As a business, a dental practice has the potential to be a solid success for many decades. But there are pitfalls along the way, and more than a few dentists have had their careers derailed by situations that had nothing to do with their clinical skills.
A dental practice is a long game, which means you need a vision and a strategy that matches. Then you can take the steps necessary to maintain stability in hard times and thrive the rest of the time. The first thing to accept is that the steps you take and the habits you develop at the beginning of your career make all the difference.
Step one is deciding what type of practice you want: how big, how lucrative, a high-end cosmetic or high-volume clinic, and as much else as you can specifically define about the practice you envision working in for forty years. That vision may change but, as the saying goes, if you don’t know your destination, it doesn’t really matter which way you go, because you won’t get far.
It’s also important to know why
you’re doing dentistry, and why your vision is defined the way it is. Are you looking to help the most people? What strata of society do you wish to serve? Are you looking to be hugely financially successful, or is that secondary? Is the quality of your work paramount, or the number of people you get out of pain more important? Being clear and specific about why you are doing what you do, and articulating that to the team, is essential to effective execution of your plan.
Speaking of the team, you need to build a team that understands and is aligned with that vision. That means communication skills. You will be refining those skills throughout your career, from honing your case presentation skills to effectively motivating and training your team. And beyond that, you will need to build a practice brand. Just as important will be your personal brand.
In this new world of digital marketing and social media, those two brands are being created whether you like it or not, so it’s better to take control. All brands, simply put, are a collection of perceptions that take shape in the minds of consumers. They are based on personal experiences and interactions, as well as online impressions.
Used properly, the online world allows you to differentiate yourself as unique, by showing who you are, what you care about, what interests you, and why you do what you do. (There’s that “Why” again!). This is created through consistent effort using social media. The content you create and post and the reviews that you generate over the years will define you and your practice, so this needs to be a skill set applied by the dentist and the team.
One of the biggest pitfalls in growing a successful practice is managing debt. It is all too common today that a dentist graduates with a substantial amount of student debt, and then proceeds to buy an expensive car and a comfortable new home, while also beginning to live a lavish lifestyle after the austerity of dental school.
What this does is create a massive amount of bad debt, and an inability to borrow for important things like practice acquisition or value-enhancing technologies. This becomes compounded if the dentist gets behind on some of those payments. A credit score is essential to build and takes years to repair when it drops. And a good credit score means you can get better interest rates, more flexible terms, and borrow what you need - when you need it - to grow your business.
Take the time to understand how your credit is measured and monitor it throughout your career. Often you may think just because you pay all your bills on time that you have solid credit, but the fact is that certain types of debt, like credit cards, and the ratio of debt versus your assets will both play a major role in your ability to borrow. Cash reserves, low credit card debt, and lack of extravagance will all be key factors with lenders. Fiscal responsibility will serve you all your days.
Most of the time, you will need guidance to make the best plans and financial decisions. I am a strong believer in lifetime coaching. Just as a major league baseball ball player has a team coach, a batting coach and a fielding coach, you want to have a practice management coach, a financial advisor and a clinical mentor. And the sooner you have these, the faster you will get to your vision, with a minimum of risk and the satisfaction of steady, stable growth.
It’s been said by economists that a dental practice is the best business model of any industry in the country. I believe that, because I’ve seen what success can be achieved when dentists play the long game. Be smart, be frugal in your early years, and get strong coaching and guidance, and you will live a rewarding life, a comfortable lifestyle, and help thousands of people along the way.