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How to win the battle for new patients by accepting your lack of control

Aug. 1, 2019
Let’s get a little Zen for a moment and talk about control. Specifically, let’s talk about what you can control and what you can’t.
Graig Presti, CEO, Local Search For Dentists®

Let’s get a little Zen for a moment and talk about control. Specifically, let’s talk about what you can control and what you can’t.

First, you can’t control forces of nature. For example, if there’s a category 5 hurricane bearing down on your house, there’s not much you can do to stop it.

Second, you can’t control the environment around you. If there’s a zombie apocalypse, there’s not much you can do to keep your town from being overrun by the living dead.

Third, you can’t control the competition to your dental practice. There is a growing number of alternative dental business models that are challenging the traditional ones. Dental support organizations, corporate practices, and direct-to-consumer models, such as direct-to-consumer clear aligner companies, are a few examples. These emerging models are changing the playing field, and they tend to be well funded.

If you know me at all, it will come as no surprise that I’m a fan of giving you the straight truth and tough love. So here it is. Let’s look at what you can and can’t control when it comes to getting new patients into your practice.

You have no absolutely control over what happens to the world

Sorry, but it’s true. You can’t push back on a private equity— like the ones that are driving change in dentistry—just like you can’t move a mountain or prevent an earthquake. The market forces you’re fighting are only going to get more powerful as time goes on. So let’s consider your options:

You can ignore the scary things and bury your head in the sand. (Maybe they’ll go away.)

You can get angry at how things have changed. (We all know this isn’t productive.)

You can accept, adapt, and respond. (This would involve being unemotional about business, realizing our industry is always changing, and understanding that you only win the game by staying five steps ahead.)

OK, great. But how do you stay five steps ahead in a world that’s seemingly rushing past you? Here is what experience has taught me in regard to this compelling question.

Change and inevitability in dentistry

Staying ahead of change is not easy. If you’ve been in the world of dentistry for any length of time, you’ve probably seen it remake itself 10 times over. Your patients have changed too. The kids who needed a step stool to get in your dental chair grew up. They had their own kids, and now as parents, they have to make their own decisions about who’s going to treat their families. There are more options for them today because the nature of dental service has changed. With a growing societal emphasis on convenience as well as a blurred line between price and quality, companies like SmileDirectClub have identified holes in the market and are filling them.

Now, I can hear you saying, “I had two patients try one of those mail-order companies and hate it. Eventually, they all come back.” Meanwhile, SmileDirectClub has more than 300,000 customers.1 Through a recent fundraising round, they received a $3.2 billion valuation.1 All the while, SmileDirectClub’s programs are often cheaper and easier than going to a traditional orthodontist.2

Plain and simple, Goliath-sized service providers are not going away—even if they take different forms as time goes on. They’re operating with an incomprehensible amount of research and marketing dollars behind them. They know how to appeal to consumers and commoditize treatment in ways you’ll never be able to touch. And guess what: it’s working.

It’s important to realize that market share for patients in your city is not unlimited. It’s not some endless stream of patients clamoring for your services. Unless you live in an insanely fast-growing market (which most of us don’t) you have to fight for your share of business in a fiercely competive market. So how do you do it? 

Create a patient-generating machine

Hang on. Let’s look at that subhead again. “Patient-generating” sounds great. We all want more patients. But the “machine” part of it is what I want you to focus on—especially looking back at what you can and can’t control.

A machine is loosely defined as something that once built and fine-tuned will deliver consistent and predictable results. In our case, this is a steady and predictable flow of “pay, stay, and refer” patients who never leave you.

You can’t control the environment, the weather, or your competition. You can only control how you react. But if you build a strong enough house, the machine you’ve built inside will remain untouched and operating at full capacity. And this is the key to survival—the key to staying alive and thriving in a competitive, ever-changing world.

Building the house to protect the machine

That strong, protective house isn’t just a metaphor. It’s an actual structure. It’s not made of brick or stone, however. That house is your Google house.

I have seen, talked to, and worked with thousands of independent dentists from all over the globe. Through it all, I’ve noticed one infallible truth that separates the successful dentists from those who fail (or eventually give up and go work for someone else). The doctors who accept that well-planned and well-orchestrated marketing is the key to their survival are the winners, plain and simple. And one outstanding way to market your practice is through Google. 

Google is perhaps the largest and most trusted media source on the planet. That’s why marketing through the Google My Business platform and through five-star Google reviews from your best patients is essential. Regarding your five-star reviews, these are written by patients who brag about you online to tens if not hundreds of thousands of prospective patients. The best part is that it’s free to use for your practice. 

Google’s platform gives you the ability to leverage your greatest resource, your existing patients, to create your patient-generating machine. By doing so, you’ll be able to build a solid foundation where you can predict yearly revenue, production, and patient numbers.

Even if they don’t know it, most independent practices are bleeding patients and cash. And unless you stop a bleed, you eventually die. Google reviews and good Google marketing should become the cornerstones of your practice’s brand and practice identity. Ultimately, they are what differentiate you on a battlefield where your competitive advantage isn’t actually the size of your advertising budget. 

What now?

Winning the war for new patients is not hard to do. But you do need to do three things right:

First, accept that the world of dentistry has and will continue to change. Instead of resisting that change, become a part of it—even to the point where you can get out in front of it. Always work on your business and evolve. Don’t be a victim of circumstance. 

Second, study and understand your competition. Realize where you, as an independent practice owner, fit into the mix and compete. Get your hands dirty. Shop the competition both offline and online. See how they’re out-leveraging you, and then look for ways to duplicate their successes . . . or zig when they’re zagging.

Third, get your Google house in order! Your online brand must be pristine. Josh Austin, DDS, and I always talk about this because it’s the small hinge that swings the big door. Learn to leverage Google branding for your practice, the Google My Business Platform, YouTube (which Google owns), and Google reviews to start building your patient-generating machine that will propel you for years to come. Your Google presence is a true asset that you can leverage when you retire or sell when you exit dentistry.

You may not have control over what happens to the world. However, and most importantly, you have control over how you react to the world when it changes.  


1. Picker L. Teeth-straightening startup SmileDirectClub gets $3 billion valuation in new fundraising. CNBC website. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/10/teeth-straightening-startup-gets-3-billion-valuation.html. Published October 10, 2018.

2. Wolf J. Getting your teeth straightened at a strip mall? Doctors have a warning. Bloomberg website. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-09-20/orthodonists-aren-t-smiling-about-teeth-straightening-startups. Published September 20, 2018.

GRAIG PRESTI is CEO of four-time Inc. 500/5000-recognized company Local Search For Dentists (LSFD), one of the fastest-growing companies in dentistry. LSFD helps dental practices all over the world gain dominance in their local markets. Presti’s proprietary marketing systems have helped thousands of dentists achieve more freedom, increased new-patient numbers, and the ability to reach their income goals.

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