Sometimes when we need help, we turn to those around us, even if they aren’t any more qualified than us to answer a question. These people may be colleagues, ‘consultants’ with no real qualifications to consult, or whoever will listen. One wonders, are these help-seekers creating more problems for themselves when they do this? Or should they simply go find a professional in the first place? While those around us might have no problem trying to help, that doesn’t make them any better than our own desperate efforts. Furthermore, it seems common for people to ask of us things they expect for free, when really, they should be paying a professional. Given the time demands on today’s business executives, asking for these simple requests can really pile up. One ‘lab guy’ shares his experiences on this subject in a humble rant only he could write.
– Bill Heffner
I’d like to share a little business consulting… or rather, some shared experiences. I’m not qualified to be a business consultant. In fact, my degree from the University of California at Berkeley qualifies me for just about nothing. Really.
I currently have a lot of hard work in front of me. More than I think I have ever had in 26 years of doing this thing I do. Yet, I often ponder how much of this workload is imagined, invented, and placed upon me by idiots? I’m not talking about my staff – they are trained and know their jobs. Usually when they are perceived as deficient, it’s someone else trying to get them to do something they aren’t trained to do. How often does someone ask you to do something you aren’t qualified to do? Things like answering a simple question on something you know nothing about? How often do you contact them in the middle of the day, needing help ‘right now’, as if they don’t need some help themselves?
It reminds me of this guy I know. An extremely talented lab management software (LMS) programmer. He owned a massive lab in another country before throwing in the towel and taking on a programming support position for this LMS company. When I asked him why he left the lab side, there was no hesitation in the answer: “I got tired of babysitting adults.”
As I head to work at 6am to put a dent in a paper pile on my desk and consider finding a (very very part time) personal assistant to help me push paper, I’m questioning myself. Do I really need help? Am I really so unqualified? LOTS of the paper I push and calls I make all day is babysitting adults who can’t push their own paper. They “NEED” me to do it for them. If you haven’t caught on yet, the paper on my desk is seldom my own. Is that because I’m so talented and sought after? Or is it because others are disillusioned, unqualified, or just plain lazy? Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about delegating. Delegating tasks involves giving tasks to those who are qualified to do them, so you have more time to do what you are uniquely qualified to do.
Truth be told, if people only knew how inept I am at some forms of paper pushing, they would be horrified that they asked me to do it. Yes, I can edge and mount your -24.00 lens into a frame better than anyone, but you want WHAT?! I think it was in a B-movie starring Steven Segal, I forget the name; the villain says, “Assumption is the mother of all F-ups.” (That’s the censored cable version). It was a movie about terrorists taking over a train that was wrecked. No wonder I just thought of it writing this.
What on Earth did I ever do to make some of my oldest customers assume I have certain talents? Or my newest customers, for that matter, who don’t really know me? Why is it you think it’s my job to do certain things that you as a small business owner are obligated or responsible to do yourself? Do you not have time? Have you come to the conclusion that I somehow do because…. I want your business?!!! Ok fair enough, but wanting your business and being qualified to screw it up with my lack of skills are 2 very different things.
I can see why people gravitate to a lab owner who has dispensed for decades, managed large practices, manufactured frames, grew up around optometry, and knows a lot of people for advice. It must beat the heck out of gravitating to a corporate lens rep whose last job was at Best Buy selling dishwashers. Unlike them, I’ve had to make payroll for 17 years. What I have in common with a lot of business owners is that, despite that CV, most of which I didn’t include, I usually am not the right person to help you for nothing.
Incidentally the percentage of your lab bill that goes into my lab-owning pocket is literally peanuts. 6% is a good month. Also keep in mind that 6% I get is to run my business, not yours. Giving you consulting advice in addition to lab work makes my 6% go to somewhere around 1%… Really. How valuable is the advice and knowledge I am willing to part with is at 1% of your $15,000 lab bill?
I think perhaps the only thing worse than taking the advice of a frame rep whose last job was at Starbucks, is possibly hiring me for nothing but lab work as an incentive, on which my margin is less than a restaurant makes. For real. Let’s look at some examples.
One thing I am often asked is to run a lowest-cost scenario across 5 labs in your buying group, and then building a price list to offer you to match it. And yes, doing that is exactly as much fun as you imagine it to be. Not only am I terrible at plugging 9 million numbers into a spreadsheet, anyone who knows anything about this business is that you don’t just “make on the buy.” In fact, the lower you pay for your lenses, the more you are likely losing in profits. Chew on that one a minute. Any “consultant” who tells you differently is a hack. I can prove it any day of the week. Cheaper lenses for the sake of being cheaper aren’t as good, and come from labs that aren’t as good. The more kickbacks, gimmicks, and other fancy programs you participate in, the more of a gimmick your dispensing caliber will be. Note: most lenses sold today from companies offering gimmicks and discounts are the most expensive. They have to be able to pay for the free redos, gimmicks, discounts, and ‘kickback points’.
Ever heard of an accountant? Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to do it. Just remember when you get a messed-up price on some lens, I don’t have a CPA after my name. In fact, math isn’t a strong suit. Huge companies have people solely dedicated to making thousands of different customized price lists for you. They can drill down and give you exactly the price you want on specific items. Then they make sure that prices on slightly less common items, which they know you’ll still use, are high enough to ‘offset the cost’ and ‘maintain margin’ or whatever other corporate-speak they use for it. The end result being you don’t get a deal, you just feel like you did. When you ask for lower prices, this is exactly what is happening.
Speaking of deals: how about that 50% second pair deal you are so intent on getting matched? Word to the wise: 50% second pairs are a smokescreen. If you don’t know why, you’ve probably never done a cost-benefit analysis. Finding the lowest price of something also requires finding the highest external cost in 90% of lab cases.
Do you know what an external cost is? Sorry. That was one thing I did pick up when I went to the University of California at Berkeley. It’s not even on Google, at least, not correctly explained or in an applicable fashion. That’s where the money making magic is (real knowledge), and if you want that it costs real money, just like an education in finance.
For the vast majority of offices, the free redo, is also a complete waste. Just let your imagination wander to figure that one out. Do you need to pay for it on every pair, using it only rarely, or because you can’t refract? Or maybe you hire loser McOpticians and have no value for training them? If so, then maybe the free redo is right for you. That’s not me being a jerk about it, but something worth thinking about with your business hat on. If you have someone that’s causing you to have redos due to bad fits, refractions, frame styles, or whatever – it doesn’t matter that they are free. Where else is this person costing you money? Secondary sales? Referrals? Loss of patient loyalty? If you want your business to be better, this is how you figure it out. If you’re good at refracting, and you have a competent staff, then why do you need to pay more for ‘free redos’ if you barely ever need them? Answer: Because that’s what everyone else does.
Have you ever considered negotiating for the “no free redo” price, instead of a “lower than the other guy” price to save yourself a buck? Someone needs to say it; for some of you, the other guy is getting a really bad price to begin with. Hint: If they belong to a buying group, they likely qualify. If someone pays money to belong to a buying group, 100% chance they are paying too much for lab work.
I just gave you an example of an unintended loss. Unintended loss, in business, are monies you weren’t supposed to lose. Maybe you didn’t train your McOptician the right way, or they just don’t get it. Or maybe you aren’t the greatest order taker (or order maker) yourself. Stuff happens, and the one running the business want to make it better. Figuring out where the bad parts are is how we know where the hard work needs to be done.
Instead of focusing on the pennies difference between two lens prices, wouldn’t it be easier to do a cost benefit on your redo rate, cost of goods, second pair sales, and “50% off of what” (discount and list price). I probably can’t do that for you very well with the time I have, nor would you want me to. This is about your business, not mine, which is why I recommend you to help yourself. Also, do you really want to give me all those deals, prices, costs, and everything else? Remember, I’m a lab guy, not an accountant. Do you see where this is going yet?
Will It Work?
It’s the question every poorly run, poorly trained office asks about a spectacle Rx they don’t understand. Short answer: ‘No’. It’s far too common that I get asked to do insane lens calculations, even though it happens to be my job. An insane prescription in the wrong frame for the Rx, usually because the patient wants it, or because you stand to make a few hundred off the sale. “Will this pair work?” Sure, I’m qualified after 9 million frame selects to dispense. However, I’m not doing your frame selection, you are. Or maybe an under-trained “optician” is.
Is this arrogant assumption on my part? 95% of trays on my desk, are on my desk for that very reason. I’m here for you when you picked the wrong frame for the wrong job. I tell you (assuming it’s even possible) what it’s going to look like when it’s done. That your patient may not be happy because it’s a brick. Then, when it comes out looking wrong, I get blamed. Just an added bonus I get to perpetuate your own denial. I’ve learned from experience to just be brutally honest with dispensers now, and some don’t appreciate it. They would rather have a month-long, drawn out drama with their patient, rather than hearing “Hell no, are you crazy?” from me on day one. It’s much easier to call me unprofessional, after all.
Yes, as your patient is sitting in the dispensary I can make suggestions over the phone. I can give you a checklist. I can walk you through what I might do, given I am not looking at this patient’s face or chart. I can also be completely wrong since I’m not in the room. These choices ultimately come down to managing the patient’s expectations, and being able to tell them ‘no’. If you can’t tell them their prescription won’t work in a frame, maybe it’s time for remedial training. Am I qualified? You betcha. Is it worth my hours and days needed to train a staff for lab work as a reward? Not a chance.
Other Than Optical Advice
You have an employee who is suing you for unpaid overtime. You call me for advice (as if I’m some employment lawyer?). I ask you: “Did you ask for or allow overtime? Did you pay 1.5 time? No?” In the State of California, you need to just pay the bill. You messed up. Get over it.
Yes, you need to know basic employment law if you are an employer. It’s different in every state. Incidentally- why are you calling me for advice? I could be wrong. You may not need to pay the bill. Is the OT documented? Are there 19 other eventualities I’m not considering when answering your question? No. Likely 59 eventualities. Let’s start with you maybe asking me the wrong question and, I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know the right ones to ask you in return. That goes for the BFF colleague you were going to ask, too.
Have I dealt with employee issues? After 17 years, what do you think? Am I qualified to handle your particular issue? Get a grip. Although I get asked for employment regulation advice on a monthly basis in California and, even more of a shock, from people in other states where the rules I work by don’t apply, I have no training. Experience? Yes, TONS of it. Training in HR? Are you frigging kidding me?
How’s this for legal advice? I’m not a lawyer, and not licensed to practice law… anywhere. Why did it occur to you to call me? I’m wondering if I’m qualified to write any of this! How can you fix this ongoing problem? Incidentally, it’s a radical problem. It’s so freaky, I have yet to find a name for it other than ‘gross incompetence’, but I’m trying to be nice.
Consider the following radical problem:
You are selling a medical device or service to someone you don’t understand, where their health could be at risk. You are charging them a large percentage of their monthly salary. You are representing yourself as knowledgeable, professional, and LIABLE. This is behavior of an extremely risk-loving person. Maybe it’s not your fault. Optometry school doesn’t teach you to run a business, it teaches you to be an Optometrist. However, you decided to run a business, so now you need to figure out how to do that the right way.
Consider this radical solution:
Seek out qualified professionals to learn from. Check them and their advice against other qualified professionals, not your friends, and not people you “think you may know might know.” Pay them.
Big hint: If they are helping you for free or peanuts, you aren’t paying a professional. Shouldn’t your business be built on a professional skill-level, and not just people pretending to be one?
– Scott Balastreri