“I love that every day for me is so different”
Independent practice owner with Hakim Group, Nichola Mason, on starting her day with a Peloton ride and why creating a positive experience for patients is her ultimate practice ambition
28 December 2022
Meet the owner
Partner in: Four Hakim Group independent practices, in Cambridgeshire (St Neots) and Hertfordshire (Harpenden, Buntingford and Hoddesdon)
Role: Dispensing optician and a joint venture partner
Business owner for: Eight years.
5.30amI’m up between 5.30am and 7am, depending on if I’m working at home or if I’m travelling. Three days of the week, I will do a Peloton ride before starting work. That’s my time to, as well as sweat a lot, get my head around what I need to do that day. If I’m not on the Peloton, I’m checking my business bank accounts, emails and overnight messages first thing in the morning.
I spend three days a week in practice and two days a week somewhere else – that might be working from home, or up at the Hakim Group headquarters.
It depends on what the practices need from me, as to where I am and what I’m doing. If one of my practices needs me to go in and dispense, I will jump in and be hands-on with dispensing. If a practice is new – I’ve got one that is a year old and one that is brand new – I’m there, helping them with processes, procedures, and training. It’s very varied, depending on what projects I’m working on.
I put the kettle on and have 10 minutes of chill time, so we’re not task-focused straightaway. We connect, and make sure everyone is okay. With that level of communication within a good team, you start to pick up if somebody isn’t 100% on a particular day, and then you know you can support them if you need to.
8.30amMy first task of the day will be to respond to any emails and make sure I haven’t missed anything. At the moment, I’m also planning a couple of refits: one practice is having a big refit and the other is having modifications. That’s usually a morning job, because I don't want to delay replying to emails.
If I am in practice I will check in with the practice manager for the first hour and find out what they need from me before beginning my tasks.
I love the variety of what I do – that’s what makes me jump out of bed at 5.30am, because I’m always doing something different
I’ll then do anything more project-based that needs my full attention or creativity. For example, I’ve been working on changing our contact lens prices in one practice, across all the direct debits. That is a big piece of work and requires my full concentration. I try and do anything I am likely to put off, and leave myself the easier tasks for the afternoon.
In practice I will sometimes be in my operator mode, which is dispensing optician. My usual tasks will be the same as any other dispensing optician: customer-focused, because you never know what’s coming through the door. It will be the usual things: helping with checking, frame buying, dispensing, and customer repairs. I make a conscious effort to put my phone out of sight so I can give my full attention to the practice.
Often, though, I’m not doing that – I’m in practice because I’m either coaching practice managers, helping develop team members or doing some training with them, or ironing out a process that isn’t working.
1pmIf I’m at home, I’ll grab half an hour away from the screen to make some lunch and just chill out for a bit.
In practice, I don’t really do lunch. It’s bad, and I know I should take the time. If I felt I was suffering or my work was suffering, then I would stop and take that break. But most of the time, I plough on through. I 100% make sure all my team take lunch. That’s one of my non-negotiables, but I don’t lead by example there.
2pmIf I’m in practice, the afternoon will be similar to the morning. If I’m training, I’ll spend time with other members of staff, repeating training sessions with them, or working through any issues or practice development with my practice managers.
I don’t have an afternoon slump when I’m at work, because I don’t stop. I need lots of coffee, and lots of water. If I don’t keep my water levels up, I do really suffer in the afternoon. I don’t go for a heavy carb lunch, because that would definitely cause me to dip .
3pmI’m pretty good at putting on some music and ploughing through spreadsheets in the afternoon. I’m more energetic and creative in the morning, so I’ll plan my day to focus on the less challenging tasks in the afternoon. Afternoons are good for catching up on emails and phone calls, and other quick wins.
On a Sunday morning, I will have put in two or three hours of work to get myself set for the week ahead. I create a list for each practice, a list for my SharkLink headquarter work, and a personal list. I’ll plan my office time around those lists, and plough through those daily during the week.
In the afternoon, I’ll work on things like my KPIs and reports, looking for any trends in data that need my attention.
If I’m doing frame buying and keeping up to date on new products, I’ll do that on my practice days. I’ll arrange to see reps or lens suppliers when I’m in practice, to make sure I keep up to date with what’s going on in the dispensing world.
What is SharkLink?
If I’m in practice, I will leave at the same time as my team, which is usually 5.30pm. I always try to have dinner with my husband, and my kids if they’re around. My husband makes a really good pan-fried salmon and a lovely salad and rice. That’s a nice midweek dinner. We try to keep healthy as much as we can. We probably ruin it all at weekends, but during the week we try to keep on track. I always clock off from work completely between 6pm and 7.30pm.
The thing I most enjoy listening to unwind is...
We’ve just finished watching Stranger Things
If I need to do anything more, I’ll keep going after dinner. Zooms and my SharkLink work are often in the evening, but it’s very rare that I’m working after 9pm these days.
I love that every day for me is so different. I love seeing my teams and practices develop and become more efficient. I love the variety of what I do – that’s what makes me jump out of bed at 5.30am, because I’m always doing something different. I would struggle going back to a 9-5, five days a week. I don't mind if I’m doing 7am until 10pm, because the next day I’m probably doing shorter hours. It’s that variety, and not knowing what challenge is going to be thrown at me each day. That’s what I really love.
My fantasy practice...
Have a massive wine fridge with champagne, and a cocktail area. I’d ask all my customers, rather than if they’d like a tea or coffee, if they’d like a cocktail. I’d probably have a bartender as well.
If I could be visited in practice by one influential person from history, it would be...
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for his incredible leadership skills and strength.
One thing that would improve my practices’ economics is...
Increasing our efficiency and productivity.
If I could make one change to the optical sector it would be...
Implement continued personal development payments for dispensing opticians.
If I could close the practices for a week without it having any impact at all, I would...
Get a sailing boat and go sailing around the Greek islands.
If I could invent a piece of technology to solve one problem in practice it would be...
A cloning machine to solve any future recruitment needs.
My wildest ambition for my practices is...
I just want everyone to be happy: my customers and my staff. I want them to enjoy being in the practice. Whether it’s at work or coming to get their glasses, I want it to be a really lovely experience.