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The Big Story: Risky Business




Eyecare Pros Share Their Boldest Moves

There’s no time like a brand new year to start dreaming big and daring greatly for your business — especially when the biggest risk in business today is not taking a risk. As eyecare entrepreneurs, we perpetually feel caught between information overload and infinite opportunity. But stand still, and your competitors will blow past you before you can blink. That’s especially true in an industry seeing as much disruption as vision care. As author Seth Godin says, “How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.”

Change is scary. It will make you feel uneasy and vulnerable. But sometimes, change is exactly you need. Best-selling author Brené Brown says, “For years, I drew courage from the question, ‘What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?’“ Eventually, she adds, “I pushed that question out of my head to make room for a new question: ‘What’s worth doing even if you fail?’” Failure is nothing to fear. Brown notes that if we spend our lives waiting to act, “we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.” Godin adds: “Bravery means a willingness to fail, coupled with the knowledge that failure isn’t always a bad thing. We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don’t kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won’t work, while opening the door to things that might.”

We asked INVISION readers to tell us about their boldest risks. Here’s what some of you had to say. We hope you’ll share other stories of risks taken, rewards gained and lessons learned with us in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


Steve Nelson and Anton Syzdykov wanted a new adventure. They’ve found it selling fine eyewear.


Eye Candy Optical, Westlake, OH

Steve Nelson and Anton Syzdykov both had well-paying, jet-setting corporate jobs, but they left their cushy gigs behind to open a high-end eyewear boutique despite having no experience in the industry.

THE RISK: For years, Nelson and Syzdykov worked and traveled together in global marketing and retail development within the paint industry. Along the way, they had the chance to visit optical outfits from all over the world, which inspired them to embark on an entrepreneurial journey. In 2013 the duo opened Eye Candy Optical in Westlake, OH, putting their own twist on optical retailing while breaking free from the “golden handcuffs,” as Nelson calls his former career. “When you’re guaranteed a paycheck and you make a very good living … walking away from that is about as risky as it gets,” he says.

THE REWARDS: Nelson is proud to report that Eye Candy has developed into a business that is viable, growing and “fulfilling from a financial perspective.” Recalling an epiphany about six months into the operation, Nelson says it was a “big amazing moment” when he realized that “this thing is going to work … the risk is going to pay off.” (It has paid off in industry cred, too: Eye Candy placed second in INVISION’s 2015 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition.)


But dollars and cents aren’t the only way to measure the boutique’s success. Nelson says that he and his partner succeeded in bringing to life their personal vision of what the optical experience should look and feel like. “We’ve really done something that I truly believe is totally different in optical for our geographic area,” he says. “We were able to create an eyewear buying experience where people not only rave about (Eye Candy), but they’re two inches taller when they walk out of the shop.”

THE TAKEAWAY: If possible, find a willing business partner and split the risk in launching your enterprise, Nelson says. It’s also critical to make well informed decisions backed by data and anecdotal research, which is why he and Syzdykov studied the industry for three years before diving into it. However, he cautions against getting caught up in “paralysis by analysis,” as only a businessman with an MBA who once wore the “golden handcuffs” can explain.

“What we’ve found in business, and the way we make most decisions, is it’s a process of triangulation,” Nelson says. “You do need some data points to make a decision and take a risk, but you’ll never know all the information. … At some point, it goes from writing a business plan to saying, ‘We can do this.’ So that’s what we did — we basically jumped off a cliff.”

Sabina Krasnov  of i2i Optique

Sabina Krasnov moved her family and her career across the continent. She isn’t looking back.



i2i Optique, Scottsdale, AZ

Sabina Krasnov took not one but two big risks two years ago: She moved across the continent from New York City to Arizona — and when she got there, she opened a new boutique from scratch.

THE RISK: Krasnov is the first to agree she made a bold move by leaving a familiar job in a familiar location to open an optical shop on the other side of the country. But it was a necessary risk, she says. Her gig in New York City — where she’d worked as an optician for 19 years — was a stressful, “dead-end job,” and she wanted a change for herself and her family. So along with her mother, children and husband, she moved to Scottsdale, AZ, where she opened i2i Optique in September 2014.

THE REWARDS: At first, i2i Optique’s biggest challenge was just “getting people in the door,” Krasnov recalls. After a few unsuccessful marketing initiatives, she began making monthly appointments with several assisted-living facilities where she does adjustments and other services at no cost, both to get her name out there and to give something back to her new community. Word began to spread and she’s beginning to see repeat customers.

“It takes time and patience,” she says. “I’ve met some amazing people that really needed someone like me in Arizona — someone that cares. (My customers) call me the eyewear fashionista. … I pick their eyewear, they sit in my chair and they just trust me.”

THE TAKEAWAY: Of course, launching a retail business of any kind requires the financial discipline to sock away enough money to sustain your operation during slow times. Beyond that, Krasnov recommends having a crystal-clear plan for what you want your business to look like.

“Most of all, have a vision. I wanted my optical to be like the Apple customer experience — that was my vision,” she says. “Service is key. When somebody comes in, smile, educate them and see what you can improve. My vision is treating everyone like they’re my mother.”

Krasnov has had ups and downs as a new entrepreneur, but she’s living her dream. “Work hard, show people that you really do care, and they’ll feel it,” she says.



We’re here to tell you that most risks work out … when you eventually get the courage to make the leap. But Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, says she’d like to change the business bromide, “Leap and the net will appear” to “Leap and the net might appear.” After all, as scientist Louis Pasteur once said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” So do your due diligence.


When it’s time to make your move, whether it’s going to the bank to finance a new location or appearing on a local TV show, set aside a few minutes to psych yourself up for the occasion. Harvard Business School faculty member Amy Cuddy is the author of the new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges, and she found that when people privately practice “power poses” (arms on hips, or feet on the table, or even draping an arm over a nearby chair), their risk tolerance and confidence soar. See her describe this phenomenon in a TED Talk that has nearly 30 million views at


Your employees may not have the exact skill set necessary to run your business, but they do understand your patients and customers. Tom Peters gives us four tips for sparking in-house innovation: 1) Hold an idea fair to encourage the revolutionaries within your company to share their inspirations. 2) Start a monthly new economy seminar series with your own staff as speakers. 3) Create a “Weird Fund,” a pool of money that your people can draw upon in small doses to pursue wild, one-off projects. 4) Encourage research through a “scholarship” that gives winning applicants time away from the office to network with a top customer, an interesting supplier, or even inside a high-performing eyecare business in another city.

Tiffany Satterly of Optique in Austin, TX

“One big difference is that the frames are a lot more spread out, so each brand gets its own area and you get more of a brand experience.” — Tiffany Satterly


Optique, Austin, TX

Business was good at Optique Austin. So good, in fact, that the Austin, TX, optometry clinic and eyeglass store was ultimately compelled to leave its old digs behind for a bigger location two blocks away — and open yet another new location in the same year.

THE RISK: There’s no such thing as having too many patients. But when you have more patients than your physical space can comfortably accommodate, it’s a problem. Optique Austin’s previous location had just one exam room with minimal space for a lab, and there was “such a flow of patients that we couldn’t physically fit enough people into the office sometimes,” says optician Tiffany Satterly. So the business relocated a couple of blocks away into a bigger office that has three exam lanes, a full-sized lab and more space for employees to work.

THE REWARDS: More space means more room for frames and overstock, which has led to higher sales, Satterly says. The extra real estate also helps make frame styling easier. “One big difference is that the frames are a lot more spread out, so each brand gets its own area and you get more of a brand experience,” she adds.

Beyond increased sales, higher patient volume and an improved customer buying experience, the new location better suits clinic staff, who now enjoy a more spacious, better equipped work environment. Satterly says employees were given the opportunity to offer input on the interior design, including how frames would be displayed as well as what the lab dimensions need to be. The result, she says, is a space that’s “just a lot bigger and more comfortable.” Patients and frame reps compliment the fresh design, too.

THE TAKEAWAY: If you plan a relocation or expansion, prepare to spend a lot of time contacting your patients and customers so they aren’t surprised by the change, Satterly says. And when you’re speaking with them, “get them excited” about your new or expanded space by explaining how the move will benefit them.

Also, it’s a lot of work to pack up an entire business and move it somewhere else, even if it’s just two blocks away. It was even more work than Satterly thought it would be. “You have to have a lot of patience with learning new equipment and organizing the space, and there are a lot of after-hours working together with the whole team,” she says. “But it’s worth it because we have more patients, and we’re selling more than we were before.” In fact, business is so strong that Optique Austin added another location, this one in a new South Austin development with two red-hot business successes (Shake Shack and Austin’s own Alamo Drafthouse) as neighbors. It opened in December.

Steve Whitaker of Whitaker Eye Works, Southeastern PA

Confused over which insuance plans are working for you? Steve Whitaker advises a scientific approach.


Whitaker Eye Works, Southeastern PA

After careful analysis, Steve Whitaker took a gamble when he stopped accepting vision plans for two years. The experience gave him new perspective on how to run his business.

THE RISK: Whitaker says that when he opened his first location in Wayne, PA, in 1993, he chased as many patients as he could by accepting seven different insurance plans. After crunching the numbers, he discovered that he was losing money on one plan and spending more time discussing insurance with his patients than addressing their needs. He eventually dropped all vision plans for two years to refocus on the sales aspect of his business.

THE REWARDS: By eliminating vision plans, Whitaker and his staff were able to stop performing administrative gymnastics and focus on customers’ needs. Dropping insurance helped him get his “mojo back” as an eyewear professional.

“Don’t forget why you’re here,” he says. When people pull out insurance cards, Whitaker says it can pull you away from your true purpose: showing people how to get superior vision via your best eyewear.

Two years into the experiment, Whitaker increased doctor hours and added three vision plans. The result was added profitability and a new sense of control over his business, which now has three locations. He advises other ECPs to avoid being merely “ambassadors for insurance companies.” Instead, he says, think of your business as “for-profit centers that sell eyeglasses and provide better eyewear and the best progressive lenses.”

THE TAKEAWAY: Of course, launching a retail business of any kind requires the financial discipline to sock away enough money to sustain your operation during slow times. Beyond that, Krasnov recommends having a crystal-clear plan for what you want your business to look like.

“Most of all, have a vision. I wanted my optical to be like the Apple customer experience — that was my vision,” she says. “Service is key. When somebody comes in, smile, educate them and see what you can improve. My vision is treating everyone like they’re my mother.”

Krasnov has had ups and downs as a new entrepreneur, but she’s living her dream. “Work hard, show people that you really do care, and they’ll feel it,” she says.

Dr. Scott Keating of Vision Trends, Dover, OH

Dr. Scott Keating has discovered that offbeat frames can be a hit in small-town America, too.


Vision Trends, Dover, OH

Dr. Scott Keating opened an optometry office that sells obscure frame brands, suspecting there was a hidden demand for them even in his small town.

THE RISK: Keating has always had a love for fun, unique frames — a passion that’s stoked every time he attends the Vision Expo trade shows. As the owner of a practice with two locations in a “semi-rural” Ohio county, he wasn’t sure if his clientele wanted anything other than traditional frames. But he had a hunch they might, so he opened Vision Trends in Dover, OH, and is finding success with a savvy formula that strikes “the right mix of frames, and the right customer service.”

THE REWARDS: Keating says Vision Trends has grown so well since it opened almost four years ago that he opted to sell one of his practice locations so he could spend more time on the new venture. A large selection of offbeat frames at different price ranges has given his niche strategy a broader appeal. “You can’t be everything to everybody, but at the same time you have to be careful to not pigeon hole yourself into too narrow of a thing,” he says. With a selection of unique styles, colors and shapes, customers are “more willing than you think to spend the money.”

He also credits strong customer service focused on “doing the small things” — such as presenting eyewear on a velvet tray — for distinguishing his business and attracting a more eclectic, higher-end shopper.

THE TAKEAWAY: If you want to run an upscale eyecare business, go all in. “You do have to jump in — you can’t just have one unique line,” says Keating. “If you know that your competition doesn’t carry unique stuff, you will thrive, and (your business) will grow fast once you get the right people to come in your door.”

To help entice those “right people,” Vision Trends holds an annual sales event that offers discounts large enough to persuade hesitant shoppers to take a chance on a unique frame style. Be conscious of your shop’s look, too. “If you want to sell unique style eyewear, you also need your optical interior look to be fashion-forward,” Keating says. “This ties into the overall experience and definitely puts the customer in the right buying mood.”



Here are more examples of risks INVISION readers have taken and how they worked out … or didn’t. Either way, you had the guts to try!

1 We stopped seeing all medical patients. It worked out great. Seeing all optical allows me to make much more income in way less time and makes ICD-10 of no consequence in my office. Dr. Texas Smith, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

2 Moving to a new location. It seemed like a horrible idea because we were doing well at our existing location, but we were renting and the landlord increased rent by 80 percent. (That’s right: eight zero!) We bought a retail condo in a new location, so it was a huge commitment without any sense of whether the new location would draw customers. It’s been a great decision! Dr. Sarah Jerome, Look + See Eye Care, St. Paul, MN

3 Two years ago, I entered a partnership with a practice that originated in 1965, where the optometrist’s last name was always McQuaig. Though the practice was called Family Vision Care, the locals knew it as “Dr. McQuaig’s” for the father and son duo. In order to change the community’s perspective of the practice moving forward, we decided to rebrand. New logo, designs, cards, signs, shirts, etc. went into effect and we waited with significant anxiousness. Our largest risk is now our largest success. People recognize our brand, and even know us by our logo alone. Dr. Blake Hutto, Family Vision Care, Alma, GA

4 We opened a larger location after two years in business. Visibility is better and business is up 800 percent. Terri Focht, Eyes All Over, St. Paul, MN

5 Money was tight, but I had a marketing idea that would cost us $2,500 a month. I did all the market research and recommended to the doctor that we do the idea all year long. It was a mailer to try and get a specific clientele to come in as new patients. The first month was a huge success, so we kept doing the mailers and increased our new patient base by 100 percent from the previous year. We stopped doing the mailers the next year, but we were able to retain about 70 percent of the patients that came in previously, as well as have a steady stream of new patients. It was scary at the time because it was my first big idea that the doc would have to invest in, but it worked out. Josh Bladh, Dr. Taylor Bladh, Diamond Bar, CA

6 We made the decision to not take insurance when we opened. It’s turned out fantastic! Kira Connally, Spectacles West, Weatherford, TX

7 I am an optician now, but I previously owned and operated a flooring business. The scariest thing I ever did was decide to stop advertising and start asking relentlessly and shamelessly for referrals for six months! It sharpened my customer service skills, gave us a chance to revisit/refine installation/quality issues and was a huge, very successful business builder. At the end of the year, almost every single customer who came through the door was a referral. Brandy Patrick, DePoe Eye Center, Macon, GA


8 I put in a fashion line of frames with a 50-piece minimum. Despite our best efforts, the fashion-forward appearance of this line was not a wow for our clients. Kate Giroux, MacPherson Opticians, Arlington, VA

9 We switched from a local lab to an out-of-town one that had unbelievably low prices. The quality and turn-around time were horrible with way too many re-dos. It was a nightmare. We gave up and went back to our previous lab. The savings were not worth all of the headaches. Don’t give up quality to save a few bucks! Susan Kantor, Central Phoenix Eyecare, Phoenix, AZ



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Cover Stories

How Eyecare Businesses Can Win the Hearts and Minds of Their Customers




Loyal customers — not the ones who choose you because you’re the closest optical, or in the building they work in; we mean the ones who cross town to see you, the ones who are genuinely loyal — bring immense benefits. To name just a few, they reduce the cost of every sale, they tolerate price increases and the odd gaffe by a new employee, and perhaps most importantly in the eyecare business: they generate referrals. But how do you win these mythical creatures over? We asked ECPs about some of the more creative ideas they’ve come up with for winning the undying love of their customers.


The business district in Decatur, GA, holds an annual wine crawl through about 30 businesses, and Decatur Eye Care wasn’t about to let their customers miss out. Held in early March, all the businesses open their doors on the weekends, and put out appetizers and quality wines. “It’s a great way to introduce new people to your business and meet current patients in a more relaxed environment,” shared owner, Tom Brillante, OD. Similarly, Avenue Vision in Golden, CO, decided that instead of the traditional frame show, they’d collaborate with area artists and craft breweries. According to Becky Furuta, the result is “an event with a local vibe and a lot of cross-marketing. It’s an easy way to tap into other parts of the community with whom you don’t normally do business, and to bring a local focus to the business.” Who wouldn’t be back?


Of course, nothing inspires loyalty quite like a reward in the hand. Far be it from us to encourage the pursuit of instant gratification, but an analysis of 20 brands by digital agency Hawkeye found that the most popular loyalty programs have one thing in common: “customer experience [i.e., the reward] is delivered close to the actual purchase.” That’s what Ames Eye Care in Ames, IA, discovered when they started their referral program, which according to Susan Ames has brought them many new patients. “When a patient refers a new patient and that patient has their exam, both patients can choose either a $50.00 credit in office toward glasses or contacts, or they can receive a $25.00 Amazon gift card,” says Ames.


Precision Vision’s Loyalty App.

One of the more interesting trends among ECPs who are serious about locking in customer loyalty is developing a reward program app. Buena Vista Optical in Chicago, IL, asks patients to sign up with their phone number. Every dollar invested in their vision, and every patient referred gets them points they can cash in for their next eyewear purchase. “We have already used it for two-and-a-half years and we feel this app has definitely kept our patients loyal,” says co-owner Diana Canto-Sims.

Precision Vision Edmond in Edmond, OK, has an app with a loyalty program that’s still in its infancy, but owner Selina McGee, OD, is confident it will become a key channel for making meaningful connections with patients and customers. “One aspect that I’m really excited about are the loyalty points that can be tracked with it,” says McGee. “We can reward our patients for investing in their health and education, as well as save them a few dollars along the way.”

Having your own app can allow you to get really creative with marketing: the goal is to get people to register. (Domino’s famously awards pizza points to anyone who uploads a picture of themselves eating pizza—even if it’s a competitor’s. Of course, you have to register to upload.) According to The Manifest tech blog, nearly half of small businesses it surveyed spent less than $25,000 on theirs. There are various ways to go about it: DIY app builders, hiring outside developers and relying on tech savvy staff are the most common options.


ECPs who believe “discount” is a dirty word, look away now. But while you’re doing that, those flex dollars will be flowing somewhere else. Just ask Robert McBeath, retail operations manager at Edina Eye in Edina, MN, which runs half off all in-stock frames December through January. McBeath has been doing year-end frame sales for a long time, turning those inventory dollars into cash the practice can distribute, rather than pay taxes on. “We stop buying frames in October and run the sale as an inventory reduction sale with reduced prices only on in-stock merchandise. That saves the ‘see-a-different color’ dilemma. We put up posters in the office, add the promotion to the website, push it on Facebook and sometimes an e-blast,” he says. The Dec. 1-Jan. 31 timeframe catches year-end and New Year flexible spending money. Patients have come to expect it and many contribute to their FSA knowing that if they over-contribute they can always use the money for eyewear. “I have a few that routinely come in at the end of the year to use up their flexible spending. It does keep patients coming back,” McBeath confirms.

Edina Eye’s clients aren’t the only ones waiting for the year-end season. Mark Perry, OD, co-owner of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, reports that their end-of-year frame sale —50 percent off, held on a Friday and Saturday — has been going strong for 10 years now “and it gets larger every year.”


At Vision Solutions in Lamar, MO, they call it “top-of-mind awareness.” All their marketing, according to Bryan Hartgrave, is coordinated to optimize this awareness of the practice, and targeted specifically to people living in the communities it serves. One of the best ways it’s found to do this is to implement a social media blitz several times a year, and they’ve also worked on geo-targeting their offices on search engines. “We maintain a daily social media presence with a balance of fun and educational content highlighting different themes throughout the year,” says Hartgrave. They do a frame show twice a year, and social media is a significant part of promoting it and other events and initiatives.

Coming full circle, Diana Canto-Sims at Buena Vista Optical mentions that she’s had good results with Facebook Live, which they do twice a month. She says the practice gets quite a bit of traction with more than 7,000 impressions per video and over 1,000 people reached. “We love this because it is free and 100 percent organic. Some of our videos get up to 40 shares. As a result of our Facebook Lives we usually get two or three bookings per video, not to mention more followers, likes and engagements,” she says. “Our Facebook page has over 4,000 followers. People feel they already know our staff before they come in because they have seen them on Facebook Live and we are very relatable.”


Let’s face it: All customers are not created equal. The truth is, it pays to identify your best customers and do something special for them. Central Texas Eye Center in San Marcos, TX, have moved away from traditional trunk shows to focus on VIP private events every few months. “Our really good customers absolutely love that we close the store for them and make things personal,” says Leah Johnson. Once a VIP show is scheduled, invitations are emailed to all of CTEC’s clients. “The invitations clearly say ‘VIP event; you’re invited! Appointments are required to attend.’ If someone is interested in one-on-one attention, in a party like setting, they will respond and schedule their event appointment. These types of guests really appreciate that we close the doors to the public for the show,” says Johnson.

CTEC experiences better sales at VIP events over trunk shows, because people are committed to purchasing instead of being there to look.
“We weren’t afraid of losing money by closing the doors, and found out these are really profitable events,” she says.

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Cover Stories

Get Your Mojo Back




Burnout. According to retail consultant Vince Rath, it starts “when we experience the world in a way that doesn’t align with our expectations,” leaving us feeling that we’ve lost control of our lives.

Whatever the factors involved in your particular case of burnout — and it affects everyone sooner or later — the basic solution will always lie in making some kind of conscious change. And even if you’re still loving every day at work, don’t wait till you’re tapped out; implement one or all of these fixes now, whether it’s to recharge your mojo, or to just keep things copacetic…


Researchers call it the “helper’s high.” Donating your time or volunteering can release dopamine, the feel-good chemical that causes the sensation you get when you eat chocolate. According to Psychology Today, “Brain scans show a surge of dopamine when we give or volunteer our time.” Annette Prevaux-Matejko of The Visionary in Allen Park, MI, makes time to “donate services and materials to someone who is down on their luck. Making a real difference in someone’s life makes me feel better about everything.”


Melody Wilding, a performance coach and human behavior professor at CUNY Hunter College in New York, identifies “under-challenge burnout” as one of the three main types (the others being “overload burnout” and “neglect burnout”). What does Jeff Grosekemper at Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, do to ward off boredom or crankiness when it threatens? “I switch jobs with my co-worker. Right now I’m pre-testing and she is selling.” Caitlin Wicka at San Juan Eye Center in Montrose, CO, tried a different approach.

“Getting more involved with training and with patient interactions helps with burnout,” she says. “Seeing the positive feedback on social media really helps me.” If you’re an administrator, ask your boss if there’s a task you can be assigned occasionally out front. Nikki Griffin, owner of EyeStyles Boutique in Oakdale, MN, gets back out on the sales floor to “do my thing. I get all my energy from fitting an amazing pair of eyewear and lifestyle dispensing. The administration side of owning is a soul suck.”

Son Nguyen, OD, recalls a radical change in the optical that shook things up at Bakersfield

Eye Care Optometric Center in Bakersfield, CA: “Adding mostly independent frame brands to our practice. Our opticians were skeptical at first about eliminating some of the biggest name brands in our business, but, as a result, we’ve been told it has made them fall in love with their jobs all over again.” Mark Perry, OD, of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, finds renewal by trying “to focus on some new and different aspect of optometry.” This has included accepting externs from two different optometry schools into his clinic.


Paula Hornbeck at Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids in Delafield, WI sums up her revitalization strategy in one word: “Silmo!” Similarly, William Chancellor of Eye Can See Eyewear in McDonough, GA, tells us that, “Trade shows rejuvenate me. Attending Vision Expo West was a big exciting show that made the heart fonder!” Learning something new is another popular way for ECPs to find their second wind. Christine Howard at Attleboro Vision Care in Attleboro, MA, says, “Networking and attending conferences always ‘refills my cup’ when I’m feeling drained.” Sometimes, just nosing around another optical will do the trick. BJ Chambers at Carrera Optical, in McQueeney, TX, will occasionally visit a competitor, “and then I feel better about myself.”


Burnout isn’t always a function of too much work. Repetitive or unstimulating work can land you in the same psychological territory as doing too much — feeling numb. “I’ve found coming up with a new project or marketing campaign to be rejuvenating,” shares Carissa Dunphy at Duvall Advanced Family Eyecare in Duvall, WA. “It brings the excitement [back] into what we are working on and it’s great for workplace morale.”


Jeff Migdow, MD, an integrative physician in Lenox, MA, told the Everyday Health blog in a recent posting that even a few minutes of physical movement serves as a powerful stress reducer, forcing us to breathe deeper and helping us “feel more like ourselves.” You don’t have to wait for the weekend or even until you get home: “Burnout is usually a sign that your work and your life outside the office are no longer in balance,” says Becky Furuta of Avenue Vision in Golden, CO. “I have always made sure to plan an hour in the middle of every workday to go for a run or a ride. I come back happier, more productive, and feeling good about where I am.” Robert M Easton, Jr, OD, in Oakland Park, FL is surely the gold standard bearer among ECPs in this category: “I do kickboxing, bodyworks, walk on the beach and weight lifting to lift the stress,” he tells us.


We think of electronic devices as stress inducers, but your phone just might be your ticket to peace of mind. “I meditate and practice mindfulness daily, sometimes at work, using the Calm iPhone app,” says Vlad Cordero at Focus Eye Care in Hackensack, NJ. Sometimes burnout can edge into something more serious. A 2015 University of California study suggests that nearly half of all people who start a company say they have struggled with some form of mental illness. Don’t be afraid to get outside help. Tom Brillante, OD, of Decatur Eye Care in Decatur, GA, champions his “Regular visits to my therapist. Can’t recommend it highly enough.”

Billy Isgett at Eyecare of Florence in Florence, SC, shared what works for him: “Prayer.”


Jen Heller reminds of us another sure-fire way to get your mojo going: “I read INVISION! It gets me excited about frames, fashion, new developments.” Sorry, we had to. But okay, she has more: “I’m also rejuvenated by just sitting and entering claims payment, or reconciling the books. Somehow looking at all the details of everything we do calms me down when I’m stressed, and reminds me that we’re superstars on a daily basis.”

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Cover Stories

21 Tips for Motivating Your Team




Behavioral researcher and author Alfie Kohn likes to tell a joke that many small business owners can no doubt relate to:

An elderly man who lives near a school is regularly harassed by a group of students. So, one day he approaches them with a deal: He’ll give each one a dollar if they’ll all return the next day and yell insults at him at a pre-ordained time. They do so eagerly and receive the money as promised. But the old man also tells them he will only be able to pay them 25 cents the next time. More or less still happy to be paid, the children are there again the next afternoon to taunt him, whereupon the old man explains that, henceforth, the daily reward for hurling abuse at him will be one cent. “A penny?” The kids are highly offended. For such a pathetic amount of money it’s not worth the effort. Forget it, they say, and never bother him again.

Like all good jokes, there’s more than a little truth in Kohn’s tale. Humans just don’t behave in seemingly rational ways, never more so than when it comes to money and the energy they are willing to exchange for it. Rewards work in some cases, but in others, they seem to not only deter quality work but bring out people’s worst sides.

The things that we humans tend to pursue with the most care and deepest motivation — like preparing dinner for a family reunion, coaching a Little League team, building a treehouse or running a marathon — are things that are challenging and complex and sometimes even painful. This suggests the things that motivate us — and which sustain peak performance — are things like a sense of achievement, progress, the welfare of others, what other people think of us — the intrinsic stuff. It also implies sustained performance is a result of people acting because they choose to — not because they feel they have to.

The final thing to appreciate about motivation is that it flows and morphs. Sometimes a surprise slice of free pizza will get the best out of an employee. Other times it is a heartfelt one-on-one talk. To unlock every employee’s fullest potential, you will have to experiment — every day and every week. In the following pages, we present a few ideas to help you on your way in this most vital and often mystifying field.


1 Success in guiding employee behavior happens in the thousands of daily interactions and decisions between you and your staff. “Great managing is about release, not transformation,” says Marcus Buckingham, an author, talent expert and founder of The Marcus Buckingham Company, a strengths-based management organization. “It’s about constantly tweaking your environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein. Your success as a manager will depend almost entirely on your ability to do this.”


2 “As a rule, money tends to be a poor motivator. You have to look deeper if you want to understand what motivates people. Leadership is not about imposing your will on others, it has more to do with understanding people,” says Dr. Steve Vargo, a business consultant with IDOC and author of Eye on Leadership, An Optometrist’s Game Plan For Creating A Motivated and Empowered Team. Buckingham concurs: “A manager’s most precious resource is time, and managers know that the most effective way to invest their time is to identify exactly how each employee is different and then to figure out how best to incorporate those enduring idiosyncrasies and how to translate them into outstanding performance.”


3 The psychology of motivation has moved away from the big goal approach in recent years and much more toward the idea of small wins. Indeed, Teresa Amabile’s research at Harvard has found that the most motivating thing is “any” progress in meaningful work. Says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at the Fuqua School of Business: “The question for your staff should be, ‘Can I do one small thing to get better today?’ And the answer to that question is always, ‘Yeah, I’m sure I can.’”


4 Logging certain aspects of your life can be a surprisingly powerful practice — not because there’s much value in the record you create, but because the very act of recording exerts an interesting psychological effect. Get staff to spend a couple of days recording their time use in detail, productivity experts advise, and they’re likely to find themselves using it more efficiently. The first observation is likely the discovery that they are frittering away many hours.


5 The Protestant work ethic basically equates labor with discomfort and looks darkly at levity in the workplace. But there is little in the way of science to support it as an approach to doing good work. Indeed, berating oneself for not working harder runs contrary to establishing a mood that gets things done. A fun environment, on the other hand, promotes innovation, healthy risk-taking, good morale and improved social connections.


6 Promote positivity, says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, explaining that an optimistic mindset boosts intelligence, creativity and energy levels. “In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed, and 37 percent better at sales,” he says on his widely-viewed TED talk. Much of the reason has to do with a better ability to deal with challenges and setbacks. But just how to do it? Achor recommends meditation, gratitude lists, more exercise and acts of kindness like sending a 2-minute “thank you” email every morning.


7 In 1965, Howard Leventhal, a psychologist at Yale, wanted to see if he could scare students into getting a tetanus vaccination (still rare then) with a presentation of lurid images of patients struck by the disease. The students were duly alarmed — but not enough to get vaccinated. Leventhal found there was one intervention that made a difference, prompting 28 percent of students to get a shot, compared with 3 percent of the others. It was a campus map, showing how to get to the clinic and the hours it was open. Subsequent research has underlined the remarkable power of such step-by-step plans. Got something you want your staff to do? Give them a figurative baby-step map to get it done.


8 In Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Dan Ariely cites the case of different European countries’ success in getting their citizens to sign up to be organ donors on their drivers’ licenses. The disparity is huge and much of it comes down to a simple tweak in form design. In countries where people have to actively opt out, the willingness to donate is much higher. “It’s not because it’s easy. It’s not because it’s trivial. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s the opposite,” Ariely says of the study’s findings. “And because we have no idea what to do (in such a case), we just pick whatever it was that was chosen for us.” Design a work place where the default option is work, and people will be productive.


9 There’s no shortage of apps to help your staff boost their productivity and stay motivated. One of our favorites is stickK (, a free goal-setting platform created by behavioral economists at Yale University. Make a resolution and then if you don’t follow through, a pre-agreed amount of money will be sent to an organization you really detest. You then decide what’s worse, getting to work on time 20 times in a month or handing your cash over to Bernie or Donald or whoever else gets your hackles up. Another,, will remind you by email about anything you want, but does so at unpredictable intervals so that your brain can’t easily adapt to ignoring the prodding.


10 One of the most predictable and poignant (or pathetic, depending on your viewpoint) things about humans is our need to bathe in the warm glow of a compliment. Our brains light up even when we know the flattery is insincere. Think then of the power of a sincere compliment. Be on the lookout for chances to praise your team members.


11 For the most part, people want to work; they gripe when things like meetings stop them from doing so. Indeed, a 2006 study showed there’s only one group of people who say meetings enhance their wellbeing — those who also score low on “accomplishment striving.” In other words, people who enjoy meetings are those who don’t like getting things done. The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one seems to be this: is it a “status-report” meeting so employees can tell each other things? If so, handle it with email or paper. That leaves much fewer “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds, for example, a well-run brainstorming session.


12 One of the reasons slot machines are so addictive is the unique power of “intermittent variable rewards.” As Pavlov showed with his dog, random rewards are more motivating than predictable ones. Make a bonus guaranteed, and it loses its power to motivate. Give employees a perk out of the blue, such as free lunch instead.


13 The power of words tends to be fleeting, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to harness their uplifting power. Whether it’s on the notice board, a store Pinterest page, or the fridge door, look for places to adhere words of wisdom. Update regularly.


14 “Acknowledgment is a kind of human magic,” Ariely says. Indeed, some neuroscientists go as far as to say we need attention almost as desperately as we need food and warmth. Studies suggest that almost 50 percent of people who leave jobs quit because they feel underappreciated. Therefore, simply acknowledging a team member’s contribution can go a long way in making them feel appreciated and motivated.


15 Recent research says there’s something behind the bad apples theory: If a toxic worker sat next to a nontoxic worker, the toxic worker’s influence won out, with proximity increasing the probability that one of them would be terminated by 27 percent. Firing someone is, of course, a last resort measure. But if you have provided training, counseling and patience and the person evidently does not have the inclination to be there, it’s time for you to go your separate ways. And there’s also the sobering impact it has on other staff; firing the least productive employee serves to show staff that their jobs are not sacred.


16 In her book, The Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan cites a recent survey of American workers:

81 percent of respondents said that they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss.

70 percent said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly.

And yet, gratitude at the workplace appears to be a pretty rare thing, with just 10 percent of the survey respondents saying they were regularly thanked. Want a more motivated staff? Be more generous with the thank-yous.


17 Define excellence vividly and quantitatively. “Paint a picture for your most talented employees of what excellence looks like. Keep everyone pushing and pushing toward the right-hand edge of the bell curve,” says Buckingham.


18 Kind words and deeds count when it comes to motivating colleagues. According to research by Dan Ariely, complimentary remarks and pizza outpaced cash bonuses as ways to encourage workers to put forth more effort and show greater productivity. The results mirrored previous research by the London School of Economics and Political Science showing that people will work harder if they believe their work is appreciated.


19 Don’t assume employees know that you think they’re doing well or poorly. You have to tell them. According to Gallup research, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not. “To get the best coaching outcomes, always have your 1-on-1’s on your employee’s turf not yours. In your office the truth hides,” says Buckingham, who recommends you spend at least 10 minutes with each employee each week, asking them just two questions: What are your priorities? How can I help?”


20 Spend the most time with your best people. Talent is the multiplier, says Buckingham. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. In one example from First, Break All the Rules, they studied great employees in data entry roles. Initially, they found that top performers were 50 percent better than average. However, after investing in them, they were nearly 10X better than average. “Ever get bogged down trying to squeeze passable work out of a bad employee? How did it feel?” he asks.

Spend the most time with your best people. Talent is the multiplier, says Buckingham. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. In one example from First, Break All the Rules, they studied great employees in data entry roles. Initially, they found that top performers were 50 percent better than average. However, after investing in them, they were nearly 10X better than average. “Ever get bogged down trying to squeeze passable work out of a bad employee? How did it feel?” he asks.


21 Consultants Brian Moran and Michael Lennington aren’t big believers in the value of a year, at least when it comes to setting goals. A year’s too big to get your head around, they argue in their book The 12-Week Year, and there’s too much unpredictability involved in planning for 10 or 11 months in the future. Besides, it’s awful for motivation: the New Year surge of enthusiasm fades rapidly, while the feeling of racing to the finish line — that extra burst psychologists call the “goal looms larger effect” — doesn’t kick in until autumn. In its place, they advocate dividing your year into quarters, and to think of each 12 weeks as a stand-alone “year” — a stretch long enough to make significant progress on a few fronts, yet short enough to stay focused.

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