Top Questions to Ask Before You Hire an Optometry Practice Consultant

By Kate Gettinger, OD November 27, 2020

In the world of optometry practice, a lot of times it can feel like sink or swim. The market is driving optometrists to find new, innovative ways to practice as well as finding out how to make the business run as smoothly as possible. One of the best ways to ensure your practice is running seamlessly, as well as find ways to elevate your business to the next level, is to hire a practice consultant. But how do you know which consultant to chose? What makes for a valuable alliance, and how do you know if a consultant is really all they claim to be?

A good place to start is by having some general questions in mind to ask prospective consultants. In order to form these questions, you need to know why you are seeking a consultant’s expertise in the first place. Are you looking for some short-term advice to springboard into a new business phase? Perhaps you are wanting to establish a long-term relationship and have some specific goals in mind that you don’t have the resources to accomplish on your own. More often than not, you may just need a pair of objective, outside eyes to look at your business and give you an honest report. What you need out of your consultant will help you determine who will be most apt to fill the role. Once you’ve got an idea of what you need, then you can start focusing on the who.

When you’ve found a prospective consultant that looks like they may fit your bill, it’s time for you to probe a bit deeper to make sure the consultant is truly a match before you make the hire. It’s better to ask questions upfront at the risk of being a little uncomfortable, rather than face the regret of finding out the answers later down the line when you may not like the answers and already be on the hook for a hefty consulting fee.

We recommend asking the following questions to any prospective consultants in order for you to get a feel for what a professional relationship with them may be like and whether they can deliver what you need.

1. What Results Can I Expect From Your Services? How Will You Help Me Grow My Business?

 This may seem like a no-brainer, but some ODs get a little squeamish when having to ask such a blunt question. However, you hopefully wouldn’t invest in a business venture without knowing your return on investment, just like you wouldn’t buy a new piece of equipment for your office without doing the research to find out how much revenue it will bring in return. Hiring a consultant should be no different. You should be comfortable asking what you are going to get from your consultant in return for their fees.

 Keep in mind, if you have a relatively small, direct project in mind, your consultant may be able to give you a much more robust answer than if you have a more sprawling, extensive plan. Either way, a consultant should be able to explain the impact of his or her work and what you can expect.

2. How Long Have You Been a Consultant?

 Almost anyone with a social media account and an opinion can call themselves a consultant these days. There are no formal accreditations or universal certifications, so often one of the easiest ways to get a read on how serious your consultant is is to ask how long they have been in business. Is this just a side hobby or are they truly serious about what they do? Have they been around long enough to get some experience under their belt and get some real results?

 If someone is brand new, they may be able to approach your practice with fresh eyes and a unique vigor, but their strategies and tactics may also have no basis and have not been proven to work. It can pay to do your research and ask your consultant for a portfolio of past work or how many clients they are currently managing. This can give a good indication of how serious they are and whether they have proven effectiveness.

3. What Does Your Process Look Like?

Consulting shouldn’t be wrapped in a shroud of hype and buzzwords. If the consultant is worth their snuff, they should be able to effectively communicate to you their process. Having a documented process is the cornerstone of successful consulting, and if the consultant isn’t able or willing to explain that process in terminology that is clear to you, it might be a red flag.

While the consultant may not go into extreme detail, it can be helpful to at least know the overarching plan. This helps you not only determine whether the consultant’s methodology appeals to you and fits your goals, but also gives you a general idea of what to expect once the contract begins.

4. How Do You Bill?

 When it comes to consulting, there are typically four main billing structures:

●     Hourly

●     Project-based

●     Retainer-based

●     Contingency-based

Depending on what you are looking for, there are pros and cons to each type of billing, so it’s helpful to understand the differences.

Project-based billing can be ideal if you simply have a specific goal in mind, especially if you anticipate it taking a long time to complete. For drawn-out projects, project-based billing can help save you money in the long run compared to the other billing schemes, and it makes sure that you get exactly the results you desire.

Hourly billing is more straightforward and often easier for you to directly translate into a quid pro quo relationship. You are able to see exactly what you are getting for each hour you pay. However, if you have a larger project or plan to continually use the consultant over a period of time, hourly billing can add up quickly and it may be better to choose to keep the consultant on retainer or pay by project. Hourly billing also comes with a certain amount of anxiety, especially if you see price tags flash before your eyes every time your consultant emails you or calls you.

If you think you’re going to be frequently contacting your consultant and you don’t want the stress of determining hourly pay for every interaction, retainer-based payment can be a good solution. If you want your consultant to have a very close working relationship with you and your practice, retainer-based payment can make sure you are getting the regular attention you desire. However, things can get a bit sticky if you reach a point where you don’t need the consultant anymore. Some consultants who have come to depend upon your annual retainer payments might be reluctant to say goodbye. Also, if you don’t end up using the consultant as often as you projected, you may be paying a lot for a service you aren’t utilizing if you are on retainer-based payment.

Contingency-based billing is the best way to ensure you’re going to get the promised results. You won’t pay unless the consultant actually delivers and you’re satisfied, making it a less risky investment. In return for that assurance, however, contingency-based billing is often more expensive than the other billing structures.

5. Who are Your Typical Clients? Have You Worked with Other Optometry Practices Before?

Most of the time, if you’re considering bringing in a consultant for your practice you have likely found them through their work consulting for other practices. However, some consultants branch out and cover a number of fields. Having experience consulting for medical practices is a must, but experience consulting specifically for optometry practices is ideal. A consultant that is generally familiar with the day-to-day functioning of optometry practice and has experience in the field is well-equipped to hit the ground running when they start with you.

6. Will I Be Working Directly with You?

You don’t want to hire someone who wowed you during the interview to consult for your practice only to find yourself sloughed off to one of their teammates or employees once the contract is engaged. Make sure the person you are interviewing is actually the person you will be working with directly unless you are willing to be delegated to other members of the company.

You also don’t want to have to fight your way through a gatekeeper every time you want to contact your consultant, so make sure you either have his or her direct contact information or an efficient way to get in touch so you aren’t left playing phone-tag for days on end or wondering if your email got redirected to the spam bin.

 By keeping these questions in mind and having a relatively clear idea of what you hope to achieve by hiring a consultant for your optometry practice, you can be more prepared to find a consultant that will go to work for you and achieve results. 

Kate Gettinger, OD

Dr. Kate Gettinger grew up in upstate Illinois and obtained her Bachelor’s in Biology from Truman State University. She worked throughout her undergraduate career at an optometrist’s office and fell in love with the profession. She received her Doctorate in Optometry from University of Missouri-St. Louis Optometry School and received honors for specialization in low vision, including the William Feinbloom Low Vision Award. Dr. Gettinger enjoys treating and managing dry eye, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetes. Her professional interests include ways to improve healthcare access to at-risk communities and improving public health. Dr. Gettinger routinely contributes to optometry publications and writes both educational and advocacy articles. Currently residing in St. Louis, Dr. Gettinger enjoys spending time outdoors with her dog, trying new foods and dining out at local restaurants, playing trivia, brushing up on her French language skills, and exploring new challenges.

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