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On the Ground Floor of the Retail Healthcare Boom

 It booms, it busts, it morphs. The retail landscape may be ever-shifting, but there is no denying the meteoric rise in retail healthcare. Healthcare and retail markets continue to overlap, as the big box stores and major healthcare groups and insurance carriers look for ways to join forces to catch up with consumers’ desire to take control of their health.

In his book, The Retail Healthcare Revolution, Tony Paquin refers to empowered consumers/patients as the creators of the largest movement in retail history!

As a direct access lab testing company, with walk-in availability and no doctors’ orders needed, Any Lab Test Now is part of the foundation of this movement. We have been providing customers with tools to take control of their health for more than 25 years. Driven by an expectation for convenience, value, and a great customer experience, Any Lab Test Now meets and exceeds customers’ needs by delivering what they want, when they want it.

Ease and access. Whether looking to stock up on paper towels or figure out why you are feeling lethargic and thirsty, people want the ability to get information and solve problems quickly and easily. At Any Lab Test Now that means not hassling with scheduling appointments and taking a half-day off work to see a doctor. It means walking into a lab without an appointment, getting in and out in about 15 minutes, and having the results delivered directly to you in a matter of days. Healthcare consumers do not want long waits or walks. Our small footprint stores are located near major thoroughfares and near other highly desired retailers, so getting a lab test can be an errand worked easily into your day. Ample and free parking outside lab storefronts is just one more way we set ourselves apart from the traditional medical experience — and big-box stores with big-box parking lots!

Retail-type experience. Gone are the days of walking into a doctor’s office and encountering a worker behind a sliding glass window who may or may not bother to look up at you. Or maybe you want a test that your doctor won’t order and your insurance refuses to pay for. Patients don’t need to settle for that anymore either. The shift to retail healthcare puts the emphasis on the customer and the customer experience, which is where our emphasis has always been. Our owners and employees take pride in creating an inviting atmosphere that doesn’t feel like a sterile medical facility. Our value proposition is clearly seen in our transparent pricing. Just as retail stores mark prices on their products, when you come into an Any Lab Test Now location all of the lab tests are clearly listed on the pricing menu. This retail-centric practice sets us apart from most of the healthcare industry in a way our customers truly appreciate.

Community-based. As a nationwide company with small stores with local owners, we are decidedly not big-box, big-pharma, or big-corporation. We are part of the communities we serve. That means we build relationships, not only with our customers and our physicians, but with local non-profits and in our local business communities. Whether we are participating in a local 5k or supporting a community initiative, our customers see us at local events. Being an active participant in the communities we serve is part of our brand, and it’s a business model that has always served us well, personally and financially.

So, when I hear that retail, consumer-driven healthcare is poised to become a trillion-dollar industry, I am proud of how Any Lab Test Now has helped pave the way. It validates our long-term growth strategy as we continue to give power to the people!

Diversity in the Workplace: How It Benefits Our Company

It’s easy to look at the news headlines and become depressed and jaded about the violence, the political scandals and the conflict that seems to arise when diverse groups of people (race, nationality, gender, political party, etc.) come together. But I would like to offer up a different view of diversity, one that I have watched unfold over the last ten years at Any Lab Test Now.

When I was first hired as COO of the company in 2007, I was the only woman on the executive team. That didn’t really resonate with me at the time, since I had come up through the ranks in the technology industry and was used to being one of the few — or only — females in a sea of middle-aged white men and maybe a few Asian men.

Fast forward 10 years, we now have an all-female executive team (not by design), and 75 percent of our workforce qualifies as a minority in some way. In our home office, we are African-American, Asian, Latino, LGBTQ, we are women and men from 22 to 60 years old, and we live in different parts of the melting pot that is Atlanta. In short, we are a diverse group. And it is wonderful!

Our company has experienced more than 100 percent growth in the last five years, and while there are several factors, the inclusive work environment we have where different types of people contribute and feel valued plays a part.

Here are a few of the ways in which our diversity makes us “better together” and a stronger company for our franchisees and customers.

We Are…

…more productive employees. When you have workers of different generations sitting side by side, everyone benefits. I have watched a millennial raised on technology help teach an older counterpart how to navigate new technologies; I have watched older employees who have been working since they were 15 years old teach those millennials about accountability and how to navigate workplace issues. The expanded knowledge that comes from diversity makes everyone more productive.

…providing better customer service. We have a marketing team, but our secret weapon in providing great customer service comes from our diversity. Having bilingual employees obviously helps in communicating with our customers, but we also benefit when our different employees identify with different customer demographics and share those customers’ perspectives. Our marketing efforts and customer service become much more tailored and responsive to our customers’ attitudes and behaviors.

…more creative. This is probably the most fun for me, to watch and listen to all the great ideas that emerge when you turn up the heat on the melting pot. Case in point, the annual company conference can easily get stale with speaker after speaker, and a reliable chicken dinner. This year, our employees added a creative spark to tried-and-true convention practices by promoting a silent auction featuring handcrafted, interesting or unique items donated by members of the ALTN family. I donated embroidered tea towels that I made, and all proceeds will benefit a local children’s hospital in our host city. I appreciate our employees working to make this “educational party” a fun, interactive and engaging experience for our franchisees. I love seeing their creativity at work!

…enjoying a positive reputation in our communities. Our diverse workforce has a momentum of its own that enhances our reputation in our geographic community and the franchise community. We have become an example of not just a woman-led company but one that welcomes and encourages any person who fits our needs and our core values, like integrity and accountability. Many of our employees refer their family and friends to us, and we can hire good people on the recommendation of people we trust. When potential franchisees come in for Discovery Day, they see that we don’t all look the same. We welcome diversity in our franchise owners and can offer them a diverse support system in our home office.

That’s not to say being diverse hasn’t come with some bumps in the road. It has. There can be awkward moments, misunderstandings and a general lack of awareness about people/places/ideas that are new to us. But those bumps provide us an opportunity to educate one another about different cultures and perspectives. Ultimately, we become more sensitive, more respectful, and happier when we are at work. I can’t wait to see what our company looks like in 10 more years!

Speedbump Ahead!

Every summer, I start planning for the following year at Any Lab Test Now, including setting goals and mapping out a timeline for new projects and initiatives. A yearly survey we conduct with franchisees provides valuable feedback on how we can help them grow their business. In fact, right now our franchisees are growing so fast, adding support staff has become a top priority. Once we make sure our objectives are aligned, we set the roadmap for the following year.

But then… the inevitable speedbump. There is no such thing as operating on cruise control in business, or there shouldn’t be. While hitting speedbumps might be aggravating, it also offers an opportunity to grow leadership skills and improve company-wide systems and processes.

Here are a few pit-stops I make as I navigate speedbumps at Any Lab Test Now.

Listen. To prevent a speedbump from becoming a brick wall, you need to be willing to listen. This year, we heard from franchisees that a new point-of-sale system we had implemented wasn’t performing as needed. It was cumbersome and frustrating for everyone. As a leader, you can choose to put your head in the sand and ignore the issue, or listen, and address it head-on.

Be Transparent/Accountable. When a speedbump prevents a company from meeting its objectives, a leader needs to step forward, be transparent about the issue at hand and be accountable for the problem, if warranted. It turns out we adopted the wrong platform for the job function. That simple step of taking responsibility for an issue earns respect and confidence from employees and franchisees.

Be Collaborative. The best solutions come when those affected are involved in the process. Making decisions behind closed doors without consulting our franchisees leaves our valued owners feeling disenfranchised and can breed mistrust. Conversely, collaboration builds trust and yields better results.

Take Action. Talking, listening, and meeting become meaningless if action isn’t taken. Together, we came up with an interim plan B and a long-term solution that our home office could execute so the processes and profitability would improve. That bump is now in the rearview mirror.

Bump It Up! Remember, those speedbumps can do more than slow you down. They can be catalysts to bump up your business, through a great new initiative or a fantastic new hire. Our rapid growth led to hiring Terri McCulloch, our new Vice President of Business Development, whose work elevates the entire organization.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is the value in being nimble. With planned objectives in place, but having fluidity built in, we can make adjustments and even take a risk that could drive future growth. Thanks to those speedbumps, I am a better leader and our company is stronger than ever.

Keeping Connected to Franchisees

At 26 years old, I was the VP of Client Services for a technology start-up and thought I was learning all there was to know about managing people and customers. Then I started in the franchising industry in my 40’s as Chief Operating Officer at Any Lab Test Now and realized I had more to learn about managing relationships, specifically about managing relationships with franchisees. Keeping connected to franchise owners in the field has been one of my greatest joys as CEO. Our owners, with their entrepreneurial spirits, offer me a new perspective on our business – their business. Their perspective as small business owners provides an opportunity to collaborate in ways that benefit the entire company.

Collaboration

If there is one word that describes my relationship with our franchisees it is collaboration. And for collaboration to work, there must be listening. I have learned how critical it is to listen to our business owners on the front line if we are going to meet our customer’s and franchisees’ needs.

Case in point. Jim and Kristi Adams opened store #56 in the Indianapolis area back in 2009. Early on, our emphasis was strictly a push to consumers on direct access lab testing. However, that was a big challenge for a lot of franchisees because their communities weren’t aware or educated about direct access testing. They were wed to the idea that only a doctor could give an order for a lab test. Jim and Kristi’s lab location was behind a doctor’s office and they developed a good relationship with him and started getting physician referrals from him. That led to more relationships with more physicians and more referrals.  They had discovered a new customer stream. The Adams’ helped craft a physician referral initiative for the company and the home office worked to fine tune the program. It is now a strategic part of our business model and all the other franchisees benefit from it.

The Adams were also founding members on our Franchise Advisory Council. Every year we choose eight franchisees from around the country — some new, some old, some single unit owners, some multi-unit owners— so we get a broad spectrum of views. The group meets quarterly and in addition to bringing new product and marketing ideas to the table, our Franchise Advisory Council gives critical feedback on branding, our new website, and in the case of would-be competitor Theranos, many frank discussions about the future of blood testing and the viability of what is now alleged to be a fraudulent lab testing technology. Our collaboration has made us more cohesive and supportive of one another.

Multiple Touch Points

It’s one thing to claim an open-door policy 24/7 for franchisees, and I do, but I don’t wait for them to knock on my door. To have truly open lines of communications there must be multiple touch points. We start with a monthly company-wide phone call on the first Monday of every month to keep everyone up-to-date on any tactical changes like new lab partners we’ve negotiated or changes to a process. I follow up a few weeks later with a monthly internal newsletter called C-Notes, where I am able to address higher level industry trends and growth issues. In-person meetings also happen on a regional level and every 18 months we hold our Annual Franchisee Conference on a rotating coast. That is probably the event I look forward to most. Nothing beats the face-to-face interaction we enjoy over that three-day period. Whether it is at our key note event or numerous smaller breakout sessions or team-building activities, great exchanges happen as franchisees learn as much from each other as they do from corporate. It always serves as a great reminder to me that listening is a much more effective way to make progress than assuming you know someone else’s perspective. Everyone, including corporate executives, leave the annual conference recharged and ready to grow the business.

Getting Personal

Every challenge is more manageable, and every success is sweeter when you share a personal connection. I do my best to start every franchisee relationship by showing up to their Grand Opening. If entrepreneurs have chosen Any Lab Test Now to invest their time and money, I want to be there to support and celebrate with them and let them know we are here to help. But it’s not all about business. I like to connect with franchisees on their personal social media pages. I want to know about weddings and funerals and fun family vacations, and I want them to get to know me and my family, too. When I saw on Facebook that a franchisee had lost their dog, an important part of their family, we sent the owner a memory plaque with an etching of the dog to show our support during their time of grief. Those things matter. And when a franchisee took a fabulous South Asian vacation and brought me back souvenirs, I felt honored to be thought of. Collectively, we are the brand and connecting in those small, yet personal ways builds a relationship outside of work and in turn, builds our brand.

Collaborate. Listen. Connect. It’s what you experience when you become part of the Any Lab Test Now family.

Learning from Those Above, Below and Beside You

In the late 80s, when I was a young professional eager to make my mark in the tech industry, I was excited to be working on a high-value client account. One Friday before Labor Day weekend, I was happy to send off a big report before the holiday. That happiness turned to panic after I realized I had sent out a spreadsheet with wrong information. But it was too late. The report was gone. I was beside myself and couldn’t sleep all weekend. I knew I screwed up and was dreading going into my boss, a leader who prized accountability above all else. Come Monday morning, with a knot in my stomach, I went in and blurted out, “I really messed up.” Can you guess what my boss said? “It’s OK. We’ll take care of it. I have your back.”

We can all think back over our careers and recall a time (or two) when we made a mistake at work. Often, we can remember minute details and even conjure up the feelings of panic that accompanied the realization of our mistake. That’s the kind of impact those stressful situations can have, which is also why they can become such great learning experiences. Clearly, I was fortunate to have a great boss early in my career from whom I could learn important leadership lessons, like the need to hold yourself and others accountable, and the wisdom to accept imperfection in yourself and your team.

But learning doesn’t stop once you reach the top of the org chart. In his book, “Good Leaders Learn,” Gerard Seijts, the Executive Director of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario, profiles high-level executives on the importance of being life-long learners. It is a philosophy I also ascribe to.

As I have grown in leadership roles, I have found my learning comes not just from those above me, but from those below and beside me. At Any Lab Test Now, I have taken to heart the old adage about good leaders surrounding themselves with great minds.

Learning from Employees

Like many CEOs, I love the big ideas, the grand vision, the new initiative. And I love that I have a very intelligent, process-oriented team that holds me accountable and forces me to slow down and think through things, so we can make sure our plans are executable. They force me to be a better communicator and I am constantly learning from them.

My employees have also taught me to take chances on people with complementary skill sets, even if they haven’t held the position I’m hiring for before. I recently hired a former high school Spanish teacher to be our Director of Training and Implementation. Not only has she educated us on different learning styles (auditory, visual, tactile), she uses the skills she honed teaching high school students and does a phenomenal job training and communicating with our franchisees in a way that makes us all work better as a team.

Learning from Franchisees

I consider myself fortunate to be able to draw on the amazing well of innovation and expertise that comes with each Any Lab Test Now franchisee. There are 112 franchisees. That’s 112 people who have invested in this company and are committed to making their business the best it can be. Some of our owners are sales-oriented, some are process-oriented. They are all boots on the ground and not only give great feedback on what is and is not working in the field, but bring new ideas to the table that might not percolate inside the walls of the home office. At this moment, a franchisee is testing a new telemedicine platform he brought to the table. One day soon, all our locations may get to benefit from this great idea. Our regional and national meetings are downright inspirational when franchisees come together to share experiences, best practices, and new ideas. I always come away energized by something new I’ve learned.

Learning from Peers

I can remember the first time I heard Cheryl Bachelder speak. It was at the International Franchise Association (IFA) Annual Convention in 2014. The former CEO of AFC Enterprises, the parent company of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, got up on stage and asked a room full of franchisors, “Who is our customer?” She went on to give a fabulous franchisee-centric speech that made the case for treating employees and franchisees as your most prized customers. Cheryl’s stories highlighting the virtues of servant leadership resonated with me. When I became CEO of Any Lab Test Now, just two months after hearing her speak, it was her example I wanted to emulate. I have adopted the message she espouses in her book, “Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results While Serving Others,” in our organization. It is helpful and inspiring to find peer leaders in the work world from whom I can continue to learn and grow. The bonus is that I get the chance to pay it forward through my own mentoring relationships.

Your ability to learn and grow as a leader is only limited by you and those with whom you surround yourself. I choose to surround myself with the best and brightest, learn from them, pass it on, and enjoy the ride, as we all rise with the tide.

Driven to Make an Impact

When I hired Michelle Fields to be a Franchise Success Representative for Any Lab Test Now, I knew I had hit the jackpot. Her warm and welcoming nature, coupled with her medical experience and attention to detail, enabled her to connect instantly with our franchisees. She helped them grow their businesses and they adored her. So did we, back at the home office.

When Michelle was diagnosed with colon cancer at 46 years old, she put up the good fight for more than three years, working right up until the last month of her life. I can still remember the first day she complained of her symptoms before there was a diagnosis. I also remember sitting with her in hospice those final days in June 2016. Watching Michelle walk that road was hard, but it was also a gift to witness her strength, grace and compassion.

As a company, we embraced the colon cancer awareness banner with new vigor and every franchise in our system was “all in.” In addition to financially supporting the Colon Cancer Alliance, as a lab testing company, we were able to offer our clients discounts on the colon cancer screening Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which we do every March during Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

When a disease hits you at a personal level like that, you feel helpless. But being actively involved in building awareness, facilitating early detection and funding research, gives us the feeling that we are still honoring Michelle, even though she’s passed, and helping others in the future. It’s how we can make an impact.

I was encouraged to read in a Cone Communications Survey recently that, “2017 will be remembered as the year that redefined Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).” I think it is safe to say we now live in a society in which it is not just nice for businesses to be socially responsible, but it is expected and necessary. And that is a good thing.

As CEO, I am blessed to be leading a company that is driven to contribute to a greater good. Incorporating social responsibility into our business model on the local and national levels has made us a stronger, better company from top to bottom.

Impacting Communities

Franchisees will often tell you one of the best things about being their own boss, is the freedom and latitude they have in making decisions on how to run their business. For many of our franchisees, that means a commitment to making an impact in their local communities. Aside from our corporate-wide initiatives to support Heart Health Month in February and Colon Cancer Awareness month in March, franchisees have free rein to choose how they will be a force for good in their communities. We have one franchisee located right across from a women’s shelter, so they have chosen to make an impact very close to home by holding a 5K race every year to benefit the shelter. Another franchisee teaches paddleboarding to children with special needs and holds a tournament every summer for them. As a company, when we have franchisees that are passionate about a cause in their community, we do our best to offer corporate support through sponsorships.

In our home office, our small group of employees chooses what resonates with them, and we go out as a team to work on making life a little better for those in our Atlanta community, whether it is sorting food at the local food bank or serving meals to at-risk teens at Covenant House. For us, it’s all about making an impact in our little part of the world.

Impacting People

However, I have seen first-hand that it’s more than our communities that are impacted. Our people are impacted too. When we close our office down on a Friday afternoon, to engage as a team in a hands-on activity, you can see and feel the difference in peoples’ attitudes. I see smiles and laughter. I see the level of depth and compassion increase as colleagues work together side-by-side outside office walls. I see a different side to them and I think they see a different side to the company, a genuinely human side. They have an increased appreciation for their workplace.

Millennials, especially, are drawn to companies who authentically practice CSR. According to a Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study, 76 percent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, and 64 percent won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong CSR practices.

Customers are holding companies more responsible too. Again, the Cone survey found nearly 90 percent of Americans will purchase a product/service because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, and 88 percent will be more loyal to the company, even if there is a slightly higher cost in doing so.

I see this most clearly when I check out our social media. The most engagement we get on any social media is when we are giving back to the community. That lets us know what we are doing resonates with our customers. It also resonates with our employees, and it resonates with me.

At Any Lab Test Now, I am proud to be working with good people, with good hearts, who are impacting their communities, in large and small ways, every day. May the year 2018 be our most impactful year yet!

Today’s Top Five for Tomorrow’s Female Leaders

It’s the year of the woman! So say the truth sayers. But the truth is, any year can be YOUR year to step out in bravery and confidence and chart your own course into the executive ranks. However, there is an undeniable momentum building right now for women to excel and exceed in leadership, in both business and politics. The #PressforProgress movement, which was the theme for International Women’s Day 2018, highlights the advancements that are being made at this moment (a record 500 women are running for office in November’s midterm elections), and most importantly, the hope for the future.

Are you ready? Are you ready to capitalize on the progress of those that came before you and seize opportunities to press forward into the leadership ranks? I know it sounds exhilarating and a bit scary at the same time. It was for me, and my journey started more than 30 years ago. Here’s my “Top Five for Tomorrow’s Female Leaders.”

Get Involved. This could also be called “networking,” but it’s so much more. It leads to greater knowledge and relationship building. Get involved in an association or group specific to your industry, and it will not only help you learn more about the business but connect you with people who can mentor you. When I started in the franchising business at Any Lab Test Now in 2007, I had leadership experience but no franchising experience; I needed to learn the industry. I joined the International Franchise Association and the Southeast Franchise Forum and gained valuable perspective on the differences between building relationships with customers vs. building relationships with franchisees. I joined committees and started building relationships with peers beyond a handshake and business card swap. A large organization became much smaller in committee work, and eventually, I became the chairperson of the organization, having grown my network purposefully. Bonus: I not only gained a new group of trusted advisors but a new group of friends.

Speak Up...And Ask for Help. I will admit, I had to learn this one the hard way. As a young woman starting out, I hated asking a boss or peer for help. I thought it was a sign of weakness. As I have matured, I can unequivocally tell you it is a sign of strength. People will respect you more if you ask for clarity on an issue or assignment instead of acting like you know-it-all when you don’t. Not to mention, it’s hard to build a meaningful network if you force yourself to stay on an island. And guess what? A byproduct of asking for help is that you grow in knowledge and experience and pretty soon people are asking YOU for help. You become the resource. You are in a better position to build a more successful career by helping and leading others. One of the most important things I counsel young women to do is ‘speak up!’ Speak up when you have a question; speak up when you have an answer, solution or idea. If you are not speaking, you are not part of the conversation. If you are not part of the conversation, you will not feel part of your company’s success and you will be limiting your own career success.

Learn from Failure. It is so cliché but it is so true. If you aren’t willing to learn and grow from failure (which will happen), you will find yourself stuck, and most likely, unhappy. Every successful leader has a failure story (or two or three) they will tell you propelled them to new heights. Here’s mine. The explosion of the start-up tech industry gave me my first leadership role at 24 years old. By 26, I was VP of Client Services and grew the company to $10 million in sales. They were heady times and I was 100 percent all in. Still, I experienced both gender and age bias when my CEO, in what I think was intended to be a backhanded compliment, said, “You won’t be able to work for anyone else. You provide a lot here but no one else will see value in what you do.” Ouch! Shortly after that, I was laid off when the tech bubble burst. I was emotionally devastated. I had assigned all of my value and identity to my job…and it was gone. I felt like a failure. But going through that painful process taught me a valuable lesson that has served me well since…the need to keep perspective. I didn’t have any in that job. I was so focused on my company, I didn’t take care of my career. I didn’t build a community outside of my work (see tip #1). I rectified that moving forward and now make a point to maintain a healthy relationship with my career, and have a whole being outside of that. It has made me a better leader in so many ways, most notably, it has made me more empathetic.

Develop Empathy (and practice it!). Being a leader means making tough decisions. There’s no avoiding it. Maybe you need to change the direction of a company or department, make an unpopular decision, or probably the toughest thing, terminate employees. These situations are stressful and difficult but often necessary for the company to grow. A good leader understands they will need to endure short-term pain for long-term gain. But how do you do that? With empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to listen to them, and try and understand where they are coming from and what they are going through will make you a stronger leader. If you have some sleepless nights, that is a good sign because it means you are taking it seriously and thinking things through. To make the tough decisions, you may have to compartmentalize the emotional aspect, execute (grieve, if necessary), respond with empathy and move forward. The more you do it, the more confident you will become in your ability to lead. You will also likely be thanked for the way you handle these situations, even by those who are adversely affected, if you act with respect and empathy.

Find YOUR Balance. A lot has been said and written (for both men and women) on the topic of work-life balance. Here’s my two-cents: Don’t take someone else’s balance and make it your own, find your own balance. I wish when I was younger I had spent less time worrying about those age-old issues like: When should I have kids? How do I take months off for maternity leave? Will I lose my career? If you want a career and kids, do it. Know that you will not get as much sleep for a period of years but know that you can do it. There is no ideal time. Just take the leap. But leave the guilt and expectations of others behind. Understand and accept, at your deepest level, that balance for you may look different than balance for your friends. For me, balance comes from designating times of being completely present with my family. I put up the phone at dinner. No work calls, texts, or emails. On vacation, I might log in for 45 minutes a day to keep things moving but then I am totally committed to my husband and four children, physically, mentally and emotionally. My big picture goal is to raise decent human beings. I try very hard to keep that perspective and not get mired down in the mommy-guilt minutiae that leaves so many women feeling perpetually unbalanced. Find YOUR balance and own it, don’t apologize for it.

It is an exciting time for women in business. More than half of the U.S. workforce is women, but in the S&P 500, only 25 percent of executive and senior-level managers are women and only six percent are CEO’s. There is room and a need for today’s young professional women to become tomorrow’s leaders. The momentum is swinging your way, walk through the door and start your journey with confidence and pride.

How Healthcare Consumerism is Shaping Our Future

A random conversation at the coffee machine recently reinforced to me the direction healthcare is heading and why this is such an exciting time to be leading Any Lab Test Now. One of our millennial-aged employees mentioned he only makes coffee with bottled water — never tap water. “It’s healthier,” he said. I am sure it is healthier, but I can tell you, I would never have thought about that. I have been filling my coffee maker with tap water for decades!

In a simple, everyday way, this millennial was engaging in healthcare consumerism — that is, taking a proactive stance on his health. It’s changing the healthcare landscape at breakneck speed. Whether it’s millennials who would prefer to live in a cheap space, so they have more freedom to eat organic food and drink coffee using bottled water, or cost-conscious and savvy consumers with high insurance deductibles and Google in their back pockets, we are seeing more and more people taking charge of their healthcare decisions and dollars.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 60 percent of healthcare spending is the consumer’s choice, to the tune of $330 billion a year in out-of-pocket expenses (39 percent accounts for catastrophic expenses a patient has little to no control over). Consumers wield a lot of power in the healthcare industry whether they realize it or not. More are realizing it.

McKinsey & Company conducts an annual Consumer Health Insights (CHI) survey to gather information on consumers’ opinions, preferences and behaviors about health-related services and how that influences their healthcare choices.

A recent CHI survey found more than half of the respondents rated great customer service in healthcare as of equally high importance as they did in other consumer-oriented industries, whether it be buying a new car, booking a vacation villa or upgrading to a new smartphone. Delivering on expectations, offering convenience and providing great value are the qualities that matter most…no matter the industry.

Here are the top three trends I see in healthcare consumerism that are shaping the future of healthcare services and providing unprecedented opportunities for consumers and non-traditional healthcare providers like Any Lab Test Now.

#1 Increased Focus on Cost-Effective Solutions

Sticker shock! It’s not just for car buying and college tuition. How often have you or someone close to you received a bill for a lab test you expected would be $40 and it came back at $400? It’s so common. For decades, healthcare consumers were conditioned to do just what the doctor ordered without even thinking about checking the cost. Truthfully, the majority still do this (and come to regret it), but radical changes in health insurance plans, specifically, the increase in the number of high-deductible plans are compelling people to stop, question and compare. A recent study showed 22 percent of participants reported always asking about cost before visiting a healthcare provider. Seventeen percent reported researching lab costs ahead of time (maternity care costs were the most researched health service). There is huge growth potential here, especially for lab services. We provide the price prior to the service so there are no surprises on the back end. It’s completely transparent (and competitively priced), which appeals to two key groups of consumers; those on the wellness path, who are not only motivated by price but the empowerment that comes with making your own healthcare choices, and the sticker shock crowd who are increasingly finding themselves in situations they simply can’t afford.

#2 Increase in Telemedicine

Telemedicine has certainly proven itself to be a critical healthcare solution, especially for rural areas with limited access to healthcare choices. However, the ability to email, Skype or communicate through a web-based platform with a healthcare professional outside of the exam room elevates convenience and accessibility to a whole new level, no matter the locale. Case in point: I have asthma. Although I live in Atlanta (plenty of good healthcare choices), if I am sitting on my couch and have trouble breathing, I can get online, get a Skype appointment with a provider (I have two or three I use), get a prescription sent in and have my husband pick it up on the way home. I don’t have to leave my couch and I pay $50-$60 for my care. The convenience and efficiency are unbeatable. I am not at all surprised to learn more than 80 percent of consumers consider digital solutions — from online scheduling and bill pay to tele-appointments and monitoring health conditions — as the most effective way to manage their health. Consumers value convenience and ease, and telemedicine speaks directly to that expectation. We see health insurance carriers driving clients to telemedicine, we see more physician’s offices offering telemedicine; many refer their patients to our lab where they can walk in without an appointment and get a lab test which can bring clarity to symptoms. Consumers can upload their results to their doctor for a continuum of care. Telemedicine tools will continue to improve because consumers will demand it. I am excited to find new ways for Any Lab Test Now to increase its presence in this space because it’s only going to grow.

#3 Physician Response to Patients’ Financial Concerns

Doctors are trained to diagnose and treat. However, due to increasing costs of health insurance and healthcare in general, they often find themselves in unfamiliar territory when dealing with patients’ financial concerns. They (or more likely their nurses and office staff) are hearing from patients on price issues or losing them altogether when they don’t show up or follow through on recommended care because of cost concerns. Then there is the all-important customer service experience that drives satisfaction — and is on display on social media sites like Yelp, Facebook and RateMDs.com. These sites can certainly help consumers and providers, but they can also hurt. For instance, my son went to an urgent care facility for some lab work (the closest Any Lab Test Now was 1.5 hours away) and afterward received that sticker shock $400 bill. Based on this experience, he went on social media and gave the urgent care a very negative review. According to Wainscot Media, 80 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Moving forward, I see healthcare providers becoming more attuned to financial concerns because quite honestly, they can’t afford not to be. At Any Lab Test Now, we go out of our way to educate physicians’ offices on the transparent up-front costs of the lab tests we provide. This gives them a “no-surprises” affordable resource to offer their patients that not only keeps them in the healthcare system, but in turn improves the doctor-patient relationship.

Eighty percent of all diagnoses are based on lab results and that number will grow as science leads to new discoveries. The lab space is flourishing with new tests that come out every year, from clinical to genetic. As healthcare consumerism becomes a way of life for this generation and future generations, I look forward to keeping our company well-positioned to serve those who pursue health and wellness paths and choose a better quality of life.

The Franchise Industry is About People

The franchising industry has been part of my life for more than ten years. I am part of the leadership team at Any Lab Test Now, Chairwoman for the Southeast Franchise Forum and as part of the leadership committee for the Atlanta Chapter Women’s Franchise Network. Through these experiences, I’ve talked with thousands of people across all aspects of the industry. I’ve met some who are about to make the leap from owning a Mom and Pop shop to building a franchise system. I’ve met potential franchisees who dive full-force into business ownership and others who tiptoe into it trepidatiously. I’ve met vendors and leaders and coaches who each have a different perspective on what franchising is all about

For me, being part of the franchise industry is about knowing people.

I was asked the other day about advice that I might offer someone who is thinking about opening a franchise. My initial reaction was to lean on the tried-and-true responses: ask about the training, advertising costs, and growth potential. Be sure to talk with existing franchisees about their experience. Understand what will be involved in the opening process.

Having had time to think about it more, the real nugget of advice that I would offer anyone who is embarking on a journey in the franchising space is to start by focusing on people.

I’m not talking about enjoying nice, jovial interactions — although, those are certainly important too — I’m talking about examining the intention of certain decisions and actions to see if they are people-focused. Do they have everyone’s best interests in mind? For instance:

  • Has the system been selective about the franchisees that they bring in? Franchisors shouldn’t simply award a franchise to anybody who can afford it. They should be establishing an intentional culture of people who have a shared mission and interest in the brand.
  • Do people respect what it means to become a business owner? The decision to become a business owner can be daunting at times. Do established franchisees remember the stressful early days and offer support to one another? Does the business development team act with empathy and understanding? Does the leadership team create systems to support franchisees at all experience levels?
  • Are there systems in place to get feedback from the franchisees — and for the franchisor to provide feedback? Every franchisor will tell you that they listen to their business owners, but the question is “how” do they do this? Is there actually a thought-through mechanism in place to offer help and guidance? For instance, at ANY LAB TEST NOW, we have a Franchise Advisory Council that provides feedback on all new initiatives and a call center for on-going support. Also, if we know a franchisee will be directly impacted due to a change, we contact them to hear what they have to say about corporate decisions.
  • Is planning important? Whether you’re in the corporate office or actively running a franchise location, planning is critical because it reassures people and helps them trust one another and the company. So, if a franchisor is trying to make too many changes at one time or is relying on franchise sales to be able to invest in necessary systems to support existing franchisees or anything of that nature, it may be a sign that effective planning hasn’t been a priority.

Whether you’re interested in embracing the franchise business model for your business or you’re exploring the idea of becoming a franchise business owner, understand that there’s more to our industry than simple dollars and cents. Beyond the balance sheet, it’s about vision, team spirit, listening and proper planning — it’s about the people.

If you’re interested in learning more about Any Lab Test Now franchise ownership, connect with us today.

Where Will Incremental Improvements Take Us?

There really is no such thing as an overnight success. If you see an actor or singer become big, seemingly out of the blue, that’s usually because they’ve been toiling away for years — and then, yes, their career finally exploded. It’s an important thing to remember when you’re ambitious and hungry for success — usually, the most successful individuals and enterprises don’t become the next big thing by taking big steps. Instead, success often comes through small but significant steps forward.

Not that I’m against taking bold, brash moves in the name of progress when necessary. But in my experience, it’s the seemingly small but substantial steps that make the most meaningful differences. One of my mottos or mantras as CEO of Any Lab Test Now is, in fact, incremental improvements. My philosophy is that incremental improvements for a business are what compound interest is to a retirement account. Over time, those incremental improvements, if you make them frequently, build into a formidable force.

I’ve noticed how important incremental improvements have been in my own life, and I doubt I’m alone. I started off washing dishes at Dot’s Country Kitchen in Jasper, Alabama, where I learned plenty, from how good it feels at the end of the day to have accomplished a full day of hard work, to how the most minor job can be one of the most important. If I had stopped washing dishes, eventually people wouldn’t eat, and the entire restaurant’s infrastructure would have come crashing down. And it isn’t like I moved on from there to become the CEO of Any Lab Test Now; there were plenty of other jobs in between, each building off the one that came before it.

Incremental improvements — there’s evidence in almost every facet of one’s life as to how important they are. I have four children, ranging from 14 years of age to 25, and I can tell you, one wonderful day at an amusement park or quality-filled vacation does not a well-rounded human being make. You raise well-adjusted children one day at a time, or if you prefer, one hour at a time.
And when you’re running a business, the same is true. The big and bold and brash steps generally don’t cut it — not when you’re employing people and their lives are on the line, at least in a sense. So, yes, I’ve more than established that I like incremental progress, and if you have a business and are looking to make similar small but significant changes to your company, I’d recommend zeroing in on a few things.

Focus on your employees, before your customers. Yes, you want a lot of customers — and happy ones at that. But you can’t get anywhere in your business, and you certainly won’t keep your customers happy and loyal, if you don’t start with your employees — or if you’re in a business such as mine, your employees and franchisees. If you work on deepening your relationships with your employees and franchisees, you’ll automatically be making improvements that will strengthen the bond between your business and customers.

But when you work with franchisees and employees, you actually have to work with them. That means you need to be engaged and listen, listen, listen. And if you do that, you’ll find that sometimes, no matter how great you think your system is, your employees or franchisees will have an idea that tweaks what you’ve created and improves upon it. It probably won’t be a wholesale completely new development, but as I keep saying, it’s those little pockets of progress that can really pay off later. And they have, with Any Lab Test Now, over and over.

Be willing to experiment. Experimenting takes time. Clearly, you don’t want to let a new initiative drag out if it’s clear that it’s failing. You need to know when to pull the plug. But you also need to allow people the freedom and space to fail — and then to try again, going down a new path, if you see potential in what they’re doing.

And being willing to experiment also means that you allow your team members the chance to grow, to try new things, to train them in areas that interest them. Not everything is going to work out, and as the leader of a company, you need to be able to know when to say no, firmly but empathetically. But you also need to be willing to say yes, sometimes when your gut is intrigued but your logic is wagging its finger. And sometimes instead, maybe you’ll meet a team member somewhere in the middle.

Set up the right environment to thrive. This is probably the most important way that any progress, whether incremental but important, or disruptive and meteoric, happens. Our existing franchisees want the company to grow, to be sure, but they also want resources dedicated to growing revenues and profitability. That generally doesn’t happen by growing too fast. In fact, the annals of business history are littered with successful businesses that seemed indestructible as they exploded in growth only to sputter out when they had expanded too quickly as the business’ costs outpaced its revenue.

We believe in growing smart — balancing our resources to bring new franchises into the system while supporting our existing franchises. We have overarching, ambitious long-term goals, but in the short term, we keep focused on incremental improvements. And one day, if it hasn’t happened already, some potential consumer will drive by an Any Lab Test Now facility and will think to him or herself, “I’ve been seeing that name everywhere lately. It must be one of those overnight success stories.”