The 6 Biggest Challenges Facing Dental Businesses
Times are tough for dental practices, we are in an economy that still certainly looks and feels as if it’s suffering a recession, people are holding on to their money and only spending it on necessities and for many that does not include dentistry.
There are more dental offices than ever before and with the rise of the corporate giants its hard to compete – attracting new patients and staff now means having to have the marketing power and reach of a big company which lets face it is not possible when you are essentially a one man band small business.
The Challenges Dental Practices Meet
There are a number of key challenges facing dental practices so I’ve had a look at six that you can take definite action on and set out ways to conquer them.
Cash Flow Issues
Money problems in their various forms are top of most lists of company woes, and for dental offices the major worries are patients stalling payments, unexpected outgoings, and outstanding bills that won’t wait to be paid.
There are some tried and tested money management tools that can help you to manage cashflow, multi-talented apps that can create budgets, calculate tax, automate bill payments, alert you to unusual outgoings and provide a free credit score.
Using online invoices and reminders is also a powerful way to persuade reluctant patients to part with money but you must also have a follow up and overdue payment systems to ensure you get paid.
Personally I prefer to have patients pay a portion up front for each appointment and the balance at the time of treatment. This keeps my practice in positive cashflow, reduces bad debts and time that my team have to spend chasing patients for payments.
It’s tempting to try to do everything if you’re a dental practice owner, and long hours add pressure. Fatigue can leave you disorganised, forgetful and cranky, not paying as much attention to patients as you should, and making mistakes.
As business owners dentists have to pace themselves, which includes embracing strategic delegation, something that for any highly motivated individual isn’t an easy ask.
Start by identifying business elements that don’t require your expertise, such as mailing, and take on an assistant, even part-time, to help out – after all, it’s an investment that frees you up to do what you do best!
You should also delegate tasks that are outside your skillset to specialists, such as accountants or legal experts – the results will likely be more professional and can save you endless headaches.
You could also invest in automation of simple functions, like sending reminders, emails and so on.
It’s important to get on top of these things, because taking time out is critical for your health and wellbeing, not to mention family relationships.
Get into the habit of segmenting your day – analyse when and how you work best, the time you’d like to put into leisure or family, and create schedules that identify key activities and how long they’re likely to take. Then fit your dental practice around them.
Finding and Retaining Profitable Patients
There is a business adage that you need customers with a problem only you can solve, and it’s for you to identify that unique selling point and communicate it clearly to your would-be customers. It’s the same when it comes to attracting and working with your patients.
You can start by researching your patient base, and identifying the characteristics of your existing best customers (those with the highest volume of sales, and the most repeat custom and referrals to your practice), get a clear view of their net value to you.
Once you’ve done this you can focus your energies on attracting new patients from your most profitable segment, carefully differentiating your marketing to ensure it appeals directly to this type of person.
To understand what patients want, you can ask for feedback from current patients, and then act on their recommendations to give an even better patient experience.
Employee buy-in is very important for small businesses and dental offices in particular, as your team has so much interaction with your patients and can make or break your business. In a small office there tends to be fewer staff and any apathy has a greater impact.
There’s a real need to understand what employees want (other than a million dollar pay check), and there are a few possibilities to boost employee engagement for when this isn’t an option.
Ensuring employees are happy and productive means communicating clearly, and being approachable. Good companies foster a relaxed atmosphere where staff feel able to talk to management. Perks like free tea and coffee, free biscuits or fruit, and staff Christmas parties cost relatively little and can really help create a favourable impression.
You should also ask for employee feedback on their needs – this is not an option, it’s a must. Too many businesses don’t look at what their employees want, assume everything is fine, then wonder why they have a high staff turnover.
Having Too Many Overheads
Overheads are a big dental practice issue – excessive overheads have driven many otherwise good dentists to the wall.
Resolving overhead issues involves paying close attention to the bottom line and resisting the temptation to buy the latest tech and new equipment unless its going to improve your service, provide a better experience for your patient and team, and unable you to diagnose and provide dentistry in a more effective and efficient manner.
All to often as dentists we fall for the sales rep’s powers of persuasion and end buying something we use once only for it to end up collecting dust and taking up space in the drawer.
Yes you want to give your patients a great experience and go beyond their expectations by adding value to their dental appointment, nice flowers, magazines, teas, coffee, goodie bags etc etc but make sure where you are adding value doesn’t increase overheads.
When buying stock don’t over orders and look for deals on products, or other offers that benefit both you and the patient.
And don’t forget to ask yourself hard questions, such as whether you need that new piece of equipment or printer, or whether it’s just for show…
Dentist owners can be so busy they forget to keep up with what’s current in the profession. It takes so much time just to keep on top of the work that thinking how to stay ahead of the competition or relevant in the mind of your patients can seem an unnecessary burden.
Nevertheless, you need to keep up.
When you’re scheduling your week, don’t forget to allocate time to track competitors and undertake awareness-raising activities such as reading (or writing) blog posts.
Create Google Alerts, use Twitter hashtags and pop into the occasional Facebook group or forum to keep up with what’s trending, and mine the wealth of free, and very targeted online information out there.
If you can schedule days out to go to dental conferences and exhibitions, trade shows so you can be aware of new innovations and changes that will affect the way you do business.
Overcoming The Challenges of Dental Practice
- Overcoming the main challenges that small businesses face involves a number of key actions:
- Use software to manage your cashflow and keep money rolling in
- Delegate, automate, and set aside time for yourself
- Target your most profitable patients and people like them to maximise your returns
- Work hard to create employee satisfaction
- Ruthlessly cut back your overheads
- Keep your finger firmly on the pulse of the profession.
With forethought and tenacity, there’s no issue that can’t be overcome. As a business dent-entrepreneur you already have these skills in abundance, and applying them to boost your business should come naturally.
The issue is most dental practice owners are being reactive instead of proactive
– take the time to schedule out blocks where you work on the business and not just in it so you can attend to what’s need and take action towards positive change and growth.