Linda Lam graduated from QUT in 2015 and is now the principal optometrist and owner of Eyesquire Optometrist in Rockdale, NSW.
Linda started off working as a sole optometrist in a small practice but, after feeling stagnant in her role, she moved onto taking over an established practice to further her goals and passions.
Why did you start up a business and how did you go starting it up?
I started a business as I was feeling a bit stagnant in my current position and wanted to learn about what else was out there. At the time I had been at my first job for over a year and it was a small independent practice where I was the sole optometrist. My employer was in a different state and this gave me the opportunity to learn the foundations of how a clinic operates; how to build rapport with patients and grow the clinics database. Whilst working I acquired the skill of fitting ortho-k lenses and, after successfully fitting several patients, I became curious about different areas of optometry. This started my interest in behavioural and neuro-developmental optometry.
I started looking up ads on Optometry Australia for a role that would give me the opportunity to explore this area further. This is when I stumbled across a behavioural optometry clinic for sale which prompted me to send in an expression of interest and has led me to where I am today.
The practice I took over was already well established and did not require much additional preparation, besides learning the foundation of the existing business model. I was fortunate to have my father guide me as he is an optical dispenser, he taught me the basics of dispensing and how to network with optical suppliers. My clinic was also an existing Provision member. As a member I was allocated a business coach who helped me transition from being an employee to an employer; this covered everything from questions about how to hire new employees, optical supplier negotiations and marketing.
Should I take over a business or start brand new?
I think there are both pros and cons to taking over a business and starting brand new.
From my experience taking over an existing business provides you with an existing database of patients. This makes starting out much easier as your books can be easily filled which can help stabilise the business quite quickly. However, the transition to you as the new optometrist can be challenging, as you must build rapport and trust with existing patients. The cons that I’ve experienced is that an existing business will have its own model and structure. Existing staff have been trained in certain ways that can be hard to change. Implementing change that works for you can take some time but the bones of the business have already been set up for you, which can make taking over an existing business easier.
Being able to start a new business and to grow something of your own from the ground up, with your own personal touch and finishes can be extremely rewarding. However, there are a lot of sacrifices and the first few years can be very tough.
Strong marketing and exposure are needed to make sure your clinic stands out from its competitors. You start off with no database and must work hard to build this. Location is also very important. Starting brand new also means learning how to train and hire staff, setting protocols and management in place to run a smooth clinic and networking with optical suppliers, just to name a few.
Whether taking over an existing business or embarking on a new venture, both will require significant amounts of trial and error. This is part of the process and is necessary for discovering what suits you best.
What are some key points I should consider when going from employee to employer?
Going from employee to employer requires a lot of sacrifices and risks. If you work for yourself there are no more sick days or annual leave days. Any day off is a sacrifice to your earnings.
As an employer the responsibility of the business and staff relies solely on you. Understanding financial management is important to sustain the business over time.
How is your work life balance as a business owner?
My work life balance as a business owner is much better now than when I initially started the business. I personally believe work life balance is what you make it out to be. You can have a good balance but you have to sacrifice financially in some situations. At this point in time I pick and choose my hours and when I want to take leave, comfortably knowing how this would affect my business and income.
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered during your journey, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest obstacle I faced was taking over the role of the previous owner optometrist who had been there for 40 years. To this day I still have patients that the previous owner saw when he first opened. I experienced discrimination from my age, to my gender, I was often compared and questioned for my lack of experience and knowledge.
It did not go without a lot of mental and emotional strength as well as having self confidence in my abilities as a clinician. I was confident in my skills, I kept up to date with current literature, and took my time to really listen to my patients. I educated them and with time I built their trust, friendship and loyalty. I learnt that I didn’t need to fill someone else’s shoes, but to dig my own feet in the sand.
What advice would you like to give to all the YOs that are interested in opening their own business?
Don’t be afraid to try if it’s something you’re interested in. Do a lot of research and networking first to help guide you on your way. If you can, work in different clinics to gain more understanding of how clinics are run and managed, to learn what works best for you. Running your own business is a big commitment and something I only encourage if you find that point in your life where you’re looking for something more - keeping in mind it’s for the long run.