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Making Meetings More Engaging and More of Your Questions for April

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End boring meetings

We need to change the way we do staff meetings. People don’t show up, they complain, and once they’re in there, they aren’t very engaged. 

There’s a reason people don’t want to attend, like maybe a severe lack of fun. Business studies have repeatedly shown laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and risk-taking, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity. But how to make your meetings more fun? Start with good food and drink. Dr. Brian Burke of Dawson Vision Center in Dawsonville, GA, springs for Chick-fil-A biscuits and sweet tea for all. Then set the tone from the beginning. Jokes about your struggles with the latest IT upgrade, a gentle ribbing over a missed deadline or a trying salefloor encounter can all help set the mood. Encourage staff to recount things that went wrong and organize role play for salesfloor situations (yes, people will groan but they’ll actually enjoy it). Rewards work too. Mary Hollis Stuck, a manager and optician at Eye Associates of Cayce in Cayce, SC, recalled a former boss who identified workers who had earned customer praise during the week and rewarded them with gift cards. Now that sounds like a meeting we’d want to attend.

Should I explicitly state that tattoos must be covered up in our dress code? 

ODs on Facebook ran a poll a while back that found about one in four of its members had tattoos. It didn’t ask how many covered them in a clinical or professional setting, but we’re guessing it’s the majority. Society’s attitudes are changing but it’s a demographic-driven shift, which means older patients — the majority of ODs’ core customers — are likely to view tattoos as a sign of poor judgment. Our advice would be to take your lead from your clientele. If they are likely to have certain ideas about how a medical professional should look, then it’s best to devise a dress code that reflects those sensitivities.

Do I have to pay overtime whenever an employee works more than 40 hours, or can we just give him or her the hours off later? 

You are nearly always required to pay an overtime premium, usually 50 percent, be it in dollars or minutes. For example, if the staff member works 42 hours in a week, you owe three, not two, hours of time in compensation. You can, however, offer them four 10-our shifts in a week and not break the 40-hour threshold. Check  www.dol.gov and with your state labor office. 

Please tell us how to absorb the lab increases and not raise our prices more. 

No, we won’t tell you that. An ECP should never be a “price taker.” Sure, keep looking for ways to cut costs, be it through new technologies, business practices or better vendor partnerships, but low prices should be way down on your list of patient selling points. When it comes to eyecare, trust is the most important consideration for a patient or prospective customer. Also, keep in mind, that while customers hate price increases, they hate big price increases even more. If you make a habit of absorbing supplier/subcontractor price hikes, eventually you reach the point where you have no choice but to raise your rates by a huge amount. We recommend you make a habit of increasing your prices every year (at least on those services most important to your profitability). Pick a time and just do it. The annual increases at a specific time will condition patients to expect regular rate adjustments. One way to soften the impact is to announce adjustments a month or so in advance or set a period for clients to lock in existing rates by pre-purchasing a package. If you have certain months when cash flow is low, it can be the perfect time to announce future rate adjustments and boost package sales. 

How do I calculate my ad budget? 

Advertising guru Roy Williams suggests it’s better to think in terms of “total cost of exposure,” which is your “cost of occupancy” (usually rent) plus your advertising budget. This means a business owner who saves money by investing in a weak location will have to spend much more on advertising, he says, adding that a high cost of occupancy, such as a landmark location, is often the least expensive advertising you can buy. How then to work out the numbers? Williams recommends this formula: Budget 10-12 percent of projected sales for “total cost of exposure” and then adjust the figure by the store’s average markup (not profit margin). Say, for example, you are projecting sales of $1 million (10 percent = $100,000) and your average markup is 91 percent, you’d thus have a figure of $91,000. Finally, deduct your cost of occupancy (let’s say $60,000) and voila! you have it — a $31,000 ad budget.

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This article originally appeared in the April 2017 edition of INVISION.

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What the Law Says About Retailers Who Say They’re Selling at ‘Wholesale’ Prices and More Questions for March

Unless it’s true, it might be a criminal offense in your state.

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How can I improve the open rates on my email marketing bulletins?

A few years ago, MailChimp.com did a survey of some 40 million promotional emails and found that those with the highest open rates (from 67 to an amazing 80 percent) were the ones that were — surprise, surprise — the least promotional. Typically, they had subject lines that told the recipient what was inside (they didn’t confuse e-bulletins with promotions or vice versa), they used the company’s name in the subject line, and had straightforward subject lines — they weren’t too “salesy” or pushy (this also helps you avoid spam trigger words). Most email providers will allow you to write subject lines of up to 60 characters but you should try to keep it short and to the point, between 30 and 40 characters and no more than five to eight words.

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Constant Contact, another service provider, recommends you state a clear benefit to opening the email. Email messages that have an “exclusive” offer in the subject line, such as “Private event” or “For select customers only,” can generate an additional 24 percent open rate, according to its studies. Of course, you don’t want to be too dry. Your content should be as friendly as possible. Open with the recipient’s name, use a tone that reflects your personality and end with your signature line. Most important, give them something they want. If they’ve opted in and you are responding to their interests, you too might be able to get super-high open rates.

One of the questions I always get, and hate, is “Do you have to charge sales tax?” How should I answer this?

Here’s a simple way to defuse this sneaky discount ploy. Look at the customer directly, smile, and say, “Actually, I don’t charge sales tax. I collect it.” They’ll get the point. And while everybody wants the best deal possible, they’ll probably trust you more for it. Because if you’d cheat on your taxes, why should a customer or patient trust you to take care of their vision?

My store seems like a reality TV show: unnecessary drama. Addressing it only seems to add fuel to the fire. Is there a way to bring it under control?

You’re not alone. After profitability concerns, this is the No. 1 headache of business owners, says business coach Lauren Owen. Drama and discord create stress and hurt productivity. There is no quick fix but there are a number of things you can do, starting with regular meetings. “Scheduled, well-run meetings are essential to clear communication and team building and addressing potential conflicts,” says Owen, adding that such meetings are conspicuously absent at stores with drama issues.

Other steps include confronting your drama queens, addressing your underperformers (there is often a hidden cost in the resentment they cause), performing a cost-benefit analysis on your high performance/maintenance employees (sometimes they just suck all the energy out of a store), and finally taking a good look at yourself. “Some people actually like drama, despite what they say,” Owen says. “If you were really honest with yourself you might understand that the drama is satisfying some need of yours. Attention? Power? Control? Do you avoid all conflict, even healthy conflict, at all costs?” And are you giving your staff a clear sense of purpose — that eyewear is about something much bigger than business?

My practice has never grown the way I had hoped … or hired for. To keep going, I feel we need to downsize. How can I do it without destroying staff morale?

Layoffs are tough. You can’t have high productivity without good morale, and you can’t have good morale unless people have confidence that the company has a future and that the business is going to treat them fairly if things get worse. Employees need to know that you respect and value their contributions and don’t just view them as a resource.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to order layoffs. In that case, remember three rules.

1. Do them all at once. Dragging things out will destroy morale.
2. It’s better to cut too much than to cut too little.
3. Make sure all remaining employees understand that what you’re doing is saving their jobs.

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Finding the Best Tax Professional for You and More Questions for February

Getting a head start on what could be a volatile year, and more advice for February.

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2019 seems like it’s going to be a volatile year. What should we do to get ready?

Eight years of economic growth and cheap credit allowed many business owners to gaze far into the future and craft successful, long-term strategies, but it does seem those times are coming to an end as trade wars, rising interest rates, political turmoil, spooked financial markets and ongoing technological change cast a shadow over what otherwise is still a strong economy. In such a shifting, unstable environment where visibility is low, Donald Sull, a London Business School professor, recommends “active waiting.” Contemplate alternative techniques, explore likely scenarios and focus on general readiness. This is a time of threat but also opportunity. “Keep your vision fuzzy and your priorities clear,” Sull says. “Maintain a war chest and battle-ready troops. Know when to wait — and when to strike. When you grab an opportunity or move to crush a threat, amass all your resources behind the effort.” At the same time, continue making routine operational improvements such as cutting costs, strengthening distribution, and improving products and services. “Though mundane, these initiatives foster efficiency, which can position you to snatch a golden opportunity from rivals’ jaws,” Sull says. It all sounds rather dramatic, but then high drama surely awaits.

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The sales experts you quote often recommend role-playing exercises. But my sales staff always slinks away when I suggest them. How can I get them to play along?

That may be because the focus is negative, says sales trainer Dave Richardson. Make the role-playing positive and fun. First, play the role of the salesperson and let your salespeople critique you. Then, when it’s your turn to play the customer, instead of saying, “Here’s what you did wrong,” start off by telling the person what you felt they did well and what you would change if you had the opportunity. Always finish on a positive, encouraging note, Richardson says.

Our marketing team’s images were recently lifted and used by the vendor for their advertising without crediting us. When I contacted them, they said, “We’re sorry; it was the intern’s fault.” How should I handle this?

If it was “the intern’s fault,” who approved the final vendor layouts? But regardless of whose fault it is, you should get some compensation for the use of your images, says business management consultant Kate Peterson. The vendor would have paid for the images had they used any other marketing professional to create them, so they should have no issue with paying your in-house team. “I would suggest that the retailer assign a fair price (what she typically pays her team per image) and send an invoice directly to the head of the company with pics of their ads and an explanation. If applicable, tell them you will apply the amount of the invoice against an outstanding balance,” says Peterson. “The key here is to remain positive and confident, as opposed to challenging. Assume they are expecting to compensate, and communicate in a tone that expresses confidence in their interest in doing the right thing.”

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My business is only four years old and up until now I’ve done my own taxes but now I’d like to find a tax pro. Where do I find a good one?

Online directories such as CPAdirectory.com, Accountant-Finder.com and AccountantsWorld.com are a good place to start. Most will allow you to search by name, location and industry focus. The National Association of Tax Professionals also offers an online database of tax preparers, and the American Institute of CPAs has one for CPA firms. If you do contemplate hiring a tax preparer you found online, request referrals to past clients so you can ask about the quality of the service they received. A possibly better strategy is to ask people in the industry. This is because your ideal target should have some experience doing returns for vision-related businesses as every industry has its own rules and deduction options.

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Personality Clashes and More Questions for This Month

Read the answers to some of your holiday questions.

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Our holiday events are approaching. What are the best finger foods for an in-store event?

Balancing what tastes good — usually greasy or gooey food — with what looks sophisticated and doesn’t leave crumbs around the store or sticky fingerprints over your eyewear or frame boards is a tough balancing act. But store trainer Kate Peterson thinks she’s seen the answer: small, clear plastic drink glasses. “One presentation had a small amount (about three-quarters of an inch) of ranch dressing in the bottom of the cups, along with a variety of veggie sticks (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash). The glasses were all arranged on a tray, so instead of having to pick up the veggies and scoop dip onto a plate, guests simply picked up an easy-to-handle, pre-made serving, which could then be dropped into a trash bin when they were done. Peterson adds that she saw a similar but more “savory” twist on this treatment with cocktail sauce and jumbo shrimp (tails removed). Don’t want ranch dressing in your store? Try cubed cheese and seedless grapes, which are always a crowd favorite, and easy to prepare.

I need ideas on how to give my optical a quick, cheap facelift before the holiday season starts.

The problem with quick, cheap facelifts is that they look exactly that — quick and cheap. Take a hard look at your store and if you find worn fixtures splash out and get them refinished. Then focus on creating a killer (but easy-on-the-pocket) winter-themed display. Bare branches, lots of white, big candles, spray-on snow… Be bold about moving your merchandise to new locations. Try them in higher or lower positions, with new props or with more space than usual. And if you’ve got a boring wall you just don’t know what to do with, throw up another mirror. People are endlessly fascinated with themselves.

I’m thinking of opening a new retail optical outlet in what’s possibly the most crowded market in the country; there are over three dozen optical retailers here in a college town of 400,000. I feel I know this market but should I look elsewhere?

A crowded marketplace isn’t necessarily a bad sign; conversely, it may be an indicator of the huge demand for a product or service. The secret to business success isn’t finding an empty field, it’s filling a need, and that generally means a niche. Sometimes niches are created because everyone is chasing the big-ticket-buying crowd or the youth market or there are changes in fashion or technology that the existing players may have missed. The real question is whether you can do something better or differently. “Just don’t think you can do it by being the cheapest,” says marketing expert Brad Sugars. “You’re the little guy; you don’t have economies of scale. The big guys can make up in volume what they lack in margin. You can’t.”

I’m a junior member of a front office team of eight. They’re all good people but one of the older girls bugs the hell out of me. It’s purely a personality thing. What do I do?

Focus on the positives. Remind yourself of the contributions she makes. If that’s too hard then at least don’t fall into the trap of recruiting allies to your cause. Sure, it feels good to have someone confirm she’s annoying but it also makes her presence a bigger issue. Try to minimize contact and ask yourself, does she irk everyone or is there something about you that has you grimacing like this?

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