Partner in haste, repent at leisure

Many optometrists are eager to open a new practice but want a partner. The groundwork for joining forces with someone includes doing your homework and not rushing the process.

Key Points

Although many optometrists are aware of the traditional avenues for recruiting, some don't do their homework, rush the process, and make decisions that come back to haunt them. The goal is not speed. Remember that the process can take 6 months to a year.

Many optometrists compare it with finding a spouse. Would you date someone for a month before proposing marriage? Probably not.

Finding a partner and making the partnership successful require hard work, patience, and a little bit of luck. Steps to take:

• Figure out what you want to accomplish. This should be the first item on your to-do list.

Do you want to open a general optometry practice or one that specializes in vision therapy or treating ocular diseases? Maybe you want to cater to a target population, such as baby boomers. Are there any demographic studies that support the need for such a new practice? Also consider what type of practice you want to build, one that is mainly based on doctor referrals or patient word-of-mouth?

• After defining the scope of your practice, picture your ideal partner. Is the optometrist the same or opposite gender as you? Younger or older? Experienced or fresh out of school? Skilled in areas you lack, such as technology or business management? Someone who works part time or full time?

Prioritize your list. Although you may not find someone who matches all of your criteria, at least your partner will possess the main skills or experience needed to build your new practice.

"Ideally, you want partners with different backgrounds who represent different generations and have a different set of friends and interests so that you're pulling patients from different demographics," said Dr. Baggett, of California Avenue Optometry and Contact Lens Clinic in Palo Alto, CA.

"That's extremely important. That's one of the reasons I was attracted to my partner. I wanted a woman who was younger than I was, to broaden my practice's appeal," he added.

• Network. Most partners are found by attending industry events, word-of-mouth, or contacting faculty at optometry colleges for referrals. Although some optometrists also advertise on appropriate Web sites or in trade publications, other creative techniques also get results.

John Larcabal, OD, who teaches practice management classes at the Southern California College of Optometry, Fullerton, told the story of one of his students who was searching for a partner for his new practice. He faxed an introductory letter to each optometrist in the community where his new practice would be located. He stated his intentions, credentials, and unique qualifications that would distinguish the practice from others. He received multiple offers, said Dr. Larcabal, who also owns his own practice, Brea Optometry, in Brea, CA.

If you choose this route, also include demographic studies or information about the community where your practice will be located. Doing so will demonstrate that you're serious about your partnership proposal, he said.