Hype Avenue met with Dr. Fikile Makhoba, an optometrist and business woman born and bred in Johannesburg. We met to discuss about her profession viz. optometry, the lessons she’s learnt in her career and some advice she can give to those who wish to pursue a career in optometry as well as running your own practice.
Q: I’ve known you initially as a client and then later on as a friend, for those who might not know you or heard of your practice, who is Dr. Fikile Makhoba?
A: It’s so difficult to say who I am, because there’s lot of things about me. I’m hard-working and I’m passionate about what I do…this is a question I really hate…
Q: How long have you been practicing and why did you choose optometry as a career?
A: As an optometrist it’s been 8 years and in private practice it’s been 2 years. Why optometry I think it’s because I wear glasses as well and that might have sparked the interest.
Q: There’s a huge number of first year students who drop out from higher learning institutions due to doing careers that they don’t like or who know a little about them. In your own situation how did you avert this problem and what advice can you give to those who wish to pursue their studies in a higher learning institution?
A: I’m grateful that my mom was an L.O.(Life Orientation) educator , she’s was able to sit down with me when I was doing my grade 11 or 12 when I was starting to apply [for a higher learning institutions] . I (initially) would have loved to work in laboratory like doing bio medical technology, etc. but my mother advised me that I would go crazy because I wouldn’t be working with people. Because of my personality my mother advised me to do something in which I would be working with people and then again because of me wearing the glasses it steered slowly toward optometry. I think when making a career choice one should choose something which they are passionate about and not something which will make your parents happy or make you richer quickly.
Q: In a conversation we had a year or two ago I was concerned that optometry would no longer be in demand as it was in the 90’s and you mentioned to me that it has become a cutthroat industry. Could you please explain how has the industry developed and evolved in the past ten years and what challenges are you facing?
A: For the past 10 years it’s difficult to say because when you work for someone you don’t realize what a cutthroat industry optometry is because you get your salary at the end of the month. When you are on your own that is when you start to realize that optometry is not what it used to be, like 4 years ago medical aids used to pay a little bit better but now due to challenges within medical aids and putting up measures to curb the fraud, it doesn’t pay as well as it used to. When patients come in with medical aids and you explain that there’s a top-up they have to pay it becomes a challenge. If medical aids were to pay better for the services and spectacles that we offer then it wouldn’t be a cutthroat industry. My friend who’s practicing in Namibia in their case they tell medical aids how much they’ll be charging and how they need to be paid. In South Africa it’s the other way around the medical aids tell you how much they’ll pay you and it’s either you take it or leave it.
Q: Despite the challenges in this specific industry, are you fulfilled by your work and is the remuneration satisfying?
A: I love being in my practice but there are days you are just finished because you know that at the end of the day you are only just being the best optometrist you could be.
Q: There are many I’m sure (myself included) who are maybe interested to know how does an optometrist make his or her money?
A: When a person comes in you want to make a sale but you have to put the patient’s needs first. A problem arises when you have to explain to the client that they have to pay extra. We make most of our money through the sales of spectacles, the more extras (tint,anti-glare,etc.) we offer the bigger the sale. If clients would pay for the other things which we advise them to take the better the sale would be.
Q: Where did you get the start-up capital to buy the stock and open up your own practice?
A: I would say by God’s grace number one and my mom helped me out, if you go to the bank it’s difficult to find funding. For instance if you wanted a loan for R200000 you wouldn’t get it but if you wanted to buy a car worth R500k then your loan would be approved. I started my practice through the help I got from my mother, we put things together and I started.
Q: What does the running of your own practice entail and how is it different from running a franchise?
A: I think running your own practice is more liberating but I have to be careful because I locum at a franchise. The advantage is that you get more interactive and personal with your clientele, in a franchise there’s too much protocol to comply with. I prefer to be in a private practice because your patients will always remember you; even if they’d pass by they’ll pop-in to say, “hi”.
Q: Is it advantageous to run your own practice than taking up a franchise:
A: There’s an advantage in taking up a franchise because when it comes to marketing you’ll be covered, for an example if Spec Savers is running a promotion you’ll be able to access it through your nearest Spec Savers outlet and the prices are the same anywhere you go. A challenge we face in private practice is that people are more comfortable in buying from brands that they know, for an example if you go to Pick N Pay you would buy a Sunlight liquid than a generic. The quality in private practice is the same as with any known and popular franchise, it just has its pros and cons. If you ask me if I’d go for a franchise my answer would be, “NO”.
Q: What advice could you give to an aspiring optometrist and those who wish to own their practice?
A: Work hard, I think you would want to treat your patients so that they may keep coming back to you. There’s no bigger form of marketing than word of mouth, if you treat someone well the word about you and your practice will spread.
Comment: Thank you for granting us your time and for sharing the invaluable insights, at hype Avenue we wish you all the best!
A: Thank you for the opportunity.
Please give Doctor Fikile Makhoba a visit for your eyesight problems:
Shop 002 Howard House
23 Loveday Street
Tel: 011 492 1853
Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Fikile-Makhoba-Optometrist-755675941164791/?ref=br_rs (Fikile Makhoba Optometrist)