspective, and there’s no shortage of Silicon Valley companies from Google to Intuit that have incorporated the exploration of such failures into their systems.

Learning to deal with “bad mistakes” seems the most straightforward. And the approach the most traditional: Use checklists, improve training, encourage feedback.

The third kind of mistake, the complex ones, are probably the most interesting because the situations in which they occur are increasing. The most effective approach involves giving into chance, expecting failure, and reacting flexibly, says Ormerod.

Small business owners will face all three kinds of failures and need to be able to recognize them.

In the following pages, we provide some tips to help you prepare for when things go wrong and to get the best out of situations when they do go awry.

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The possibility of failure is what makes life worth living. When there is no challenge, the joy evaporates (try playing a video game designed for four-year-olds and see how long that stays fun!)
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke summed it up nicely: “The purpose of life is to be defeated by ever greater things.”

In business, those challenges are waiting every day. Go down valiantly.

27 Ways to Make the Most of Failure

Failing is an inevitability and the stink of it is hard to shake. But we’ve got 27 tips to help you navigate those foul-smelling waters.

Contain the Downside

1There is a key caveat underlying all failure literature, and that is to be able to enjoy the benefits, you’ve got to be able to survive the experience, thus the advice to fail small and cheaply. Always ask, “What is the minimum viable experiment?” says Roy H. Williams, a.k.a. the “Wizard of Ads.” It also helps to stick to “adjacencies,” or areas where you have some related business experience. The business world is littered with the dead projects of companies that strayed too far from their core competence. To be sure even a small failure can be expensive, but in the long run ignorance tends to be even more costly. “Generally, I don’t have much patience with people who worry about the waste and cost inherent in experimentation,” says Harford. “Look at the Soviet Union — what looks to be efficient rationalization is often a system that can’t learn or adapt.”

Debrief

2When a business venture fails, sure, it sucks. When a military expedition fails, people die. The life-or-death nature of that business explains the military’s relentless review system, known as “after-action reviews” (AARs) of each combat encounter and combat-training exercise. “As in business, the reasons for success or failure in combat often are not clear,” writes behavioral scientist Francesca Gino, author of Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life. “AAR participants discuss four key questions: What did we set out to do? What actually happened? Why did it happen? What are we going to do next time?” To be sure, failure reviews aren’t much fun. Most people would rather sweep the little disaster under the carpet and look forward. But then the learning opportunity is lost. Such “reviews work best when they are fast and to the point; take place frequently, through good times and bad; and are forward-looking, with an emphasis on learning, not assigning blame, write Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas in Increase Your Return On Failure. “Some failures provide immediate value in the form of market insights that can be capitalized on. Others provide broader lessons that lead to significant personal or organizational development.”

Have Plan B, C and D Ready

Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life by Francesca Gino

3“Expose yourself to lots of different ideas and try lots of different approaches on the grounds that failure is common,” says Tim Harford in his book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure. “This approach is far less intimidating than trying to come up with the best idea ever. You need Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. You need a full quiver of arrows.” Not only does a fallback position make it easier psychologically to be wrong, but it enables you to take away a wider range of lessons from each mistake, he says. Ideally, you want to try a mix of off-the-wall ideas and by-the-book practices.

Aim Low

4A common mistake even at big corporations is to test new products or services under optimal conditions, says Edmondson. Take the example of a new website rollout. Rather than assume visitors will be tech-savvy millennials, test the site with limited support, unsophisticated customers, and old computers or phones. Such tests would be designed to discover everything that could go wrong — instead of proving that under the best of conditions everything would go right. “Of course, the managers in charge would have to have understood that they were going to be rewarded not for success but, rather, for producing intelligent failures as quickly as possible,” she says.

Or, Don’t Even Fail at All

5Author Daniel Kahneman suggests something known as a “premortem.” Before launching an event, gather your team and tell them to imagine they are in the future looking at the aftermath of the event, which has flopped. Why? This removes pressure about seeming disloyal by being less than positive about the project and makes it easier to make changes that could save it.

Beware Your Biases

6The human capacity for self-deception is profound. It thus helps hugely to be aware of the kinds of biases that can undermine a proper evaluation of a project. Among the most common psychological blind spots related to failure are the “God complex” (feelings of infallibility), chasing your losses (taking bigger risks to win back lost money), or hedonic editing (when we try to convince ourselves that a mistake doesn’t matter, or finding some way to reinterpret our failures as successes). Few of us can make purely rational decisions. Beware of your biases.

Dig Deep

7When Edmondson discusses failure with executives she often asks them to consider her Spectrum of Reasons for Failure, which lists causes ranging from deliberate deviation to thoughtful experimentation. “When I ask executives to estimate how many of the failures in their organizations are truly blameworthy, their answers are usually in single digits — perhaps 2 percent to 5 percent. But when I ask how many are treated as blameworthy, they say (after a pause or a laugh) 70 to 90 percent. The unfortunate consequence is that many failures go unreported and their lessons are lost.” To be sure, managers need to make a distinction between excusable and inexcusable mistakes, but often by probing deeper there are underlying causes that are more important. Was the cause of an error carelessness, lack of training, fatigue or some other issue? Rick Rickgauer of Vision Associates in Girard, PA, recalls such an instance from earlier in his career: “A long time ago, when I worked at LensCrafters (when it was owned by US Shoe) in Tucson, they were opening a new store and hired two lab guys with a ton of experience. Suffice to say they crumbled under the one hour cookie. The lesson learned was this: hire people for the lab with absolutely no experience because they come in thinking that is the norm. They don’t know any better. The best lab people we ever had came in as bare-naked novices.” And even in those preventable instances involving “bad failures,” there is still a learning opportunity. As the line goes, good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

A Main Dish of Mea Culpa

8Look for opportunities to share your mistakes, be it at a lunch, an industry peer group or some other professional gathering. “If you’re having lunch with some of your peers, then revealing failure is a great strategy to induce levels of liking by reducing malicious envy,” Harvard’s Edmondson says. “When people share their experiences in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust, a special kind of magic occurs: smart people become wise and their businesses begin to grow,” says Williams, who regularly brings together small businesspeople to study at his Texas retreat.

Keep a Failure Resume

9A failure résumé is a simple idea: When you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to step back and analyze the practical, operational reasons that you failed. What’s the point of such self-flagellation, asks Tim Herrera in his Smarter Living column for the New York Times? “Because honestly analyzing one’s failures can lead to the type of introspection that helps us grow — as well as show that the path to success isn’t a straight line.” It can also be a reminder of how much you’ve tried, said Melanie Stefan at Edinburgh Medical School, who gave the idea some publicity when she called on fellow academics to publish their own “failure résumés” a few years ago.

Focus on the Process Not the Result

10According to Dan Ariely, author of the best seller Irrationally Predictable, organizations and humans as a whole tend to focus too much on the outcome rather than the process. “Sometimes the idea is very good but the outcome is negative.” If we want to encourage good ideas and people to try difficult things, then we need to emphasize systems over goals, and analysis over blame. Edmondson concurs: “The key is to insist on developing a clear understanding of what happened — not of “who did it”— when things go wrong. Farson and Keyes recommend eschewing both praise and blame. “Failure-tolerant leaders avoid giving either praise or criticism, preferring to take a nonjudgmental, analytical posture as they interact with staff. And they try to root out the destructive competitiveness built into most organizations,” they write.

Fail Differently Each Time

11A crucial question to ask yourself about your mis-hits, is, “Am I failing differently each time?” says Steven Levitt, author of the business bestseller Freakonomics. For all our talk here about failure, what we are actually talking about is learning. Fail the same way over and over and you’re clearly not learning.

Build a Culture that Celebrates “Intelligent Failure”

12As 3M’s legendary chairman William McKnight once said, “The best and hardest work is done in the spirit of adventure and challenge … Mistakes will be made.” A risk averse culture, on the other hand, is dangerous. Once you quit innovating and become guardians of the status quo the end is only a matter of time away. “One division head I worked with would say to his team members during their performance reviews, ‘Show me your scrap heap,’” recalls Wharton’s Gunther McGrath. “The request perfectly conveys the idea that high achievers will, of necessity, try some things that don’t work out.” Tom Peters sums it up another way: “Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.”

Fail From the Front

Whoever Makes The Most Mistakes Wins by Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes

13The example set by owners and management is crucial. Far from revealing weakness, admitting mistakes shows a leader’s self-confidence and helps forge closer ties with employees. “A blunder admitted is empathy earned,” write Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes in Whoever Makes The Most Mistakes Wins. “Leaders who don’t cover up their errors reveal themselves as human — they become people whom others can admire and identify with.” Adds Edmondson: “Only leaders can create and reinforce a culture that counteracts the blame game and makes people feel both comfortable with and responsible for surfacing (exposing) and learning from failures.”

Codify and Share What You Learn

14While it’s useful to reflect on individual failures, the real payoff comes when the lessons are spread across the organization or even better, they become part of institutional memory. At Coca-Cola, stories about the failure of New Coke are still told 30 years on. Former CEO Roberto Goizueta got years of one-liners from the fiasco. “Admitting his mistake conveyed to his employees better than a hundred speeches or a thousand memos that ‘learning failures,’ even on a grand scale, were tolerated,” says Farson.

Hail the Messenger of Bad News

15“The biggest mistake you can make as a leader is to shoot the messenger and bury the bad news,” write Birkinshaw and Haas. “Big, painful, expensive failures are easy to spot. But in many organizations any failure that can be hidden is hidden as long as it’s unlikely to cause immediate or obvious harm.” The goal should be to identify it early, before it has mushroomed into disaster. Among the ways to do this: creating a shared understanding around the types of failures that employees can expect; being accessible as a leader and rewarding the messenger who brings up bad news.

Use Symbolic Rituals

16Heroic Failure Awards, Failure Walls (a space in your back room where you and staff can share your “growth lessons”), or a Failure Hour (a weekly meeting devoted to things that went wrong and can be improved) can help create an environment in which failures are openly and seriously discussed. “Something magical happens to failure when it’s openly acknowledged,” writes business author Jeff Stibel in a column for Bizjournals.com. “Paradoxically, it becomes less of a big deal. The idea of failure is often the elephant in the room that no one wants to mention.”

Use Checklists

The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande

17In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande argues that in our complex modern world, failure results not so much from ignorance (not knowing enough about what works) as from ineptitude (not properly applying what we know works). His solution — checklists. In medicine, a field where the available well of learning expands exponentially every year, the problem is “making sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly,” says Gawande. A recent study in UK hospitals suggested that wider use of checklists might prevent a staggering 40 percent of deaths during treatment. If surgeons can fill out checklists, the rest of us should probably be willing to run our expertise by the numbers as well.

Don’t Fret the Moral Hazard

18If people aren’t blamed for failures, what will ensure that they try as hard as possible to do their best work? What stops a business from descending into anything-goes chaos? According to Edmondson, such concerns are based on a false dichotomy: “In actuality, a culture that makes it safe to admit and report on failure can — and in some organizational contexts must — coexist with high standards for performance.” Encouraging failure doesn’t mean abandoning supervision, quality control, or respect for sound practices. In fact, it’s just the opposite, argue Farson and Keyes. “Managing for failure requires executives to be more engaged, not less. Astute managers mark the daily progress of small successes and failures with an evenhanded, open curiosity about the lessons learned and the next steps to take.”

Give Back the Pen

19It’s not just at the organizational level that failure can be “a gift.” Individuals, likely including your employees, can benefit from its didactic embrace. The problem is that many managers are what psychologists call “over-functioners” — faced with a challenge in the store, they spring into fixing mode, taking control, attacking the issue, offering instructions and dealing with it. As with raising kids, it often helps to let your underlings fail to allow them to develop, even if it creates some short-term anxiety or uncertainty. When a person is stuck or struggling, ask them “What do you think you should do? Go try it and I’ll give you some ideas and then you see how it goes.”

Be Unorthodox

20The pioneering behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman changed the standard view that humans are rational economic actors. The Soviet Union proved something similar for economies — what looks to be efficient rationalization is often a system that can’t learn or adapt. It’s the same for just about any business. British advertising great David Ogilvy had an interesting take on this: “The beginning of greatness is to be different. And the beginning of failure is to be orthodox. Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.” Go expose yourself to ideas and experiences.

Revisit and Reboot

21Jennifer Leuzzi, owner of Mill Creek Optical in Dansville, NY, says she felt like a failure when she changed locations after 20 years and built out an exam room for the express purpose of enlisting a doctor to perform exams. “I thought I could find a doctor to just zip in a few days a week to give exams,” she says. “I invested in some ‘gently used’ equipment and it ended up sitting there collecting dust. Turns out I would’ve never been able to handle more Rx’s. The move did prove to increase my business enough to keep me VERY busy! I’m going to donate the equipment.” It’s an important lesson that failure is sometimes a matter of perspective. Ed Boyden, an MIT neuroscientist and popular TED talker, says “Many of the projects that we do that appear quite successful, it’s actually often the second or third time we’ve given it a try.”

You are Not Your Failures

22A lot of us look to athletes for inspiration, especially when it comes to taking on a daunting challenge. But according to British sports psychologist James Hamilton, many elite athletes have a pretty unhealthy view of success and failure, associating defeat with an all-round failure of the self. To be sure, it can fuel a heightened drive, leading them to put up with huge levels of discomfort and deprivation, but it can also result in risk-avoidance and self-blame when things don’t pan out as they had hoped. A much healthier view, he says, is to remember that any failure “stands separate” from you. That if you fail, the failure happened, but you don’t become “a failure” he writes in The Guardian.

From the Start, Know What Failure Looks Like

23Recognizing failure can be surprisingly difficult. We’ve been trained that “persistence pays off,” so it feels wrong to cut our losses and label an idea a failure. “Decide what success and failure would look like before you launch an initiative,” says Wharton Business School’s Rita Gunther McGrath, noting that some big corporations build exit strategies into their projects to ensure that doomed or resource-sucking efforts do not drag on. “Being able to recognize a failure just means that you’ll be able to re-cast it into something more likely to succeed,” adds Harford. In such instances, feedback — either in the form of data or third-party reviews — is essential for determining which experiments have succeeded and which have failed. “Get advice, not just from one person, but from several,” he says.

Don’t Let Fear Have the Casting Vote

24A big part of dealing with the issue of failures has to do with fear, fear of messing up in the future or fear of losing something that we’d gained in the past. In her latest book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert notes that fear can be a sign that something is important to you. The trick, if you can do it, isn’t to ignore fear, or try to conquer it, and definitely not to obey it, but to treat it like an annoying younger sibling and make space for it. She uses the analogy of a road trip. “Fear always comes along for the ride, and that’s fine — but that doesn’t mean you need to let it anywhere near the steering wheel.”

Get Comfortable with Rags – It’s Not So Bad

25Alternatively, try gaining serenity by actively confronting the experience of failure as Seneca — the Stoic philosopher much admired in current self-help literature — advised: “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’”

If it Ain’t Broke, Experiment

26There’s a view that success doesn’t have much to teach you — you may have been lucky, it will cover up mistakes, it saps the will to innovate, it can make you overconfident and misattribute the real factors at play. But it doesn’t have to be that way, say Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano in an article in the Harvard Business Review (“Why Leaders Don’t Learn from Success”). “Celebrate success but examine. Ironically, casting a critical eye on your success can better prepare you to avoid failure,” they write. Gino and Pisano say the right question for leaders of learning organizations to ask is not “What are we doing well?” but rather “What experiments are we running?” Keep looking at data even when things are going well — understanding why you’re successful is as important as understanding what causes mistakes.

Find a Podcast

27When things aren’t going well, there’s a fabulous world of inspiration out there — podcasts, TED talks, no end, really, of great people who have experienced what you’re going through and can provide a pick-me-up or reassurance or even tactical guidance. Designer Ida C. Benedetto told the Creative Independent she keeps a collection of such talks on her website — you can find them here: invisionmag.com/041901.

Chris Burslem is the Group Managing Editor of SmartWork Media.

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Finish Strong, Start Stronger

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How you finish the year has a major impact on how you start the next one. Year-end is a tricky, busy time. You need to be maximizing the long holiday season and flex spending, evaluating your performance for the year, assessing inventory and store needs and setting new goals, all while rewarding your team for a job well done and inspiring them for the year ahead.

We asked four industry experts (see bios on page 43) to break down the remainder of 2019 for optical business owners and offer some advice on what they should be thinking about in the weeks and months ahead. We also collected some hot takes from our Brain Squad members, who gave us a sense of their fall and winter plans. Here’s our three-month guide to kick-starting a new cycle of success.

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90 Days Out…

Planning and marketing late-year events, reaching out to clients, drafting a 2020 strategy and capturing flex dollars should be on your mind.

MICHAEL KARLSRUD
founder, Karlsrüd Company

Before you set about planning for peak performance, Karlsrud says it’s good to set a few ground rules:

Any business or practice without a plan is like a ship without a rudder. Think through opportunities and challenges in the areas of business performance, managing employees, and serving patients through what can be a very chaotic time. Also, remember to keep score. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the behavior required to accomplish the goals laid out. They should be easy to track and easily understood. Post them for all to see and keep score on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Reward accordingly for earned success. Finally, when it comes to major business goals, limit them to three. More than that significantly increases the likelihood that you won’t achieve any of them.

Now is the time to communicate to employees your expectations about time off, performance and serving patients. The end of the year is especially stressful on everyone, so have this conversation well in advance while cooler heads prevail.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Steven Nelson of Eye Candy Optical, Westlake, OH: “As much as we love to be busy, we have to be ready for the ‘back to school’ slump in September to mid-October. This means right-sizing inventory, getting the team to take their vacation time, and getting the ad campaigns ready for ‘the season.’” Jen Heller at Pend Oreille Vision Care in Sandpoint, ID, also uses this time of year to run her annual inventory check, “to clean up all the loose ends and have everything accounted for, but not so close to the end as to stress us out.”

It’s vital to start marketing for late-year events now and get your message out through direct mail, email and on social media. Set your appointments as early as possible as an indicator of patient flow and staffing requirements. Offer end of the year specials on high-end sunwear, specialty lenses and the most profitable frame and lens packages you offer.

Finally, “Don’t forget to update your phone messaging and front desk scripts to promote sales, multiple pairs and additional family member appointments.”

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Michelle Wright at DePoe Eye Center, Stockbridge, GA: “It’s time to start planning our Black Friday. We have to: 1.) Choose a theme; 2.) plan advertisements; 3.) planogram; and 4.) purchase eyewear and decide what eyewear we currently have will be a part of the promotion. Last year was our first year with our Black Friday event. It was a success and set the tone for the end of year sales… We all also had a great time.

TRUDI CHAREST
co-founder, Marketing4ECPs

For most optical retailers and optometry practices, if the tail end of the year could be condensed into four words, they would be “Capture that flex spending!” Charest takes this as a starting point in offering these points to focus on in October, which should also be a key month for working out 2020 strategy, she says.

Launch Q4 “Use It or Lose It” campaign.

Finalize 2020 objectives. For example: Fill new associate schedule with 30 new patients per month, 30 return patients per month; grow optical sales by 20 percent. Bring in 10 new dry eye patients per month.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dr. Blake Hutto at Family Vision Care, Alma, GA: “The year’s end is mostly about perfecting policy and our business format. We think we’re on to a way of treating patients and conducting business that works well, so now it’s putting it to paper. We’re planning a big push for 2020 (the year of the optometrist).”

Build a 2020 campaign strategy. Example:
1 Q1 2020: Fill schedule — “Accepting
New Patients” campaign.
1 Q2 2020: “50% Off 2nd Pair Sale.”
1 Q3 2020: “Are Your Eyes Irritated?”
campaign.
1 Q4 2020: Fill schedule — “Book Appointment” campaign.

Create a promotions and execution calendar for 2020.

Develop a social media strategy for the quarterly campaigns for 2020.

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60 Days Out…

As we move into November, a re-focus, a few recalls and a team refresh are in order, along with a progress report—and we need to talk about your systems.

PAULINE BLACHFORD
founder, Pauline Blachford Consulting

Now is the time to revisit your year-end targets and goals. Review with your team what targets have been met, which ones are close to complete and which ones need to be adjusted. If a certain target is far out of reach, set a more reasonable expectation for the last two months of the year — one that can still be celebrated if met and counted as a success.

Focus your recall efforts on patients who haven’t visited your practice in 2019.

It can be easy to lean into the holidays and let your targets slide. Don’t underestimate how much your team can accomplish if properly motivated. Start planning ahead for your year-end staff celebration. Include additional bonuses and surprises for staff if your practice meets its targets for the year.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Maureen Garbis Compass Eyecare, Oak Park, IL: “We have a sales goal. If it’s met by Dec. 20 we get the whole holiday week off with pay. We’ve met it for the last four years and are on track for this year also.”

MARK HINTON
CEO and president of eYeFacilitate

Review last year, same time, to understand opportunities and missed opportunities; it’s a trip back in time.

Revisit systems of process and procedure. After all, people don’t run the business, systems run the business, and people manage those systems. Practice Management Systems (PMS) alone is a bunch of reports to sift through; and PMSs are like viewing your business through the rear-view mirror, it already happened. Check out industry data-mining software products like Glimpse or EdgePro by GPN; using these types of systems gives you the ability to examine your business through the “’windshield” and evaluate trends to navigate in an easy and nimble strategy.

What other family members need exams? Get Care Credit dialogs solid.

(And in case you skipped it last month…) Begin planning first quarter 2020; whiteboard ideas, including what, when, who.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dr. Robert Easton Jr., OD, Oakland Park, FL: “We are doing updates in our office of older equipment to better link to our Compulink EHR. We just updated our autorefractor/keratometer from the ARC 900 to the ARK 1e. We’ll also update our Humphrey VF unit to the latest Humphrey VF technology for our growing Glaucoma practice.”

CHAREST

Time for a flex check — and time to get creative, says Charest:
Analyze Q4 2019 “Use It Or Lose It.”
Hire graphic designer to create Q1 2020 campaign.
Schedule out the rest of the graphics you will need to have created throughout the year.
Plan any additional events you may have in 2020 such as trunk shows.
Add to the marketing calendar.

KARLSRUD
After setting out the plan and establishing the scorecard to determine success factors, it’s go time!
Hold a launch meeting with the team and take the time to explain where you’ve been as a practice, where you are currently, and where you are heading. Don’t forget to focus on “why” you are putting these plans and goals in place. Explain how each member of the team contributes to the success of the practice. Start keeping score. Create excitement around accomplishing goals and roll out your incentive program!

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45 Days Out…

Six weeks till Santa: Time to think about cards and customer appreciation. (Oh, and did we mention flex spending?)

BLACHFORD

Start preparing a customer appreciation plan. Have your staff prepare cards or e-cards that thank your customers and wish them well during the holiday season. This can include some light holiday marketing, such as offering patients discounts on eyewear purchased as gifts. Go the extra mile by planning holiday giveaways that require patients to call or visit your practice to enter. This is a great way to get your patients on the phone, when staff can ensure their contact information is up-to-date, and ask them about booking an appointment in 2019 or early 2020.

HINTON

’Tis the season (almost) for gift certificates to make holiday shopping a snap; who wouldn’t love another set of eyewear, or a gift certificate for contacts — or to give to contact wearers to buy glasses they’d actually be seen wearing, “For the cool yule in you!”
It’s HSA and FSA “Use it, don’t lose it,” time.

Social media bump time.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Deb Jaeger at Eye Center of the Dakotas, Bismarck, ND: “We strive to keep staff fed and happy as we get through the year-end rush to use vision benefits. Always a busy time with holidays and year-end flex-spending, we try to keep our days flowing normally to reduce stress. We encourage gift certificates and send thank you notes each week to vendors, patients, customers, and friends of the practice we are thankful for.”

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30 Days Out…

OK folks—it’s time to execute!

BLACHFORD

Implement your customer appreciate plan early. December is a busy time for postal services. If your practice chooses to send e-cards, emailing patients around Dec. 1 gives them time to benefit from any discounts, coupons or goodies you send their way.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Kim Hilgers, Monson Eyecare Center, Owatonna, MN: “I’ll get postcards designed with our rebate money from our billing group ready in October and Solution Reach email blasts prior to it. Basically, I get inventory built up starting this month into the end of the year and have a promotion on our discontinued/dogs/unloved frames (free frame with the purchase of lenses). Pre-inventory checks so that we are prepared to do final inventory on the 31st of December.”
ECPs looking to end the year strong and drive more traffic to their practice can try drumming up more business in December with attractive and cheery holiday displays. Holiday-themed products, giveaways, activities or a holiday open house are a few ways of attracting patients and potential patients into your clinic. (And remember, offering something with no strings attached is a great way to start building a strong, trusting and loyal relationship with a new customer.)

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dr. Adam Ramsey at Socialite Vision, Palm Beach Gardens, FL: “I am changing my window displays to attract more customers. Curb appeal matters and I want to draw their eye to my store.”

HINTON

One month out, Hinton urges ECPs to start by revisiting his tips for the two-month and six-weeks marks.

Keep an eye on that white board; are you accomplishing the pre-determined goals? I advise all readers to read “The Checklist Manifesto.” Another tip: Who has time to read all these recommended biz books? Solution: The Blinkist app. This is a book summary app and it’s quite good.

Don’t forget those stocking stuffer ideas.
Play big with sharp focused communication to patients who don’t picture eyecare and eyewear as a perfect gift for the holidays.

Social media, emails and signage for eyewear and contact lens gift certificates.

CHAREST
Execute the last month of “Use It Or Lose It.”

Review ROI on all marketing initiatives for 2019 including website conversion, traffic, paid advertising, email marketing, recall cards/calls, and any other marketing and compare year over year.

Finalize your promotions calendar for 2020 and tasks.
Get everything ready in your Q1 2020 campaign: website updates, paid advertising new campaigns, social marketing, social media, email blast, etc. — and ensure you have a set schedule for the end of December, beginning of January to transition to the new campaign.

KARLSRUD

Hold an update meeting and review the KPIs and the results thus far. People only respect what you inspect, so if you pass on this meeting you will likely pass on hitting your goals. Celebrate areas that are going right and ask what prevents success in areas that are not. Adjust the plan accordingly but do not abandon it.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Annette Prevaux at The Visionary Inc., Allen Park, MI: “This has been a really challenging year so I am hoping to end on a high note. We fired Eyemed so revenue is down until my patients go elsewhere and realize it’s not like us. Also, cleaning up and moving out inventory that is sold online at a discount, bringing in more private/exclusive frames.”

Focus on the importance of accomplishing the goals set and ways to improve processes or best practices.

Review the expectations of your team in terms of time off and navigating the holiday seasons. Communicate clearly and often with your team. Motivate! Motivate! Motivate!

21 Days Out…

Time to check in with your team on the past year, with an eye on 2020.

BLACHFORD

Hindsight is 20/20. Reflect on your 2019 goals, where you thrived and where you didn’t. What worked? What didn’t? What changes do you need to make in the year ahead?

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Dawn Christman at Munoz North Valley Eye Medical Group, Indian Hills, CA: “I will be looking over our current stock and our sales reports for the year. I have a few objectives. First would be to identify frames that are not selling. With these I will either try to exchange out for better styles or identify as a sales item. I will put together frame and lens packages and frame only pricing to increase sales while reducing stock. I will take a look at the frame lines that are not selling well to determine if we are going to go forward with the lines in 2020 or replace them. I want to identify lines I don’t already carry that may fit well in our office. This way I can put together a list to work from when selecting new lines for 2020. As for best-selling lines I will consider if we wish to increase, or leave as is, the number we carry in stock. I will also work on identifying what areas our opticians need or want assistance in to develop educational goals for 2020.”

Don’t do this alone: schedule staff check-ins now through the end of the year. Ask for their perspective on what is working, what isn’t and how your practice can be improved. Your frontline employees will no doubt have insights about the technology they use and what they’ve heard from patients.

Ask your staff about their personal and professional goals in 2020. Consider how your practice’s goals align with those of your employees. This can help you identify mutually beneficially training opportunities, as an example, that will engage an employee who can contribute new skills to your practice.

HINTON

Strategic, matched communication between departments to encourage patients to include the additions prescribed by their doctor. Often what I note when working with practice teams is the doctor will prescribe a specific product for a patient solution and the team member forgets to follow through. At such a busy time of year specifics sometimes get missed; it’s important for the team to stay focused.

14 Days Out…

Stay motivated, finish strong and go into 2020 with your plans in place and armed with as many “lessons learned” as you can.

BLACHFORD

Intel and insights are really only useful if acted upon. With two weeks left in the year, begin your preparation and planning for 2020. What issues were identified by your staff, and what needs to be purchased, discussed or clarified to address those pain points? Develop solutions and set a plan in place for ensuring you build on your strengths and shore up your weaknesses as a business. If you need to hire more staff or provide additional training to your team, do your research and legwork now.

Right before year-end, finalize all of your numbers for the year and analyze them. These will be your baseline figures for 2020 — ones you’ll use to develop your goals, such as reducing your number of unbooked appointments by a certain percentage.
Set your 2020 targets, share them with your team and keep them accessible and visible. Everyone should be on the same page and reminded every day of what they’re working towards (which should include some kind of compensation or reward for meeting a given target).

HINTON

At this point, Hinton urges a review of his tips from 1 month and 6 weeks out.

And right before the year ends… Review your white board, first-quarter goals with “what,” “when” and “who.”

Write and rehearse new dialogs to engage patients into first-quarter goals.

New Year multiple-pair strategies: “Who” and “when.”
To finish strong, try daily huddles with specific focus; all hands on deck; end-of-day outcomes from the huddles.

KARLSRUD

Don’t let up and keep the focus on your KPIs! The year is ending soon and so is the opportunity to earn the incentives put forth on day 90! Motivate right to the end.

BRAIN SQUAD TAKE:

Selena Jachens at Urban Eyecare & Eyewear, West Des Moines, IA: “We are planning a huge 2020 party! We are also bringing in a new line and featuring one of our best brands in our fall trunk show.”


EXPERT BIOS

PAULINE BLACHFORD consults with optometrists across North America on how to reduce un-booked appointments, increase eyewear sales, and improve employee engagement and productivity. She writes regularly for the Canadian Journal of Optometry and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events. For more information, visit paulineblachford.com.

MICHAEL KARLSRUD is a 20 year optical industry veteran. He currently runs a coaching consultancy focused on executive development, leadership, management and sales. He is the author of Selling By Design, A Field Guide to Selling, and hosted “On The Road Sales Coach” and “The Customer Service Download” supported by The Vision Council. In addition to coaching and speaking internationally, he is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls Business School. For more information, visit karlsrudcompany.com.

TRUDI CHAREST is the co-founder of 4ECPs, a business resource company for eyecare professionals. 4ECPs has six divisions: Training, Marketing, Social Media, Payment, Jobsites and Events. A licensed optician with over 25 years of extensive eyecare experience, she is well known for designing, developing and facilitating training and marketing programs for ECPs across North America. For more information, visit marketing4ecps.com.

MARK HINTON is a practice owner, as well as CEO and president of eYeFacilitate, a private practice consultancy. A sought-after ABO/COPE approved practice management expert, with eYeFacilitate he helps practices drive optical efficiencies, maximize managed care revenue and profit, improve capture, and increase revenue through simple systems with a focused process. Contact him at mark@eyefacilitate.com.

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Best of Eyecare

Very Important Patron

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Now let’s be clear… All customers are important. And all customers should be treated as such… but when we asked our readers about their most important customer, we didn’t mean it generally, we wanted specifics. Eyecare is an intimate undertaking and as such sometimes there are people who just become extra special. Second families, friends, lovers … sometimes “Can I help you?” can be the start of a beautiful relationship. And if none of these stories resonates with you, just remember the words of Kyle Kravick of Davis Duehr Dean in Portage, WI: “Most important? The next one through the door.” Because, hey, you never know!

I reconnected with an old schoolmate that later became my husband … for about three years anyway! – Julie Uram, Optical Oasis, Jupiter, FL

My most important patients have been members of C ongress and state senators. It gave me a chance to provide comprehensive eyecare and demonstrate how valuable optometry is to Americans. It also created a relationship in Washington and Tallahassee that helps the profession. – Robert M. Easton, Jr., OD, FAAO, Oakland Park, FL

In 1970, a patient told me about a commercial building that was going up for sale. I now own that building and it houses my practice. Best $12,000 I ever spent. – Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I have a family — a grandmother, mother, and three daughters — that have become like family. I’ve done all their glasses and took time getting to know them. Over the years we’ve become closer and closer. There’s nothing like having a second family when your own is far away! Frances Ann Layton, – Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

About a year after I opened my optical shop, I went through some heartbreaking life changes. Several of my customers rallied and promoted my business, invited me to join the local Rotary Club, and supported my shop. All those things took my life in a better direction; I will be forever grateful! – Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We did sports vision training for years, and still do occasionally, so there are a handful of athletes we keep in contact with. About half have made the big leagues and the other half are great people who have become some of our biggest advocates.” – Josh Bladh, Dr. Bladh OD, Diamond Bar, CA

Had a patient who lost both eyes during WWII. He lived every day to its fullest with a sense of gratitude and humor that always lifts my spirits, reminding me of the amazing gifts in my life. Thinking of him always makes my day! – Dennis Iadarola, OD, Center For Vision Care, Monroe, CT

Actually, we’re a customer of theirs! My lab rep from Luzerne, Bernie Kastan. I met Bernie on one of my first days over six years ago. The relationship has developed into a friendship. We play golf and we don’t live across the street from each other. There are golf outings that focus on business, but this one will be filled with great conversation. – Rick Rickgauer, Vision Associates, Girard, PA

My most important customer was my husband! I had not seen him for years — we went to high school together — and he came in as I was finishing for the day. He asked for an exam because he was wearing old contacts (they were the dirtiest lenses I have ever seen). I stayed and did the exam. He asked me out and we just celebrated our 25th anniversary! – Kimberly Riggs, OD, Ligonier, PA

I have a nycz patient who has become my go to office handyman. My staff calls him for everything from changing light bulbs to patching cement. (His name is actually Nycz!) – Marc Ullman, OD Academy Vision, Pine Beach, NJ

My most important patient ever was actually a whole family of five children that did vision therapy. I quickly became attached to them as if they were my own. I eventually got invited over to their house and it turned into a great friendship! – Jade Kowalick, Ryczek Eye, St Petersburg, FL

I’ve developed many friendships with customers through the years simply from taking an interest in them and filling their needs. I know the staff thinks they are actually personal friends, but that’s just how I treat them when they come in. – Pam Housley, Texas State Optical of Nederland, Port Arthur, TX

My most important customer became my wife. We met years before we ever dated in the practice, one day it clicked. We’ve been together for 13 years. – Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

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Cover Stories

How To Do Everything

We challenge you to implement one of these 23 ‘How To’s in your practice before the year is out.

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We recently consulted members of the eyecare community and a handful of business experts, asking them to tell us about some aspect of the business they’ve got down really well, and to boil that activity or practice down to its key components. What started out as a list of standout skills soon blossomed into an ECP’s guide to … pretty much, everything! Well … to a whole lot of really cool stuff, anyway. We’re pretty confident that reading this you’ll learn a few new tricks, and see at least a few of your current methods in a new light. We challenge you to implement one or two of these 23 practices — at least in some form — before the year is out.

HOW TO ENGAGE AUTHENTICALLY WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

Julie Kubsch, Specs Around Town, Bloomington, IL

Julie Kubsch, owner of Specs Around Town in Bloomington, IL, believes that if you engage with as many people as possible you’ll find someone who needs or wants your services — or who will know someone that does. Among the groups and events she has found most rewarding are: Bloomington-Normal Sunrise Rotary (“‘Service above self’ is the motto of Rotary and if you live it, it’s amazing what you can accomplish,” she says.); McLean County Chamber of Commerce (networking events); local radio station WGLT/NPR (“a perfect avenue for reaching clients that are fun, unique and love supporting local businesses”); and the downtown Bloomington business owners group’s monthly happy hour, hosted by a different business each time (“Nice resource to discuss downtown concerns, learn of other businesses in our area and creates a sense of family in regard to small, independent businesses.”) While financial benefits are the ultimate goal, Kubsch says, “hearing a comment like ‘Every time I ask someone where they got their glasses they say Specs Around Town!’ is good for the heart and soul.”

HOW TO MAKE THE BEST SANDWICH BOARDS


Heather Harrington, Elevated Eyecare, Denver, CO

By her own estimation, Heather Harrington at Elevated Eyecare in Denver, CO, makes the best sandwich boards in the business. We took her at her word and asked her to break down her approach — and the feedback.

  • INSPIRATION: Harrington gets hers from patients, the time of year, “and our office’s love for the overall health of the eye and clarity in vision.”
  • KEEP IT FRESH: She changes hers up twice a month or so.
  • MATERIALS: Harrington prefers chalk, with everything drawn in freehand.
  • LOCATION: In addition to placing them outside the business, she always posts all boards to her socials. “Of course!” she says. “Lots of hard work and thought goes into the boards for the month.”
  • RESPONSE: “Nothing but great things!”

HOW TO MAKE YOUR WEBSITE SERVE YOUR BRAND AND YOUR BOTTOM LINE

Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

Dr. Selina McGee at Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, has an eye for design but not the skills to translate that into a website. For that, she relied on marketing partner Gunnar Hood at WSI-Summit. (See what you think here www.pvedmond.com). She focuses her advice thus:

  • Find a web designer who can translate your ideas into reality.
  • Choose an appropriate platform: Precision Vision’s site is hosted on an SaaS platform called Duda, selected by Hood. “We like it because it is hassle free, supports SEO really well and accommodates all of our design needs.”
  • Use web analytics tools. Google Analytics, Google Search Console, heat mapping and other tools help monitor site performance, search engine optimization and social media reach.
  • Set goals. McGee’s were for the site to function as an extension of the office experience; to be phone-friendly; and to educate.
  • Include educational content. This captures views from beyond your area. “An article about bumps on eyelids is ranking well nationally.”
  • Don’t tinker constantly, McGee says, but consider a change if your site no longer reflects your brand and message, or isn’t meeting patients’ needs.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR WINDOW DISPLAYS FRESH

Jenni Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

At various times, the display windows at Mill Creek Optical in Dansville, NY have been graced by stuffed cows wearing shades; chickens eggs hatching kids’ glasses; a tipped-over picnic basket full of suns; and a vintage Fisher Price display. Here’s what owner Jenni Leuzzi focuses on:

  • For inspiration, in addition to holidays and seasons, Dansville has a full calendar of festivals and events. Check your town for something similar. She combs magazines and Pinterest, while some occasions suggest themselves: On Harry Potter-related dates: round frames in the window.
  • She stores a lot of props for re-use. Among these are old wooden boxes and crates, which can be draped in material. Items are found everywhere: “Garage sales, antique shops, Home Goods, Amazon, my basement…” Always be looking for something that can be used… or re-used.
  • The goal is to draw attention to your shop; don’t let your display become part of the unchanging scenery of the street. Leuzzi redoes her windows every three or four weeks.

HOW TO DEMO PRODUCTS & SERVICES ON FACEBOOK LIVE

Nancy Rausman, managing editor at EyeCarePro (eyecarepro.net), a consultant for the optical industry, says Facebook live is a great way for practices to build relationships, share expertise and products, and show the personal side of their business.

DO:

  • Provide value. Keep the focus on demonstrating services or displaying eyewear.
  • Write a compelling description. Before your audience decides whether to join you, they will read this.
  • Test lighting, sound and picture by selecting the privacy setting “only me” (in the “share with” section select “more” and scroll down).
  • Interact with your audience. Tag friends and patients to let them know the talk is happening; respond to chat; welcome people by name.

DON’T:

  • Forget to publicize your talk in advance.
  • Be overly promotional. This isn’t a commercial. No one wants to listen to 10 minutes of self-praise.

 

HOW TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE CHANGES TO CUSTOMERS

Marc Ullman, OD, Academy Vision in Pine Beach, NJ

During summer, Academy Vision in Pine Beach, NJ, takes off every other Friday. Here’s what Dr. Marc Ullman and the team do to keep people from driving all the way there only to find them closed.

  • Two or three weeks in advance, a message is posted alerting customers on Facebook, Google, the front door and website, and the phone message is updated.
  • The message itself is typically worded along the lines of: “Hello our amazing patients, the staff at Academy Vision will be taking time to enjoy our families this week.”
  • Messages are pinned along with all events to the top of social pages.
  • The door signage is professionally done. “It’s important to show we care about how you view our office, and the importance of spending time with family.”
  • Ullman reminds ECPs that “not everyone is on social media” — be prepared to field a few complaints.

HOW TO HIRE RIGHT EVERY TIME

Diana Canto Sims, OD, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

“Bringing new staff on board is pricey and time consuming; we have found our system works wonders funneling in the best candidates,” says Diana Canto Sims, co-owner of Buena Vista Optical in Chicago, IL. Here’s her rundown of the process:

  • A link is posted to an application with an invitation to schedule a phone interview at a day and time chosen by the candidate from a number of pre-determined slots. The slots are chosen ahead of time with a program called Acuity Scheduling. The application functions as the candidate’s resume.
  • For those who pass the phone interview, a face-to-face interview with a tour of the facilities. When they are also given a “logic and reasoning written test.”
  • Paid working interview. Conducted after they have passed the face-to-face. “We see their work ethic, reliability, team-playing ability and how they treat patients.”
  • Lastly, a candidate is selected from those funneled to the top. Some final advice, allow for trial and error, says Canto Sims. “It took us 11 years to perfect.

HOW TO START AN ABO TRAINING PROGRAM IN YOUR AREA

James Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care, Portland, OR

“Since opening our optical almost seven years ago, the most obvious challenge has been finding and retaining staff, particularly qualified opticians, and our office was not alone,” explains James Armstrong of Alberta and Cathedral Eye Care in Portland, OR. The shortage in the labor market has led to higher turnover and overhead costs, so Armstrong reached out to Portland Community College, and pitched the formation of an ABO training program in their medical career training department. “The idea was met with enthusiasm, but obstacles also presented themselves.”

  • Be able to demonstrate the demand in our local market.
  • Find an instructor. “It took two years of networking and reaching out to industry partners before the connection was finally made that led to finding Andrew Bruce, a master optician with decades of optical management experience, as our instructor,” shares Armstrong.
  • Know how to navigate the classic optometry vs. ophthalmology politics. “PCC has had an Ophthalmic Medical Technician program for years. I argued adding the ABO training program could only strengthen the college’s position in the eyecare field but those running the OMT program were concerned our program would potentially steer candidates away, or lower the future job prospects of the OMT graduates.” It took six months for Armstrong to convince everyone involved that opticians are not technicians and vice-versa. “What seemed like an obvious argument to myself and everyone else in our industry proved to be a very challenging hurdle for this program to overcome.”
  • Be patient. “Three years after I approached PCC about this program, Optician ABO Prep is officially a go and accepting students for January 2020!”

HOW TO WORK FASTER

Caitlin Wicka, San Juan Eye Center, Montrose, CO

Caitlin Wicka of San Juan Eye Center in Montrose, CO, isn’t sure why her ability to work with multiple patients at one time is so rare. Here’s what she does know about squeezing the most out of a workday:

DO:

  • Give trays to customers shopping for frames. “This allows them to look while you help change a nose pad or dispense.”
  • Offer guidance on store layout before a customer begins browsing.
  • Use the Ultrasonic cleaner as a way to make time to help someone else.
  • Look up insurance and patients before you sit with them.
  • Know your inventory and what you can order relative to the Rx you’re looking at.
  • Slow down, if it means making fewer mistakes.
  • Get your workspace set up with the tools that you most commonly use.

DON’T:

  • Chat with patients. “Let them talk to you, don’t talk at them.”
  • Deal with vendors/reps ahead of customers. “If a rep comes in, get them to help your patient look for glasses.”

HOW TO ANNOUNCE A FIRING TO THE REST OF YOUR STAFF

The basic rules of firing apply here. Firstly, do it quickly. Secondly, provide enough information to demonstrate the decision wasn’t arbitrary, but not so much detail that you look like you’re trying to embarrass someone. Be low-key, brief, stick to the facts and avoid emotion. Alison Green, author of the “Ask a Manager” blog, offers the following sample script for an email that she recommends be sent to the whole staff on the day of the firing.

”Unfortunately, Jane’s last day with us was today. We wish her the best of luck, and we’ll be moving quickly to hire a replacement. Until her replacement is hired, please see Fergus with questions about teapot research and Lucinda for any other questions.”

Green adds that “Your staff will generally understand that you’re not going to share every detail with them in cases like this,” while reminding managers that the key is to ensure that your staff understands how performance problems are handled.

HOW TO HANDLE AN EMPLOYEE WHO WON’T TAKE THE HINT

Back to “Ask a Manager” blogger Alison Green for this one: She advises that in fact it’s not your job to manage an employee’s reactions; if they don’t get it, it might be time to show them the door. “If an employee’s refusing to hear clear warnings, you don’t have to keep hammering the point home.” But before you pull the trigger, she does advise that you revisit the language you’ve been using with the employee. Have you been clear? “Sometimes managers think they have, but when we dig into exactly what they’ve said, it turns out that their wording has been mushier than they thought. In particular, managers are sometimes reluctant to say words like ‘If you don’t do XYZ, I will need to let you go.’” So, don’t be fuzzy. A manager/owner’s responsibility in this situation isn’t to keep issuing warnings — it’s to ensure that their warnings are clear. If not, Green says, “It’s time to move to a conclusion.”

HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT, AND NEED, FROM A SALES REP

Lorie McBroom, Bakersfield Eye Care, Bakersfield, CA

5 Bakersfield Eye Care in Bakersfield, CA, had tried several colorful frame collections that didn’t do well, so adding Etnia Barcelona felt like a bit of a gamble. Optical manager Lorie McBroom recalls telling the rep, “‘I love the brand, but it would be amazing if we could have 90 days to try it out to see how it would work. And the rep said, ‘Let’s make that happen.’” The line was a hit. “It’s worked out for us, as well as for our vendor, just to ask for the things that you want.” Something else McBroom has learned is that reps are a great resource for recommendations beyond their own brands. A good example of this is Matsuda, one of the first high-end lines they added. Its rep wasn’t familiar with Bakersfield, but another salesperson — who’d already brought Etnia Barcelona and Garrett Leight to the shop — vouched for what Bakersfield Eye Care was up to. By the time the Matsuda rep finally visited in person, “we had already sold through most of our Matsuda we bought at Expo, including a show-stopping frame that retailed for over $1,500,” says McBroom.

HOW TO SELL FROM THE CHAIR

Chris Lopez, OD, Roberts Eyecare Associates, Vestal, NY

To the eye docs reading this: We get it — you’re NOT salespeople. But there are ways to boost eyewear sales from the chair without feeling like you’re selling, and without dragging discussions of fees/costs into the exam room. Here are a few, provided by Dr. Chris Lopez of Roberts Eyecare Associates in Vestal, NY.

  • A key point from a sales point of view comes after refraction. Says Dr. Lopez, “If there is a moderate-significant refractive change, I demonstrate the change for the patient using their current prescription and the new one with the phoroptor. That’s a main selling point.”
  • Ask patients about their lifestyle. What recommendations present themselves? Says Lopez: “A prescription is what I deem necessary to provide the patient with the sharpest and most comfortable vision possible. A recommendation is what I think the patient could benefit from but which is not necessary.” ODs are within their rights to make both, he says. Discuss your recommendations as you walk patients to the handoff.
  • Ask all presbyopic patients if they’ve heard about multifocal contact lenses, an option that can get them out of reading glasses or bifocals/PALs. Many Baby Boomers and younger presbyopes are very conscious about their appearance. Being able to solve their near vision problem and helping them look young will make you a hero.
  • Raise the potential benefits of anti-fatigue lenses and daily disposables with appropriate patients during the exam. “With more and more patients reporting eye strain or tired eyes towards the end of the day, anti-fatigue lenses have earned a spot in my patient education armamentarium,” he says. “And I put any young patient (children and teenagers) into a daily disposable contact lens if it’s a new fit. It’s best to start healthy habits from the get go.”
  • “Always. Always. Have I said ALWAYS yet? I always ask patients at the end of the exam if they have any questions for me, or if there is anything that I haven’t answered for them. It gives them an opportunity to express all of their concerns and it allows you to once again educate and solve problems.”

HOW TO OFFER FREEBIES THAT MAKE YOU MONEY

Nancy Revis, Uber Optics, Petaluma, CA

“We are known to have fun free stuff,” says Nancy Revis, owner of Uber Optics in Petaluma, CA. She studied graphic design and marketing, so fun giveaways come naturally. “I had matchboxes made with our logo. Nice pens with our logo. We had beer coozies made that say ‘For your beer goggles.’ We always have fresh red vines and have a kitchen-size fridge full of beer and sparkling water. We have mints and chocolate all over the shop … especially mints because we are all in each other’s faces, so that is important.” Revis isn’t above setting the occasional sugar trap, either: “Now the little kids remember that I have red vines on the coffee table so they drag their parents in when they are walking by. I have totally sold sunglasses from them being dragged through the store for candy.” Selling suns doesn’t get any sweeter.

HOW TO BOOST WORD OF MOUTH BY DELIVERING A ‘WOW’ EYE EXAM

Robert M Easton, Jr, OD, Oakland Park, FL

Dr. Robert Easton in Oakland Park, FL, offers comprehensive eyecare and, when indicated, topography and a wellness OCT at no extra charge. Patients are shown the results in the exam room on flat screen HDTVs. He points out that topography is an excellent way to pick up a range of disorders. And “if a patient has a family history of glaucoma and/or deep cups, and/or high normal eye pressures, I want to be sure their Ganglion Cell Thickness is normal and I’ll run an Optovue Wellness exam. Furthermore, before I refer a patient for cataract surgery or Lasik I run an Optovue Wellness exam to rule out any retinal issues prior to surgery.” He adds that patients are more likely to accept treatment recommendations when he blows up their tests on a flat screen TV. “Because I do this as part of the comprehensive eye exam, I do not charge the patient. Many patients have referred their family members because of our thoroughness.” Business is so good, in fact, Easton doesn’t advertise.

HOW TO MANAGE FIRST TIME PRESBYOPES/PROGRESSIVE WEARERS

Kim Hilgers, Monson Eyecare Center, Owatonna, MN

A “no surprises” approach for first time progressive wearers is advocated by Kim Hilgers at Monson Eyecare Center in Owatonna, MN. Here’s her advice:

  • “I start by explaining that the ground won’t be clear when they look down because the viewing area is only 14-18 inches in the distance. I talk about steps and curbs (and vacuuming) being a challenge. I like to make a drawing to show them the reading area isn’t all the way across the lens.”
  • “The OptiKam has an amazing virtual lens demonstrator that the patient can hold and see more realistically what to expect.”
  • “Varilux Physio and Physio Drx are my go-tos. I’m kind of obsessing about Varilux X series right now for higher presbyopes.”
  • “I would say 95 percent of first-time progressive wearers are first-time presbyopes. I implore my doctors to speak to them about this as early as possible in their journey of presbyopia, to make MY job easier.”

HOW TO FIND/MAKE THE BEST USE OF AN OPTOMETRIC EXTERN

Mark Perry, OD, Vision Health Institute, Orlando, FL

Whereas internships are usually narrowly focused, months-long paid arrangements involving an employment agreement, and specific duties, externships (the word combines “experience” and “internship”) last a day to a few weeks, are unpaid, informal, have no major deliverables and often involve a student shadowing a doctor or simply observing what goes on. Dr. Mark Perry at Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL offers the following advice to those thinking of bringing one (or more) on board:

  • Be dedicated to the profession, willing to instruct and help them adapt to patient encounters — lead by example!
  • Make sure your office is accommodating (and busy enough) to the optometry school, as well as the student (medical model of practice, latest equipment, etc.).
  • Start with your alma mater — contact the director or manager of the externship programs.
  • Be prepared to spend time with them.
  • Get staff to embrace and engage with the students.
  • Be prepared to learn from them!

HOW TO HANDLE VERY YOUNG CHILDREN

Nikki Griffin and Sara Mabie, OD, EyeStyles Optical and Boutique, Oakdale, MN
Nikki Griffin, owner/optician at EyeStyles Optical and Boutique in Oakdale, MN, fits babies as young as three months, so she knows a thing or two about doing it well. Her advice for opticians:

  • Fit them for now. Not yesterday, not a month from now.
  • If you don’t have the right size, admit it and refer to someone who does. Otherwise you’ll drive those people online.
  • Watch for endpieces that stick out too far.
  • Fit a frame to sit high.
  • Toddler tip: Use two penlights to get a PD. One to shine on their eye and another for them to shine at you.

Lastly, for optometrists looking to work with more kids: “Think like a kid,” advises EyeStyles’ OD, Dr. Sara Mabie. “A toddler might see a symbol of a rotary phone in a turtle. Be flexible — sometimes even getting on the floor for the wiggle worms. Have a variety of bright flashing toys to pull out, not a creepy puppet. Their attention span is short so change objects often. Oh, and keep moving!”

 

HOW TO GIVE AN EDUCATIONAL TALK

Taylor Little, OD, Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, CO

According to Bob Levoy, author of 201 Secrets of a High Performance Optometric Practice, “the average optometrist has all the qualifications needed to become an effective public speaker. It’s really just an extension of in-office patient education.” By getting on the speaking circuit, you’ll be harnessing the power of your knowledge to bring in new patients. One doctor who’s already using this approach is Dr. Taylor Little at Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, CO. Dr. Little urges other ODs to:

  • Decide on your expertise and have a direction before you start organizing your lecture.
  • Look for smaller events that need volunteers first.
  • Practice aloud beforehand.
  • Utilize pauses.
  • Choose a way to increase engagement with questions or surveys.

Levoy reminds ECPs not to turn the event into an advertisement. “The optometrist whose only motivation for public speaking is to obtain new patients will come across as self-serving … Establish yourself as an ‘authority,’ not as someone who is ‘looking for business.’”

HOW TO TELL A JOKE

Sometimes the route to “Yes” is through a customer’s funnybone. But before you clear your throat and dust off your knock-knock jokes, here are some thoughts from the guys in white jackets who know how to be funny:

  • Be self-deprecating, but don’t overdo it. In his sales blog at yesware.com, a sales productivity platform, Lou Carlozo counsels that sales humor at your own expense is safe, but don’t make yourself appear incompetent. You can joke about your hairline but don’t undermine your product line. He adds that self-effacing humor builds trust to show the real human being behind the salesperson; it creates a sense of authenticity.
  • Queens, NY-based standup comic Hari Kondabolu had this to say to The New York Times’ tip columnist Malia Wollan on the topic of joke-telling: “People should not be able to telegraph where a joke’s going.’’ Kondabolu says stock or street jokes — the kind you read in a joke compendium — are almost never funny. So, work on your ability to slip jokes naturally into conversation (i.e., don’t start with “Want to hear a joke?”).
  • If you must tell a joke involving an animal, ducks make for the funniest quips, according to a global survey done by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire, Wollan reports.

HOW TO BANISH BAD VIBES

Morgan Bartel, Collins Diamonds, Liberal, KS

Morgan Bartel, the owner of Collins Diamonds in Liberal, KS, told our sister publication INSTORE that “It’s store policy that we have no bad attitudes, conversations regarding politics, religion or anything that could cause any negative vibes. We believe in the law of attraction, which means that whatever thoughts/words we put out there or allow to be said within our store bring about either good or bad feelings. We have given numerous customers the opportunity to step outside and rethink their attitude. Some have immediately changed their tone, while others took their given opportunity, started looking at the bright side and then re-entered our store with a much more positive spirit!”

HOW TO FIRE A CLIENT

Tania Sotelo, Balfour Vision Optix, Brentwood, CA

It’s smart to set and maintain a chain of command and have a policy on what to do with people who disrupt your business. Staff tasked with carrying out the order should make it clear to the patient that it’s the doc’s call, and invoke their name, ideally in a brief conversation or call, but it can be done in an email. “Dr. Smith feels it’s time for you to find a new doctor, as we don’t seem able to meet your needs in our office,” Tania Sotelo of Balfour Vision Optix in Brentwood, CA, says. “We have a letter we mail to them stating we unfortunately have not been able to meet their needs and feel it’s best for us to terminate the business relationship,” she says. “We give them a 30-day notice for emergency services only and offer help finding another doctor if needed.”

HOW TO DEAL WITH A NATURAL DISASTER WITH HEART

Texas Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

Northern California’s Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes last year. Survivors who made their way to Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates in Citrus Heights, CA, were seen and given Rxs for free. The idea began when VSP started providing vouchers for eye exams and glasses after the fire. “Several patients came in with the vouchers and I would ask them if anyone in their family needed eyecare,” explained Smith, who later reached out to VSP for more vouchers, and eventually just began providing survivors with needed care and Rxs at no charge. Smith has a history of quietly giving back. He has volunteered eyecare for homeless veterans, which, as a Vietnam vet himself, he says is “a no brainer.” He also volunteers with the VSP Mobile Clinic at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento. “Optometry has been very good to my family so I need to pay it forward. Just doing my best to make a positive difference,” he says. Fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, it seems Mother Nature has no shortage of disasters. Are you doing your part?

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