Learning how to wear the many hats required to run a dental practice can be challenging and overwhelming. In his book The E-Myth, Michael Gerber details the three jobs of the business owner. They are the technician, the manager, and the entrepreneur. Your clinical skills, simply being the dentist, satisfies the technician job and you’re probably quite good at it.
It’s this confidence that usually sparks the desire to own a practice. But how are you as the manager? This is the job that deals with the operations of the practice, such as hiring and scheduling staff, making decisions regarding inventory and supplies, dealing with insurance and collections, and other administrative needs of the practice, etc. Even if you have staff to help, with roles such as an office or business manager, you still have the ultimate responsibility of managing your practice.
And lastly, the entrepreneur? The job of developing and implementing growth strategies and preparing for circumstances or events that can impact the future success of the practice.
Whether it’s strategies to increase the number of new patients, deciding to implement new or improved policies or procedures to increase revenue or reduce cost, or simply making tough choices when faced with difficult situations. A recent example of this includes the decisions each dentist was forced to make when Covid-19 first arrived, dealing with shutdowns, staff layoffs or furloughs, PPP and other relief options, and implementing safety protocols, etc.
Owning a practice regardless of the particular circumstances is not for the faint of heart. However, thousands do it every day, and so can you.
The 3 Essential Tips to Help Your Dental Practice Succeed
So let’s make it a little easier for you. The following 3 essential tips will help your dental practice be more successful.
1. Zero in on the right practice data.
What is the right data? I define it as the most critical set of facts presented in a way that paints an honest picture of the practice’s performance for any given period of time. It’s the data that rises above the other data that often distracts us, or makes us feel better about our current performance. The right data is commonly referred to as KPIs, an acronym for Key Performance Indicators. KPIs also have to be timely…this means the data is recent and relevant and is reviewed at a frequency (daily, weekly, monthly) that allows you to make necessary changes or take corrective actions.
There are some KPI must-haves, such as a number of new patients, net production, and practice income. Those are important, but to really evaluate what’s driving the practice performance, consider some other KPIs that could provide real insight and help you make critical changes. And if you’re already familiar with these KPIs, the next question is do you really know the data? And how does the data compare to your benchmark or goal? Some helpful KPIs are:
Appointment Conversion Rate - This can include tracking the number of prospective patients that schedule an appointment after visiting your website or calling your office, etc. It can also include your cancellation or reschedule rate…of those patients who are currently scheduled, how many cancel or reschedule?
Active Patient Trend Line - You may do a great job of bringing in new patients, but do they come back? If the number of active patients is in decline you may have a problem keeping the patients you’ve worked so hard to get. You can also support your analysis by evaluating your recall and unscheduled treatment call lists.
Revenue Per Active Patient - A low revenue number could indicate issues with treatment plan implementation or selling larger fee cases, among other things. But it’s not all bad. A low revenue number also means there’s upside potential. When I’m working with a client to purchase a practice, for example, this is one KPI I love to analyze. It tells me about organic growth potential; and, organic growth is preferred because it typically costs less to achieve than other growth strategies, i.e. mergers and acquisitions.
Case Acceptance Rates - Paying close attention to the percentage of patients who have scheduled their treatment is one of the best indicators of current and future practice performance. Also, tracking the percentage of treatment the patient completed is another great KPI to monitor. Are patients only opting for some of the recommended treatments; or, are patients consistently choosing the short-term fix that’s less expensive?
There are many KPIs to choose from but try to select the four or five that will tell the best story about what’s happening in the practice. You can always track more, but these four or five are the ones you religiously pay attention to. And remember, whatever we focus on grows stronger!
2. Continue to invest in your marketing.
Many dentists stop or reduce their investment in marketing. I always remind my clients of the Henry Ford quote…” Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.”
There are many approaches to marketing a dental practice, and as dentistry has become more competitive it’s important to be good at many of them.
Your Website. Even as social media increases in popularity and effectiveness, your website is still the preferred choice by prospective patients to learn about your practice. Therefore, your website should stand out. If your website isn’t unique or special, prospective patients will assume your practice isn’t either. I won’t get into website content or function but there are a few best practices I can share here.
First, make it easy for prospective patients to schedule an appointment, including those who are looking at your website on a mobile device. An easy way to increase calls is to have a one-touch (clickable) phone number on your website. Clicking to call is always better than having to input (dial) the phone number, especially from the same device. This also applies to locating your office. Your address should be one click right into the patient's favorite GPS app.
Second, consider a live chat feature on your site. Patients expect you to be more accessible and it is often easier for staff to take information or schedule appointments.
Also, patients rely on reviews to help them make informed decisions. It’s not good enough to simply have reviews, and if you have them, they’re probably really strong. But you need to highlight them, make it easy for prospective patients to find or see them. To achieve lasting success, it is imperative to build a strong online reputation in the community. This is predominantly done with online reviews. Consider online reputation management to monitor and respond to positive and negative reviews. It’s also a good practice to keep an eye on your competitors' reviews as well.
Finally, make sure you’re focusing on SEO practices, otherwise, no one will find your website. It’s expensive, or if you’re doing it right it is, but it’s now simply a cost of doing business, no different than paying for your phone and internet service.
Video Marketing. It’s said that one-third of online activity is related to watching videos. Whether you use videos for education, practice information, testimonials, or fun stuff, etc. you need to utilize this ever-growing medium to educate and engage patients and prospective patients.
Social Media. With 4.5 billion active social media users around the world, it continues to be one of your most effective marketing tools. And unlike your website, it lets you take your message (and brand) directly to the people. Common platforms include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But don’t ignore other platforms such as LinkedIn, Tik Tok, and YouTube.
Other Marketing. Other strategies that have proven successful include email marketing to patients and non-patients, direct mail, mobile apps, eBooks, or other publications.
3. Take good care of your staff.
Some say your staff is your most valuable asset. Well, it’s certainly your biggest expense. Staff turnover is an even costlier proposition and takes a toll psychologically on the rest of the team. The following are important strategies to ensure your staff is happy and loyal.
Staff Lounge. If the staff lounge or break room is too small it can be very depressing. Your staff needs a place of respite. They work hard but when they’re not working do they have a place to relax, enjoy their meal, watch tv, quiet the mind, etc.? Do they have a place to put their belongings, such as lockers or cubbies? The lounge should be a safe place. If the lounge isn’t a place they can go, or want to go, then your staff will feel compelled to leave the office, maybe sit in the car to eat or go buy their lunch which can be expensive over time. This can cause resentment and before long it’s hard to return to the office and they consider looking for a new job.
Internal Job Opportunities. When employees know they can explore new opportunities within the practice they’re less likely to leave if they’re feeling stifled or need a change. As the owner, you should encourage your staff to express their desires to try new roles or apply for an open position, and not feel like they’re revealing some deep unhappiness or dissatisfaction with their current position. It may not be the right time or right fit, but if you encourage your staff to challenge themselves in a new role you may discover a superstar, the diamond in the rough.
Perks. Depending on what’s happening in the labor market, sometimes paying a fair wage isn’t enough. But simply paying higher wages isn’t always the required response. I encourage my clients to consider other forms of compensation or perqs (short for perquisites) to satisfy a staff member’s desire for additional compensation. Of course, always confer with your CPA or attorney before implementing any perq program. Consider the following examples…use of a preferred parking space, come in late or work from home on a specified day, gas cards (a big hit when gas prices are sky-high), provide time for staff member to run personal errands, or run errands for you (staff usually love to get out of the office while they’re on the clock), bring in lunch or treats, have a mobile car wash visit the office, and many, many more. Think outside the box, get creative. Those are typically the most fun.
Make changes. It’s important that your staff knows you listen and want their input or feedback, etc. Many do this well. But where things go south is that many owners never do anything with the information they receive. The staff sees this and it can easily become a source of frustration and resentment. Of course, there are decisions made or policies implemented that you just have to make on your own. But if the staff shares a complaint, or offers input or feedback, etc. you have to be willing to make changes that are a direct result of them voicing their views and opinions. And if changes can’t be made then you need to be honest and direct and share with them why a change can’t be made and see if there are alternatives or compromises. They’ll understand why a change can’t be made if you acknowledge their concerns and make a real effort to address it, even if it’s not the outcome they wanted.
Growing a dental practice isn’t easy, but you have the opportunity to serve many people in the community and do a job that you are passionate about.
RCA Global wants to help! We offer many services including buying or leasing real estate, financial and practice consulting, and advocate for our client’s long term success. Whether it’s dental real estate or running a dental practice, it doesn’t have to be stressful. To learn more about us and how we can be of service to you, please Contact Us today.