by Michael Gradeless
Editor’s Note: Jason and Colleen Olitsky graduated in 2001 from Temple University. They met and fell in love during their student years and have now started a successful practice in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., with a unique business model. One of their long-term goals is to help other new dentists realize great success. They hope their story will help you. They can be reached at (904) 273-1723 or through www.OlitskySmiles.com.
Dr. Gradeless: Give us an overview of your practice.
Dr. Olitsky: After graduation, we chose to live in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., where we could surf and enjoy the beach and weather. We initially worked for a group practice for a few years. It was an insurance-driven office where we saw 20-30 patients a day. Ultimately, we learned how we didn’t want to practice, but it allowed us to earn a decent salary, get our speed up, and take time off to attend CE courses. We opened a start-up practice 10 months ago in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Drs. Colleen and Jason Olitsky
Dr. Gradeless: Tell us about the most challenging aspect of your transition and how you overcame the challenge.
Dr. Olitsky: The company we worked for knew we were planning our own practice and let us go about six months before we opened. This put a hit on our cash flow. Luckily, we were living below our means and we got by.
Dr. Gradeless: Tell us how your practice supports your vision.
Dr. Olitsky: From the beginning, we believed that having a clear vision was critical, and this has been one of the main contributors to our early success. Our vision is to have a practice that sees one patient at a time, doing high-end cosmetic cases for people who appreciate our service and pay our fees. We built out two chairs and a photo studio to start. We only have one team member and, based on the numbers, we will not need another one for at least another year. We give our patients the unique experience of having two doctors perform their smile makeovers. We enjoy working together, both on patients and the business. It just works for us because we are used to being together all of the time - in nearly eight years, we have never spent a night apart. We are fairly different in our interests with our practice (Colleen loves the business/management side whereas Jason loves doing the photo shoots of patients and develops the creative marketing strategies). Together, we really complement each other.
Dr. Gradeless: Describe your target market and procedure mix.
Dr. Olitsky: We do 90 percent cosmetic dentistry, including smile designs, full-mouth rehabilitations, bleaching, and Invisalign®. The other 10 percent comes from new patient exams, about 10 cleanings a month and general restorative procedures such as fillings and single-unit onlays. Having a great month or so-so month can sometimes depend on the acceptance of one big case. This is somewhat nerve-wracking. For this upcoming year, we may try to do some more general dentistry to help pay the overhead and be more consistent.
Dr. Gradeless: What did you need to learn after graduation to support your success?
Dr. Olitsky: Everything we do in our practice was learned after graduation. New dentists should go to the meetings to take the short courses to find out what it is they are interested in, then go to hands-on courses to gain the confidence and knowledge it takes to feel like you’re the best in the field. During a two-year time period, we spent Jason’s salary taking Hornbrook group courses and Blatchford Solutions Coaching Program, going to AACD and ADA conventions, taking MIII courses, and learning from Dawson and Spear. This has paid for itself many times over.
Dr. Gradeless: Tell us about strategic planning. Do you have an annual plan and what statistics do you track?
Dr. Olitsky: As mentioned, we are in our 10th month of our first year. We set goals for starting insurance-free. We have our patients pay upfront and we have never had an accounts receivable or sent out a statement. We wouldn’t even know how. We have weekly, monthly, and yearly production/collection goals. We hit our goal for our first year, but our months were up and down. We track numbers of new patients and their referral sources, as well as the amount of dentistry we treatment plan and how much is accepted. We present ideal treatment based on what the patient really wants. We find out what patients want by asking questions and listening.
Dr. Gradeless: Are you phasing employee hiring, equipment purchases, and business expansion?
Dr. Olitsky: We started out with just the two of us. Jason handles the larger cosmetic cases, does the photography, and implements the branding, while Colleen took over the many other roles such as handling the consults, answering the phone, doing the scheduling, and collecting the money. Colleen’s business savvy and her ability to multitask is a large component to our early success. We hired our first team member about five months after we opened. It is a very slow-paced office, but it works because of the number of big cases we do. We collected $115,000 in our 10th month, with 50 percent overhead. We feel we could work like this for a long time. We only do about 10-15 prophies a month, so there is no need for a hygienist or third treatment room yet.
Dr. Gradeless: How do benchmarks influence or indicate your professional growth?
Dr. Olitsky: The biggest concern during our first year was cash flow, so the collections are critical. We realize it’s not all about “the numbers,” but numbers are important when you have bills to pay and very little working capital. We also enjoy celebrating non-money achievements - having an awesome ad in a magazine, getting a killer shot of a patient to have blown up and mounted on a wall, or having a dentist or specialist ask us to do his or her smile.
Dr. Gradeless: What systems have allowed you to create ongoing success? Which systems are most important in your practice?
Dr. Olitsky: We market very heavily because we depend on new patients and cosmetic consults. We spend close to $10,000 per month on marketing. Our goal is to spend about 10 percent of our overhead on marketing. Each year, we hope our word-of-mouth referrals increase, but we will probably always need to market. Internet marketing was by far our best marketing dollars spent, bringing in close to 50 percent of our collections. We are constantly striving to give our guests excellent customer service, which starts at the first “hello” over the phone and continues during the consult where we take the time to ask our patients questions to find out what they want, and ends with us calling them in the evening to check on them. We are consistently telling our patients the same story from advertising to the first phone conversation and office décor so there are no doubts about them being in the right place.
Dr. Gradeless: Leadership is the art of influencing others to help us achieve our success. Tell us how others have helped you get where you are.
Dr. Olitsky: We have always looked to the way the leaders do things and take those principles and make them our own. There are many people who have helped us get to where we are today. Dr. David Hornbrook introduced us to the world of cosmetics and helped us develop our skills of giving our patients incredible smiles. Dr. Bill Blatchford has been amazing at developing our skills to create and implement our ideal practice vision. We strongly believe in having a coach. An Olympic athlete would never train without a coach, so why should you? We chose Bill after hearing him speak at a day course here in Jacksonville. We loved what he had to say and we admired some of the offices he had worked with, so it was an obvious fit for us. We have been able to benefit from their teachings and apply it to our own practice philosophies from the start.
Dr. Gradeless: If you could give one piece of advice to another new dentist, what would it be?
Dr. Olitsky: Most important is vision. Every decision you make needs to support that vision and bring you closer to your goals. It helps you through the choices. Next to the vision, setting goals is essential. You need to know what you want. We don’t worry about the how; we just write down everything we want and everything we would like to do and review this list every day to keep those goals in front of us. Lastly, attending conferences and taking CE is paramount to success. Taking courses and being open-minded to mentors is the only way to understand that you do not learn everything you need to know in school; you need to continue learning throughout your career. There are different philosophies and teaching styles. Pick some courses to improve yourself and further help your patients.
Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.