How you brand your practice is crucial to its success

How you brand your business is key to how you’ll be perceived by existing clients and those looking for a new dentist.

How do I know this? Because I used to be bad at it!

I’ve learned, of course, and have leaned on the wisdom and services of branding and marketing professionals ever since.

But back in 1983, I made a blunder. Although I was marketing in many mediums at the time, I thought a humorous TV spot might be a useful strategy.

The commercial featured an absurd image of a dentist brandishing a carpenter’s drill about to start work on someone’s choppers. The idea was to apply a comedic twist to people’s fear of the dentist’s drill.

It didn’t work. Let me put it another way: people hated it!

So there I was, a successful dentist and I almost lost it due to a sixty second commercial.

The way you present yourself online, in print through marketing of any kind, is very important.

You want to consider the type of audience you have and the customer base you want to have. Look at the reviews you’re getting online to see what people are saying. Do a close review of your competitors and see why they’re getting their business to the level it’s at or even getting more business than you are. And use marketing and use the internet and social media and design to get your business to where you want it to be.

The lesson here is that you are an expert at dentistry and there are other professionals skilled at making you shine in the marketplace.

Pro-tip: if your marketing consultant suggests the carpenter’s drill idea, find another one!

Your website is only as good as your SEO

If you’re a dentist then you probably have a website. It might even be an awesome site. But here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter how much blood, sweat and money you’ve sunk into, if prospective clients can’t easily find your site then it’s not really doing you any good.

So how do you get them there? Try typing ‘dental office’ into Google right now along with your town or city and see what comes up. Is your website there or is it someone else’s?

To ensure your site is near the top of the Google search rankings (the goal in local search is #1), you need to work on your SEO. Search Engine Optimization is the method web experts use to make sites appear at the top of search results and get your business found by potential patients.

Given the number of practices competing for new customers local search is becoming a big deal and it’s only a matter of time before every practice starts to optimize their sites for maximum exposure.

I recently spoke to a guy named Mike Pederson about it. Mike is the CEO of Dental Boost, a cutting-edge dental SEO company for both solo and group practices.

He told me it all comes down to coming up with the right ‘buyer-intent’ keyphrases that people use on Google to find dental practices.

Typically, most dental practice’s keyword phrases number about 20. Mike Pedersen’s company has developed around 500 such phrases. However it’s about more than numbers. The better your phrases and search terms are, the more chance your practice has of rising up through the rankings.

Of course if that’s all it took then everyone’s practice would be at the top of the searches! There’s more and you should look into a company like Mike’s to give you some guidance. .

So is it worth it? Every penny!

Outside of word-of-mouth, web searches are the best way for people to find a new dentist.

Although a good marketing campaign also helps, making sure your business name is tops in web searches is a basic necessity, the digital equivalent of having a lighted sign in front of your practice.

Should You Hire a Dental Practice Consultant?

Most dentists enter the practice because they have a passion for the work, not out of a burning desire to be a CEO. Yet building and growing your dental practice requires you to be a top-notch business owner, capable of running everything from marketing to human resources, and from bookkeeping to daily operations. You certainly do not need to perform all of these tasks yourself, but you do need enough understanding of each process to tell whether it is working well or needs adjustment. As insurance reimbursements go down and expenses rise, it is more important than ever before to run a streamlined practice that drives profits without compromising the quality of care.

A dental practice consultant can be the solution. While you are understandably attached to certain ways of thinking and managing your practice, a consultant provides an outside perspective.  He or she can take an objective look at the business side of your practice and help you see things in a new way. With a consultant by your side, you are truly poised to take your practice to the next level.

However, hiring a consultant is not for everyone. If you are considering taking this step, it is important to understand some basic truths about what to expect.

Consultants Are Not Miracle Workers

A good consultant will challenge your assumptions and help you see your practice in a new way. However, the hard work of implementing changes will fall on you. In the short run, while you are developing new systems and processes, your workload may skyrocket. Your consultant will likely give you lots of homework to complete between meetings, and you may wonder why you brought this person in at all. Remember that it is the consultant’s job to assess your practice and make suggestions, but your job to bring those ideas to life. In the long run, though, your practice will thrive. Just keep your long-term goals in mind.

Change Begins with You

If your dental practice is struggling, it is easy to blame external factors. Your location is terrible, your staff is lazy, you can’t afford a fancy new machine, or a myriad of other excuses. While some of these may be objectively true, they are symptoms of the problem, not the root cause. As the business owner, you and you alone are ultimately responsible for the practice’s success. Bringing in a consultant is a sign of strength and good decision-making—you are admitting where you need help, and hiring someone with the specific skills and knowledge to fix those areas. Take a deep breath and trust the process, remaining open-minded to ideas that might at first strike you as strange.

Clinical Skill Is Important, But Not Sufficient

Many dentists with struggling practices try to educate themselves into success. Post-doctoral training, clinical workshops in cutting-edge techniques, adding in-house dental labs…all of these things help you to become an objectively better dentist, but have little to no effect on growing your practice. Remember, your patients are not trained in dentistry. Although the digital generation has more general knowledge about various treatment options than its predecessors, few patients are really able to judge whether one dentist’s clinical skills are better than another’s.

Continuing education is always an excellent idea, but to truly take your practice to the next level, you need to switch gears to focus on the business management side. Sometimes it’s as simple as going back to basics: Do you accept the insurances that are most common in your area? Are your wait times reasonable? Do you offer online appointment scheduling? Do you have extended or Saturday hours? Your consultant will analyze all of the little details that could be hurting your business.

Avoid One Size Fits All Solutions

Be wary of dental consultants who want to sell you their practice management “system.” Implementing systematic processes is an excellent thing, but they must be tailored to your practice. Every dental practice has a different patient base and different staff members, all with their own unique needs and desires. Local norms and conventions vary widely, as do individual offices. Look for a consultant that will make the effort to analyze your practice and make recommendations that are tailored to your needs, rather than plugging you into an existing system.

In today’s economy, dentists must run smooth, streamlined practices that provide top-quality care at minimal cost. To achieve this, it is vital to ensure that the business side of the practice is fully optimized. As most dentists are not business experts, bringing in outside help can be the solution. However, a dental consultant is not right for every practice. The points above can help you decide whether it is the right choice for you.

Ascent Dental Solutions is dedicated to helping dentists build their practices. If you are interested in learning how to take your dental practice to the next level, please contact us today at (800) 983-4126.

Dental implants growth tied to technology advancements

Although pioneering techniques have always been a part of dentistry, I must admit it’s been fascinating to watch how one in particular has evolved throughout my career.

I’m talking about dental implants. When I did my first implant back in 1983, it took three hours to get a single tooth in place. Back then the process included drilling into the bone to test for bone quality and quantity. The theory was that good bone density meant a good prognosis for a successful implant.

Since then I’ve done thousands of implants and the process has developed quite a bit.

Today, using cone beam technology we can plan the surgery in great detail. The cone beam allows us to check for quality and quantity of bone, height and width of bone without any invasive drilling.

Putting the technological advances in the procedure aside, it’s hard to overestimate how important an advance like implants are to the quality of life of patients. Even a patient with no teeth can have them all replaced.

It used to be a very time consuming and expensive process for a fully edentulous patient. Prior to cone beam technology, patients would wait weeks for treatment prep and planning to be completed. The prep has been since dramatically compressed over the years, resulting in a quicker and much less expensive procedure.

There are some companies such as Implant Concierge that are rather handy for dentists in that they handle all the post cone-beam scan work and create a plan for the dentist to work from. These are online processes that eliminate office work in terms of merging, segmenting and thresholding for the procedure.

What I like about such companies is how they allow dentists to integrate implant work easily into their practice without  stand-alone software, and the learning curve that it involved for everyone in the practice.

Outsourcing this type of work is a good strategy to increase your service offerings without impacting your current business. And because it expands the scope of your practice, it is good for client retention, referrals and your bottom line.  

So if you feel your practice is not growing as fast as it should, consider all the options.

Dentistry plays key role in sleep medicine

Feeling a little sleepy today? That’s okay, maybe you had a rough night. Not a big deal.

But what if you’re feeling sleepy a lot? Days or weeks at a time? You may be becoming dangerous.

Put another way, you may have a sleep disorder, putting you among the tens of millions who suffer with one. The dangerous part? It seems 20 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are associated with untreated sleep disorders. Do you remember the Challenger accident and the Three Mile Island danger? Both are connected with sleep disorder issues.

How does this relate to dentistry? First of all, the American Association of Sleep Medicine is considered the governing body. It provides the guidelines and the standard of care for dentists and physicians to follow in order to provide the public with the highest level of education and treatment options related to chronic, severe problems of sleep deprivation.

Most people consider going to a dentist for snoring only when their partner becomes disturbed and irritated. It’s a situation that is both uncomfortable and embarrassing for both parties.

So what can a dentist do to turn this problem into a profit center? Here are the proper process and procedures to provide excellent care in sleep medicine. Follow them and you will be able to increase your profitability by expanding your practices service offerings.

  • Get certified! Patients seek out dentists who have either a certification, designation or a minimum of 25 hours of training in the appropriate sleep medicine courses.
  • Learn to make the referral! A proper diagnosis requires the patient to get a polysomnogram (PSG), a level one sleep study done in a hospital setting where the individual stays overnight. Their eye movement, muscle movement and cardiac evaluation is constantly monitored along with their blood pressure, their inspiration, and expiration. A combination of all these factors will determine whether the correct diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea is present or not.

Now for the solution. Most think a CPAP unit is the logical solution. You put on a mask when you sleep and it solves the problem, right? Well, maybe. As many as 80 to 85 percent of people are unable to tolerate the CPAP. Users can find it constricture, claustrophobic and ironically, find it difficult to sleep with it on. It’s also a bit pricey at about $2,000.

A good alternative is a Intraoral or Mandibular Advancement Device.These devices keep the lower jaw in place and stops snoring just as well as a CPAP machine.

Over 90 percent of all sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea is caused by occlusion of the oral cavity or back of the throat by the tongue. By bringing the lower jaw or mandible forward, the tongue is advanced forward and the airway is open.

We’ve been providing intraoral appliances for sleep disorders for many years now and it is amazing to me how much better patients say they feel. Whether is be a intraoral appliance or a CPAP unit, your practice can benefit greatly simply by offering the service.

So are your patients sleeping well? Are they snoring? Maybe these are two questions you should be asking at every checkup from now on.

Formula for a great dental practice: S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

I have one word to help you build a great practice.

It’s special. Well actually, it’s S-P-E-C-I-A-L, bold letters and period too.

It’s no ordinary special. It’s a special special.

Confused? Sure you are. Let me explain.

The letter S stands for scheduling.

Having firm control of your schedule is essential to delivering great service. The single biggest mistake I see in many practices - including the 14 I own - are issues about either being scheduled too lightly or too heavily.

The second letter is P for Production.

It’s about understanding net production and what you’re writing off with insurance companies, government plans and such. In the end, it’s critical to have a profitable end-of-day and end-of-month bottom line.

E is for Education. Training, education and communication should never end. It starts with a morning meeting, continues with a pickup in the afternoon and the day should end with a meeting. This ongoing training and education should be built on proven successful processes and procedures.

C is about Collection. If the dollars are not collected for procedures done, your practice will fail. You have to ensure you have enough profit to expand and improve your staff and business. Collection is the gasoline for the engine, and you must understand that the goal is to collect 100 percent of what’s owed to you.

I stands for Insurance. You, your team, your managed service organization and especially your front desk personnel must clearly understand the differences between insurance plans because different plans have different reimbursements.

A stands for Accounts Receivable. I use the rule of 45 days meaning that if your net production is,45 days, your accounts receivable should ensure payments are made within 45 days.

So if your net production is $100,000 a month, then your accounts receivable should be approximately $150,000. If the accounts receivable are in excess of that, your policies and procedures are not working or they’re not being implemented.

Lastly, L stands for Liability. My personal opinion is there is no better way to reduce your liability than having written treatment plans that are signed and agreed to by your patients. Failure to get signed treatment plans that clearly state risks, benefits, options, and costs is a mistake that will cost you time, money, stress and aggravation.

So that is S-P-E-C-I-A-L. I can assure you it will be special to you if you follow each letter, day after day.

If you want to learn how to be special and more, don’t hesitate to contact me at drkevin@ascent-dental-solutions.com or at www.ascent-dental-solutions.com.

Investing in dental tech good for patients and your team

We’ve all seen the articles in dentistry trade magazines and skimmed the ads targeted specifically at dentists with some money to spend. Shiny, exciting new technologies that promise of increased productivity and higher profitability. What’s not to like? Sign me up!

But let’s take a step back and ask the fundamental question - is it really worth it to invest in new technology when what you have already does an adequate job?

Well there are two answers and the both start with an emphatic “yes.” The first yes, is that any investment in new technology is great for both patients and your team members. When it comes to choosing and referring your dental practice to others having a reputation as  a dynamic organization is on the cutting edge with new strategies and tools instills confidence and pride in your customers/patients.

Now what about the tech itself?

Let’s not beat around the bush. Some of the technology that is out there would have been science fiction just a few decades ago. In a recent podcast with Kevin McGonigal we discussed a software-driven product that creates a 3D image of dental procedures. For example you can show a patient the exact method you are going to use to execute a dental implant.

This kind of technology also engages and excites your team as they learn more about these procedures, giving them on-site training. And let’s not forget that a practice that’s tech heavy is an enticement to potential employees. After all, who wouldn't love to work in a practice that looks forward on a constant basis?

In general employees who know what they are talking about and patients who understand procedures increases  the education component for patients and in doing so, speeds up the process of getting a procedure done. For those sitting on the fence about getting a procedure, the 3D can help push the decision from a maybe to yes and that will have a definite impact on your bottom line.

There really is no downside to investing in good, useful new technology. Because if you’re not, your competitor up the street will and that will leave your practice looking a little dusty and unattractive to new patients.

Setting up a good dental practice same as setting up a good business

“So how do I set up a good dental practice?”

When I meet colleagues or new dentists, it’s the first real question that gets put to me, after the hellos and “that’s-a-nice-shirt-you’re-wearing” chit chat.

It’s a great question. But sometimes the answer I give isn’t exactly what they expect.

The answer, or at least my version of it, is that setting up a good dental practice is exactly like setting up a good business.

My colleague Steve Parker is responsible for that observation and he’s absolutely correct.

So how do you set up a good business that just happens to be a dental practice?

It comes down to focusing on five areas:

  • Leadership
  • TeamBuilding
  • Money (finance)
  • Metrics (measurement for the business and systems)  

Whether you be setting up a sole practitioner office or one in a DSO or MSO, the principles are the same. A DSO will provide the measurement systems and some of the team building tools.  But in the end it’s up to you to provide inspired and inspiring leadership.

But here’s the rub. Most dental school graduates emerge from the hallowed halls of their academe wielding a dental drill like a champion but with a limited business acumen that borders on financial illiteracy.

It may explain why some find the allure of DSOs and MSOs enticing. Much of the marketing and business growth is left to the corporate head offices.

But let’s go back to those factors again, one by one…

Leadership: It’s about the buck stopping with you. It’s about standing behind your team members so they know you have their back. Remember, how you behave sets the tone and atmosphere of your entire practice.

Team Building: Your team can build you up if you build them up. Get them to understand that training is a lifelong pursuit. If one of them learns something in any given day, ask them to share it with the others. Encourage sharing of lessons learned and how they were learned them. In essence, you are their coach, showing them how to do the work, push them when needed and cheer them when they do a superb job.

Money (finance): This one is important if only to ensure a smooth flow of finances to keep the doors open.

Metrics (measurement for the business and systems): This is about where you steer your Good Ship Dental and why you’re doing it. If you decide to focus on getting new children patients, then that is where you’ll point your metrics and determine your success.

Is it really that easy? Well yes and no. Within each of the four areas noted above there are multiple areas for discussion and exploration.

But those four factors are the foundation of setting up a good Dental / Business practice.

If you want more direction on setting up a new dental practice, please give me a call.

Marketing an essential part of running a dental practice

What’s marketing? To most dentists it’s a few ads in some dental mags and the local paper.

Marketing doesn’t seem at the top of the list when running a dental practice but it is invaluable.

I alway like to learn from the best so I talked to Russell Trahan, owner and CEO and President of the PR/PR public relations firm.

He says that the sweet spot for advertising is a mix of social media and print media. Although the allure of TV seems tantalizing for some he cautions that the ROI on that expense may not be worth it. Quite simply, radio or TV is here for a moment and gone the second it leaves the air.

Long term results lie with print and social media simply because after the first viewing consumers can return to them for future research. Sometimes they’ll even tear out a page from a magazine or newspaper - wherever they are. As for social media, the options to save content or bookmarking it is a very common practice.

Trahan also says the size of a practice doesn’t matter. It's all about name recognition.

Here’s perhaps the most important thing. You really can’t stop marketing and promoting your business. Dental schools are continually pushing new dentists into the marketplace, so new competitors are opening their doors monthly.

How much should you be spending on marketing? Trahan says between $1,000 to $3,000 per month. A good goal is to get your name to pop up when a viewer Googles a term like hometown dentist.

As for print media, local is usually better. But Trahan told a story of a dentist who once bought an expensive ad in Sport Illustrated. As he told it, it made his business profile pop. He was now a local dentist with an advertisement in a national publication. Because of that, he got new business from people who cited the ad when they came in. It was the proximity effect and his clients told him that as well.

So should you be planning your next advertisement in Time magazine? Well, probably not. But you need to continually market and advertise your practice. Because if you don’t, you’re not really open for business.

Profitability rises when focus is on patient

If you begin to think of every hour of your day as billable, you may soon start to believe any time spent away from the chair is a lost revenue opportunity. I understand that. But it’s a trap.

In order to provide the best customer care you have to be rested. So taking time to recharge your batteries is an investment in yourself that you can’t ignore. On one side of the equation you need to make time to be with your family, take a vacation to simply go to a movie. Professionally you can invest your time away from the office in networking events or even conferences.

Although I still love to take in new viewpoints on dentistry, these days I’m often behind a podium more than facing one.

The topics I speak to are all based on the questions that others ask of me. And one of the most common questions concern profitability.

Here’s the thing: profitability isn’t about chasing the dimes. It’s about leading.

There’s a big difference. Managing is about counting the dimes, leading is about growing your business over time. Although they are not mutually exclusive, they are in no way the same!

It’s about being focussed on the patient experience. Every member of your staff must focus on positive patient outcomes and a truly great patient experience. If you’re only focussing on the dollars, you’ll never get there.

For example you already know you have a wide variety of patients in your practice. Developing different customer service strategies for all of them is key toward retaining all of them. Are they positive, negative or neutral? Different types mean different handling procedures. Those have to be developed by you and your team.

On top of that, designing different processes and procedures for every engagement point of the customer’s contact with your practice is essential. Yes, your dental assistants and technicians are important to your workplace but so is your front desk person. Designing and delivering processes for every part of the customer contact chain is key to a positive customer experience and therefore, greater profitability for your practice.

Helping transform your practice into a growing one is what I do and can also do for you.

Please take a look at my Speaking Programs page: one of the topics there will speak to you and your experience. Then speak to me to get started on the road to greater profitability!