As an optometrist, you have likely considered what it might be like to own your own practice. In fact, practice ownership is often a long-term goal of many young optometrists, and ownership is sometimes built into associate or employment agreements. However, some optometrists are better suited to simply work in a practice rather than own one.
So, how do you know when ownership is the right step for you? It takes a lot of realistic reflection and research into what owning an optometry practice would really be like. Understanding some of the daily demands and the benefits of ownership is a great first step in deciding whether owning an optometric practice is the right decision for you.
The advantages of owning your practice are pretty great—but they might not be appealing to everyone. The drawbacks could also outweigh the benefits, depending on your personal preferences. Below are just a few advantages of owning an optometric practice, many of which are appealing to a wide range of young optometrists. However, we also note a couple of realities that you should consider when weighing these benefits as well.
As a practice owner, you do not answer to anyone except your patients and customers. The same can be said about someone who owns an optometric practice—the only expectations you need to meet are that of yourself and your patients and customers.
For many, being your own boss can be a huge advantage, and it is perhaps the most appealing aspect of owning your own practice. You can dictate your hours, ensure that you have a work-life balance, control the patients you take on, and decide how you treat those patients. That type of autonomy often is not possible when you simply work in an optometry practice rather than owing it.
Keep in mind, however, that owning your own practice is demanding, no matter what field you are in. In fact, almost half of all business owners work more than 50 hours per week. Roughly 82 percent work more than 40 hours per week. While it is certainly possible that you want to put in the hours because you love your work, it is also equally likely that the driving force behind these hours is a fear of failure or how the business owner feels like they have to work to meet their obligations. While you have the ability to set your own hours, you also have the option to disregard those boundaries as well.
As a business owner, you not only get to choose your patients, but you also choose your co-workers. You dictate who stays and who goes in most circumstances. Your team will work with you and complement your skillset.
The same can be said if you wish to bring on a partner or associate. Ultimately, it is your decision who shares ownership benefits and responsibilities with you. You also get to choose whether and when an associate should be hired and whether that person is a good fit for the practice in the long term.
On the flip side, you also have to deal with employment issues and ensure you have the support you need to run your practice. Human resource needs can not only be demanding, but they can also be confusing. Navigating legal requirements with hiring employees can be time-consuming, and dealing with personnel issues takes you away from the tasks that actually make you money (like treating patients).
When you work for an optometric practice, you will often get paid a salary regardless of how hard you work. When you are an owner, how hard you work is directly reflected in your compensation—if you work harder and take on more patients, you are likely to increase your overall take-home pay.
Ultimately, if there are profits once all of the bills are paid, they go directly into your pocket. However, as a practice owner, you also run the risk of not having enough revenue to address your costs—and you need a plan on how to deal with that and still provide for yourself. For many, the uncertainty of revenue can be a huge hurdle to make the step toward optometric practice ownership.
As someone who is considering owning their own optometry practice, you should be aware that business ownership is not all fun and games. It can be very demanding and tiring—and it does not always work.
Even though you have gone through optometry school, and you may have worked in the field a few years, understanding optometry and understanding business are two very different things. As a business owner, you need to know how to keep books and records (or have someone on your team do it for you). You also need to plan for the future, whether that means two months from now or two years from now.
A practice owner has to keep an eye on a lot of moving parts, each of which make a business function properly. Just because you are a professional does not mean that you are exempt from the normal demands of any small business. Below are just a few examples of demands that you will face as a practice owner that you may not have considered.
You might want to consider hiring an office manager to help you with these tasks. A consultant might also be a good resource to get your practice off the ground right away. It will certainly take time for you to fully understand what it means to be an optometry practice owner, and having the right resources can make a world of difference as you get your feet wet.
In general, you can start an optometric practice using a few methods. The method that works for you will depend on your access to resources, personality, and even the general stage of your career.
Many optometrists will start as an associate and then transition to ownership after a few years of working with the other owners. This “trial” period can be very helpful to determine if ownership at this particular practice is a good idea for you.
If you work through this transition, you should be sure that you work well with the current partners and have a firm understanding of how the practice functions before you make any commitments. Situations where you realize you made the wrong type of commitment long after you have signed a partnership agreement rarely end well.
You might also want to buy someone else’s practice outright. This process will often be the result of one optometrist wanting to retire or get out of their practice, so they sell the whole business (or even a part of it) to someone who wants to build a practice. Learn more about purchasing an optometry practice here.
A cold start practice is the true “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” business mentality. You choose to go out on your own and create a practice at the ground level. While this approach can be challenging, it is certainly doable, especially with the right kind of advisory team to assist you.
Owning an optometry practice can be extremely rewarding, but it can be demanding and stressful as well. Having the right team of people to help you start the practice and meet day-to-day expectations is vital for a thriving practice. When you are ready to learn more or make the transition from employee to practice owner, the optometric attorney team at Dental and Medical Counsel is available to help. Contact us to set up a complimentary consultation with attorney Ali Oromchian.
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