When I was a young trainee dispensing optician, I always had a desire to get involved in the ‘marketing’ of the business. I was on day release at DO college and apart from my O-level in economics I had received no business training. It would be fair to say that I did not really understand what marketing was, something to do with advertising and publicity perhaps?

I nagged my boss (the practice owner) about this and eventually he told me I could sit in on the up and coming meeting with the Yellow Pages rep. In case you have no idea what I am talking about, Yellow Pages was a business directory, delivered to every household in the UK. It was about three inches thick and we used to use them in practice as a booster seat for the shorter kids so they could see the chart in the mirror.

Yellow Pages was something of an institution, with classic TV adverts that played with your emotions and always had a twist at the end. In preparing this month’s column I thought I would watch some of them back. They are all on YouTube and worth watching, if not for a bit of nostalgia, for ideas on how to appeal emotionally to customers if you have an intangible product or service (eg eye exams) to promote.

I think my favourite advert was first shown in 1991 – a guy who had just taken advantage of his parents being away by throwing a party, awakens to a nasty big scratch on the living room table. And guess what... they fly back today. So he makes the call: ‘Hello, French polishers? It’s just possible you could save my life.’ (I won’t spoil the ending but look at the painting on the wall at the end.)

Anyhow, back to my story, which involved me sitting in on a very important meeting with the Yellow Pages rep. About 15 minutes before the meeting my boss called in to tell me he was running late, and asked if I could I sort everything out. ‘Spend what you think is necessary to make sure we have the most impactful advert,’ was my brief instruction and ‘we will sort the artwork out later’.

In the deep end

My first reaction to this news was ‘thanks for dropping me in it!’ The cost of a full-page advert in Yellow Pages at the time was in the order of £4,000, not an inconsiderable sum in the 1980s. I recall meeting the rep and feeling totally out of my depth, however, I winged it and negotiated two ¾ page adverts for the price of a full page, one in the ophthalmic opticians section and one in the DOs section. On publication our practice was easily the dominant ad and as a result brought in several new patients.

Point and shoot

A few years later we had grown the business to the point when we were ready to open a second practice. We had formed a partnership and it was at one of the meetings when the senior partner (my boss in the previous story) looked around the room. He looked at each of us in turn, finance, marketing, personnel, clinical and purchasing. Each partner received a ‘business’ area of responsibility right between the eyes.

‘If we are to grow this business successfully, we need people who, as well as being excellent practitioners, are just as adept at an area of business.’

We agreed a learning budget per person, and off we went, back to night school to learn how to manage the different functions of a business.

Three years later we had a team of qualified optometrists, DOs and contact lens opticians, all of whom were proficient and had a qualification in their business responsibility. Over the next few years this dual responsibility contributed the growth and successful expansion to two, then three, then four practices.

Good or bad delegation?

The question I have often reflected on was whether this was good or bad delegation. In the first case with Yellow Pages, it was a successful result. My boss at the time of course took all of the credit. ‘I knew you could do it. I had total faith you would do a good job.’ He never admitted whether he lied about being unable to attend the meeting.

On the second story, I always believe this was a master stroke of delegation. This was, in my view, true leadership. Our senior partner had taken the time to talk to us individually, often in the pub or at practice socials, to understand his team. He knew what types of people we were, our characters and our values. He understood what we were good at as he had for some time been throwing us all challenges (like my Yellow Pages experience) to understand the areas we enjoyed and indeed thrived at.

There are plenty of books to read on delegation, but my overarching thoughts are that if you can understand your team mates and the people who work with and for you on a deeper level, you can select who you delegate to not on the basis of what needs to be done, but on the basis of who would love and rise to the
challenge.

Until next month – stay safe.