1Tell us about your background and how and why you became an audiologist.
My undergrad degree is in music composition and a lot of the education was around electronic music and recording. I left school without really any profession in mind other than a music teacher. I worked in retail music for a while, selling recording studios. For a moment, I thought I was going to take my education to the next level and become a recording engineer but let's just say the business world of music is borderline criminal. It's not a fun environment to be in. Eventually, I realized I can basically be a recording engineer but also help people in a profession that's pretty stable. Audiology seemed like a really good fit. So, I went back to school and became a speech-language pathology assistant in the school system at the same time. And then thankfully, I became an audiologist.
2You worked for a large hearing aid retailer for several years before opening your own practice. What was it like making the leap from provider to practice owner and why did you decide to partner with Consult?
I was treated like an owner for many years at my former job because I had seven employees counting on me to sell 50-plus units a month. But like the frog in the boiling pot of water, I realized that the harder I worked, the more they expected. It didn't matter that I was super-efficient. I was starting to see too many patients and the patient care was suffering. I looked at Consult and what you guys do as like an à la carte version of the practice that I came from. So, it was a very easy transition. I knew that I needed to focus on what I understood and had control over which is seeing the patients and paying the bills. But I had no marketing background. My sister works in marketing and honestly, I vetted Consult’s marketing services to her and she said, ‘You're better off staying with them.’ [Laughs]
3So then stepping into the owner role must have felt natural for you.
Yeah. I mean, I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first business when I was eleven. I reinvested all the earnings from my first summer of mowing lawns into a self-driving lawnmower. I always saw myself becoming a business owner at some point or owning property as a side business, but I never thought I’d own my own audiology practice. I actually gave very serious thought to building a brewery at one point and even got as far as looking for investors and getting quotes on equipment. But thank God I didn’t because almost all the ones that I was studying at the time are out of business now because of the pandemic or hanging on by a thread.
4Although Consult’s design team helped you come up with your logo and branding, the decision to call the practice Your Hearing Connection was all you. Tell us where the idea for the name came from and what it means to you.
It was partly me joking about my exit plan just as I was making my entrance. Like ‘Gee, let's make it as similar to Your Hearing Network as possible, and perhaps they'll just buy the brand from me later.’ [Laughs] But the connection part of the name comes from a Helen Keller quote. Someone asked her if she could have one of her senses back which would it be and she said, something along the lines of ‘I wouldn’t want my vision because vision only connects us to objects, but hearing connects us to people.’ I may have totally taken that quote out of context, but I've thought about that for many years. That's what we do. We connect people.
5Like any new practice, you started out with no name recognition and a small, young database. What’s the overall approach you’ve taken to marketing, both to new and existing patients?
Obviously, it's been about attracting as many paying customers as possible so that our time is used efficiently and because it pays the rent and front office staff. But we’ve also been very much embracing third-party patients because it really doesn't cost much and some end up referring private pay patients down the road or become private pay patients themselves as long as you don't come off as too aggressive in trying to sell them. You’ve got to spend money to get new people in the door, even if they’re just in there kicking tires. Just show them what you do without any expectations and ask for the referrals. So that eventually, you grow a huge database.
6Speaking of databases, tell us about the success you’ve had in building yours.
We've taken a 200 person database and grown it to about 800 in the span of 18 months. We're driving 20 new patients in the door in each office every month. We're religiously sending out a new mailer every month to get new leads. We’ve also been sending a lot of the automated letters in Blueprint for TNS [Tested Not Sold] patients. I’ve been trying to find the right balance between driving in new patients but then not driving so many that I don't have space for the database patients who want to buy. One of my biggest problems working for a corporate practice was that I got to be too popular. Then there was really no point in advertising because we were booked out for three to four weeks. We kind of reached a point where we couldn't grow anymore.
7With the help of the Consult Digital Program, you also have a pretty comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Is there any one digital marketing initiative that you think has had the biggest impact on your growth?
I'm not sure when I started the SEO [Search Engine Optimization] and PPC [Pay-Per-Click] for the Arcadia location, but it's really good. If you Google 'hearing aids, Arcadia,' we're right there on page one and on the map. Whereas our Bakersfield location shows up towards the bottom of page one and even on page two some days. It’s a new practice and we just started the pay-per-click on April 1st for that office, so we'll see what happens. Aside from ranking high on Google, I’ve had a lot of patients tell me they chose the practice because they saw it has a lot of good reviews, which is thanks to [Audiology Design’s] Review Builder. That's exactly the kind of patient you want. They know they need hearing aids and that you're the one that's going to provide them because you've already provided them to their neighbors who are all saying nice things. So, they're pre-qualified—they come in and they're ready to buy.
8Has the pandemic affected your marketing strategy at all?
The thing I’m struggling the most with is figuring out when we can start doing community events again. Those have had the best return on investment. We would go to certain events and I would do video otoscopy on a couple hundred people in a day. But with infection control guidelines, it’s almost impossible to go out and look in a bunch of ears right now. I can't wash my hands enough.
9What’s one key goal you’d like to achieve in the next five years?
Of course, paying off all of our long-term debt, because it's going to give us a lot more power to expand. I opened the Bakersfield location because it was a unique opportunity for me to work with someone I've worked with for a long time. But eventually, I'd like to be a very large center that has multiple providers in a single location. I don't see any point in expanding to multiple locations. It's so densely populated here in Los Angeles. I see so many providers who are spending money on two or three offices. But if they spent all that money to rent one really nice space and the rest on advertising, they would see much more growth. I invest in individual stocks so I know from watching the way all these big companies grow, that you have to do it on a smaller scale. Take Uber for example—they lose like a billion dollars a quarter, but they're sitting on half a trillion dollars in cash. They figured out a way to generate all that cash before they started losing money.
10What advice would you give to new practice owners or anyone thinking about opening their own practice?
Before you ever go into business for yourself, you should be able to understand basic accounting. You need to have a basic understanding of how to look at your profit and loss [P&L] statement and a cash flow plan so that you never have to ask yourself 'Where am I going to get the money to pay this month's bills?' The hardest part about running a medical practice is that much of what you do and spend today, you won’t see a return on till 60 days from now. So, you have to know how to handle the first 60 to 90 days of opening your doors. Simple things like putting your start-up costs on to low-interest credit cards. They give businesses seven months to pay. Before you quit your current job, get as much credit lined up as possible. Try to stretch your cost of goods to 90 days or 120 days by using credit.
11How did you get so fiscally savvy?
I don't know. I guess I'm one of the few people who actually gets excited looking at a balance sheet and a P&L. Being able to understand those is critical.