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A strong professional network can help support practice owners through the good times as well as the bad. But outside shared experiences, what other benefits are there? By Tracey Porter
When industry veteran Michelle Pritchard first left clinical practice to launch a dental consultancy 12 months ago, she never imagined she’d soon be researching the impact of domestic violence leave regulations while trying to keep abreast of workplace health and safety legislation modifications.
Likewise, when Dr Chris Sanzaro began mentoring a young dentist in his local area, he never suspected that within three years he’d be on his way to road-test a new technology for his clinic already mastered by his former mentee.
But by recognising the critical role that people around them played in their professional success, the Aligned Business Consulting founder and The Dental Surgery Newstead practice owner made it a priority to begin engaging with professionals both inside and outside of the dental realm.
Not just the obvious
Pritchard, who has co-owned practices with her dentist husband and successfully managed dental and health practices, argues the right network can prove pivotal in personal and professional development.
She says an outsider’s perspective can prove critical in helping to support and empower practice owners on their business journeys.
“The encounters I’ve had with dental industry specialists have proven instrumental in not only forging collaborative partnerships but also fostering connections with industry associations and other key stakeholders.
“I believe my network is a cornerstone, not just for personal growth but for credibility. Being in different networks can assist me in gaining industry-wide validation. This credibility resonates with peers and potential clients alike, solidifying trust and expertise.”
Dr Sanzaro, who has been in practice for nearly 20 years, says having a burgeoning list of contacts can pay big dividends, particularly for those new to the dental sector or the local area. Dr Sanzaro, also an ADA Federal Executive council member, argues the benefits of maintaining a buoyant network go beyond the opportunity to showcase your professional capacity or secure referrals, with the right contacts able to assist with everything from career progression and idea sharing to recruitment and logistics.
The ripple effect
It’s only natural a substantial portion of oral health specialists’ networks will reside within the dental industry, however, it is also important to cultivate relationships across diverse sectors outside of dentistry, both Dr Sanzaro and Pritchard say.
“Networking helps you get established, helps get you going and helps get you known in the community. One of the important things I’ve noticed is that when people understand your style and your approach, they come to know what you do within the dental community but also within the local community,” says Dr Sanzaro.
“I keep hearing stories of people getting in trouble financially or mentally who can lean on that network even if they don’t think to ask. I also find that practising in a regional area means there can be hold-ups getting equipment maintained or supplies not turning up. If we run out of something or if we’re short of something, we can lean on that local network to help get us out of trouble.”
One advantage often overlooked in maintaining regular contact with those outside of your normal social or professional circle is the value in being able to share pain points and stamp out feelings of inadequacy, Pritchard says.
“My network is amazing at helping me with self-doubt and inadequacy. Engaging with peers lifts me and they also serve as a reminder that challenges and doubts are shared experiences and not isolated struggles.”
Tips for growing your network
Pritchard agrees that growing your network can seem overwhelming at times. Fortunately, there’s more you can do besides adding trusted colleagues to your annual Christmas card list or attending the odd industry sports day.
She says the key for her has been to diversify her approach, tapping into both traditional and innovative methods. These include taking a membership in relevant organisations, active engagement on social media, in-person attendance at industry conferences and seminars, and participating in webinars and podcasts, as a way of connecting with professionals who resonate with the presented insights.
“While Christmas cards and golf days have their place, face-to-face interactions like the ADX conference created the most tangible foundation for subsequent virtual interactions. Of course, the digital age brings a plethora of avenues to explore. By embracing webinars, podcasts, active social engagement and sharing my expertise through written content, I feel I have increased my contact list to include those I can collaborate and partner with, as well as those in my niche market—dental and dental specialist practice owners.”
You can’t afford not to
Both experts believe those who decide against networking or only put minimal effort into it, are doing themselves, their place of employment, and the industry as a whole a great disservice.
Pritchard says not only are they missing a great opportunity to be seen as a thought leader, but they also risk stagnating as not being exposed to industry insights or trends can lead to a lack of growth and innovation.
“I learn so much from the connections I have. I see new ideas and seek to learn about them to see if they’re a good fit for my clients. Connections serve as conduits for idea exchange. The absence of a robust network limits continual learning in the industry. It is impossible to keep up with everything, but by using your network effectively you shouldn’t get left behind.”
Dr Sanzaro further adds that the need for a supportive contact list never wanes no matter how successful the individual. “There’s an argument to be made that if you don’t take the time to network, then you’ll create the time to do so because your business probably won’t be going as well as you hoped it would.”