7 practice management mistakes to avoid

When it comes to the financial side of your practice, you are running a small business.

As you know, managing a medical practice means dealing with a full measure of challenging decisions. Even if you have a trusted and experienced support person or group, the weight of the final decision always rests squarely on your shoulders.

The good news is that you don't always have to be a trailblazer. Even practice management problems that appear to be unique to your operation have likely been dealt with successfully by many of your predecessors. Of course, many others suffered the consequences simply because they took the wrong turn at a fork in the management road.

Here are seven ways for you to avoid some of the most common mistakes made by those who have traveled the road before you:

You've heard it said many times. "If you want something done right, do it yourself." That's a classic philosophy with an undeniable grain of poetic truth. However, when it comes to running a busy medical practice, too many practitioners suffer from a dangerous overdose of "do-it-yourself-itis."

A failure to understand the importance and the necessity of delegating is one of the most common mistakes that hinder growth in small businesses, according to many experts. Remember, when it comes to the financial side of your practice, you are indeed running a small business.

"Just because you can complete a task, doesn't mean you should," says Andrea Michalek, a technology management consultant. "Anything that is not a core competency of your business should be outsourced. Without hiring any additional employees, it's now possible to get the outside help you need at prices you can afford."

Management consultant Wally Adamchik agrees.

"Some business owners and professionals go broke saving money," Adamchik says. "Rather than outsource their Web design and maintenance, for example, they do it themselves because they can. Of course, this takes them away from their own high-impact work. They're saving money doing their own Web thing, but they're losing money in the long run by doing it."

If you find yourself neglecting some basic practice management responsibilities such as marketing and patient relations-or wishing you had more time for medicine-it's probably time for you to put more trust in other people.

Given an opportunity, colleagues and members of your office team will often surprise you with positive results.

2. Failing to understand the true meaning of marketing

Many physicians are so busy dealing with day-to-day operations that they never get around to putting together a business-building marketing program.

That's a mistake. Marketing is a basic building block in the construction and maintenance of a successful practice, especially newer ones. Yet, many physicians shy away from all but the most obvious ways to promote themselves and their practice. For some, their entire marketing program consists of an expensive ad in the Yellow Pages.

While advertising is an essential part of marketing, it is only that, a part. An effective marketing program embraces all facets of your practice. To be an effective marketer, you must nurture and promote your professional image, sell yourself as well as your practice. There is no other way. Competitive prices alone won't do it. A high degree of professional skill alone won't do it.

Marketing is a complex fabric woven of many threads. Every practitioner should spend a reasonable part of his or her time learning what goes into the makeup of a complete marketing program.

3. Failing to avoid the pitfalls in hiring friends or family

Many businesses and professional practices owe their success, at least in part, to an employee who is either a relative or friend of the owner. When such a relationship works, it can work very well, but when it doesn't work out it can be disastrous.

"You should use extreme care in bringing a friend or relative into your business," says author and career consultant Katharine Hansen. "If the relationship doesn't work out, terminating it can be a serious problem."