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Chris Pooley, a graduate of the UNSW business skills course

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By Rhiannon Riches

An online optometry business skills course has helped optometrist Susan Ang to expand her patient base to include family members of children she had screened at local schools.

Her business plan project, Sticky Kids, was the catalyst for growing her business by approaching local schools to offer free vision screening, and circulating brochures among parents and teachers for them to learn more about vision.

Business has expanded to the point that Ms Ang, practice owner of The Eye Store in Bankstown and Warilla, NSW, has opened a third practice this year at Kiama, a township south of Wollongong.

Ms Ang was one of the inaugural students to complete the business skills course in 2012.

Conducted online through University of New South Wales, the course has been running for three years and is open to optometrists nationwide and overseas.

The course co-ordinator is orthoptist and practice manager, Carolyn Hewett.

‘Each year we have run the course we have had a number of interstate students. The program is run online so it is quite suitable for optometrists based outside Sydney,’ she said.

Conceived by Ms Hewett, business partner and husband Peter Hewett, and small business consultant Linda Hailey, the course was initially designed to help independent practitioners with succession planning.

‘When we wrote the course, we were thinking of young optometrists transitioning into private practice ownership, and two practitioners—older and younger, or more experienced and less experienced—working together to make that transition,’ Ms Hewett said.

‘We were thinking, in the beginning, of the business skills and advice we would have liked when we ourselves made that transition,’ she said.

The course has evolved to become a practical course for optometrists of any age and at any stage of their career, to learn and apply business acumen on how to establish, grow and market a successful practice.

‘The course is all online, with the exception of two days when students are required to attend in person at UNSW, but they walk away with a business plan and business skills to apply immediately in their own practice,’ Ms Hewett said.

Success stories

Susan Ang is proof of the benefit of being better able to run a business. She now has a business coach and spends one day a week at each of her practices and the remaining two days managing the business.

‘The course gave me structure, and time to work on my business and make a plan. The course provided a foundation in business, a safe environment to explore a “mock-up” business plan. I learned all the relevant financial terms and phrases, or jargon, and I was able to immediately put into action a business plan to expand my practice.

‘It has made a strong impact in getting me to where I am today,’ Ms Ang said.

She continues to visit schools and provide free vision screening to students.

Chris Pooley, a young optometrist in the early stages of his career, completed the business course in 2012, developing a business plan to introduce orthokeratology into the Mosman practice where he works.

Mr Pooley is now a mentor for students undertaking the course, sharing his experiences of how the course has impacted on his career, and sharing his insights into the coursework and assessment tasks.

Ms Hewett considers the business course her gift to optometry.

The 13-week UNSW business skills course, conducted predominantly through webinars and with high-profile guest speakers, costs $7,020. ‘A program like this, run privately instead of through a university, is worth in excess of $25,000,’ Ms Hewett said.

Guest speakers including Linda Hailey, Craig Stamp, Dave Chaffey, Richard Banks and George Skoufis are recognised business experts whose combined knowledge is worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Enrolment is currently open for the course commencing in March.

Visit the UNSW website for a course overview and profiles on speakers.

For information on the course and to discuss personal business goals, contact Carolyn Hewett on 0418 283 4900418 283 490.

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