Growth is derived from understanding how business development works, then investing what is necessary to do it right.
This article is written for the dentist who badly wants to grow their practice, or the dentist who thinks growth is just a marketing tactic away. To achieve breakthrough levels of growth requires a commitment to more than a simple marketing tactic.
If you want to practice dentistry on your own terms, the way you like, with the patients you enjoy, you have to understand the fundamental principles of business development.
Once you understand these principles, you cannot escape the fact that business development for your dental practice is going to require you to optimize and master three separate and distinct, but interconnected functions of a business development plan for dental practice owners.
In the order in which you need to set each function up, your plan should include:
These three functions work with each other to optimize the growth of your practice. When any one area is not functioning properly, the return you achieve on the investment in the other areas is not as high, and may be nonexistent all together. As a result, you don’t grow nearly as much as you should.
However, if you take the advice this article is meant to deliver, internalize it, and take the necessary steps to put the insights into action, you will have more patients than you know what to do with. And a practice you can’t wait to arrive at each and every day your doors are open.
And note, there are no secrets here. These are just sound business principles if executed to perfection will help you win, and win big. They require work, and investment of time and money, but in the way that produces the best results.
As to secrets…Anyone selling secrets is an asshat to be avoided.
So, with that, let’s dive in.
Whether you buy an existing practice or start a practice from scratch, the very first thing you need to do is establish systems, protocols and procedures that define how your practice is going to operate.
Then you need to carefully document everything so that the people who work for your practice know exactly what is expected of them.
One reason, in fact the most important reason, is that your systems and protocols will define how you and your team engage and serve the needs of your patients.
Another reason is that documenting and enforcing the protocols of your practice will put every member of your team on the same page. As a result, they will be much better able to create a WOW experience for the patients who come to your practice.
There is a bottom line and top line component to getting your office in tip-top shape. If you are all operating on the same page, things will operate more efficiently. If you are more efficient, you are able to offer services to your patients better, faster and more cost-effectively.
Design Your Key Conversations
But internal engagement is more than being a good dentist, with a good staff. It is also communicating effectively to your patients. To do this right, you need to plan for it.
You need to understand your patients on a personal level. You need to know who is coming to your practice and why. You need to meet with your staff to anticipate the patients needs, and greet them in a way that tells the patient you know and care about them.
This is the only way to optimize the patient experience and the only way to maximize the referrals you get to your practice.
What types of activities go into optimizing the internal workings of your practice?
- Staff hiring
- Staff training
- Establish procedures and protocols
- Document everything
- Design conversations between you and your staff
- Design conversations between you, your staff and your patients
The next thing you need to do is set up an internet presence so that the people you want as patients find you when they need you. At a minimum, you need a kick ass website and a Facebook page.
The Internet is Where People Discover You
The internet changed the way your patients find you and choose you. While most would agree that patients choose a dentists based on a referral from someone they know or trust, they still ultimately seek you out on the web to find out if you are a good choice.
At a minimum, even a referred patient will:
- Search your name on the web
- Find your website to determine if you can meet their needs
- Compare you to your competition by looking at your competitors website
- See if anyone is saying nice things about you and your practice
If you don’t have your web presence in place, you will lose those patients who will ultimately choose the dentist whose website paints them in a better light than you.
All the work you put in to develop a rock solid internal operating system will be underutilized as a means of acquiring more patients to your practice.
Must Come After You Get Your Ship In Order
OK, so what if you start with a great website and overall web presence without getting your house in order?
To answer this question for you, I want you to consider two things:
- Just because someone finds your practice, doesn’t mean they are going to become a long term patient
- Every patient you attract from external marketing should turn into 5 to 20 referred patients over the life of that patient
I see more often than I like the dentist who chases the latest trend in marketing tactics without getting their own office in order on the delivery side of things. They invest large sums of money on SEO and Social media without realizing that when people call the office they are greeted with someone who has no phone skills.
More than that, you should expect that for every dollar you invest in external marketing to acquire one new patient, you should actually acquire 5 to 20, or more.
Every New Patient Should Turn Into 20
Every patient you acquire should love your office so much that they can’t help but refer you. If you internal protocols are not in place, you will, at best, break even on your web marketing investment.
So, when you are thinking about investing in any type of marketing service, consider first the following metric. For every 1 patients you acquire, you should expect to acquire an additional 5 to 20 patients over the life time of the original patient.
To do this, you must ensure that your internal operations are working properly. Otherwise, your return on every 1 dollar of external marketing is going to be 1 patient, if that.
Things to Do for a Kick Ass Web Presence
What goes into having a rock solid online presence?
- Custom website: Modern design, built for your patient base
- Social Media: Genuine approach to relationship building is mandatory
- SEO: It isn’t just about ranking
- Advertisement: Super targeted if done right
- Newsletter: Need to stay current with existing patients
- Testimonials: Everyone wants to know what others think about you
- Stories: Nothing is better, and I mean nothing
- Content: Be useful, and grow
- Videos: Second best thing to a face-to-face meeting
The last thing you need to do in your plan is external marketing. Things like advertising and community engagement are critical to the success of your practice, but are only marginally effective if you don’t have your internal and internet systems in place.
The biggest mistake I see dentists make is to assume that advertising is dead, or that building awareness isn’t necessary if they get referrals or have a great website.
Why is this wrong?
Psychology of Being Present, All the Time
It is a matter of psychology. People choose that which they remember. People remember that which they see all the time.
So let’s say that someone finds you on the front page of a Google search. These days SEO seems to be the rage, having dentists diving all in to this one tactic. Fair enough given how important the web is.
But let’s say someone finds you on the front page of a Google search.
They are also going to find at least 7 to 9 of your competitors. That means that they are going to have choices. And how do people make choices? They choose that which they are most familiar with.
That is correct. You spent all that money on SEO only to lose the patient to the competitor who goes to the local school once a month to teach kids how to take care of their teeth.
Why is this the last function in your plan if it is so critical?
Can Be Expensive
The reason is, in many cases, external promotions is expensive. If you don’t have your web presence set up, or your internal protocols finely tuned, you will get only a fraction of the return you should be getting when you advertise or do community outreach.
I would go so far as to argue that if your website is terrible, or outdated, or your staff doesn’t know how to treat patients, you shouldn’t spend a dime on any type of promotion or brand building campaign.
Things to do to Improve Your Community Presence
What goes into effective offline engagement? There are a number of things you can do. My personal favorite, because you get the biggest bang for your buck, is the community interaction. It is officially called Cause Marketing, but it is simply aligning your business with a local nonprofit to achieve a common goal.
Anyway, here are a few things you can do in addition:
- Print, but done correctly
- Advertising in the local papers, done correctly
- Community interaction, engaging nonprofits and the schools, correctly
- Peer to Peer networking, but done in a way that solidifies relationships with people who can refer people to your practice
What is growth and why does it matter?
Some dentists don’t care much about growth. They are content to have what would be considered a lifestyle practice, where they work a set number of hours and collect a pretty fixed level of production.
But that is not you.
You want more. You want to enjoy the patients that come to your practice. You want to practice the kind of dentistry you like. You want to have a great relationship with your staff. You want your staff to love working with you. You want your staff to love working with your patients.
You want the community to know that you are the best dentist in the area and that it is a no-brainer to choose you for their dental needs.
The only way to do this is to follow the advice as is laid out in this brief article, hire the people who can make it happen, invest now, so that you can enjoy the benefits of owning an operating a finely tuned dental practice for the life of your practice.
Owning your own business is often times a scary proposition. Luckily for you, owning a dental practice is one of the least risky businesses you can start. Like any other business though, to grow, you need to invest.
You need to develop a mindset around doing things the right way, not the cheap way.
Many go cheap, and as a result, get cheap rewards.
That aside, if you are going to do it right, here are just a few things that I would like you to consider:
- Treat the money you spend to grow your practice as in investment not an expense.
- Invest up front to build the systems that will feed your practice for the life of your career as a practice owner.
- Understand that if you do this right, up front, you will only have to invest to maintain the systems you put in place.
- Being a great dentist is terrific, but it is not enough to grow your practice.
- You need to hire slow and fire quickly, because your success depends on the excellence of your staff.
- Stop chasing the marketing tactic peddled by those trying to make a fast buck.
- Stop thinking you can get by with a minimum investment.
- Stop taking action without developing a plan.
- Be cautious about taking advice from your peers. What worked for them may not work for you.
- Don’t spend your time doing things that you are not qualified to do, or that take too much time to learn how to do. There are professionals you can pay, that will allow you to focus on being a great dentist.
- Don’t commoditize yourself by signing up with a dental marketing firm who templatizes your brand.
I am out there, going to conferences, talking to dentists, mingling with my peers. What strikes me as tragic is all the snake oil sales people out there trying to convince you that their tool or tactic is the holy grail.
You are sold by the promise of the quick fix for a penny. Or, even worse, you are taken in by the grandiose promise that requires you to invest all your money into the basket of the narcissist who is making the promise that will never be delivered.
Or, I see the dentist who knows better. The dentist who invests early in their career to develop the right systems and procedures, who spends a little money on a website that doesn’t look like every other dentist in the world and the dentist who get’s out of the office, engages the community or places a well crafted advertisement in the local paper.
These dentists always smile. They seem relaxed. They never lament about how much their staff drives them crazy. Their staff loves them. They don’t leave the practice.
Their patients love them. Their patients tell other people about how much they love their dentist.
They make a decent profit but more than that, they love their life.
This type of dentist is the type of dentist who people want to be around. They grow because they understand the principles of business development, and make the necessary investments to comply with each and every one.
This is the type of dentist you want to be and the type of dentist we want to work with.