One thing is sure. When this current crisis slows down and things start to return to something like normal, our practices are going to be different. Preparing for the new environment is essential. The time to prepare is now!
RULE 1: HAVE A PLAN
Fact is, nobody has been in this situation before and it’s going to be tough to work out exactly what might be required for a successful business in the future, but as General George Patton said, “In battle, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. If you have thought about what might be needed, and have a clear plan that outlines your interpretation of the situation, you can change your approach in a measured way.
You and your staff cannot provide ideal services and products from a practice that has not changed for 15 years and does not have finely tuned and well developed systems…
Your plan should not be a flowery or wordy document. A prioritised task plan driven by measurable objectives is what we need. Quite simply we need to know:
- Where are we headed?
- What does this mean in practical terms?
- What specifically needs to be done to get us there?
- Who is going to do it?
- What resources do we need to get the job done?
- Where do we start?
Put all this information in a simple, easy to digest format and crack on with it.
RULE 2: GET ON TOP OF THE MONEY
By now, most businesses in the optical industry will have worked out that this is as much a financial crisis as it is a health crisis. If your accountant hasn’t already given you a slap around the head, hold on to your pants… here comes one (and get a new accountant…).
Budget. That’s all. A cash budget is vital right now and is the lifeblood of your practice. Your business can sink faster than the Titanic if you run out of cash.
Your cash budget is a financial business plan that indicates the expected inflows and outflows of moneys for the practice and defines targets for income and expenses. It has maximum value in its planning aspects and its use for coordination and control over the next six to twelve months. If you think you might end up in trouble, it’s much better to go for help with an understanding and a plan, rather than hit the wall, then call for help.
With a bit of budgeting, most businesses can get through this. If you are not sure, get some advice now. There is plenty of help about and many resources have been made available.
RULE 3: KEEP THE TEAM FOCUSSED AND ACTIVE
The staff in most optical businesses and practices in the current crisis are still employed. That means they can be usefully engaged on a number of tasks that will be of both short and long term benefit for the business. Make a list and delegate projects for your staff to manage. The possibilities are endless here.
Keeping up communication is also important for a few reasons:
- With separation and time, the ‘espritde corps’ can diminish. Having regularweb meetings and chats can keep up the team vibe,
- If you are all working on tasks for thepractice, coordination and a sense ofachievement can be maintained,
- Being a part of something whilemovement is restricted can be agreat help from a psychological perspective, and
- Staff need to know that the practice andtheir personal circumstances are beinglooked after. Most staff have a big stake in your practice and hopefully it means as much to them as it does for you. Regular updates keep them positive and keen to get back into it.
This is an excellent time for education, having some fun, and focussing on your people a bit more.
RULE 4: DON’T STOP MARKETING
You may not have heard the Ideology Inverse Marketing Principle: “You need to be marketing when you don’t need to be marketing”.
We are shifting our focus for marketing now, from creating appointments and awareness of services and products, to maintaining relationships. The best marketing directs consumers with unmet demand towards the right provider of solutions for their wants and needs.
The market for optometry services and products has not gone away. It’s just in a holding pattern for a couple of months. A gap without communication could mean a break in the relationship for patients. If you are absent, they can and will take the opportunity to look at alternatives. They have time to do it. Just be there and remind them that they don’t need to do that.
When the brakes come off you will be busier than ever, and there’s a fair chance the initial busy couple of months will be followed by a bit of a slow patch. Getting the prep done for marketing when you are busy will be tough. Do it now. You and your staff have time. If you really want to, you can set up a whole year of marketing (if you have a business plan).
Your marketing prep needs to equip you to:
- Keep in contact with your patients,
- Continue to tell everyone why you are special,
- Set up a mini-plan for communicating your reopening and resuming normal business, and
- Build your marketing resources and collateral in preparation for busy times when we are back to normal business again.
RULE 5: REVIEW AND ADJUST PRACTICE SYSTEMS
The way we manage patients has changed and will remain changed. Similarly, the environment around your practice has changed and so have your patients and staff.
You will need to change how you do things. Internal processes will be different, your stock might need to be adjusted. What about prices? How will patients respond to your current offer? Will they want familiarity, or will they now be looking for something different? All of this needs some thought so that changes can be made before you open the doors again.
It’s always good to review your practice, its systems, and offerings. You and your staff cannot provide ideal services and products from a practice that has not changed for 15 years and does not have finely tuned and well-developed systems that have been set up to support excellence in service delivery.
PRESS THE RESET BUTTON
There is no doubt that this is one of the most challenging times to be in business. The American human rights activist Malcom X noted “There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
This break is a wonderful opportunity to press the reset button on some things that can be done better, and to set up some changes that might take your practice to the next level.
Mark Overton is the CEO of Ideology Consulting. Mr Overton has science and business qualifications and, for over 30 years, has consulted to or worked with clients that include optometry practices, major public hospitals, federal government, medical research institutions, and professional associations. Mr Overton lectures at Flinders University and Queensland University of Technology.