It is still the case that a large number of independent practices are single clinician style practices owned and run by a sole person, or possibly by one person who employs a number of clinical and ancillary staff. While this can be a very rewarding experience, it is an increasingly tough environment to run a business in. It can be a very lonely existence where, sometimes, that individual may secretly wish they had someone they could to bounce ideas off. Over time I have met many optometrists who have spent months or years agonising over what may seem to be a fairly simple business decision. Having eventually made the choice, they often say what a great decision it was and they wished they had made it years ago. What was preventing them? Simply the fact that they felt they had no one they could turn to for trusted peer advice.

Independent optometrists are just what the name suggests – independent. They make decisions based on the premise that: ‘I wouldn’t make that decision if it wasn’t right.’ The problem is that the decision can often be wrong and taken for all the wrong reasons. This error is then compounded by that independent streak that insists on justifying it. I was very much like that on occasions when I ran my own ‘one man band’. Now I look back on some of my decisions and marvel about how I could have been so naive. I am not talking about the everyday legal and employment type decisions that have to be made, and heaven knows there are enough of those, I am talking about the decisions that would directly affect the profitability of my business.

Speaking to independent optometrists over the years, it has often intrigued me as to how we each arrived at some of the decisions we did. Often the main driving force was that we used our gut instinct to plot the way ahead. Many of us were very successful and that served to reinforce the notion that the decisions we were making were all the right ones and for all the right reasons. Often it seemed that the main business plan many independent practice owners had was to unlock the door in the morning, lock it in the evening and count the money as it rolled in. In the short term this may have worked for some and, while the appointment book was full, this seemed to justify this approach.

However, times have changed and the biggest problem with that approach is there is no structure in place to deal with adversity. That means if adversity arises the business can quickly find itself in jeopardy. Worse still, with no strategy in place, the owner has no one to turn to for help and probably no idea what help they really need, or how to make the right decisions if they find help. This is when the true loneliness of being a sole or independent practitioner can arise. Just when the problems are mounting, a unique type of stress can hit the sole practitioner. For some this may prove too much as they watch a lifetime’s work go down the drain.

Fortunately, such adversities do not arise that often. There can, however, be no denying the Covid-19 pandemic has been probably the biggest adversity many of us will have lived through. Where big institutions have been able to fall back on their company structures to deal with adverse issues, the individual practitioner was not so lucky. There will be those who, as we emerge from the lockdown into recovery, judge their viability again on how full their appointment book is, without regard to the fact that they may now be seeing only 50% of the numbers they did pre-Covid – a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

It was with these thoughts that I read in Optician a while back of the launch of a service by the Independent Marketing Partnership aimed at being that friendly face in the storm for independent optometrists wishing to make sure they survive and indeed flourish as they emerge from the pandemic. While this may not be the only tool out there currently, and this is not specifically a plug for it, it is aimed specifically at the independent sector when many in that sector are looking for someone to turn to for support. Knowing the right decisions to make ensuring the practice not only remains profitable, but increases in its profitability, can be daunting to some and knowing where to go to get that advice can be difficult for others. As someone who used to run a single person practice, I know the importance of having someone to turn to for support and guidance when times are tough as they are currently. Now is probably the most important time to get that guidance right and re-establish that profitability we all need.