Moneo writes: Futureproof your practice

Embrace the opportunity to challenge our status quo and grasp new chances

It has been reported that, following the Covid-19 pandemic, the world of eye care found itself in a relatively fortunate position. For many, the return of relative freedom meant a time to spoil themselves following the privations of lockdown and this often included treating themselves to new eyewear. The result of this was a relative boomtime for many in the optical profession. However, we now see reports of practices struggling in many areas, particularly within the independent sector.

Adversity is hardly a good thing, but this does not mean it must equate to oblivion. Often, when times are hard or unpredictable, this brings about opportunities to reflect upon current habits and actions. The temptation for some will be to adopt a knee-jerk response to stave off inevitable financial crises in the short term. But that is not a lasting solution.

There can be no denying optometry has had it good for many decades now. Bluntly put, traditionally it was not difficult to make a very good living as an optometrist without expending a great deal of effort. I have heard it said, on more than one occasion, that a lot of optometrists’ business plans consisted of: unlock the front door at 9am, lock it again at 5pm, then sit down and count the money. Sadly, I suspect there is more than a grain of truth in that for many. When the economic climate changes suddenly and we find much of our business is akin to a house built on sand, it comes as no surprise that a feeling of panic can set in.

At times like these, the sensible practice owners will stop and take stock of their situation. What is called for is level-headed planning for the future. As in any spring cleaning, the mess of previous times can be cleared up and at the same time the opportunity arises to ensure that the mess does not return. In other words, take the opportunity brought about by the circumstance to put some robust business plans in place to future-proof the practice.

As I write this column, the weekend of 100% Optical is upon us. Here is an opportunity to take on board the latest clinical innovations and absorb leadership thoughts as to where optometry is headed. I note from the programme that there is a heavy emphasis on artificial intelligence with an excellent looking lecture on the main stage from Derek Swann on Saturday. I suspect many people will be going there just to get CPD points with little interest in anything else, especially employed optometrists and dispensing opticians. But for business owners, how many will be attending with a clear picture of where their business is going and what the plans are for it in the stringent times ahead? How many will have a clear picture of what they can spend on new equipment and how that new equipment will drive their business going forward? Some will have planned for this event and know what their buying strategy is.

I suspect many will be going and looking at equipment and then, when in discussion with sales teams, saying something like: ‘I would love to buy this but at the moment I can’t justify it due to the cost.’ That is the sort of person who probably has a very vague business plan, if any plan at all. It is vital to understand your business, to have a clear idea of what it is you are trying to achieve and how that will happen. What is the message you want your business to convey? What is your vision? It is also vital to have a firm grip on the costs of the business and how investment costs will be offset by increased revenue streams. In short, it is essential to not only have a clear, concise plan but one that is modifiable to allow for change in the financial outlook.

The lack of clear planning in the past does not mean disaster is upon you now. But, as others have pointed out, not putting the house in order now may well be a short cut down that road. Panic and uncertainty must be replaced by serious strategic planning. To some, this may be a very new concept, but there are many people within this profession who are willing to assist you in your quest, not least many of your peers. Change can seem daunting, especially in the face of adversity, but it is like the first jog by an obese person. Very hard to start with, but having survived the first bit, everything becomes strangely addictive and the change that ensues can be profoundly life-altering.

We should not be daunted by the current economic conditions, but embrace the opportunity to challenge our status quo and grasp the chances we discover to make our futures strong and profitable.