No ‘I’ in Team

In the second part of Dr. Stewart’s Cold Start Series, she shares the importance of surrounding yourself with experts in every area of the industry to help make the process smoother and easier.
Photo Credit: The Image Bank, Getty Images

While it can be tempting to take a solo approach to cold starting a practice, I found such great benefit in creating a team I could rely on for support and advice. With almost two decades of experience in the eye care industry, I considered doing it all on my own at first. After all, I had already owned, run, and successfully grown a private practice, and I have extensive industry experience. As a self-proclaimed saver, the financial investment involved in utilizing outside help was also daunting. While I’m sure I could have done it all on my own, the time saved, fresh thinking, and collaboration was worth every penny.

The Business Plan
So, who was on this all-star team of mine?  While I had already thought through my mission, vision, and values in deciding what type of practice I wanted, I decided to enlist the help of Erich Mattei of Akrinos to help with my business plan.

As a practice owner, I had never actually gone through the business plan process. In my last practice, I bought into an already established office, so this was all new territory for me. After spending some self-study time on his Cold Start Corner, I began working with Erich on my Strategic Business Plan and Financial Forecast and Feasibility Analysis. This exercise was extremely helpful in crafting the blueprint for the practice. He asked questions about my practice culture, proposed staffing, equipment needs, patient demographics and flow, optical projections, and more. He also developed market insights in the areas we were looking at to further understand the potential patients in these areas. We were able to use these documents to help us secure bank funding — this was key! The banks really liked seeing the projected cash flows, revenue forecasts, and detailed breakdown for loan categories.  

Dr. Stewart worked with a designer she trusted to create a space that fit her vision.

The topic of business plans and using a consultant comes up a lot on many of the social media groups and pages I am on. I’ve seen posts where doctors take a DIY approach, or even use Chat GPT to write their plans. In my experience, having someone guide me through the process, simplify, and save me time was worth the expense. Could I have done it on my own? I’m sure I could have muddled through, but the months we saved will be worth it when we open sooner than if I had done it on my own.

Another valuable team member is my accountant. I’m fortunate to have worked with the same person for my entire career. He has seen me through being an associate, buying into a practice, managing multiple business, selling my practice, and now a cold start. His advice is invaluable to me, and I truly value his opinion and expertise in the proper and conservative ways to approach my businesses. Again, there is so much information available to us, especially in social media groups, and I see so many ODs taking advice from non-professionals. Having a good accountant to guide you, versus crowdsourcing information, is a no brainer.

I also tend to see ODs asking and relying on others for legal advice. Having a solid attorney, while potentially costly, to me, is essential. I asked local small business-owner friends for recommendations and found an incredible local attorney who has a business specialty. She has guided me through many questions and situations, helped me negotiate my lease, and is always available for me to run something by. Does it cost me to call or email her? Absolutely, but her expertise is worth the cost. One area that was completely new to me was commercial leases, and she was extremely valuable in helping me assess and negotiate my lease. While many of us try to do it on our own, there are so many legal nuances that could become costly down the road if you’re not protected properly.

Design and Construction
While I may have had a vision overall of what I wanted my practice to look like, I knew the true design and layout of the practice was not in my skill set. I also knew I didn’t want it to look like a typical practice, so I decided to enlist a designer NOT from the optical industry, but instead one from the residential world. At our first meeting, my designer Tally, of Talbot and Gibson, said, “I don’t know anything about designing an optometry office,” and my response was, “Perfect!”  

For me, the design aspect was incredibly important to the overall feel and vision of the practice. While I may not have had a definitive idea of what I wanted the space to look like, I had strong opinions about what I DIDN’T want it to look like. Over a number of months, we had meetings that became more specific as we dialed into the colors, furnishings, layout, and aesthetic of the space. We then transitioned to site visits, contractor meetings, and finally, installation. As I sit writing this in Look New Canaan, the design, look, and flow of the space turned out better than I could have ever imagined. Again, this is a place where I could have done it on my own, but the investment in her knowledge and experience has been invaluable.

Who else rounds out this team? A good contractor can make or break the experience, and I hit the jackpot with mine. He worked with my designer to make sure the only decisions that came to me were the major ones, and they took control of the entire construction and installation process.  

Support from Colleagues
I also couldn’t have done it without the support, guidance, and friendship from my colleagues and friends who have cold started before. From shopping lists, suggestions, helpful things not to forget, they helped me immensely in making the seemingly millions of decisions we are faced with when cold starting. As luck would have it, I have a friend a few months behind me in the cold start process, so I’m already paying it forward.

It can be tempting to look at a cold start practice and not see the immense work and support that went into it.  As we are set to open our doors, I can’t help but be thankful for the team who has been behind me every step of this journey. There were times when I thought, “I could do this on my own,” but I’m so glad I didn’t. I look forward to being the support for others in their journeys as well.

Catch Up on Dr. Jennifer Stewart’s Cold Start Series:

Stay tuned for more articles in Dr. Stewart’s Cold Start Series!

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