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Election Time State of the Union Dental Strategies

This is the year someone is staying and someone is leaving in Washington.  It will get better, or it won’t.  It’s happened before, and it will happen again.  The problem is, every time it happens you start trying to figure out what to do.  Back in 1985 I built a new building with 10 ops. We had almost 4,000 square feet to fill with new patients.  The problem was oil prices had just crashed, and land values collapsed.  I borrowed the money at just over 21% annual interest rate and couldn’t afford to put much down.  I had it made; the note just doubled every 3 years.  As bad as that looked then, we paid the note off in less than 10 years, and our practice grew 20% a year from 1985-1995.  My strategy:  Stop watching TV, reading papers or talking about the economy.  I just decided to do what I did best.  Put all my eggs in my dental practice nest and not participate with the decline of the economy.  It worked and it will work this time.  Dance with the one you “brung”, as we say in Texas.  Do what you know.  Don’t back off.  Go straight ahead.

Harry S. Dent has written several books.  “The Roaring 2000’s” predicted in 1997 that 2009 would herald the worst recession we have ever seen.  It would last 12-15 years.  He uses population demographics to predict economic trends.  It appears he might be right.  If this happens and the recovery doesn’t occur in the near future, what should you do?   What strategy will insure your success?  I intend this short article to be the first of several strategies that will carry you through with increased profits and lower overheads no matter what the economy dishes out.

The first question we always get is:  Should I stop marketing or cut back on this or that.  The answer is definitely NO.  The Chinese have a symbol that represents crisis.  It is made up of 2 symbols representing “danger” and “opportunity”.  In every challenge lie the seeds of opportunity.  The problem is we as Dentists and staffs have formed some less than ideal habits.    I call these “Poison Patterns”.


  1. Entitlement: This is the feeling that says; “I have put in my time”.  You have paid your dues.  You feel that you deserve to have an income level and a certain number of patients demanding comprehensive treatment.  I find this most prevalent in more established practices.  They used to be “The Practice”, but competition, demographics, consumerism and weariness have taken their toll.  They have hit a plateau and even though they raise their fees they just are not getting their share of new patients.  Note:  You can’t get better at giving patients what they don’t want.  If you are not growing, you are not giving your patients what they want.  Herein lies the problem.  Change is the only constant in the business of dentistry.  You have lost the desire and ability to “do whatever it takes”.  As we age we loose flexibility.  It’s like boiling a live frog.  Throw him in hot water and he jumps out instantly.  But place him in cold water and slowly raise the heat and he is dead.  This is what has happened to a lot of us.  It has been business as usual for so many years we have forgotten what it takes.  Solution:  Get a coach or mentor.  Listen to their advice and strategies.  Implement them without waiting for every thing to be perfect.  Reap the benefits. Three letters that will guarantee success: N –  O – W.  Now is the time to implement.  Now is the time to expand.  Now is the time to market.  As the Nike Ad says:  Just Do It!  He who hesitates is lost.
  2. Failure to set Prosperity Goals:  We’re not talking about little production goals.  I mean the type of goals you would make if you knew you could not fail.  BHAGS!  Big Hairy Audacious Goals.  If you would like a template for setting goals and learning a system for follow thru, just email us and we will forward a goal planning guide.
  3. Fear of Failure:  This is tied intimately with #2.  We have not, because we dare not.  We don’t establish the goals or execute a particular strategy for fear of failure.  Remember you only fail if you don’t get up after falling down.  In fact, one definition of an expert is “someone who has messed up more times in any particular area than anyone else”.  I would have to put myself in the overachiever category for doing thingswrong.  You learn a lot, it just hurts.  There are no mistakes in life, only lessons.   You must repeat a lesson over and over until you get it right.  The lessons just get more painful.  I have found pain to be a pretty effective teacher.  A better strategy is; find someone doing what you want to do and copy them.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  You can be taught or you can buy a head start.  There is an old proverb that says “anything worth doing is worth doing right”.  I would have to say they got it wrong.  It should be; “any thing worth doing is worth doingwrong”.  How many of us can learn a technique or strategy and execute it perfectly the first time.  I know it takes me time after time to finally learn to get it right.  We all fail.  It is part of life.  One thing I have learned in almost 60 years is that no one is watching (except your consultant).  All those years I spent worried about what people thought about me were wasted.  Over 99% of the people don’t know you’re alive.  Just do it.
  4. No Promotional Consistency:  Rather than cutting back on what you spend to promote your practice, increase it.  The common dentist will cower and withdraw from being proactive in difficult times.   This is not the time to follow the crowd.  Your marketing will actually stand out more by being one of the few who stayed the course.  It worked well for me.  To be truthful, I gave up an expensive trip so that I could budget the proper marketing during those hard times in the 80’s.  It was the best investment I have ever made.  It created “validity” for me and my practice.  We became “The Dental Practice” in McKinney.  It paved the way for success for the next 20 years.
  5. Inadequate Capacity:  Capacity is a strange word and a little counter intuitive.  It can be applied to a lot of things.  Physical capacity means rooms and equipment.  I always recommend having at least one more chair than you need.  You have all heard me talk about one more per day or even one less.  How doing one more of 6 simple procedures each day equals what an average dental office does in a year.  The average dentist works 200 days a year.  If you could do one more crown a day ($1000/crown), you would generate an extra $200,000 of revenue for the year.  Having technology, rooms, and equipment make dentistry effective and efficient without increasing staff costs.  Not having enough staff creates confusion, stress and a lack of quality care for your patients.  We feel that a well run general practice should produce $20-25,000/month/staff person.  You should be able to produce $25-30,000/op/month.  If you are not producing at this level you are not properly staffed or appropriately sized in your facility.  Lack of consumer hours prevents you from taking advantage of one of the most important marketing strategies in dentistry; Convenience.   Capacity touches everything.   Learn to look at your practice as a business.  Max and I just opened a couple of new practices this month and to my consternation I re-realized that everything matters.  The smell, clutter, attitude, hours, location, cleanliness…..  It all matters.  Get back into the habit of asking the hard questions and looking at your practice like a patient.   I call this TLC.  Think Like A Customer.
  6. Target Fixation:  I could go on and on about this, but lets look at the obvious one — the 800 lb. gorilla in the corner of the room.  The Economy sucks.  Believe it or not, we have practices that are currently having the best months they have ever had.  Target fixation, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, cause you to freeze.  You go stupid.  You don’t or won’t do anything.  Your strategy is to just hunker down and do nothing and hope it all blows over.  I don’t know about you, but I have invested more money in the last month in my future than I have in the last 5 years.  Your systems (what you are doing now) are precisely designed to give you the results you are getting.  Act.  Just do it.  Don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read the paper.
  7. Financial Captivity:  Too many of us have swung for the fence when it comes to investments and spending.  The average dentist in the USA is 54 years of age, $225,000 net worth, divorced once, sued 3 times, 2 days of hygiene, $387,000 of production/year, works 220 days/year, 47% have had trouble with addictions, and over 67% would not go into dentistry again or recommend it to their children as a profession.  What a poor state of affairs.  How you handle money says volumes about your character and business sense.  Far too often, I see high producing doctors failing to pay their taxes, having spouses spend them into the poor house, or living beyond their means by sending their underachieving and un-appreciating and unthankful kids to private schools only to have them addicted to drugs and the marriage ending in divorce.  Wake up.  No one cares about your lifestyle.  Begin with the end in mind.  You have to decide how much is enough.  What is the amount of money you need after becoming debt free to retire?  Define that number and it will create a set of circumstances that help you stay the course.  For the first time in your life, every decision will move you closer to your goal.  If you need help in dealing with this or need a strategy to transition your practice, just call me (Cell 972-523-4660).  It is not too late.  Just call.