A few weeks ago one of my fellow columnists wrote a piece considering the benefits of optometrists receiving coaching. I have reflected upon his comments and would like to expand upon the thoughts expressed in that column.

As optometrists we will all have received in our training much learning about the clinical nature of being an optometrist. The same will no doubt be true for dispensing opticians. The purpose of all that training is to ready us for our work in our chosen field. What that training does not do is prepare us in any way for the task of running a business or managing a practice. There are many, I am sure, who would be put off from running a business just for that very reason. I well remember watching the James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small, series on TV many years ago. In those days running a veterinary practice meant doing the job of a vet and then collecting the cash paid by the farmers in a beer tankard on the mantelpiece over the fireplace and then divvying up the money occasionally to pay the bills of the business and the wages. Sadly those rather halcyon days are well behind us and it is all a lot more complicated today.

Having run my own small business for many years I can attest to the fact that nowadays it is essential to have a working knowledge of many laws and regulations thereby greatly increasing the burden of day to day life. Making time to ensure all these regulations are met can almost be a full time occupation in itself, and of course there are always penalties if you fall foul of many of the regulations. So that side of things can seem quite daunting. However, that is only part of the scenario. Just as important is the planning of the way ahead for the business and also the managing of the employees within that business.

As optometrists and dispensing opticians most of us are highly skilled at communicating with our patients. It is something we do on a daily basis. However, when it comes to managing employees that is a completely different matter, and one we have received little or no training in at all. Understanding and motivating other people is a highly skilled process and one that many business owners will have little knowledge of. That in itself therefore is an area where support should really be considered essential.

Another major area that requires specific skills is that of actually planning the future of the business. Planning for future growth is always paramount if any business is to succeed. However, once again that skill is one that many of us learn to some degree or other by pure chance. History shows some are far better at acquiring this skill than others. Yet again though many will acquire the skills to run a business purely by chance. Often, when it comes to making important decisions many of us will be indecisive or reluctant to take the big decisions required purely because of a lack of understanding and the fear that the decision may be the wrong one.

Then there is the worry of how you communicate your decision to those around you. How will they take the changes? How will they manage the new systems? Have you given them the right tools to do the job? Yet again a whole mass of issues will arise for which you have no formal training or guidance. I genuinely believe it is fair to say many optometrists running their own small business have made a success of it in spite of, rather than because of, their knowledge of running a business.

Just recently I have handed over the reins of my business after many years. Looking back now I appreciate just how important it would have been to have someone coaching me along the way. Someone who could guide me in the decision-making processes, the planning processes, the communication processes. It would have been so good to have someone to bounce ideas off and to receive guidance from. Someone to challenge me and to challenge my decision-making processes. Someone to test my theories and to be guided by. Having never encountered coaching, I now see that to have used a coach during my business life would have been so useful. It just makes so much sense to be able to turn to another person for guidance and reassurance. I would say that I made a success of my business over the years but I do wonder how much more successful it could have been had I employed the services of a professional coach to guide me and challenge my thinking.

Were I starting my career now I would certainly consider that making use of a business coach to assist me in my decision-making processes would be core to my future success. Maybe it is time that the benefits of coaching were outlined far more at undergraduate level and by our professional organisations.