10 top start-up tips for dental practice owners

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start-up tips for dental practice owners
Photo: dolgachov – 123RF

Success in dentistry’s strongly competitive market is anything but guaranteed. But with focus, clarity and a fair dollop of common sense there’s a multitude of ways new practice owners can stack the odds in their favour. By Tracey Porter

Underestimating the importance of culture within his clinic almost saw Dr Nauv Kashyap’s thriving practice fall over before it had begun. Forced to confront a revolving door of staff, it wasn’t until Dr Kashyap undertook an honest appraisal of his management style that the tables began to turn.

In recognising the important part his decision making had on his very first practice, Dr Kashyap was able to turn his small clinic of 2500 patients and $400K a year turnover into a thriving business boasting 40,000 patients, an eager and loyal staff and an impressive turnover of $6 million. 

Today, in addition to his original practice, Dr Kashyap has started and purchased a further 15 dental practices and through his consultancy, Practice Ownership Consulting, has assisted over 1000 people wanting to own their own practice.

Hack #1 Plan ahead

So how did he do it? Dr Kashyap says any start-up is a risk in today’s economic environment so it’s important to have a clear understanding of the key industry benchmarks for major expenses. These include things like auxiliary wages, consumables and rent or leasing costs. While most people rush to spend money on marketing their new practice, doing your homework to understand the type of marketing that works in your demographic is probably more important, he says.

Hack #2 Invest in staff

Dr Nupur Hackwood, the founder and director of Just Excel Dental Training and Consulting, knows only too well that staff churn is one of the many pitfalls that can befall rookie dental practice owners. Having run her own busy four-chair dental practice for years before becoming a consultant, Dr Hackwood says it’s important for practice owners to develop staff teams that have a clear focus and clarity on their job responsibilities from the onset. Providing them with the right tools to empower them while investing in regular continuous quality training for all staff will always reap rewards, she says. 

Hack #3 Delegate

Dr Kashyap says while a broad range of clinical skills and excellent communication abilities are important when starting a new practice, the most important attribute of a successful dental practice owner is the ability to delegate. While many practice owners boast brilliant clinical skills and excellent ability to develop patient rapport, many fail at being owners because of their inability to delegate tasks to staff without direct supervision from you as practice owner. “Generally, if your personality is one that may need to micro-manage then dental practice ownership is probably not a good fit for you,” he says.

“Don’t worry about if a particular piece of equipment will get delivered on time—focus on what you need to do in the here and now.”

Dr Nauv Kashyap, owner, Practice Ownership Consulting

Hack #4 The Four Ps

Dr Hackwood believes that when setting up a new dental practice or taking over an established one, dental practitioners should focus on four key areas of dental practice management. These are: People (which covers staff recruitment, onboarding, orientation, staff alignment, rosters and payroll); Processes (patient care, service recovery, staff flow, lab flow, clinical efficiency, record management and infection control); Purchases (stock and supplies, inventory management, and soft and hardware); and Production (marketing, KPIs, reporting and profit and loss). “Get things set up properly before you open the doors and invite patients into your ‘home’,” she says. “You don’t get a second chance to make a strong first impression.”

Hack #5 Limit costs

When first starting out on your practice ownership journey it can be tempting to equip your practice with only the latest and greatest equipment and technology on offer. This is a risky approach to take and could leave you paying a hefty price when it comes to long term profitability of your practice, says Dr Kashyap. A far more sensible approach is to consider limiting your initial spend on a top-of-the-range chair, a cone beam computed tomography machine or fitting out multiple rooms until you have proven cashflow, he says.

Hack #6 Don’t stress

Too often practice owners, even experienced ones, get caught up in worrying about one or more aspects of their business. Dr Kashypa’s advice? “Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen with regards to your particular issue.” He says that if the issue he is concerned about isn’t going to cost the business above a certain dollar amount, then he doesn’t even let it occupy space in his mind. “Once you have quantified these things, you will often find that the worst case, even if it does happen, is really not that big a deal.”

Hack #7 Encourage collaboration

Running a dental practice is impossible to do alone, says Dr Hackwood. She says the most successful practice owners recognise that by setting up weekly staff training programs in-house and encouraging staff members to identify problems early, any issues that arise can be troubleshooted collaboratively. Not only does this help practice owners identify weaknesses they may not have been aware of, but team members will also take greater ownership over improving systems and processes in their key area of responsibility. 

Hack #8 Have a contingency fund

Few successful businesses in any sector start out without having a safety net for unexpected financial costs. Dr Kashyap says this is important if you are just starting out because it allows you to meet your financial obligations without having too much of an impact on the business’s daily expenses. One of the most troubling aspects of a financial contingency fund however is settling on an appropriate amount, he says. “I posed this question to our Practice Owners Facebook group and received a variety of responses from experienced owners. The general consensus was that a contingency of $80,000 was the point at which most owners felt comfortable when entering into dental practice ownership.”

Hack #9 Let go

Understanding and accepting that there are some things that are beyond your control is one of the first steps to developing a profitable dental practice, says Dr Kashyap. “Go work on a task that you have control over and occupy your mind. Keep busy. Don’t worry about if a particular piece of equipment will get delivered on time—focus on what you need to do in the here and now.” He says often the chance of a really bad outcome is tiny but our brain focuses on that. “The result is that, in the unlikely event it comes true, we have made it worse by worrying about it for days. In the more likely scenario that it doesn’t even occur, we have worried about it for days for no real reason.”

Hack #10 Keep the faith

Self-doubt is a normal and healthy part of being a new business owner, says Dr Kashyap. But when taking advice from others more experienced than you, it’s important to be discerning. He says it is not uncommon for some experienced practice owners to complain negatively about all aspects of their business. But negativity can be catching, he warns. “Don’t surround yourself with people that constantly talk about how difficult running a practice is—it’s hard to soar with eagles if you keep walking with turkeys.”  

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