5 No-Fail Tips for Starting a Dental Practice

So you’ve decided to open a dental office. Congratulations! You are part of a robust community of almost 29 million small-business owners who opened their doors to new customers last year. Although it’s tempting to separate oneself as a dentist rather than a small-business owner, the truth is, the principles necessary to succeed in small business apply to a dental practice as well.  Dentists face overhead costs, tax requirements, staff issues, and the need for effective marketing just like other businesses—including your competitors. There is plenty to think about before you invite a new patient to take a seat and say, “Ah.” Here are five of the most impactful tips for starting a new dental practice.

Recognize the hidden costs of employee turnover.

Although it’s true that some positions are more transitional than others, it’s important to be mindful of the training costs surrounding new employees. “Just the time spent getting all the computer equipment set up, passwords procured, orientation completed, and the numerous hours of asking and answering questions are all wrapped up in training costs,” says Suzanne Lucas. This is in addition to the time spent recruiting and interviewing job applicants.

The solution? “I think it’s important to establish a clear work culture and build a staff that understands and supports the business climate and goals,” said Nathan Anderson, DMD. For example, if an applicant arrives keen on computer applications but hates answering the phone and lacks customer service skills, you need to decide which skills best support the overall work culture you hope to create.

Watch for theft.

The harsh reality is that stealing happens. And it often involves people we trust the most. Being proactive in the hiring process is one of the best ways to prevent theft from occurring. For instance, a standard background check on all applicants and employees may uncover some warning signs that an employee could be tempted to embezzle. Also, watch for suspicious behavior such as an employee working overtime for no apparent reason, coming in early and leaving late, taking work home, or complaining about personal financial hardships.

“Other prevention steps include educating yourself on embezzlement, learning how to use your computer system to check all your daily reports, questioning any and all adjustments, being visible, varying your schedule, verifying all credit card charges, and protecting your identity and signature,” says legal expert Stuart J. Oberman, Esq. “There are many different warning signs that might draw your suspicion, so it is important to be cautious and aware.”

Get the legal and tax issues straight before moving forward.

As they say, prevention is key. When seeking expert advice on business or sales, for instance, be sure to glean some insight on business registration requirements, payroll reporting, insurance, risk management, taxes, or workers’ compensation guidelines before you open for business. Investing in some professional guidance at the beginning will prove invaluable—you don’t want to pay for an audit should a mistake in filing arise.

Start small.

It’s tempting to equip the new office with all of the latest devices and technology. And if it supports your unique brand and specialty that you are marketing to attract new patients, do it. But be mindful of the real costs of starting up a new practice. It takes time to build a robust patient network, yet your staff is counting on their payroll check to meet their expenses. Staying solvent while growing a new business is a delicate balance. “Be careful not to acquire equipment before you can justify the cost,” say experts at Bankofamerica.com. “Typically a 1,500-square-foot office has room for four operatories, but many dentists equip only two at first, then outfit the others when the practice can support them.”

Armed with a solid knowledge base, common techniques and services, and great customer service skills, your practice will grow. And with that, you can expand your practice to further that growth.

Set goals.

You want to build your practice, but how do you plan on accomplishing that goal? By breaking down business growth into specific, measurable benchmarks, you can get a clearer vision as to how to build on achievements. For example, you may want to track hygiene appointments and set a goal to increase visits by two percent. Or set a goal to increase referrals through social media by one to two percent. Or set a goal to build up a specific amount of capital to invest in new equipment or extra staff. The key is to remain goal-oriented beyond the startup phase. “Every single small business owner, in any stage of the business life cycle, needs goals to keep moving forward, get them motivated to do more, and maintain the success of their businesses,” says Alyssa Gregory.

Don’t be discouraged if all this seems daunting. By making mindful decisions on staff, gaining knowledge on tax requirements and business guidelines, and making goal-setting a standard practice, your new dental practice will definitely be worth smiling about.


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