Reflections on Retirement in 2021

It is hard to believe that I launched my business, Pauline Blachford Consulting (PBC), over eight years ago in February 2013.

My goal then, and throughout this entrepreneurial journey, was to show optometrists how a patient recalling plan and employee engagement strategy create a win-win-win for patients, clinic owners and staff. I set out to mentor optometrists as successful business owners, and to coach their teams on the importance of genuinely connecting with their patients. My passion for educating patients on the necessity of eye care and health spun into a thriving business that provided consistent revenue for independent optometry practices, and for my own consulting practice.

As I prepare to retire PBC, I know that the lessons and strategies I taught will continue to benefit patients, employees and optometrists through the work of the practices I had the privilege of working with.

My own experiences working at an optometry clinic led me to create a model for connecting with patients on a personal level. This philosophy, coupled with education and setting up future appointments, allowed optometry businesses to flourish and grow. At practices across the country, my training program educated a dedicated staff member to update patient data and appointments, saving time and money for the business owner. A call-back system was implemented and, in many cases, it was so successful that the optometrists I worked with needed to expand their practice and hire more doctors.

When I started PBC, I didn’t know that the pursuit of this goal would take me across Canada. I have had the chance to empower staff at optometry clinics in several provinces, and offered my intellectual property as a guest lecturer to the next generation of optometry doctors at the University of Waterloo. I also had the opportunity to share my strategies and insights with audiences at major optometry conferences, and with readers of the Canadian Journal of Optometry and Invision Magazine. 

As I reflect on my achievements as a consultant, I know that I was able to have a positive impact. Optometrists who have used my recalling system to expand their practice and open new locations are still in touch to relay their growth. Recallers I’ve coached and trained have also kept in touch – even after they have changed jobs – to share how they continued to carry forward the lessons they learned and the confidence they gained from the experience.

These are the stories that kept me motivated and excited as I built my own business, and I will cherish these memories as I now retire from PBC.

As I reflect upon the work I’ve completed and the advice I’ve imparted, I think about the value of recalling patients. It is a never-ending system, as new patients need care, and existing patients need to be aware of their annual eye health exams. Meanwhile, practices need to have sustainable, predictable revenue. All of this is supported by an affordable recalling system.

What I Know for Sure

There are several strategies for growing and supporting optometry practices that I know to be highly successful, which are supported by research on employee and customer engagement:

  1. A successful team starts with effective hiring methods and planning, attracting employees who demonstrate the same core values as their employers and who will embrace the culture of the clinic.
  2. Regular communication and frequent reviews are vital to maintaining a highly effective team.
  3. Fair compensation and random acts of kindness towards employees are key to ensuring your team knows they are appreciated and valued.
  4. Knowing and supporting employees’ goals through communication and training is rewarding and beneficial for everyone within the clinic family. It is also an opportunity to add new skills and ideas to your clinic.
  5. A strong and happy team are the reasons patients keep coming back. Excellent patient service leads patients to refer their friends and colleagues to the clinic.
  6. Maintaining a clinic with the appropriate number of team members is a wise practice to adopt. This helps your team effectively care for your patients, as well as attract new ones.

Being employed for more than 25 years in optometry – including eight years as a coach – has given me insight into the greatest challenges faced by practice owners and their teams. It still amazes me how quickly I am able to recognize the difference between a thriving clinic and a toxic one.

The most common obstacles to success are:

  • Hiring the wrong people – which can be addressed by outsourcing the hiring process to a recruiting and hiring expert.
  • Not offering appropriate and regular training – which can be fixed with in-house learning and opportunities to attend conferences.
  • Failing to invest in team building – something that should be prioritized and assigned to a team member to manage.

When the actions listed above are considered and implemented, common obstacles are avoided, and every participant in your clinic thrives. Patients receive better care; employees grow and stay engaged; and the practice thrives financially.

Knowing that PBC has helped many individuals advance their professional goals, which has in turn impacted countless other colleagues and patients, has allowed me to realize my goals. My decision to retire will now allow me to spend more quality time with my family and friends. It will also give me the opportunity to continue mentoring and assisting those who need me.

Below are the four most important resources I would recommend to practice owners and their teams. While these resources are timeless, they are particularly valuable for those looking to rebuild a positive clinic culture, strong employee engagement and recalling protocols after a highly disruptive and unpredictable 18 months.

I will always treasure the time I spent working with and learned from the countless optometrists, employees, coaches and speakers whose paths crossed with mine. I will continue to look forward to hearing about your continued successes in the years to come.

To your success,