We are faced with a game we have to play. Like it or not, we are participants in this pandemic. Marketing is that way, too. You cannot, not market. Everything you do is marketing. Not marketing is marketing. Everyone markets. Those that do it well control its outcome. Now, and for the next few months, everything you do will decide your potential recovery.
- Some will go under,
- some will decide not to come back,
- some will sell and work as employees,
- many younger doctors will never be owners and instead will become a lifetime employee as they see the down side and risks of ownership.
This has the potential to alter everyone’s financial future. But you get to decide what you will do. What others do or say does not have to define your choices and ultimate results.
I want to give you an example and a little different perspective on what you need to do. So, let’s assume it is just before a holiday, the family and kids are at your house, and the kids want everyone to play a board game. My worst nightmare. Perhaps it is either a new game you have never seen with lost instructions, or one so old that you can’t remember how to play it. As much as I don’t enjoy playing games, I would have to say that once I decide to play, I am there to win. I am going to crush those 5-10 year-old grandkids.
The game we face is a pandemic. COVID-19 is the third SARS virus to hit us and, like games from the attic, it is new for us and there are no rules on how to play. There is a financial recession component that we are overdue for. We are facing the perfect storm and you need to know what to expect and what to do.
If we take this analogy a little further, the kids bring in the game and we open it. Here is how I always approach a challenge.
- I quickly take in the big picture. What does the game board look like, what pieces do we play with, where do you start and where is the finish line? Who is the competition? Remember, there is a cost of not playing the game well. You lose. This pandemic game has a huge downside.
- I want to see the rules. One of the most frustrating things I often face is some one that has played the game before and is a self-professed expert at it. They will quickly explain the rules. Not only do they not remember every detail and it seems that either they really never played it, or they have forgotten the rules, but they also seem to always want to change the rules. This is happening right now. We are told one thing today only to see it contradicted by someone else at a later date. It’s like playing with your older sister who explains the rules and then, just as you are about to declare yourself the winner, she throws out another rule or exception. It is this uncertainty of how to win and what rules to follow that makes COVID-19 so frustrating and dangerous. There is a growing consensus in some circles (this started in New York and on the West coast) that Dentistry causes the spread and may have been at its epicenter in the US. Perception swings and the public has a new target to attack. In this game we need to try to find the rules and follow them. People who cheat or don’t follow the rules will find themselves behind the eight ball. Remember: Carefully study the rules and their implications on what actions you should take, but act quickly. Look for the pitfalls and opportunities and how to take advantage of them. Quickly analyze all the advantages and disadvantages that you could see and then act.
- Get specific by studying the board. To your surprise, there will be places where you could lose a turn, go back to start, move ahead 2 squares, or there is a fork in the road where you have to draw a card or make a blind choice. Those who see not only the big picture, but can also dissect the details, will have a definite edge on everyone else in the game. This is what I do best. The OODA Loop: Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Observe-Orient-Decide-and Act allows you to get ahead of your opponent and win. Look past your first move to see how your actions have affected your game strategy. You cannot procrastinate! You be ready to act quickly for the next move. You never fail as long as you keep getting back up.
- Play for the long game: While timing will never be perfect, play a consistent strategy while embracing change by adapting to new circumstances. Stop thinking like a dentist. Ask yourself:
- What can I control? No one can control everything every time.
- What can I not control? In this case, only how I react to ever changing circumstances.
- What are the best moves for me? Not the moves that everyone else is making. Forget the herd mentality.
- Who do I listen to? Who do I emulate or “draft” behind? Watch the winners, they have done it before. This gives you a head start.
- What can I learn during the game to help me employ the right strategies? Being in the game gives you the opportunity to adjust and take another turn or swing at bat. My favorite quote is from Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
- How quickly can I act? Ready, fire, aim. Procrastination is way over rated.
- Take on a “Startup” mindset: Whatever it takes. However long it takes. Do it right and be consistently persistent. Do not miss the opportunity for this “do over” button.
- Do not get distracted: Listen to the advice, hear the news, but do not take your eyes off of the prize. “Winning”. Time is not what you should measure, it is your progress and finishing well.
Predictions on the near future:
- I expect to see shelter in place as well as dental office restrictions to last until late May to June. The press is identifying grocery stores and pharmacies as the primary contagious vectors for the virus now. Nothing we are doing will diminish the numbers of those affected. The stats tell us 50%. The current strategy hopes to buy time for hospital capacity to minimize deaths. The virus will do what it does.
- There will be difficulties meeting PPE acquisitions for the rest of the summer with oversupply, hoarding, and then lack of supplies ebbing and flowing for months into 2021. Don’t forget that flu season will begin again and we will see another SARS virus or flu virus beginning in October on through the winter of 2021. Every consumer business will be irreversibly affected by a heightened demand for cleanliness and disinfection. Restaurants, cruises, airlines, and vacation destinations will not return to normal for years, if ever. Be the expert in your town and profession. Let your patients know exactly how you are different and the new efforts you are taking to ensure their safety. The cost of doing this will raise your overhead at least 1%. Start hunting for shields, disposable overclothes, and facemasks at the N-95 level or greater with covers for those also. I would even look into the cost of fogging equipment to disinfect the entire office and then market the fact you have it and no one else does. Redesign the check-in and flow patterns of your office now to minimize any large group settings in your office. Technology will become a huge component in this endeavor.
- Even well into the recovery, I expect to see a 40-60% patient attrition rate due to finances and unreasonable fear of going to the dentist.
- As high as 20% of dental practices may not make it back. I am hoping it is far less.
- I expect dental employee unemployment to stay at about 30-40% even after we go back to work due to the decrease of patient visits, poor productivity, and fewer patients spending money on dentistry after losing their own jobs for so long. Competition for fewer dental jobs will affect the pay rate for employees in the short term in order to fit our overheads. Supply and demand will be down, costs will be up, and business growth will plateau.
- A significant number of senior independent dentists will throw in the towel and retire or sell and finish their careers as employees. This will drastically affect job opportunities for younger doctors.
- Graduation of the 6,800 dental seniors this year will be delayed until late summer or fall. They cannot finish their requirements in the clinic and they cannot do their boards on patients. With fewer available jobs due to lack of demand and more qualified dentists from seasoned doctors not retiring, associate jobs will be hard to come by. Jobs that they thought they would have after graduation will not be there.
- Pay for associates will suffer if any or all of these things happen. It will be based on an algorithm dictated by overhead and need. You need to be able to make a profit with associates and with higher costs this will be more difficult.
- Many staff members will not be hired back at the end because of a slow recovery. There will not be the demand for dentistry, so you will have to choose whom, when, or even if you will hire all your staff back. There will certainly be a large pool of employees available if you wish to upgrade your staff.
- The return to normalcy will be a ramped strategy that will follow the actual production and profits that you can create in this new dental economy. Keep a goal at $20,000-$25,000 of production per employee.
- DSOs will struggle with their already debt-ridden groups and a decrease of demand over the long haul. This will also lower the number of available jobs for recent graduates.
- Corporations and DSOs will take advantage of a drop in value of dental practices. I expect values to drop by at least 10% to 20% into 2021. Previous values may never return. In the past, DSOs switched from purchasing practices to starting their own.
- The wild card will be the public. Will pandemic hysteria change the face of retail and dentistry? Online purchases will triple this year and people will shy away from areas where there are large groups. In the short term, I feel the general public will direct their efforts, money, and time to things other than dentistry. It is up to us to influence their decision and get them back in our offices.
- Email every patient at least once a week with a message of compassion and caring and a recipe for the best dessert or dish your grandmother ever made.
- Call every patient over 65. You, the doctor, need to call them and check in and see if there is anything you can do for them.
- Do tele-dentistry and, where possible, let the public as well as your patients of record know that you are always available for any emergency they may have.
- Take online courses to expand the range of services you offer, expand your knowledge of the “business” of Dentistry, and apply what you learn to a stronger come back.
From this point forward you need to have that “Startup” mentality you had when you first opened. The “whatever it takes” t-shirt needs to come out of the closet it has been hiding in for decades.
We need to face this with a bold faith and common sense. Imagine a Red Zone Strategy in football. Not for the team that is in scoring distance but for us the team with the goal at our back and we have to stop the momentum of this pandemic and the fear that is pervasive among our patients. While stuck at home, decide to be accountable for not being this vulnerable ever again. When your staff sees you, I hope they don’t even recognize you because you are so energetic, focused, engaged, and ready to share your strategy for the practice you always wanted to have. You and your staff will have the beginnings of a practice culture that does not settle, that embraces consumerism, and whose purpose is to serve your patients in such a way that you are guaranteed 15% growth every year. You can be better than you were. You are not a victim. You can beat this. You already have the skills to do it. You have an opportunity to experience a defining moment that will change your future forever, and I want to help. You have a great chance at coming back stronger than you ever were.
From Seth Godin’s weekly blog:
Is everything going to be okay?
If we mean, “Is everything going to be the way it was and the way I expected it to be?” Then the answer is NO. The answer to that question always is no, it always has been no.
If we mean, “Is everything going to be the way it is going to be?” Then the answer is YES. Of course, if we define whatever happens as okay, then everything will be okay.
Given that everything is going to be the way it’s going to be, we’re left with an actually useful and productive question:
“What are you going to do about it?”
Michael Abernathy, DDS
- Help for a speedy recovery: I will call it The Optimized Dental Practice
- Get the new (revised and updated) version of The Super General Dental Practice book (we will be referring to certain chapters or areas in the short video formats). Simply click here to download.
- Do the 6-stage self-diagnosis so you understand exactly where you are.
Diagnose Yourself – Part 1 (click here)
Diagnose Yourself – Part 2 (click here)
Diagnose Yourself – Part 3 (click here)
Diagnose Yourself – Part 4 (click here)
Diagnose Yourself – Part 5 (click here)
Diagnose Yourself – Part 6 (click here)
- Watch the series of short videos presenting:
- One thing to do (The immediate action step.)
- One thing to learn (Understanding the reason “why” and how to think, not what to think.)
- One thing to plan (Future goals.)
- Call us, email us, text us with your questions and suggestions.
- Reap a new and improved practice while others are still just thinking about what to do next.