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When the Doc’s Away, Should the Staff Stay and More Questions for June

It could be a time to get important upgrades done.

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Doc going on a much-deserved vacation? It could be time to close for an office renovation.

What’s your recommendation for when the doc’s away on vacation: Book a temp or close the practice?

Either can work — there are definite benefits to being able to provide unbroken service, and yet there’s unrivalled relaxation that can be achieved when everyone knows that no work is being done. But there is also a third option: Close the medical portion of the practice and get some of those important but neglected tasks done: reorganize patient flow or storage, paint the waiting room, do some training. Your staff probably has a ton of good ideas on projects to fill the time.

What should medical practitioners discuss with each other before forming a partnership?

Start with vision… Aggressive growth excites some but worries others who want a close relationship with their patients and don’t want to share calls with too many other ECPs. Growth in terms of services offered often requires more certification, investing in new equipment and taking on the legal liability for offering such services — professional and capital investments that not all potential partners are willing to make. In the more immediate future, there are the day-to-day cultural issues that are likely to put strains on a partnership long before you get to expanding. Common ground in terms of clinical approach is always good, and is one of the advantages of having practitioners come out of the same program – they will manage patients consistently because they were trained the same way. At the same time diversity in terms of strengths is nearly always a good thing. “Finding each other’s zone of genius or forte and staying out of each other’s zone of genius is crucial,” says Diana Canto-Sims, co-owner of Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL. Another area to look out for is age difference. It’s important to discuss views on workload, especially if an older practitioner is bringing in a younger one, say, to eventually take over the practice. Practitioners with 30 years under their belt and those nearly fresh out of school have vastly different ideas of how they want to spend their time. “Nothing will cause a partnership to come apart faster than people who aren’t generating revenue,” says Marc Halley, co-author of The Medical Practice Start-Up Guide and CEO of Halley Consulting Group, a physician practice management and consulting firm. “In any group, as the supply of food gets smaller, the table manners change.” Partnerships are potentially exciting, but amid the enthusiasm to get started, it can be easy to discount what can go wrong. Explore every contingency, from plans for family to a partner becoming incapacitated and no longer being able to work.

Should I delete old names from my e-mail bulletin list? A younger staff member says I should but I want to keep them; because these are old customers who might come back.

Your e-mail marketing program will be more effective the cleaner and more up-to-date your subscriber list is, but there are a few things you should do before you start deleting names. First, segment your subscriber list into new and active and inactive customers. “Reach out to the old customers on your list with a different message. Contact them with a special offer, information about something that would be of interest to them, or educational information that would benefit them,” advises Steve Robinson, regional development officer for Constant Contact, which provides e-mail marketing services to more than 300,000 small businesses and organizations in the U.S. “Consider offering a link to an online survey that would allow them to tell you what specifically they are interested in.” If there is no response after two or three more attempts using this approach, Robinson suggests you consider those addresses inactive and either remove them from your list or move these people to a new list to which you e-mail only once or twice a year so as not to lose contact with these old customers completely.

One of our opticians, who really is one of the best we’ve ever worked with, is leaving with plans, we understand, to start his own business. How should we respond?

Pretty much the same way you would to any other new entrant in the market. With a strengthened commitment to focus on your own practice and provide a better service to your customers. Find yourself a great new optician and don’t go the low route of disparaging the guy who left. That just makes you look small. Keep in mind too that the departing ECP faces a tough battle establishing a viable practice. Would-be business owners often assume that having a skill — in this case crafting and fitting lenses — means they’ll be skilled at running a related commercial enterprise. But there’s no necessary connection; indeed, a passionate ECP is likely to find tasks such as book-keeping and dealing with staff so aggravating, because they get in the way of taking care of customers, that he’ll do them especially badly. In short, you probably don’t have to worry about anything … except building your own business.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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How to Get the Best Employees and More Questions for May

Plus, how to get that chatty, great employee to actually close the sale.

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What’s a good way to sell our company to prospective employees — particularly top salespeople?

Just about the most valuable skill a businessperson can have is the ability to recruit and retain good people and yes, it all starts with that job posting. “When the right people read your ad, their hearts will whisper, ‘These people are like me, and I am like them,’ says Roy H. Williams, author of the business bestseller The Wizard of Ads. Bullet point what the job entails, what kind of inventory they will be handling, and the benefits, but the core message should be about who you are as a company, your reputation and your goals. The best salespeople often don’t have a sales background so go easy on the requirements. Your message should be more about culture than qualifications.

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
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Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?

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Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

Podcast: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
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Podcast: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Is it legal for retailers to say they are selling at wholesale prices?

In short, no — unless they really are. Many states including Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, California, New York, and Michigan have strict laws prohibiting the use of the word “wholesale” in retail advertisements. In some states, this is a criminal offense, due to the word’s ability to mislead consumers. Basically, if you advertise you are selling at wholesale prices it must be “the real wholesale price.” Some states define this as the price paid for the item from the supplier. Other states and the federal government say the price must be lower than the average price retailers would pay in the area.

We have a small store that is growing quite nicely. In fact, juggling rosters to avoid paying overtime is increasingly becoming an issue. I understand it can be tricky, but can we just move several employees to salaried positions? No more messy rosters. No more overtime. Right?

Likely very wrong. This is a strategy that “has been used so often to avoid paying rightful overtime, that it is written into the law through the Fair Labor Standards Act,” says Scott Clark, a lawyer and founder of the HTC Group. Yes, there are salaried positions for which there are exemptions from overtime rules, but they tend to be “true” management roles and jobs that require a college degree or technical training. They must also pay more than a minimum of $455 per week, and the salary must be the same every week (so if your employee wants time off to see the doctor you still have to pay his full weekly salary — no more docking wages for hours not worked). If it seems that the government is uncharacteristically protective of lower-income workers in this instance, never fear, it really isn’t. On the contrary, the government is very particular about all the taxes and Social Security that get paid on overtime. We’d say a better approach is to view your employees as an asset who make you money, not as an expense. Invest in your employees to make them more efficient, and they’ll make you even more money. Or hire the staff you actually need.

Where can I get hold of a good employee evaluation form?

As you’ve no doubt discovered, there are scores you can download to use as a model or template. Some, like those from educational institutions, are really quite detailed and cover every possible aspect of a job, while others are very basic. Our only advice when it comes to employee evaluations is that you not spend too much time on the whole process. While you may want the paper trail to protect yourself against lawsuits from former employees, there’s a growing view that reviews don’t really achieve much. Mary Jenkins, a co-author of Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead, advocates designing a system in which employees can seek feedback from people they work with, then draw up a skills-development plan with their manager — or you.

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How to Attract Top Salespeople and More Questions for April

Also, how to structure their compensation to remain competitive.

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We have a very young-looking salesperson who worries people don’t take her seriously. We’ve styled her in planos but what more can we do to make her look more professional?

“Professionalism is really about projecting confidence,” says Anne Sowden, managing director of image consultancy Here’s Looking at You. “And confidence is reflected in clothing and body language. As a general guideline, dark colors — black, navy and charcoal — convey authority.

A jacket automatically makes someone appear more professional. Pair it with a light-colored blouse (conservative neckline), knee-length skirt and she’ll look professional but approachable. And ensure the clothing fits properly, is not wrinkled and she will feel comfortable in it.

“If you’re comfortable, you’ll automatically be more confident,” Sowden notes.

When it comes to greeting customers, remind her of Mom’s dictum: Stand up straight and don’t slouch. “This will indicate that confidence and approachability. Add to that eye contact and most importantly, a smile and she’ll make a dynamite first impression,” Sowden says.

I have an employee at my high-end eyewear store who makes $16 an hour and commission based on gross profit. She earns close to $60,000 a year but feels underpaid and that paying commission on gross profit is contrary to the industry standard. How can I convince her she has it pretty good?

She does indeed have it pretty good, says industry consultant Andrea Hill, owner of Hill Management Group, noting that her hourly rate is almost 50 percent higher than the average for retail sales people of $11.50 and even more than the average of $15 paid by very high-end luxury retailers.

As for the commission, Hill says you are very much on the right track and your employee will probably have to get used to it wherever she decides to work; “wise” businesses are increasingly moving away from a commission based on the retail price to a portion of the gross margin. “In this way, sales professionals are challenged to balance the need to get the highest price possible with the need to close the sale,” Hill says.

“When commissions are paid out on total sales only, then it becomes very easy for the salesperson to sacrifice profits for the easy close,” she says.

While exposure to such numbers should mollify your associate, what you really want to do is excite her about the potential of earning as much as $100,000 a year — which is what top luxury salespeople make — although that requires building a “strong book” of customers through active networking, clienteling and prospecting work.

Keep in mind, however, that even the most generous commission rate won’t help if you’re not on top of your game, meaning advertising intelligently, keeping up with changing retail trends, providing the right technology for how consumers today want to shop, and maintaining an exciting inventory that reflects current tastes, says Hill.

“If the retail business owner does not ensure that they are running a strong merchandising and marketing operation, then even the best sales person in the world will not be able to turn the promise of commission into actual earnings.”

I still can’t get my head around kelvins and color temperatures. Can you help?

It probably helps to think of the original theoretical model that underlies the index — that of a black metal radiator, whose color changes as it is heated, from black to orange to red to blue to white hot.

Similar to Celsius and Fahrenheit, the Kelvin scale marks different degrees of thermodynamic temperature, but it is the association with color change that makes it useful as a way to designate light bulbs.

Where it gets confusing is how at the lower end of the scale, from 2000K to 3000K, the light produced is called “warm white” and ranges from orange to yellow-white in appearance. Meanwhile, color temperatures further up the scale, between 3100K and 4500K, are referred to as “cool white” but the bulbs are emitting a brighter, hotter light.

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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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