One of the questions eye care practitioners routinely ask us is, “When is the right time to bring a partner into a practice?” Most doctors are looking for a hard and fast rule or metric that sets a series of toggle switches and events into motion ending in a blissfully happy practice partnership. If only it were that easy!
There are published metrics that show that most partnerships get triggered at a level of about $800,000 of gross collected revenues. But, keep in mind that is when they actually happen, and not necessarily when they should happen. If you’re a solo practitioner and happily working away at a $1.1 million practice, then you certainly made a good decision to not get a partner $300,000 ago.
As a consultant, I see both sides of partnerships—the setting up and dissolving. With that as a backdrop, here are my recommendations of what to consider when the partnership bug bites you.
Reasons for Considering Partnership
The most important factor to consider is quality of life! Once you have this as the foundation, other decisions, such as when to start a partnership, how to go about it and who to bring in, fall into place much easier.
If you’re tired, bored or frustrated with practice, don’t enjoy practicing like you used to, want more time off and have maxed out on practice building energy and ideas, it’s probably time to consider bringing in someone else, regardless of the size or volume of your practice. If you are losing interest in practicing but aren’t ready to change careers, a partner is usually a great addition to the practice. Even if you absolutely love practicing eye care and whistle on the way to your office every morning, but are overwhelmed with the number of patients you need to see, are booked out very far in advance or your fees are at their maximum, which is rare, then you should consider bringing in a partner.
If You’re Just Starting Out
The above scenario pertains to established practices. For new practitioners, quality of life should also be the overriding decision maker in going it alone or going with a partner. New doctors should avoid seeking out a partner as a means of lessening the financial burden or to balance out the risk of opening a practice. While it may look good on paper, the reality is that so few practices fail. Getting involved in a partnership for purely financial reasons is not good policy. Instead, talk to the banks and lenders. To give away a part of your practice, presumably forever, for a one time up front investment, is a great deal for the lender and rarely so for the borrower. Banks will give you money without taking a piece of your practice—prospective partners won’t.
Personalities, of course, have to figure into the partnership equation, and when we see partnerships break up, it’s usually because of how the partners differ in their approach to the business side of their practices. Seek out someone who has complementary traits to your own. If you’re quiet and shy, find someone outgoing. If you are analytical, love crunching numbers and sifting through spreadsheets, find someone who is more creative and will take a different approach to your data analysis.
Clinical differences are bound to occur no matter who your partner is, but it’s easier to agree on a follow-up schedule for continuous wear patients than it is on an advertising budget. That said, while it may seem counterintuitive, two partners with differing opinions on how much to spend on advertising usually come up with a better, safer, more fiscally responsible solution than two frugal spenders or two spendthrifts.
Whichever way you’re leaning—don’t take this decision lightly. With careful thought and reflection, partnerships can be a great boon to your practice or something to avoid.