Hope is not a business strategy

Dec. 1, 2008
During challenging economic times, dentists need a plan to provide emotional stability in projecting optimism for themselves, their team, and most importantly, their patients.

by Bill Blatchford, DDS

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: business strategy, challenging economic times, overhead, Dr. Bill Blatchford.

During challenging economic times, dentists need a plan to provide emotional stability in projecting optimism for themselves, their team, and most importantly, their patients. A plan keeps fears at bay like the confidence of a road map. You anticipate making the tough decisions because you are the owner and leader.

As the media continues to whip us into a frenzy, patients start to pull in. As your team perceives this happening, they start to question and verbalize their own fears, and then you become concerned. As the leader, you must have a real plan of action as to how and when to make decisions. Hoping things will get better on their own is not a good strategy for small businesses.

Create an action plan that will serve you both during tight times and when you are "in the money." Every practice is unique, but there are commonalities too. Your largest expense in a general practice is staff, yet this is also one of the few areas of overhead that you can control. The national average spent on the team is now more than 30%. That number should be 20%. The offices we coach work toward being at the 20% level, including bonuses and benefits. If you were producing $100,000 per month with your staff costing 30%, and then production/collection drops 20% to $80,000 monthly on average, your staff would then cost 37.5%, or $10,000 over 20%, money which could be used for education, marketing, or debt reduction.

Too often, dentists staff for the month of their highest production or the number they heard their neighbor dentist produced, rationalizing we have an extra in case someone is sick. Good people like to be busy and challenged. This is not the time for "extra staff." At this juncture, doctors decide to "outrun their overhead" by producing more. What treatment have you turned away? What patients could you not see? How will you produce more? Hope will not work here.

The better plan is to create solid systems and work efficiently so that three well-qualified team members can do the work of five or six. These are the toughest decisions a doctor has to make because staff members become like family and are good friends. No one said it would be easy to be the leader during tight times. These decisions are the result of the leader's vision, the importance of which cannot be overlooked. If your vision is to be a protectorate no matter the cost to you, then keep your large staff. That is a decision too. If your choice is to spend the money on your team — even if you do not have a fully scheduled day — then do not complain to them that you have no money.

With technology today becoming paperless and communication tools such as Smile Reminder available, one person at the front desk can very well handle a $1 million practice. Even health history and entry forms can be accomplished easily online. A great Web site with a map, easy directions, team introductions, and patient testimonials can speak well to an inquiring patient.

Block booking is essential for a happy team of three. Know your daily goal and the dollar amount of treatment that must be in the morning blocks. Everyone plays the game full out.

Another great system is to have the hygienist and assistant complete the checkout with each guest by doing the scheduling, entering treatment, producing an insurance form, and collecting the money. Your receptionist can then concentrate on phone conversations to sell dentistry and serve well those patients present in your practice.

This is not the time to drop insurance. Stay the course and communicate with patients about their options. This is the time to add sales skills and learn to converse with patients about their hopes and dreams. Forget the old pressure techniques of "you need to have this done now" or trying to educate patients. They will respond to easy open-ended questions about their smiles and dreams. You can reach beyond "just fix the worst one now."

With a team of three, you will be in a position to give bonuses even in tight times. Your team will become very motivated with a monthly bonus system. Who wouldn't want to lead a motivated team? Your solid leadership decisions can create a happy place, even in tight times.

Dr. Bill Blatchford is a leading dental business coach who has worked with more than 2,000 offices to help dentists achieve more time off, more net, and more enjoyment. Become a member of Blatchford FILES, Dr. Blatchford's monthly CD on winning at dental business. The first two months are free. Call (541) 389-9088 or visit www.blatchford.com for more information.

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