Are you looking to build your own dental practice? Perhaps you have just finished your training, or you may have been working for a larger practice for some time. Irrespective of your starting point, to ensure you’re fully prepared it is important to think through and reflect on the challenges that go along with building a dental practice of any type, especially when attempting to create a solo practice.
One of the first things you will likely struggle with is building an initial base of patients. If you have worked within a practice setting (in-house or in partnership), you may have an edge when it comes to this step. Some patients may be willing to follow you because they know you and are confident in the services you provide. Of course, this could be challenging if you have a non-compete clause with your previous employer that prohibits you from taking clients along with you when you leave the practice.
Alternatively, if you have never been part of a practice, you may not have a patient base to bring along with you to your new practice. In that case, you will need to work on attracting patients through marketing and advertising strategies. We’ll talk more about this in a moment, but for now, you should be aware that it will be difficult to develop an initial patient base.
The most effective thing you can do is to work hard on your marketing and advertising strategies before you open your practice – focusing on who you are, what you offer, and the unique value you create for your patients. When you’re still in the process of setting up, building your facility, filing paperwork, and anything else necessary, you’ll want to focus on letting people know about your new practice as much as possible to bring in new people.
How you grow your practice will depend on the space and capacity of the facility you choose, and whether you purchase, rent, or build from the ground up. You’ll need to select a space that can accommodate your future plans (in case you want to add additional partners) but that is not too large for you as a solo practitioner.
Think carefully about your budget. Are you willing and able to secure a facility that meets your present and future needs? Do you need to save as much as possible when setting up so you can spend your money in other areas? If you need to make compromises, I recommend prioritizing the location of your facility over the actual building to make sure you can get it up and running quickly.
As you continue to grow, it’s important to have a clear vision and plan in place. Make sure you start out small, so that you can easily afford your space and can scale up over time. Remember, as a solo practitioner, you’re going to be responsible for all the costs associated with your facility. You want something that will work for you now and that isn’t going to be too much of a stretch in the way of fees and bills.
As your business continues to grow and attract new patients – and perhaps even new partners and staff – it is important to carefully weigh your decisions. Do not get drawn into growing too rapidly or you could end up struggling just to make your bills each month. The challenge of knowing when and how to expand will dominant your focus at this stage, and it should. If you expand too fast, you will set yourself up for failure. Failing to expand will keep you where you started.
What to do: Purchase a facility or buy a dental office that is as small as you can reasonably work in while offering the potential for growth. Complement this by hiring as few staff members as possible in the beginning – i.e., one administrative staff member and a dental hygienist. Don’t get drawn into hiring too many people all at once, as you’ll need to pay their wages as you are trying to secure new patients.
While your initial patient base should be enough to keep you open, it is important to remain focused on growth. Bear in mind that it can be challenging to reach out to new people or start targeting a new group. After all, most adults will already have a dentist they visit at least occasionally. Luring those individuals away from their dentist requires an understanding of marketing, and it requires for you to listen to and understand your patients’ needs, values, and goals of treatment.
If you have extra money available, I recommend hiring a professional marketer to design an ad campaign to get your name out there. If you don’t, you can set up a Facebook business page and use other social media campaigns (yes, many people find health care professionals through social media). More traditionally, you could set up standard billboards, radio, and television ads within your hometown.
There are a number of different payment options to consider when you’re starting your practice, including cash, checks, credit cards, and different types of insurance. Research is necessary to help you decide which insurance companies to work with, as well as the policies for accepting other forms of payment.
What to do: Research payment options to determine those that fit best with your patient profile and that are the most convenient for you. Accepting cash means you must be able to make change daily. Checks are susceptible to fraud. Credit card companies charge fees per each transaction, and you will also have to pay for the transaction system. If you accept insurance, you will need to research the ‘fine print’ and how to process paperwork in real-time.
Dealing with insurance can be a complicated process on its own. Different insurance companies cover different types of procedures and at different levels. Working with insurance providers means that one of your staff members will have to act as an intermediary who fully understands the nuances and issues. This person will need to discuss the treatment you recommend and relay information about what the insurance company will cover. This is a complex process, and if you’ve never had to deal with it before, it’s going to be a very big learning curve. What to do: It’s a good idea to talk to another healthcare professional before you start your business. Pick their brain about accepting insurance and ask about the specifics of trying to work with providers. They may be able to advise you on insurance companies to work with (or to avoid) as well as how to ensure your patients get the best possible care, no matter what the insurance company says.
What services do you plan to provide? This is an extremely important aspect of your business, one that will affect everything else you do. It is vital to only provide services that you are comfortable with and competent to perform. For example, if there’s not a lot of need for specialist services in your area, you may want to complement your treatment scope with additional services. Just because you can do extractions doesn’t mean you want to. There are plenty of dentists out there, so you can choose the types of procedures you prefer to do.
I encourage you to think about the procedures and types of care that play to your strengths. Focusing only on those areas will help you to build your practice. As word-of-mouth spreads that you are good at those specific things, you will see increases in the number of patients coming to you for the same thing. By contrast, performing procedures you are not as skilled at may result in bad publicity. As a word of caution, if you perform procedures you are good at but do not enjoy, you could end up with a lot of patients for those procedures and spend a lot of your time on low-value activities.
Businesses in the 21st century require an online presence – in terms of a website and social media accounts – but it is challenging to get started. I recommend working with someone to create a website [or using a ‘drag and drop’ platform like Weebly to build your own]. Your website should be more than just a single page. It should provide potential patients with the information they need to make a decision about your services. Having a social media presence is also a good idea, but managing these accounts and updating the content can be daunting and time-consuming.
If you have the budget, you may want to consider hiring someone who can manage these accounts for you. After all, social media should be updated regularly, even several times daily depending on the platform.
If you’re interested in starting a solo practice, make sure you take a close look at each of these factors – including the potential challenges and solutions. Make sure you have the right plan in place before you get started. Granted, it will take time and effort to explore these ideas and put them into action. By doing so, you can get your solo dental practice up and running in no time, confident that you’re fully prepared.