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How to find a dental practice for sale (it's simple, but not easy)

July 8, 2021
There are steps you can take to make yourself stand out to dentists who are planning to sell their practices. When the time comes, they'll think of you as a good future owner.

Finding a dental practice for sale is simple. But “simple” is not the same thing as “easy.” Doing 100 pushups is not complicated. Up-down-up-down. Simple, right? But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you can do 100 pushups, congratulations. You know that it takes a lot of hard work and discipline to get to that point.

Let me illustrate this principle in the context of finding a practice for sale. Last week I got a call from a dentist in Houston. The conversation went something like this:

Dentist: There are no practices for sale in this entire city. I’m fed up with looking and thinking about doing a startup from scratch
Me: Hold up. You said Houston?
Dentist: Yeah.
Me: Houston, as in, the fifth largest city in the US.? Population six-and-a-half million?
Dentist: ...Yeah?
Me: Oh, there are plenty of practices for sale. What have you done to try to find them?

After some prodding, I learned that the dentist had done two Google searches, browsed a couple of broker sites, and that was it. He had no network of dentists to talk to, hadn’t found a broker who would help, and was totally stumped. He thought that others had done this work already, and that there would be a handy list online where he could peruse dozens of potential practices to buy. No such luck; that list doesn’t exist.

I can sympathize with that Houston dentist, to a point. It’s likely that no one ever told him exactly how to find a practice for sale. Even the simplest things seem daunting until we’ve learned them first. And I can assure you, finding a practice is simple, even if it’s not easy. Here I’ll teach you the best method, step by step, for finding a practice for sale. It’s forehead-smacking simple, but it requires hard work and dedication.

Spend 20% of your time with brokers and 80% of your time with dentists

Broker sites and Google searches are passive ways of searching. They’re not worthless; sometimes the right thing falls into your lap through those methods, especially brokers. So, check those resources every so often. But finding a practice that way is less likely and will probably take a long, long time. The better bet is to spend the bulk of your time building a network of gray-haired dentists in your target geographic market. How do you do that? Glad you asked.

Reach out to gray-haired dentists

Reaching out respectfully to dentists is as simple as either sending direct mailers or speaking to them one-on-one. Instead of going straight for the kill and asking to buy their practice (this won’t work, I promise), try to make a genuine connection. More on this in the next step.

The most common ways to do this are mass mailers and targeted mailers. Mass mailers are typically letters or postcards with a picture and information about the potential buyer sent to as many (usually hundreds or even thousands) dentists as possible in a specific geographic area, Ask, “Any chance you’re looking to sell your practice?” Targeted mailers are close to the same thing, with a more personal touch added into what is usually a much smaller group of dentists. After you’ve sent them, keep track of where you’ve sent mailers and who has responded.

Make a personal connection

Whether in-person or through mailers, do your best to make a personal connection with other dentists through sincere compliments and genuine questions, rather than simply asking if their practice is for sale. Targeted mailers (or emails or phone calls) tend to take this approach. Consider this example:

“Hi Dr. Nguyen, my name is Brian Hanks and I’m a dentist new to the Seattle area. I heard a colleague say good things about your practice, and I’m really impressed by the number of positive Google reviews you have. Would you be willing to let me take you to lunch sometime in the next few weeks and pick your brain a little bit about how you’ve been successful in this area? I’m looking to be an owner in the next few years, and I’d love to get your advice.”

Now compare that with something like, “Hi. Dr. Nguyen, my name is Brian Hanks and I’m looking for a practice to purchase in the Seattle area. If you or anyone you know are looking to sell, please let me know.” Which one would you be more likely to respond to? Exactly.

Let your network know you’re looking to buy

After you’ve established a network of gray-haired dentists—and when you’re ready to take the plunge into practice ownership—let that network know that you’re looking. It’s unlikely that you’ll end up purchasing a practice from someone in your network. More likely, one of your connections will know a colleague or friend of a friend who’s looking to sell. But even that will not likely happen right away.

Keep up contact with your network

This is the rinse-and-repeat step. With each new contact in your personal network, be sure you to keep in contact with them. Every several weeks or months, reach out when you have a question or issue where you’d like some insight. Ask about the best conferences and continuing education courses, their treatment philosophy, how they designed their practice layout, and so on. Make sure your questions and compliments are sincere and worthwhile, and they’ll value having you in their network as well. You’ll also be the name that comes to mind when, at some point, they hear of a seller looking for the perfect buyer.

Don’t be creepy

File this one under “how would you feel?” If you’re constantly calling and emailing the dentists in your network, they’ll get annoyed, and you’ll soon burn out your contacts. Keep your communication to the length of time you’d feel comfortable with on the other end and no more. Also, avoid forcing the relationship into the “too personal” category. If you and the other dentist form a deep, personal connection, great! But most often, both of you understand that this is a professional relationship. So as a default, keep things professional.

That’s it! That’s the entire “secret sauce.” Like I said, it’s simple, even if it’s not easy. I can give you examples that number in the hundreds of dentists who stopped scrolling the web passively, made personal connections, and found the practice of their dreams. Get out there and create a network of dentists in the area where you want to buy. While you do that, occasionally check with brokers to see if anything has come up.

Once you’ve found something, give me a call and we’ll work on getting you into that great practice.

BRIAN HANKS, MBA, CFP, is the author of How to Buy a Dental Practice. He hosts the Practice Purchased podcast and represents buyers in dental transitions nationwide. Hanks can be contacted at dentalbuyeradvocates.com.

About the Author

Brian Hanks, MBA, CFP

BRIAN HANKS, MBA, CFP, is a buyer advocate who has helped hundreds of dentists purchase dental practices. He is passionate about helping educate dental practice buyers. Hanks can be reached through his website, brianhanks.com.

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