Starting an online business: an optician's view

By: Tim Harwood

Date: 13 May 2013

Starting an online business: an optician's view/optician{{}}As an optician I had a well-respected and secure job that paid the bills and gave me a very comfortable lifestyle, but it never quite gave me the fulfilment I was looking for.

I always wanted to run my own business and considered starting my own practice, but I didn’t think it was something I was passionate enough about to make a success of it. I had always been interested in technology and so it seemed fairly logical to do something online.

Both my business partner (a medical doctor) and I realised that there was a bit of an untapped market in the comparison website niche, because there was nothing offering anything related to health. This, in effect, was where the idea for was born, a website that allows people to book appointments online for laser eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and dental clinics.

Coming up with the idea for our online business was the easiest bit; taking the plunge to leave my job was always going to be trickier. I’m married and have a young daughter and trying to explain to my wife that I wanted to leave my perfectly good job was met with raised eyebrows, to say the least! My parents just couldn’t understand why I would spend all that time at university only to ‘throw my career away'. I explained to them that I would always have my career to fall back on should things not go as planned.

For me, the financial aspect was always the most difficult mountain to climb, because it’s hard to justify working long hours when you aren’t even getting paid for it. Initially, I worked two days per week as an optician, which gave me enough money to survive and this compromise worked well.

When we started our online business, my business partner and I each invested £25,000, which seemed like a heck of a lot of money at the time. As is probably true with many start-ups, a lot of the money ended up being wasted, as we figured out the best way to do things. We outsourced our web development and this was the single biggest drain on our finances. The first two companies promised the world, but were unable to deliver what we wanted, so we had to pull the plug on their work. This resulted in both a loss of time and money. It was at times like this that I felt like packing it in and returning back to my nine-five job, but with every failed website, we learnt a number of lessons about how better to assess potential web developers and understanding the mechanics of building a site.

It took about eight months to finally launch our website, which is a long time. Looking back, we realise we over-complicated things. We wanted an endless supply of cool features, but in reality we could have launched far sooner with a much simpler site.

The past 14 months has been about growing our traffic and signing up clinics, and we have now got to the point where we can pay ourselves a decent salary. The early days are definitely the toughest and having a strong family behind you is extremely important. I could not have done this without the support of my wife, so in that sense it was very much a joint decision. Hopefully, I can repay her support one day.

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