Promoting a dental practice has come a long way in the past 20 years. It used to be that literally, word of mouth was the way a dentist built a practice. Starting out assisting a well-established practitioner was the tried and tested path.
After all, dentistry can trace its roots to the medieval era when training apprentices provided masters with cheap, impressionable labor.
Such continues to occur, albeit in a more controlled and licensed way. Many practices today still take on trainees. But unlike the past, rigorous milestones now exist with standards of practice, hygiene, technical competence, and 360-degree assessment of the master also finding a place in the development of practitioners.
Practices grow over time. As the clientele increases, older dentists will naturally hire more staff. Less expensive assistants are obviously found from the cadre of newly minted dentists. And, doing both a good and relatively painless job leads to requests from the patients.
This, in turn, builds the confidence of a fledgling dentist, the reputation of the practice, and goodwill that lead to referrals which will grow the base.
At some point, those trainees turn into practitioners capable of starting their own practices. At this point, a decision must be made.
● Strike-out on one’s own
● Push for a junior partnership in the existing practice
● Join another practice, hoping to parlay such into a partnership track
● Propose a joint-venture with existing partners.
Let’s consider the pros and cons of each route.
The overriding questions that must cross one’s mind are:
● Clientel & Marketing
● Administration & Assistance
Funding One’s Own Practice
One can fund a practice through a variety of means:
● Friends and Family
● 3rd party investors and/or bank loans
● Under-serviced communities that are looking for a practitioner.
But funding is one side of the equation. Going hand-in-hand is managing one’s costs. Over the past several years an entire industry has evolved over renting space in existing practices. There are investment groups that equip dental offices and then rent chair time.
While such is expensive and feels insecure, the key aspect for any new practice is not the equipment or specific location, it is the clientele.
The whole economic model here hinges on being in business for a sufficient number of years to develop repeat customers who will then follow the dentist (within reason).
And, while building up this clientele, one was to save up enough capital for a downpayment on one’s own office, then this entrepreneurial strategy will work.
Reaching out to others to fund can also get sufficient capital. However, then one must consider the cost of that capital and, if going the friends-and-family route, what the impact might be on personal relationships and/or how things might work out if there is a cash call because of a crisis.
And then there is the other option: buy an existing practice. Just as new dentists enter the workforce annually so too do people retire. One might be offered an existing practice and/or
Location, Location, Location
Where one chooses to hang one’s shingle is a fraught decision. Deciding to set up shop across the road from another dentist might work – especially if the other dentist is not too popular.
But it also can dilute the potential customer base making. Dentistry cannot easily compete based on price. It’s not like a dentist hangs a pricelist in the window.
On the other hand, choosing an area that is poorly served can also raise various questions, chief among them is, why hasn’t anybody set up here before?
It could be that there is a low demand for dentists in general due to local attitudes to dentistry and/or being close to a larger metropolis, most likely customers would gravitate instead to services they can visit more easily during the day while at work.
The premises themselves have to convey hygiene and safety. Obviously opening a clinic atop of car body repair shop connotes all sorts of incompatible images. And of course naming a place that conveys familiarity and a good location, like 4th Avenue, Family Dentistry leverages images to communicate such.
Clientele & Marketing
One of the ways most new practices get their start is through taking clients with them from their previous employer. There might be an agreement that one signed previous to being an apprentice within another practice that prevents such. But this does not hinder your existing clients from recommending you to their friends.
Another way to drive business is through websites, marketing, and community activities. Being recognizable in the community can lead to referrals. And, to take a page from Coca-Cola, being the first thing one thinks of when one has a need (in this case a toothache instead of a thirst) brings in new customers.
The key to the best way to build clientele is to listen, something that for example, Eagle Gate Dental stresses on their website.
Administration & Assistance
The final aspect of practice is to keep good records. Beyond knowing your customers and making your various payments on time, scheduling and being available even when in the middle of another client consult is part of the image one wants to cultivate.
Finding an assistant that helps with billing, organizing as well to providing the right tools, and managing irrigation and drainage is.