Over the last few years, our consulting company has helped an array of doctors start their own practices. Many are transitioning from corporate to private practice, while others are working for ODs and are now ready to venture out on their own. Looking back on these practices and seeing what they did to become successful made me realize they all had four things in common:

1. Build a Strong Brand
They know who they are and what they want. More specifically, they have a strong brand, mission and values. These practices unequivocally stand for something. They are known in their communities for doing one particular thing better than other practices. That one thing may be clinical (specialty contact lenses, dry eye treatment or pediatrics) or experiential (exemplary, memorable service; unique optical selection; strong involvement in the community). Notably, they are willing to  perform this métier to the exclusion of others. For example, specialty lens practices de-emphasize eyeglass offerings to increase referrals from other practitioners, and pediatric practices don’t see adults. Unique optical providers offer frames not readily found elsewhere, making the buying experience distinctive.

2. Become a Great Leader
These doctors are great leaders. Many are naturals, but most aren’t. Rather, most became great leaders by staying hyper-focused on their brands to ensure every employee is keyed in to the specific nature of the practice. So, instead of just holding a staff meeting and saying, “We are going to change the way we book appointments from Y to Z,” they use this as a brand teaching moment: “Because our brand is about X, and because every decision and fiber of this practice involves some component of X, we are changing the way we book appointments from Y to Z.” When staff members overhear these leaders talking to patients, sales reps, family or friends, the brand messaging is infused in every conversation. They set an example of what it means to live the brand. From that, their staff sees an unwavering commitment to the practice brand and values, which results in a staff that wants to be a part of something meaningful.

3. Welcome Change
Change is welcomed, encouraged and happens quickly. Staff members are constantly challenged to offer suggestions on how to improve the brand. Even though most of these practices open their doors with only one staff member, that person isn’t simply a robot tasked with answering the phones and verifying insurance claims. Rather, they are a source of new ideas—which are always solicited and genuinely welcomed. If that person rarely has new ideas, they are quickly replaced. While training new staff is never an easy task, it’s usually easier for new practices because of the extra time available. Smart owners use this downtime to train staff on technical aspects of their own culture and brands.

4. Avoid Bureaucracy
As these practices grow, they do so with the mindful intent of avoiding an impenetrable bureaucracy. The owner creates a culture in which they are always an approachable, brand-savvy CEO without adding barriers and layers of documents and policies that would stunt growth. There are fewer departments and managers in these practices than others, and their teams work better together without the stifling corporate structure.

These four characteristics mark successful transitions into private practice. Reviewing them can shed light for other ODs wishing to branch out into their own practice. Get focused, employ a team invested in your brand and remain approachable—then watch your practice thrive.