A practice owner pulled me aside at our most recent conference in Denver to start thinking of an exit plan. I always ask two questions when these discussions come up:
“How long do you see yourself continuing to own your practice?”
“How is your retirement savings coming along?”
The OD in questions told me he was about ten years away from wanting to retire. Which is… a little early to start planning in earnest.
On the other hand, at Vision Expo West this year I was on a panel with Dr. Gary Gerber who asks his cold start-up clients to think about their exit from ownership, so I guess it never is too early to plan.
Here are some key points I think every practice owner should have in mind when considering their exit.
How long does it take to sell?
Once a buyer is in place, it should really only take 6-12 months go arrange financing, go through due diligence, draw up papers and close on a practice sale. But that is once a buyer is in place.
For most single-owner practices, the search for a buyer will need to start two to three years ahead of the owners intended retirement date. At the moment, buyers are somewhat scarce on the ground, though that may change over the next several years. For some owners though, just finding a buyer can take years.
What every owner should do now
Whatever your exit plan, and whenever you plan to exit, you should strive to make your practice as large, as efficient, as profitable, and as well-managed as you can. Obviously, a practice that checks all these boxes will be worth more, but it will also be a practice you want to own for longer.
Even though practice values are going UP in some cases right now, in my view practices are still more valuable as annuities than as assets to be sold.
The second thing every owner needs to do is maximize the cash flow from their practices and build up wealth outside the practice. The best situation to be in when you’re ready to retire is to be able to say “whatever I sell for is just a nice addition to my retirement fund”.
This does not mean you shouldn’t make prudent investments back into the practice. But do make it a priority to take money out and build up your nest egg.
You may have heard the phrase “every entrepreneurial business is built to sell”. This is true up to a point. But if you think of entrepreneurship, it’s all about building something no. No offense to our more innovative practice owners, but a private optometric practice is better described as a professional services company than an entrepreneurial start-up.
Professional services companies tend to have bigger profit margins, but sell for lower multiples of earnings. This is true of medical practices like optometry, dentistry and dermatology, but also for accounting firms, law firms and consultancies. This is also why IDOC consultants recommend owners build practices that can provide passive income for the long haul.
Still, it’s never too soon to give some thought to your exit plan; every owner will eventually sell. If you’re in a more rural area, you may need to offer equity to your associates early to ‘lock them in’ to your practice and obligate them to buy you out, even if you’re not ready to retire. Practices with a larger pool of buyers may simply choose to maximize income for as long as possible.
Whatever your situation, know that I’m always available to give thoughts on the timing of your exit, a working value for your own retirement planning, or to think through ways to turn your practice into a cash cow that you want to own forever.
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I’d like to share an incredible customer service experience I had recently.
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The Science of Selling
Have you ever made what you considered an iron clad case for why a patient should purchase a certain product or service from you, only to have them walk out without ever making the purchase? As clinical professionals, we can be very logical in our approach with... Read more
Your optometry practice is incredibly valuable to you. “Well, Nathan” – you may say – “of course it is!” But have you ever thought of why it’s valuable?
You spend most days pouring your blood sweat and tears into it: hours and hours of patient care, planning,... Read more
The internet isn’t usually a popular topic in conversations I have with owners and staff members of optometric practices. Dealing with reviews and competition from web-based retailers along with the challenge of creating and maintaining a website and good social media marketing may have many... Read more
Optometrists in private practice sometimes fail to offer a clear reason why someone should choose them for their vision care over competitors - on their websites or in other marketing collateral – sometimes when you try to market to everyone, you fail to capture... Read more
When working with small business owners to create marketing plans and strategies, I run across the following scenario far too often: “Hey, I’m not sure how to log in to my Google listing. My office manager used to handle that for me, and she’s not on the team anymore... Read more
“You might as well ask me to describe the essence of music, or the color of starlight.”
Did you make any New Year Resolutions? Well, I did. I do every year, and in keeping with my obsession with goals and metrics that I have professed here repeatedly, I write them down... Read more
For starters, I’m not a licensed psychologist, I just play one as a practice management consultant. It’s been my observation that whenever human beings come together in an environment where they are required to work together and interact, inevitably some tension and conflict will arise.... Read more
Your schedule has gotten busier and you’ve hired an associate OD. While you would like to keep the associate’s schedule filled most of the time, it’s not uncommon for an associate to have some gaps in his or her schedule – at least in the beginning. This often leads to some resentment by the... Read more
Before anyone panics, I am not suggesting that most practices go out and spend $80,000 or $100,000 on a COO tomorrow, or that your manager is due a large raise for 2018. I typically only recommend that type of role for multi-location practices grossing over $2M-$3M per year: practices... Read more
Sometimes it’s not the inventory you choose to carry or the reps you choose to indulge. It’s not the pricing or the shipping or the cadence of your reorders. As we head into the tail end of the holiday season, I can’t help but think of the process of opening presents.
Everyone has... Read more
Texting is an incredibly tempting mode of communication for marketing-minded businesses competing for the attention of consumers, primarily because the open rates on a text from businesses to consumers are incredibly high (98%) compared to other forms of communication (email is around 20%,... Read more
“How many frames do I need?” “How many frames should I carry?” “How much stock should I have in inventory?” It doesn’t matter how you phrase it, at least 1/3 of my consultations start the same way. I’m going to make this all very, very easy for... Read more
If you are in a competitive area, you’ve already learned that marketing is a necessity to attract brand new patients to your practice. It’s easy to confuse marketing tactics – sending email, creating Facebook posts and advertising in a community magazine, for instance –... Read more
A consumer-centric culture with a focus on customer service is becoming increasingly important for brick & mortar businesses. While I do believe most practice owners strive to deliver on great service, it requires a team effort. I often hear owners tell me they want to be known in their... Read more
Most businesses have polices that employees are required to follow. In general, office policies are a good idea. Policies provide structure for how to conduct business and create consistency around processes and operations. But in a service-based industry, well intended but rigidly executed... Read more
With all the talk of private equity roll-ups and regional alliances, many practice owners are concerned that if they aren’t a large, multi-office, multi-doctor practice, they don’t have a future in independent optometry.
Is that... Read more
One of the interesting mysteries that I get to unravel in many practices is the mystery of tight cash flow. Sometimes it’s obvious – a small practice with low profitability, for instance. But other times it’s not.
First off, what is tight cash flow? Here’s my simple definition:... Read more
Doctor: Would you like to order your contacts today, Mrs. Smith?
Mrs. Smith: That’s OK. I’ll just take the prescription and get them online.
What happened here? You just did a thorough, high-tech eye exam... Read more
For practices looking to grow, there are basically two paths: see more patients or generate more revenue per patient. Ideally, a practice will do both. One thing I consistently hear from ODs is that it’s hard to generate high revenue from contact lens patients. Even when selling annual... Read more
Can you find 20 or 30 minutes a week to hold a staff meeting? You might be surprised at the impact that it has on your optometry practice.
Your staff is your most valuable business asset. Your investment in optometry marketing, technology, office design, etc. will fail to deliver an... Read more
The very phrase can cause irritation, anxiety and bewilderment in the minds of owners who understand that they should somehow be participating in the conversations across the various social media platforms – but which ones are the best for optometry practice... Read more
While there is more than one way to achieve success, there are a few common traits that successful independent optometry practice owners have in common.
They refuse to accept the status quo. While others remain stagnant, ignore trends, and complain about the... Read more