Advice to a Third-Year OD Student: What Do You Wish You Had Known?

What am I going to do now? Where am I going to find a job? How do I go about opening up my own practice? These are just a few of the many business-related questions optometry students face when nearing graduation. A further question might be why these questions have to be asked in the first place. Although there has been a drastic effort and improvement to educate our new graduates on the basics in business management of optometry, is it really enough? At what point must we make an effort to educate ourselves?

While it is helpful for optometry schools to lend students a hand at getting started in business, students also need to take the initiative and seek out information. Unlike past generations, we are fortunate to have tremendous resources lying at our fingertips with the internet. Thanks to our smartphones and electronic tablets, we can pursue that information during any spare moment. Waiting for class to begin? The perfect time to catch up on your reading of professional publications such as this one or check in with optometric groups on Facebook. The key is reaching out and obtaining information rather than waiting passively for the needed knowledge to miraculously drop in our laps.

As we all know, optometry school can be quite rigorous and demanding. Although many of us are concerned with simply getting through the curriculum, we must not neglect the business aspect of optometry. It is this lack of planning and knowledge along with the immediate burden of debt that forces our new graduates into modes of practice they never envisioned (or wanted). The optometry students who always dreamed of private practice, but find themselves a few years after graduation stuck working for someone else, can sometimes blame themselves for not being more proactive and educating themselves on what it takes to get started in business. Don’t let your optometric future choose you rather the other way around. With the right business, as well as clinical education, you have a greater chance of choosing the optometric career you always envisioned.

We understand the importance of learning the practice management and business side of optometry. As we are all in this together, we write this post with the intention of enlightening our peers with feedback and advice from experienced OD’s. We hope our efforts will generate a greater interest in our colleagues toward the business aspect of their future careers. We also encourage student feedback and responses. If you have any specific questions you would like answered,  please e-mail us or post it here, as it may be a potential topic for discussion, and probably a question other students would like to know the answer to as well.
 

What advice do you seasoned ODs wish you were given before you graduated? What do you students feel you need to learn more about?

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Use Hot Topics on Social Media to Promote Your Practice

Here are some practices for social content creation:

1.  Select an engaging topic. Use patient questions, interesting cases in the practice, ophthalmic news, journal articles and interactions on Twitter and Quora, an online question-and-answer site, to select topics for the blog.
2.  Social Integration. Twitter, Facebook, Quora and more in order to increase your website’s search engine optimization.
3.   Use images and video. We know that people are much more likely to spend time on a blog post if it appeals to them visually and the concept video is much more likely to engage a reader than straight text. Both of these are easily embed-able in any blogging platform.
4.  Keep it short, but not too short. If a blog post is too short (less than 250 words) search engines will not assign it as high a priority.
5.  Relatable tone. One of the facets of social media is that it has the ability to “humanize” you. This doesn’t mean that you have be unprofessional or share personal information, just that you can share your thoughts in a way that indicates that you care about your patients and your profession.
6.  Web site integration. Ideally, a blog is perfectly nestled within the web site. There should be consistency at the top of the blog for information and the practice and appointment requests. Optimize the site  for mobile devices and a portal for patient use.

Mobile Marketing: Text Messaging is Hot

More and more consumers say they want to get information via phone or tablet. Use texting to promote your practice to potential patients and to make frequent touch points with existing patients. As more of our patients rely on text messaging as their primary means of mobile communication, it may be time to consider this a viable communication channel with our patients.

Multiple texts can be sent at no additional cost, as opposed to just one postcard. The message stays on the recipient’s phone, not discarded in the trash like postcards. Your office could also send a text for other uses such as notifying a patient their order is ready to be picked up or a post-purchase thank you. While e-mail remains an effective communication channel for many businesses, its effectiveness is limited by low open rates. Texts have a 97% final open rate, compared to e-mails which have a final open rate around 20%.  Many of us simply delete e-mails that we deem unimportant or spam, never reaching the intended recipient. 

Motivate Patients to Sign Up for Texts

One of the most exciting business aspects of building a database of opt-in mobile contacts is the ability to integrate a concept known as mobile marketing.  Offer patients something of value in exchange for permission to send them a text. This could be a simple coupon, discount or promotion attached to the text message. Mobile coupons have been shown to have a 10 times higher redemption rate than print coupons. This is sent right to their phones which is typically near them at all times. When combined with recall it’s being sent at exactly the time they are due for an exam and possibly needing new eyeglasses or contact lenses. Coupons should always provide a clear offer and expiration date. This creates a powerful call to action for patients to schedule an appointment with your office in a timely manner.

You could also implement an SMS text marketing campaign where people sign-up to receive texts in exchange for coupons or promotions. This could be advertised in print ads, on your web site, Facebook page or most other places you would typically market. People can opt-in by texting a keyword to a short-code (i.e. Text SIGHT to 95462 to receive 25 percent off all kids frames. Exp. 5/31/12), scanning a QR code to receive the offer, or filling out an online sign-up page on your web site or Facebook page. As you grow your database of contacts, you can send occasional coupons or promotional texts to the entire list. This is a targeted and cost-effective way to market your practice.

Mobile Marketing Action Plan

If you choose to add SMS text as a patient communication channel, you will need to use a third-party text messaging service to enable your office to send bulk texts. One company, iMobile Communications, offers this service, as do companies like eztexting.com and izigg.com.  Most of these services are very affordable (subscriptions typically start in the $50/month range) and are easy to use with minimal training. Many current patient communication and recall systems have this capability built into the software. Due to the low costs of sending SMS texts, an effective mobile marketing strategy can potentially provide an impressive return on investment.

To recap, successful implementation of a mobile marketing strategy with SMS text requires patient permission (opt-in), contextually relevant messages (sent when the patient requires your services or products) and customer value (offer a financial incentive).  This combination can be a powerful call to action improving patient acquisition, recall and retention.

Consumers Multitask when “Window Shopping” Online for Eyewear

About 42% of recent eyewear buyers reported using the internet to complete multiple tasks, according to The Vision Council VisionWatch December 2011 Internet Influence Report. When using the internet to search for eyewear most Americans are usually window shopping online. They are conducting research and activities to help them purchase eyewear in-person at a future date. These consumers are looking for possible brands and styles of eyewear, comparing and benchmarking eyewear prices and examining retail locations where they might eventually make a purchase.