Learn to Think Like an Entrepreneur.
Business ownership isn’t for everybody. It takes a very particular mindset, and a significantly different approach to daily business to really succeed as an owner. Entrepreneurs simply are not like everybody else. But what can you do if you find yourself in the position of ownership – like a practice owner – and you’re not sure you’re prepared for it? It’s a common predicament for many optometrists who are new to the field – and even some who’ve been practicing a long time. Optometry School is not the same as Business Management School, and many ODs find themselves surprised by the demands of business ownership. Fortunately, many of the skills that entrepreneurs bring to bear on their ventures can in fact be learned, and some of the habits they use to build success can be acquired with practice.
Entrepreneurs are generally driven people who create value, generate innovation, and capitalize on opportunities as they arise. They often think differently about their businesses, prioritizing growth and opportunity over security, and they reap the rewards of their efforts at a very different level than people who work for someone else. They understand the meaning of “ownership.”
Own the Outcome.
“Developing an owner mentality” is an extremely hot topic in current management theory. Everybody’s trying to figure out how to motivate employees to “buy in,” to “engage,” to develop this “owner mentality.” What they mean is making employees care about the business they work for and take accountability for their actions and job performance. This type of business culture, where employees treat the business as if it means more than “just a job,” generally begins at the top – with the actual owner.
Your attitude as the owner will set the tone for your team. It’s just true that nobody will care about your business more than you do. After all, nobody else stands to gain as much – or lose as much – as you do. The risks are significantly lower for employees; their paychecks are their rewards, and they’re guaranteed, providing they show up and do their jobs. If the profit margins are dropping, or the tax bill is due next week, your employees aren’t going to be losing sleep or worrying that their long-term security may be threatened. That’s your job. Likewise, if the value of the enterprise skyrockets and profits are soaring, employees will not be getting the same rewards you are. Those payouts are reserved for the people who assume the risks, the business owner(s).
As the leader of your team, it’s up to you to set the example for your team about how much you value your business, how important it is to you. You are accountable for whether it succeeds wildly, just “does okay,” or fails altogether. That’s what buy-in is; it’s owning the outcome, and it’s contagious. Granted, your dedication doesn’t guarantee a perfect response from your team. But if you don’t care much about it, you can pretty much bet nobody else will care at all.
Change the Way You Think.
Entrepreneurs are open-minded, radical thinkers. They love questions like: “What can we do better? How can we solve this problem? Why do we do it this way? Should we try something different?” I’ve always been a big fan of the principle that “because we’ve always done it like that” is not a valid reason for anything.
Sometimes it’s really hard to see novel solutions when you’re too close to the problem. Get in the habit of stepping back a little and learning to think about challenges from different perspectives. For instance, when was the last time you walked into your waiting room and looked at it as if you were a patient, walking in for the first time?
I have a friend who likes to think about obstacles like each one is a Rubik’s Cube, turning it over this way and that, and considering all the different possible outcomes. He will come back to something again and again, mentally trying out different options, asking “why/what/how/why not?” until he decides which one is best.
It’s important to think creatively and from different angles when you’re addressing problems as well as when you’re considering new projects or ideas. Don’t be shy about thinking radically. Radical ideas are just ideas. You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) implement all of them, but don’t be afraid to consider them; occasionally they’re just innovative enough to be brilliant.
Dig Into Details.
If you own a business, rather than a job, then you own all the details of that business. Everything about it is your business, and you need to know the particulars – intimately.
According to Forbes, one of the basic characteristics of a great small business owner is the ability to make decisions. The owner is the one who has to choose whether we go this way or that way, whether we change our processes, or hold the course, hire this candidate or that one, whether we open on Saturday afternoons, and so on. To make good decisions that yield profitable results, you need information; solid, reliable, accurate information about what’s going on in your business. You can’t really project outcomes with any accuracy unless you have a grasp of your current situation, and surprises can be deadly. Nothing is more frustrating – and potentially damaging – than having one of your programs derailed by an unexpected obstacle, especially if you could have seen it beforehand.
Successful entrepreneurs are generally regularly immersed in the details of their business activities. They actually read reports, analyze performance, pay attention to conversations happening around them, and listen to their customers carefully. Can you succeed without doing these things? Maybe. But that sort of success might fall into the category of “luck,” rather than achievement. In our recent eyeTHRIVE series, “Building Your Business for Profit,” Dr. Ron Meeker noted “if you don’t monitor your business, you are limiting your success.” I couldn’t agree more.
Failure is inevitable. Not everything you try will work, but every failure is an opportunity to learn and adapt. Failures do not define the value of your business, but they can definitely amplify it. Most entrepreneurs will tell you that success generally comes as a result of failure. Maybe they tried 5 ways to solve a problem, reach a goal, or overcome an obstacle before finding the one way that worked perfectly. Each failure then is not an end in and of itself, it’s a way to gather information about what does not work and refine your approach for another try.
One of our core philosophies here at GPN is encouraging our team to take “smart risks.” We want them to be confident enough to take the initiative when it makes sense and try creative solutions. If those solutions fail, we celebrate with them, and we say “thank you,” because we are grateful that they care enough about our business to try to solve problems.
While I don’t recommend pursuing failure – I really don’t – I do recommend seeing it clearly when it arrives. Remember that every failure teaches you one way that doesn’t work. Take the opportunity that is presented and triage the effort. Find out what worked and what didn’t. Make another plan, using that information, and try again.
Grow, Learn, Adapt
One of the most important things that true entrepreneurs do is that they are constantly learning. If they need a skill they don’t yet have, they’ll learn it. If they need to understand a concept that isn’t familiar, they’ll find a resource and study up on it.
Business is a challenging, especially modern business. Things tend to change quickly now, and faster as we go on. Technology continues to evolve. Patient demands are shifting. Culture, climate, economy and dozens of other variables come into play every day. Success requires adaptation to the landscape of business as it fluctuates.
And yet – even though these things tend to evolve, and can be unpredictable, we have more resources available to us than ever. We don’t have to be afraid of things we don’t know, because there are more ways to learn now than have ever existed. Professional resources, peer groups, learning platforms, internet resources, customer development teams, and a lot of other resources are excellent, readily available tools that you can leverage to improve your skills and broaden your knowledge base. You can develop the mindset of learning and adaptation that characterizes entrepreneurial thinking and use it to build both yourself and your business.
If you own a business, you already know it’s not a cakewalk. It’s one of the most challenging – and potentially rewarding – things you can do as a professional. Don’t let it “just happen.” Take control of your business and cultivate the entrepreneurial mindset. You can acquire many of these habits and skills by practicing them actively. Owning a business is far more than just “having a job,” and the potential rewards are far greater.