Two years after graduating from optometry school, I opened my own practice. Running the practice was an ongoing struggle and to make ends meet, I worked three days a week at an ophthalmologist’s office and three days in my own practice. I was working six days a week just to pay the bills. This went on for seven years.
My practice was like a roller-coaster ride. I’d have a busy month and be very encouraged. The next month, we’d be very slow and I would have no idea why. I rationalized the down months by thinking it was the holidays or school break or that everyone was on vacation. The fact is, I had no idea what was going on or how to fix it. I had been taught nothing about managing a business in school and was clueless. I kept trying to grow my practice but it just wouldn’t go. I didn’t know how to keep the phones ringing.
One of the most exasperating aspects of running the practice was knowing who to hire. I’d interview an applicant and the person would look glowing. But once they got started, they wouldn’t be able to function. During one interview, I asked the applicant what experience she had in the optometry industry. Her answer was, “I wear glasses.” (She wasn’t hired.) Another told me she had 25 years of experience working for an optometrist and didn’t even need an interview. She assured me she knew everything there was to know. Once she started, what she did best was sharpen pencils. What was I doing wrong? I resigned myself to hiring someone and then hoping for the best.
The staff had their own issues. They wouldn’t do what I asked and when business was slow, I didn’t know how to keep them busy.
Not making enough money and working six days a week affected my family life. But it wasn’t just a matter of making money for its own sake. Making enough money meant having the freedom to buy better equipment to devote to treating the patients I wanted to treat and to have a more flexible schedule. I had no time for my family, vacations or myself.
One night I saw a Sterling seminar on practice management and liked what I heard. I had been guilty of trying to do it all on my own, like refusing to ask for directions when someone is hopelessly lost. I looked at other professionals like actors and athletes and realized they used coaches, consultants and trainers to help them achieve success. I decided it was time to do the same so I signed on with Sterling.
I went to Sterling’s offices and took courses which taught me the proven management principles of the Sterling program. The first component of the program I implemented was “statistics,” a way to quantify the performance of each staff member and the practice itself. I gathered a bunch of my “stats” such as production, collections, profitability, number of new patients, marked them on graphs and hung them up on my wall. Having taken Sterling courses on managing by statistics, I was able to “read” the graphs and knew what to do to make the figures increase.
Sterling overhauled our hiring process so that job candidates were tested and hired on a trial basis. I started to hire good staff. If Sterling had done no more than help me find good staff, I would have been completely satisfied, but the program did much more. It trained me on how to run a profitable business and be a leader. It taught me how to handle people, market my practice, train my staff and get them to operate as a productive team.
We got organized and clearly defined each employee’s function. Then we produced job manuals so each employee knew what their function was, why, and how to get it done correctly. I realized that I had been teaching my staff nothing but was expecting them to know everything, which was very unfair.
When I started the Sterling program, my practice was making about $190,000 per year. Last year, we did $1 million and the year before that, we did $1 million, as well. Better yet, I am 35% profitable.
While the extra money is terrific, the biggest plus from the Sterling program is not financial. What is most valuable is having the free time. Because we are well-organized, I don’t have to worry about things being neglected when I am not there.
These days, I work three days a week at my practice. I’ve had the time to take two months of vacation each year which has allowed me to travel all over the world. For me, that’s what life is all about: having the time and means to do what my family and I want.
Don’t get the idea I take time off because I dislike optometry; I love my profession. Much of my free time is spent delivering pro bono services to the underprivileged. I perform exams at a local homeless shelter and six times a year I travel to Latin America and other world destinations to provide free optometry services through the “Lions in Sight” and “The Flying Samaritans” non-profit groups. My wife and I have been married for 27 years and she goes on many of these trips with me.
I also spend a lot of time with the family. I remember when I was growing up that I didn’t do much with my father. But thanks to the Sterling program, I’ve been around a lot for my kids. They know me as a person as well as a dad. Hopefully, they will do the same for their kids.
One day another doctor asked me if I would have done the Sterling program right after school. I said yes, because I would have been where I am now seven years earlier. It’s a nice life. — John Demshar, OD