How to Start an Eye Care Practice from Scratch
Why Start Your Own Practice, Choosing Your Location with Care, and Finding the Funds
An interview with Courtney Dryer, OD, Autarchic Spec Shop, Charlotte, NC
Dr. Courtney Dryer shares her step-by-step approach to a successful cold start.
Dr. Courtney Dryer began her independent practice, Autarchic Spec Shop, six years ago in Charlotte, NC after realizing she wanted more control over day-to-day decision-making.
“I had worked for a doctor and saw things that could be improved or expanded,” she said in an interview at her chic practice off Woodlawn Road in Charlotte, NC. The inability to effect any changes “led to a certain amount of frustration. I like to have control over staff decisions, product decisions. When you own your own practice, you’re able to choose those things for yourself,” she explained. In this three-part blog series, Dr. Dryer shares a wealth of information – learned first-hand – about everything from the why to the how of opening a new practice.
In a nutshell, why did you decide to open your own practice when there were other options available to you?
I graduated in 2011, then worked for a private practice for a year, and also in some commercial practices on the weekend. I realized very quickly I didn’t see a future there. Once I made the decision to go independent, things happened pretty quickly: I opened my own high-end luxury practice in 2013 in Charlotte, NC.
For anyone looking to start their own practice, what’s the single most important question they should ask?
That question is “Why?” Why do you want to start your own practice? For me, it was freedom, the ability to make changes, updates and improvements as needed and without waiting for approval or acceptance from others. With a cold start you have ultimate control of your destiny and you alone are responsible for your success. Having your own practice means that you can enjoy unprecedented pride in your services and products; you can fulfill your unique vision for your practice to serve both your patients and your community; and you have the flexibility to travel when you want to and spend quality time with family.
What advice would you give about location. How much does that matter?
Location is very important. The first thing you should do is research lease rates for office space in the areas you’re interested in, and then compare different areas of the city or town to find the going rate for rental space. Having this comparative data allows room for negotiation with a landlord. I also suggest that you meet with landlords to gauge the potential relationship. Another question to ask is about patient base: What type of patient base do you want to serve? Primary? Medical? Pediatric? Geriatric? Check your area’s demographics to see if your practice location will be able to attract your patient base.
Another critical step in choosing a location is to determine the number of ODs, both commercial and private optometry practices in the area. Who’s going to be your competition?
When you meet with the landlord of each potential site to negotiate best price, ask if they will allocate any money toward your buildout.
Talk to existing tenants and ask four important questions:
- Are they happy with the landlord?
- How is business in their area?
- Would they do anything different?
- Anything they wished had been a part of their lease?
And a final note – very important! — before you sign your lease, have a lawyer review it to make sure it complies with industry standards.
How did you go about finding the necessary funds for starting your practice? Talk to us about that hurdle.
I always suggest that people find out if they qualify for any of the Small Business Association loans. In particular, check interest rates and see how they compare to standard bank loans. There are female-owned business loans that are available and they sometimes offer favorable rates.
Keep in mind that there are benefits to working with a small, local bank versus a large bank. Each bank has their own loan requirements, such as a necessary number of years out of school, or the mandatory hiring of a consultant. Larger banks may have other special requirements you might find onerous. Small banks can be easier to work with, according to colleagues who’ve gotten loans from those institutions.
Loans will be given based on financial status, how much debt is tied up in student loans, and amount of living expenses. The bank will ask for tax documents and proof of income from an outside employer. Keep in mind that most loans require a business owner to work at least three days outside of their own optometry practice so that there is some cash-flow and working capital.
Don’t miss part 2 of our series: Your To-Do List, Branding, and Marketing
Want to hear more tips for starting a new practice? Watch the 9 Essential Ingredients for Sucessfully Starting a New Practice.