By Julie Steinhauer, OD, FCOVD
Nov. 13, 2019
Developing a marketing niche can pay dividends for your optometric practice.
It has helped our practice, Vision For Life, grow dramatically from seeing a few patients per month in a small rural town, to working with some 60-70 patients per week in a larger, more centralized location.
Moving to a larger population center, along with making other key changes, has spurred tremendous growth.
Our practice is focused on developmental optometry. We have developed a special niche working with children and adults with vision problems that affect their ability to read, write, comprehend, perform in sports or perform on the job. For example, we have found children with learning-related vision problems can improve 3-7 grade levels in reading comprehension following 10 months of vision therapy.
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Utilizing syntonic phototherapy and traditional in-office vision therapy, our practice grew 42 percent in 2018 in gross revenues, and experienced a 1,000 percent net profit increase from the previous year. It represents the biggest jump in our 16 years of practice ownership and my 18 years as a doctor. We are on target for even greater growth in 2019.
How we achieved this dramatic growth can serve as a beacon to help you find an area of specialization to ramp up the growth of your own practice.
Secure Office Space Close to Referral Sources
To grow our practice, and take full advantage of our expertise in developmental optometry, we realized the need to move closer to other eye doctors who could serve as referral sources.
We needed to communicate with not only other optometrists, but physicians, neurologists and others involved in brain-related vision issues. This included relocating to an office closer to a major metropolitan area. Initially it required a considerable investment in excess of six figures for the larger space and build out. That sum was recouped within a relatively short time period.
Utilize Social Media to Connect with Prospective Patients
Social media played a strong role in our growth, and can be employed as a tool as you develop your own area of specialization. In fact, we were one of the first optometric practices to utilize YouTube as a marketing vehicle.
Vision For Life engaged a firm specializing in social media that helped us create a series of videos about three years ago. These YouTube videos have attracted patients, not only locally, but from those willing to travel long distances to our offices in Southwestern Illinois. We now have over 500 videos available for viewing.
In addition, we have a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter. Our marketing also includes an e-mail newsletter, which is sent out monthly to a list of over 1,000 patients and referral sources.
Work In Tandem with Other Eye Doctors
Since Vision For Life is one of the few developmental optometric practices in the nation, we often are called upon by other eye doctors in remote locations to work with their patients. Some patients are even located in Europe and South America.
This process can include a full in-person evaluation if the patient is able to travel to our offices. When they do, they have the option to stay several months to receive treatment. In order to do this we have coordinated with local hotels to help these patients get the best deals for staying in our area while they receive treatment. Other patients may stay multiple days or a week.
What’s amazing about the internet and communication these days is that if we have a patient who is a college student, and they travel to Germany for two months on an exchange program, we can still provide consultation on how to implement their therapy procedures by using Zoom, an online video conferencing platform.
We also work a lot with other doctors around the U.S. and world to help them carry out a therapy program or add to the program they are providing their patient by supplying a much-needed missing element like photosyntonics light therapy. This is similar to a co-management partnership like cataract extractions.
In some cases we can train the doctor to carry out part of the treatment plan. For instance, just last week we trained a doctor from Nebraska how to equalize lens prescriptions to set their patient up for their best vision success!
Editor’s Note: It’s best to consult with your state optometric board before implementing optometric telemedicine. You may need to be licensed, or go through other legal approvals, to provide telehealth to patients located outside the state of your licensure.
Hire a Business Coach or Consultant
Optometrists are trained in eyecare, not strategic business growth. To ramp up our practice, and build our brand, we engaged with a business consultant, Rick Cottrell, who has started and operated many large and small businesses.
The consultant has helped us set up many standard operating procedures, helped us create a higher functioning team, and helped create benchmarks to track growth. He has paid for himself many times over.
In addition, we are part of a peer group of business owners. The group meets monthly and discusses key issues among its members. Each member is held accountable to discuss their business, offer advice and expertise as needed, and meet certain goals and objectives.
As your practice grows it is also important to maintain work-life balance. I engaged the services of a personal coach to help focus on not only my business, but what matters most, my family. The coach served as a valuable asset, providing me with a game plan to perform optimally at work and still leave plenty of time for activities with my children.
Consider New Ideas for Practice Growth
Optometrists should research and analyze different ways to grow their practice. In our case, we started consulting with other eye doctors who wish to learn developmental optometry or add it as a service offering. The consulting piece has added to our revenue stream and increased profits.
You can study industry trends and determine the right type of specialized services that best fit your practice, personality and business goals.