I’ve had the privilege of visiting just about every imaginable type of practice you can think of: Big, small, productive, struggling, new, old, happy, sad, urban, rural, everything. You would think that I would limit my research to just the great, but I have found things to take home in even the most challenged practices. I was talking to a young doctor who was facing a four-year commitment with the armed forces before embarking on his journey of owning a dental practice. In the conversation, I related to him the first two years of my startup practice, where I ventured out to visit almost 20 dental practices in the US that all produced over a Million dollars per year. Let me set the stage and your perception of how really difficult this was and why it changed my perspective on the business of Dentistry. The timing was 1976-77. If you could do $100,000 a year, you would be at the very pinnacle of performance in dentistry (Bob Levoy’s book: The $100,000 Practice). I went on a vision quest for practices that were 10X this “gold standard” — 10 times what an incredibly productive practice would collect a year, the never before heard of $1,000,000 practice. Adjusted for inflation, this would be over a million dollars a month today. This would be like searching for evidence of a unicorn or the elusive Bigfoot.
It all started when I was exposed to Bubba Yates during a fifteen-minute conversation at a dental seminar we were both attending. I was a recent graduate about to open my first practice after two failed associateships, and he was an older, more mature dentist. The conversation was clinical, but somehow I felt like he had a secret that I needed to learn. It wasn’t until I visited his office for a day that I learned that he was that mythical 10X office. Back then there was no Internet, no newsletters, no informative publications, and not even many speakers. Dentists were isolated and clueless to what a challenging benchmark would even be. It was that one commitment to request a visit to learn more that completely changed the trajectory of my future success. In a way, it birthed the Super General Dental Practice. It was confusing when I think back because I realized that his office location, facility, staff, and even his clinical dentistry was not any better than my own. But he was doing 10X the collections of what I ever hoped to obtain. At the conclusion of the visit, I was just as far away from figuring out his secret, as I was the day I met him. In desperation, I asked if he knew any other practices at his level of production. To my surprise he gave me a couple of names of doctors in other parts of the country and promised to make the introduction. A year and a half later I finished my initial quest to find these practices. I realized that while there were differences of talent, staff, good looks, and business skills, none of them had anything more than I did. Yet their results were almost magical. When I returned home from that final practice, I made a promise to myself to set the goals, do whatever it took, and to continue to seek out expertise in the form of mentors and consultants and not waver in my pursuit of excellence in the form of clinical, business, and interpersonal expertise with patients and staff. Along the way my goals expanded. But underlying everything I did was the original quest that challenged and changed my perspective of “how to think about my business”. It was as if I realized for the first time that if I could ask the hard questions, even though I couldn’t answer them at that moment, it automatically put me on the right path to resolution and results.
Back to the young doctor to whom I was telling this story. It’s funny, but at it’s telling I drew some inferences and conclusions that never really materialized until that moment. Everyone asks: What should I do first? So here are my revelations of how seeking out mentors and examples of where I wanted to go changed everything for me. Jim Rohn said: “You will end up being the average of the 5 people you are around most.” I suggested to this young doctor that during his stent in the service he take the opportunity to seek out practices to visit. Super practices would be great, but you can learn from anyone. Here is why I suggested this:
- You don’t know what you don’t know: Age or experience does not matter. You will always find things you did not know by visiting those that excel at what they do. The neat thing is that once you learn something, your vision improves as well as your judgment.
- Proximity effect: It’s almost like osmosis when you enter a super successful practice. If you are honest, it smells, tastes, and feels different, almost as if there is a mysterious energy source created by the collective mission and vision of a committed team and doctor. The mistake most visiting doctors will make is trying to find weaknesses in the other practice. I know I did at first. It is what they do well that will help you. You can always, as I say, “Abernathy-ize” it. Take the good and give it your unique ingredient, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel, or be so negative about change that you fail to embrace what you learn.
- Don’t discount what location, luck, and timing played in their success: Few super practices can admit that if I moved them to a new location where they had to start over, that they would never come close to their previous success level. I have seen them try, and they all failed. Yes, they were hard working and talented, but they were no longer who they were 20 years ago. There was no momentum. You have to rebuild your staff. Location, luck, and timing will play at least a 40% role in your success.
- Seeing undeniable results is hard to ignore: Positive results are the reality of a game well played. There are never any excuses that counter great results. The “whatever it takes” attitude along with a story of striving will be repeated in every practice you visit. There are no natural born dentists. They all have faults and nearly all have a story of struggling and overcoming overwhelming odds.
- Resetting your bar: Chasing success through observing great results means that you subliminally will reset your expectations. Success is too vague a term and can be defined in many ways. This journey will help you define what success is for you in the form of patients, money, family, quality, systems, etc.
- Great dentists do not succeed by themselves: The doctor who never learns that he or she must partner with their staff is destined to struggle and will come up short every time. Consistent leadership almost guarantees that you will have little or no turn over in staff, unlimited numbers of new patients, and less stress in your life.
The sad fact is that dental practices can “make” men and women or “break” men and women. Once you discover some things that you never knew, the responsibility falls on your shoulders to implement them. Knowledge is not power. It is potential power. There is no learning without application. It’s up to you to create the culture and then direct the vision you choose. This is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS
PS — One thing that all the best practices strive to do is reduce costs wherever and whenever possible. If you haven’t already become a member of BEST for Dentistry, I encourage to do so today and start saving big $$$$ on a host of goods and services that every practice buys routinely. Here’s the link: www.BESTforDentistry.com. There is no cost to join. Do it today!