Blind Spots: What established dentists would do over, if they could

2014 04 22 15 07 02 651 Keller Jan 200

To say that new dentists face a myriad of challenges in setting up their first practice is an understatement -- ask anyone who's survived the process and is now running a successful, profitable business. There's hiring, facility headaches, financing, marketing, and -- oh yes -- finding the patients to fill all those comfy new chairs!

As a dental consultant who has worked with hundreds of practices, I've heard many times what my established clients would do differently if they got the chance to do it over again. I've heard the advice they would give their young counterparts about their own "shoulda, coulda, woulda" decisions.

This list is not exhaustive, but let's takes a look at a few.

Hire a consultant.
This is not a self-serving statement. Experienced consultants have the knowledge and background to help their clients steer clear of the common pitfalls that can derail a practice before it even opens its doors. They know money is tight and will work with you to incorporate their fee into a reasonable, realistic budget.

Practice management consultant Jan Keller.Practice management consultant Jan Keller.

Check references on anyone you consider hiring. Make sure they can demonstrate a history of helping their clients build and sustain successful, profitable practices. Ask questions, including "How can I afford you?" Good consultants will not be threatened or put off by your concerns. On the contrary, they will applaud your due diligence.

If you're not sure where to begin looking for a consultant, I suggest you visit the Academy of Dental Management Consultants (ADMC) website. ADMC is an organization I belong to that includes many of the dental industries top consultants. Also try the Speaking Consulting Network, another great organization consisting largely of dental consultants specializing in various areas of the industry. Or, you can call dental peers and ask them who they have used or would recommend. A little effort before you begin will go a long way toward ensuring you find the consultant who best suits your practice.

Hire the right people, the first time.
Good staff members are vital to a practice's success, just as the "wrong" staff can keep you in a constant state of flux, wasting valuable time and money as people come and go. While finding good people isn't always easy, it is possible.

My clients would tell their younger counterparts to resist the urge to fill the vacancy with the first person who applies, no matter how tempting it is. I instruct clients to use a "forensic" hiring process, which simply means following a checklist of dos and don'ts that dramatically increases their chances of finding the right person for the job the first time.

“The impulse to view yourself as a clinician rather than a small-business owner is understandable. It's also potentially fatal.”

Learn how to retain patients.
Attracting new patients to your practice is vital to your early success, of course. But equally important over time is patient retention -- keeping them invested and motivated in returning on a regular basis, and bringing their friends and family with them.

Unfortunately, without a clear and consistent plan, it's not uncommon for patients to simply fade away and for the doctor to be left wondering, "What did we do wrong?" The answer to that is very unlikely to be clinical in nature, by the way. The most common culprits are poor customer service and communication, which is the subject matter of my consulting service and speaking topic: How to "C" Your Way Clear to Greater Patient Satisfaction and Retention Through Customer Service, Communication, and Continuing Care.

Maybe the most important aspect to remember is the final tip.

Accept the reality -- you are a business owner.
The impulse to view yourself as a clinician rather than a small-business owner is understandable. It's also potentially fatal. In many practices, the doctor simply signs the checks and looks the other way. At best, these practices are surviving, while many others fall victim to debt, stagnation, or embezzlement. You don't need a business degree to run a successful business, but you do need to acknowledge your responsibilities as a business owner and put people and procedures in place to help you succeed.

Jan Keller has more than 25 years of experience in dentistry as an office manager and a software trainer. Now, as a practice management consultant, she provides customized practice development and education to clients and their teams. She is certified by Bent Ericksen & Associates in employee law compliance and also by the Practice Management Institute.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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