What price do you pay for being a practice owner?

01 April 2016, at 1:00am

Paul Green addresses the work-life balance and suggests that rather than spending 80 hours a week ‘on’ the business, practice owners should be looking at ways to streamline their processes for the greater good.

FOR MANY, THE PRICE OF BEING A PRACTICE OWNER IS TOO HIGH. You are driven to deliver a high-quality service. That means a well-run practice that delights most of its clients, most of the time. But the true cost of that is the investment the owner must make – with their time. 

I’ve met hundreds of practice owners and many of them are tired. They have invested 60 to 80 hours a week, every week, into their practice over decades. And it’s slowly wearing them down.

Why do they do it? Because they are passionate about what they do. But also because if they didn’t put in this time, the business could not operate to the high standards they have set.

Within the UK we see this as a badge of honour. “No, I’m far more tired than you are because I only got three hours’ sleep...again,” has become something to boast about.

What a bizarre way to spend your life. You see, delivering a high quality of service and a practice that clients love is absolutely the right thing to do. But only at the right price, because if you wake up one day, and you’re aged 60, and your kids have grown up without you noticing, and your husband/wife has created a life for themselves that isn’t reliant upon you being there at all...surely that’s not the aim of the game?

Whatever religion or belief system you subscribe to, surely there’s more to life than building a business and collecting a sizeable bag of golden coins? He or she who dies with the most points... still dies.

One of the worst crimes you can commit is to be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. And that’s why you need to fully systemise your practice. In fact, you need to make yourself redundant; to make the practice thrive regardless of whether you are there or not.

The true test of this is whether you could go on a three- month holiday, without any contact with the practice. What would happen?

Some would do just fine. Some would fall over. For most practice owners the business would tick along, but problems would pile up. And there’d be a nice pile of headaches waiting for you on your return.

Well that’s not really a business. That’s a well-paid job. And it’s a job that’s going to suck the best years out of your life. You are not there for the business. It’s supposed to be there for you. Too many practice owners set up on their own in order to seek freedom and control...and then lock themselves within the prison they have created.

A truly successful practice will give you three things: 

  • Enough money to consistently have the lifestyle you desire.
  • Enough time to do the things you really want to do (cut the connection between hours worked and money earned).
  • Freedom to focus on your family. The goal then should be to eliminate the thing that gives you stress; that creates 80-hour weeks and extreme tiredness. 

That thing is noise. Clutter. Pointless revisiting of the same problems time and time again. “Boss, can you just...” “Boss, this doesn’t work...” “Boss, have you got five minutes...”

It feels rewarding to jump in and be the superhero. To fight the fires and fix the problems. But every time you become the superhero, you inadvertently feed the noise monster. Instead, your goal should be to set up the practice so it can prevent or fix 99% of its own problems.

And that means you personally only focusing on two things: 

  1. Clinical work that you choose to do.
  2. Leading the business to its future.

To achieve this, you systemise the practice. You have to imagine you were going to operate 50 locations across the UK.

You can’t be in each one every day. So you build an operations manual; a set of rules that your staff follow. A set of principles and procedures, according to which something is done.

This is how franchises operate. It’s how they achieve consistent standards. Far from constraining your staff, this gives them freedom because they no longer have to second-guess what you want (your staff are never as clear as you think they are about what you would like). You are giving them a rule book they can operate within. For most, that’s quite exciting.

There are five steps to make this happen. 

  • Step 1: Identify which areas need a system. A good way to do this is to inventory what works well. 
  • Step 2: Prioritise the top three. Focus on some of the biggest wins. You might look at a system for generating prospects or following them up. Maybe for new client intake or reminders. Perhaps collecting social proof such as testimonials. Or managing projects. Or even a system for creating systems.
  • Step 3: Break the process down and document it.
  • Step 4: Have a trial run. Set up measurements and reporting that tell you when the systems have fallen over. 
  • Step 5: Re-visit. And then tackle smaller systems.

Get this right and your business will be dramatically more efficient, in a way which doesn’t rely so much on you. That delights clients and hits your high standards without you personally having to pay the price.