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!

New Dentists: independent or corporate practice a personal choice

Congrats. You’ve finished school and graduation was a blast. However after you’ve taken off the cap and gown, you have dentistry degree certificate and a lot of decisions to make. Life happens fast and you don’t have a lot of time before you have to begin your career.

You’re at the proverbial fork in the road. And you really have two options: corporate dentistry (Managed Service Organizations or Dental Support Organizations) or starting your own practice.

Corporate dentistry is definitely an easier road and a lot of grads are tempted by the allure of a steady, predictable income. I come from a different world. I know how great it is to have your own practice, set your own rules, define your own standards for performance, and even set your own hours of operation.

I’m not here to judge. What works for one dentist won’t work for another. Corporate dentistry isn’t going anywhere and both private practice and corporate work each have pros and cons to consider.

One of the objections I’ve heard when speaking to new dentists who are considering opening their own practice is, what they see, as a lack of experience in clinical skills and complete absence of any practical business knowledge.

To these dentist corporate dentistry looks pretty good: more skill experiences, a built-in primer on running a business and the piece of mind that comes with knowing everything else is the corporation’s problem.

But here’s the thing. I’ve talked to many practicing dentists who have taken this path only to find out that the above scenario isn’t necessarily true.

Experienced dentists today say 50 or 60 percent of the stress in their practice, is not related to their clinical focus but rather, caused by staff and patients.

These are stresses that will happen whether you’re the captain of your boat or a hired hand on someone else’s.

For me, being independent and in control of both the clinical and business aspects is very important. Not only do you control every factor in your professional life, it also pushes you to get the training on the clinical skills you need and upgrade your management skills.

It really comes down to the kind of person you are. Do you just want to do A, B and C? Then explore a corporate dentistry opportunity.

Just don’t do it because you’re lacking clinical skills and business savvy. You can learn those while developing your own practice. And this is something I help new dentists do through my private coaching programs.

So ask yourself: what kind of a person am I? Are you happy being the employee, or would you rather develop the skills to create something special? The answer to that will ensure you make the right decision: your right decision.

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.

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.

The direction of your dental career starts on Day 1

In any career, the earliest decisions are always the most crucial.

Decisions made at the outset of any endeavor directly determine the path you're on and at least in rough terms, where you will end up.

And yes, when you walk out the doors of dental academe, the choices begin.

Today, the new dentist is faced with an important fork in the career road that really didn’t exist when I started out some 34 years ago.

To go the corporate dentistry route or not is a decision that would have vexed Hamlet and it’s the same for new dentists.

Corporate dentistry (Dental Service Organizations or Managed Service Organizations) is a very viable route for new dentists. But the decision to go that route has everything to do with the kind of life you want to live and the kind of person you are.

Here’s a few questions to mull over.

Do you want to set up your own service standards or subscribe to ones set up by the chain’s management?

Do you want to grow your own practice through your own marketing or using DSO chain-wide advertising?

Are you comfortable with the change in ownership that can happen with a DSO or MSO and the new standards of performance and profit sharing that can result?

These are all very important questions with many spin-off issues from each.

Exploring these issues with new dentists is the most rewarding part of my career as a dental coach. If I can help guide them to the decision that’s right for their lives, it means success for them and me.

And after all, we all want success on our terms. How one goes forward with their career is directly reflected with how they want to live their life.

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!

Early decisions in a dental career are the most crucial

New dentists don’t often think of themselves as business people. But that’s exactly what they are. Whether you are starting your own practice, buying into a practice or joining an established team as an employee, your decisions are all primarily business decisions.

And the choices you make at the beginning of your career are some of the most important you’ll ever have to make.

When you leave dental school you are ready for patient care. But what about career care? What business prep have you received?  I can tell you that when I left school it was very little and that hasn’t changed much.

I was out on the street with a DDS and not much else.

Thirty-four years later, I have 14 dental offices, 23 dental associates and over 150 employees.

I learned a few things over those years. Today I coach young dentists, so they don’t have to figure out the toughest part of the job  – the business part.

I still practice dentistry day after day. Oral surgery, implant surgery, TMJ, orthodontics, endodontics, periodontics, fixed and removable prosthesis: I do it all. I can do this because I learned how to implement processes and procedures that make the business part work efficiently.

I talk to new dentists all the time and I get the same questions over and over again.

“Do I open my own practice?”

“Should I take over a practice from another dentist or join a corporate practice?”
“What should I consider before signing a contract?”

“How can I research a practice and learn more about it’s potential for growth?”

These are all great questions and I wish a simple FAQ would do the trick. But every dentist’s situation is different. While some are more entrepreneurial, others might prefer to clock in and clock out in time to hit the golf course a couple of times a week.

Defining your goals and then mapping out a career plan to reach them is something I enjoy doing.

If you’re interested in this specialized career guidance, take a look at my dental coaching program and I will help you match your plan to your goals.

Talking to dentists is a great spring break

Last month I had a great spring break at Destin 2017. No, there wasn’t a lot of swimming, or reading by the beach. It was a different kind of break: one where I was connecting with fellow dentists and sharing best practices to make our businesses more profitable.

At these types of events the one-on-ones are great. But I was fortunate enough to have been invited as a speaker – thereby allowing me to share my practical experiences with more people dentists than I could ever have reached simply walking the halls.

With 34 years in the industry building up 14 dental practices, I played to my strengths and talked about building profitable dental operations.

Specifically I spoke about the reality that cutting corners often costs a practice more than one might think. Instead I am an advocate for investing in the processes and procedures that really drive business growth.

It comes down to what I call the SPECIAL approach:

S scheduling tips that make a big difference to profitability by increasing efficiency

P production improvements to provide better care and service to patients

E employee or team member management that make everyone want to deliver better results and perform at higher levels.

C collections improvements that will show you how to reach 98%

I internal controls to help you manage your practice

A associates and accounts receivables as a tool for growth

L liabilities and asset management to protect yourself and your business

The talk went over very well, given that in the days afterward, I was fielding questions about the SPECIAL factors from many in attendance.

If you weren’t able to make it to the conference – or even if you did – I pulled together a resource page with the slide deck of my presentation, and related materials.

If you want to talk to me about how to make your practice SPECIAL, please send me note and we can schedule a private coaching/consulting session that will help you make your dental practice more profitable going forward.

Dental implants good but only in specific situations

Dental implants have grown in use over the years and for good reason. In an ideal scenario, an implant can replace a problem tooth quite well.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the ideal procedure for all patients. There are many mitigating factors to consider before recommending an implant.

First, check the condition of the teeth next to the implant area. If they’re good, then I would recommend proceeding. If not, I would think a conventional crown and bridge treatment would be better.

Here are some common questions and answers that arise during treatment planning:

  • How long will the implant last?
    • Typically ten years or longer.
  • Does implant surgery hurt?
    • In most cases, implant surgery is less painful than having a tooth removed. 
  • How long does implant surgery take?
    • Most of the time, placement of a single implant will take less than fifty minutes.
  • Do dental implants fail?
    • Yes, about 10 percent fail on the lower arch and 20 percent on the upper arch.

Many factors increase the failure rate, but the most common are smoking, diabetes that is not under control, and poor patient home care.

A dental implant cannot get a cavity but it can develop periodontal disease. Other failure factors include poor quality and quantity of bone and putting the implant into function too soon.

Can you place the dental implant immediately after you extract a tooth? Yes, but you have to be able to remove the tooth with as little trauma as possible to provide the implant with the best bone available.

If the dental extraction is completed with little to no damage to the surrounding bone, than in many cases, the implant can be placed immediately.

When discussing the cost of a dental implant with your patient, make certain they understand that at least three different fees may apply.

  • The first fee is the surgical placement of the implant.
  • The second is for the implant abutment.
  • The third covers the placement of the implant crown.

Your patient should be aware of the total cost before treatment.

An implant is a good way to handle a problem tooth in the right circumstances. But a truly successful implant experience includes involving your patient in the entire process, from rates of success to the cost.

This is just one of the best practices I talk about when coaching other dentists. If you want to talk to me about coaching your practice, please contact me.

Cover your assets with a dental non-compliance form

At some point every dentist will have to tackle a tooth restoration. Of all the types of restoration, the most challenging is doing a composite restoration that looks good, functions well, has nice interproximal contacts, and isn’t sensitive.

It’s generally not the first recommended treatment in your care arsenal. But often it’s what the patient wants. 

Just be certain to let them know to expect sensitvity during it and that the process will need a root canal and crown to finish.

But a restoration can create more clinical problems than anything else we do in our day to day practice. In most cases, a better treatment plan might include an inlay, onlay, or crown rather than a very large and complex composite restoration.

When the patient refuses the most appropriate treatment plan, always have them sign a non compliance form. Such forms are signed by both the doctor and patient, stating what was recommended for treatment and what your patient has elected to do.

Let me be candid: performing a treatment you do not agree with should be avoided. However, in the real world, often you will have make compromises. And in such cases it’s important to protect yourself and your practice.

A non compliance form decreases the chances of a patient requesting that a failed treatment be conducted at no charge or even taking legal actions against you or your company for the results.

I recommend informing all patients considering large restorations that there will be very probably be sensitivity issues that may require a root-canal treatment, and most likely a crown to fix.

This disclosure should always be made before you perform the procedure, as it shows you to be an astute clinician; when done afterward, you only appear to be making an excuse.

If you’d like to learn more about the best practices for your dental operation, please contact me for a consultation.