Like many optometry school graduates, I had a goal of owning my own practice. Having attended optometry school on a military scholarship, I was obligated to practice in the Navy for four years. My naval duties included directing the contact lens and laser vision correction programs for fighter jet pilots. Although my naval service gave me great experience and built my confidence as an optometric physician, it didn’t teach me how to build a practice. To remedy this, I went back to business school and earned an MBA. Now I was ready.
Upon completion of my military service, I purchased two small practices. For the first few years, both practices grew rapidly but then in 2004, the rate of growth began to slow. I feared I was hitting a plateau. Despite my business training, I was unsure how to tackle this problem. Additionally, I noticed there seemed to be some staff issues bubbling below the surface. For the first time in my career, I began to feel stress.
As I began to delve into the staff issues, I discovered the office manager was playing the staff and I against each other. She would spread dissatisfaction among the staff about office policies and pay, and then would appear to side with me on the same issues. Due to this ongoing conflict, the staff weren’t on board to help me or the practice succeed.
On top of the personnel problems, I did not have a well-defined marketing plan. Although we were generating many patient referrals, I didn’t have a marketing plan that seemed to produce consistent results. We had advertised in newspapers and on the radio, with little result. I had an internal marketing program but it, too, wasn’t well-defined. Since our collections were good, I knew if I could get a steady influx of new patients, our production would be more consistent. But the return on our marketing dollars was poor.
Although I’m a reasonably happy person, I began to enjoy going to the office less and less. I felt like the practice was running me instead of me running the practice. Some nights I had a hard time shutting my mind down because I was worrying about things at work. At times I even found myself distracted at home, and not as focused on my wife and kids as I should have been.
I had received a mailer from Sterling and sent away for their DVD. Watching the DVD, I was impressed with Sterling’s approach to managing and motivating staff. They had a system for tracking productivity in an objective way which would take the onus off of me and put the staff in charge of their own destiny. I signed up for the Sterling program.
I went to the company’s facilities to do their management training and receive customized consulting. The courses gave me the exact tools I needed to run a practice and be its CEO. My consultant uncovered the reasons for the staff problems and overall slowdown of the practice. I left Sterling with a tailor-made plan to move my practice to the next level and beyond. Excited, I began to work on implementing the program.
A few months later, I asked Sterling to come to my practice and help with the staff and further program implementation. They trained the staff, smoothed out our channels of communication, got us better organized and reduced inefficiencies in our workflow. That was in early November 2004. By the end of December 2004, my production was not only highest since I had opened my doors, it was 50% higher than the previous December.
I am still a Sterling client to this day. With their help, I started a third practice from scratch in 2009 and have just taken over a fourth. Last September, I sent my office manager for training at Sterling’s offices and by December, our level of production had skyrocketed to new heights and the next month, collections did the same. When I started with Sterling we were grossing around $600,000. This year we will exceed $2 million in collections with a net in excess of 35%. Despite one of the worst recessions in U.S. history, and practicing in one of the most economically stressed regions in the U.S., my practice continues to exhibit robust growth.
Thanks to Sterling, I am in control of my practice and it responds to what I want it to do. Ironically, even though the practice is now close to four times larger than when I began with Sterling, it’s actually easier to manage. Instead of dreading work, I wake up excited to go to the office. The reduced stress has enabled me to leave work at work and, while at home, focus all of my time and energy on being a husband and a father.
Someone recently asked me when I plan on retiring. As I thought about that, I realized I don’t want to retire —at least not for a long time. I’m having too much fun! – Todd Sheldon, OD, MBA, FAAO