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Ten Tips to Running a Successful Practice

Dentistry is becoming increasingly complex. There is more competition for services, particularly in urban areas such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and attracting new patients requires a concerted effort. Insurance is evolving, significantly impacting reimbursement.

Graduates are looking to jump-start their careers so they can begin paying off their considerable school debt. However, researchers at the Levin Group Data Center report that dental students spend less than 2% of class time on practice management and marketing. How is a starting dentist to master managing a practice? THE NEXTDDS has 10 tips for you to consider.

1. Create a business plan.

This plan is your road map to success—it describes your business, sets goals, defines your customer base, and analyzes finances. While investors or loan officers may ask for it if you are seeking funding, the process of writing the plan will help ensure that you understand exactly what you need to be successful in your market. It will provide direction and structure for your business, and you can use it to check your progress as your practice grows.

2. Stay on budget.

The average cost of a dental start-up is approximately $400,000, but can be as low as $250,000.3 Buy only the equipment you can afford. New technology is great, but it can also be expensive. Purchase items when you can justify their cost. Will you see a return on investment within 5 years?

3. Align with trusted experts.

While you are the clinical expert, it can pay to invest in practice advisors such as accountants, management and business consultants, marketing consultants and/or lawyers. According to the Levin Group Data Center, 35% of dentists report collaborating with a management consultant. Ensure that anyone you align with has specific dental expertise, and take advantage of the ADA’s resources to help you identify qualified consultants.

4. Track your business performance.

Even if you hire an accountant, it is important for you, as the expert of your business, to analyze and understand changes so that you can alter your business strategies when necessary to reach your goals.

5. Strategize different growth scenarios.

Only grow as fast as you can handle. Playing catch-up is a game you may not win.

6. Manage your risks.

Your business could face market, financial, operating, or hazard risks. Your ability to handle threats depends on strategic planning and oversight. An insurance professional can guide you in securing proper practice protection. Having back-up plans in place for various risks, such as an electric outage, technology failure, and reduced cash flow can minimize your exposure.

7. Continuously re-evaluate your marketing strategies.

Develop clear and simple messages that speak to the patient, and list your practice in online directories. Ask new clients how they heard about you to determine which marketing efforts are most successful. Older patients may respond better to mail, while younger patients may prefer digital media and online ratings tools. Choosing one method over the other could alienate an entire patient group. Everyone responds best to word-of-mouth advertising, so consider incentivizing referrals.

8. Consider your communication plan.

Survey patients to determine their preferred method of communication—mail, phone call, text. Use their preferred method for appointment reminders. Social media is an excellent way to keep your practice top of mind for patients. Optimize the timing of communications such as practice news and updates, making sure you maintain a consistent online presence. Be sure to respond to questions, comments and, most importantly, criticism within a set timeframe (e.g., next business day).

9. Adapt to healthcare consumerism.

Patients are shopping for care—seeking value by making informed choices. In addition to costs, factors that influence their decisions include appointment times (after work and weekends), convenient access (public transportation or accessible parking) and customer service/care. Retail-focused, consumer-friendly service can help you build loyalty with your patients so they return for care.

10. Explore new practice models.

New dentists and current practitioners are increasingly turning to the DSO practice model for its ability to assist with many of the operational tasks associated with the dental practice (e.g., marketing, accounting, staffing). This approach can be ideal for those with large student debt, those desiring flexibility in their schedule, and practitioners seeking to gain experience in the business of running a practice. If considering items 1 through 9 on this resource is daunting, the DSO-supported practice may provide exactly the structure for which you’re striving as you enter the profession.

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