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If you own a dental practice, you own a business. There is a profit and loss statement. There is a bottom line. Money comes in and goes out. People get paid and people spend.

My mission during the last 24 years of in-office dental-management consulting has been to help doctors build great dental businesses. It is not uncommon to find a gifted dentist who is a poor business owner and as a result, has a failing practice.

On the other hand, I have had the privilege of helping many doctors through the years add business excellence to their existing clinical expertise, creating a powerful practice dynamic that results in exceptional dentistry and maximum profits.

As a broad overview of the business of dentistry, I’d like to cover three overarching, yet essential, themes to achieve a successful dental business:

  1. Leadership
  2. Team
  3. Profit
Leading your business

There is a difference between a business owner and a business leader. Business leaders lead successful businesses. If you want to run a great dental business, you must start on the path to becoming a great leader. The good news is that leadership can be learned and developed over time. The four critical areas of leadership listed below provide the fuel and the rudder for your business:

1. Vision – The primary role of the leader of a dental business is to set the vision. Put simply, you decide where the business is going. Without a vision, you and your team will wander aimlessly. Where is your business heading?

2. Goals – Successful business leaders establish clear short-term and long-term goals based on detailed and incremental plans to achieve those goals. Without clear goals, progress and success cannot be measured. What are your goals?

3. Expectations – Once the vision is clear and the goals are set, effective business leaders consistently and continuously communicate their expectations to every person at every level of the business. From greeting patients to case presentation and acceptance, to treatment, you cannot expect your team to meet expectations they do not understand or are unaware of. What are your expectations?

4. Growth – If you, as the business leader, are not continually growing, learning, and developing, you will eventually limit the growth of your business. The concept of constant and never-ending improvement drives every dental business leader who wants to be successful. Are you growing?

Building a great business team

People power your business. Successful business leaders recruit, train, and lead productive, principled, and passionate teams. In consulting with some of the top dental practices in the country, we discovered seven team-related strategies consistently apply to building thriving dental businesses:

1. Establish written standards – A professionally written human resource manual is no longer optional. Without a manual covering all essentials related to employee issues, your practice is at risk. With a manual, standards are clear and established.

2. Communicate clear expectations – It is not enough to let your staff know that you want “excellence” or “professionalism” or “good customer service.” You must communicate in detail exactly what it looks like to meet your expectations. And, you must repeat your clear expectations over and over again on a consistent basis, even after they are fully implemented.

3. Provide a taste of the experience you want to create – Effective communication is often best accomplished in the context of experience. As many times as you may have been told as a child to finish your dinner because there were starving kids in Africa, it probably never really settled in unless and until you tasted and smelled starvation in person. You can waste hours talking about creating a special patient experience, but one trip to a five-star hotel, restaurant, or resort will move your staff quickly from head knowledge to complete understanding.

4. Insist life issues do not impact performance – Every person on your staff brings life issues into their practice role. Whether it’s a family issue, financial issue, or other personal problem, personal problems exist in your practice. It is your responsibility, as the leader of the staff, to clearly communicate with your staff that although they may be dealing with difficult personal issues, their situation cannot affect their attitude, patient focus, performance, or productivity. They must learn to park their problems at the door and not let them crowd over into the practice.

5. Establish team leaders – Most successful dental businesses establish team leaders as they near $1 million in revenue. It’s your job to lead your staff, but you may want or need to train and appoint department leaders to get more out of each area of your dental business.

6. Recruit and employ team players – It is critical to your short-term and long-term success to recruit and retain only those who are fully on board with the vision of the practice. Everyone must be a team player. A team player can be defined as a staff member who understands and fully embraces the vision, seeks to always meet the high standards and expectations of the practice, and views his or her role as more of a mission than a job.

7. Resolve conflicts immediately – If you have conflict, big or small, within your staff, you must act quickly to resolve it immediately. Every moment you wait, bitterness grows and shows. If staff members cannot resolve their conflicts and move beyond them, you may need to find new employees. Conflict within staff is often palpable to patients, creating an environment of hostility and tension. Your message to employees must be direct and unequivocal: “Resolve it now or find a new place to work.”