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August Murphy Art

No more "playing it safe": Invest in your dental business

Aug. 10, 2023
Don't listen to all the conventional savings advice. Investing in your business will carry you to success, not saving and obsessing about the bottom line.

The most jeopardizing thing you can do as a business owner is consistently play it safe. Sounds counterintuitive, right? I teach this bold philosophy to my clients and seminar attendees. Playing it safe means heeding solely to conventional wisdom and that which appears to be common sense. It’s repeated so frequently that the only reason it still exists is because people mindlessly say it, having heard it so many times.

An old saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” assumes that saving is as beneficial to the bottom line as is revenue. Some take this to the extreme and adopt the concept of addition by subtraction. If you’re a business owner who subscribes to this philosophy, I encourage you to call me immediately before you steer yourself toward slow and painful ruin. Tempting as it may be, you can’t save your way to prosperity. 

Don’t get me wrong—I espouse that expenses need to be brought to the chopping block immediately. However, don’t make the mistake of confusing an expense with an investment. I coach dentists to have an insatiable appetite for investments. Your savings will never triple in value in a year. That’s not how a savings account works. Your investments on the other hand? I expect them to bring four to five times their value in the span of 12 months. Of course, they must be the right investments, and those will be as varied as the people I coach. 

You might also be interested in: Invest in your “why”: Achieving your goals now instead of later

To succeed or not succeed? 

Need an example? Let’s look at two hypothetical dental practices. The first office is old and hasn’t updated its equipment in 20 years. It’s deliberately short-staffed to inflate profits. The other practice has twice as many employees and recently built a state-of-the-art facility. It’s paying down its newly incurred debt, which is significant but manageable. Both practices show half a million dollars in net earnings after expenses. Do we value both practices the same? If we look only at their bottom lines, conventional wisdom says they’re worth the same. Hopefully, you see right away that nothing could be further from the truth.

If you know anything about patients today, many prefer updated technology in conjunction with great service, and for a variety of reasons: comfort, speed, ease, and overall satisfaction being at the top of the list. Eventually, the first dental office will be forced to update its equipment and hire adequate staff, or its clientele won’t stick around. Meanwhile, the second office has a growing roster of new patients as a result of its superior facility and staff. It’s likely that within a year or two, the second office will dwarf their obsolete counterpart with a triple or quadruple revenue stream and will have its debt paid off entirely. 

Another example of conventional wisdom that private practitioners should rethink is that the customer is king. I get the idea and why it came into being. Your patients essentially hire you, and they can fire you just as easily. It behooves you to treat them with utmost respect. I wouldn’t advise you to do differently. Where do I differ? First, I don’t believe they’re always right. Patients who routinely cancel their appointments the same day are not right. Patients who blatantly mistreat your office staff definitely aren’t right. In other words, not all patients are worth keeping. 

The ones who matter most 

Thankfully, these types of customers don’t define the broader market. I find most people I encounter to be happy and appreciative of our relationship—which brings me to my larger point. The people who support your business from the inside are the ones who matter most. They’re your internal customers, and they’re the ones who deserve the most of your consideration. Remember: you’re investing in them. Your employees are your business. There’s no comparison in value between a company of people who love what they do, and a company of employees who come only to collect a paycheck. 

Yes, I encourage private practitioners to invest in relevant technology to appeal to the market, but even more importantly, I want them to invest in their company culture. You can put a price tag on the latest set of tools and implements. It’s much harder to put a price on people who make your office a joyous, harmonious, and synchronous place in which to conduct business. Investing in your team and ensuring that they have the requisite skills to succeed will pay back untold dividends. 

I ask my clients to think of products and businesses they use and admire. What aspects draw them in and make them feel special? If you call your cable company and are immediately placed on hold for 10 minutes, that speaks volumes about the overall customer experience. Nobody wants to listen to on-hold music that long, and certainly not when you have a concern that could be resolved in 30 seconds or less. 

Putting yourself in your customers’ and employees’ shoes is a good starting point for rethinking the way you conduct business. It’s great to offer a quality service or product. In fact, nearly all my clients start with superior care as their main goal. Unfortunately, it’s a broad target. The factors that determine a quality experience are as diverse as your patients. Instead, I teach to focus on personalization. Dentists who can personally connect with people will not only retain them but will cultivate new ones. 

You can spend thousands of dollars in advertising and get dozens of new clients to walk through your door. In some cases, advertising through traditional means might be a worthwhile endeavor. However, I’d much rather that dentists invest the bulk of their resources in an elevated experience, particularly one that inspires patients to spread their experience by word-of-mouth.

Hopefully your thinking has changed

Even more importantly, dentists should invest in a culture that motivates employees to show up daily with pride and purpose. Making certain that your team feels a sense of ownership in your business ensures that they’ll stick around for the long haul and consistently deliver the customer experience that represents your core values. 

If you still think that sound business revolves around dollar signs, you have some unlearning to do. Value is so much more than the bottom line. It has less to do with money and more to do with people and the satisfaction you consistently deliver to them via your carefully honed culture.

Have you gotten the sense that some of the sage advice you’ve picked up in life might not be as wise as you thought? If you still think you need to fit into a predefined mold to be relevant, I encourage you to reread this article. Don’t be afraid to be different. Be afraid to be the same. Be leery of doing what everyone else does. Believe me when I say that they’re not the truly successful ones. It’s within the great foundry of uncommon thought where most of the world’s influence is born.  

With the right coaching and expertise on your side, you can transform your entire private practice and realize your greatest potential. If you’re interested in learning more uncommon ways to build wealth and abundance, I warmly invite you to contact us directly at (973) 422-9140 or email us at [email protected]. We’re interested in learning more about you and developing hand-tailored solutions to suit the unique needs of your practice.    

Editor's note: This article appeared in the August 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.