As the mother of four young children and the wife of a doctor my life let’s just say was out of balance. Though I loved dentistry and still do, when I was away from my family I was missing it. My faith, insatiable drive and high energy I am quite certain are the ONLY things that got me through what I call the “wonder years”…It’s a wonder I survived and that I did not kill myself or get physically harmed by someone along the way.
I hit a crossroads and began to ask myself, “sooooo what is it you LOVE and what is it that you LIKE in your career”? By asking that basic question I was able to assess where my energy should be focused. Because the answer to that question becomes what Max Lucado calls the “sweet spot” of life and my life wasn’t feeling too sweet. As a matter of fact, it was tasting and feeling a bit sour. Once I answered that question I learned that what my main love is is teaching others, particularly dentists.
I found that helping other dentists an easier way to manage their practices and become more profitable eliminated a TON of stress! I have always tried to fail forward faster…meaning learn from my mistakes but recognize that I will make them and not be too critical of myself. I understand the stress that being the main producer in your business and simultaneously being the owner and CEO brings.
I also recognized that in order to teach other dentists, I could not be all things to everyone in MY practice. In 2001, I was an Invisalign patient myself due to orthodontic relapse from my teenage years (I swear as a teen they did not tell me to wear the retainer past one year!). It was the easiest process to go through as a patient. I became an Invisalign provider and that became the focus of my practice and I was getting busier all the time. So I decided that if I stepped back and cornered more time for my family, myself, and ultimately to examine what was working and not working at the practice we would ultimately grow. That led to my 5-hour a week, yes I said 5-hour a week, work schedule. I schedule new patient consultations and existing Invisalign patients within a 5-hour window weekly and devote the rest of my time to serving as a true leader for the practice and helping other dentists get excited about growing their practices, too.
Though making money is a great feeling it will never buy you a life. We are given one shot at making the most of our lives and using our time wisely. Unfortunately, many wealthy people, from a financial standpoint, never take the time to enjoy what they truly love. I don’t know anyone who looks back on their life and says they wish they had worked more. It’s usually the woulda, shoulda, coulda syndrome of “I sure blew it and I can’t fix it now”. I didn’t want to join that huge statistic. There are a lot of ways to grow wealth WITHOUT WORKING. I believe the key is to read everything your little mind can absorb. So long as you are open, there is always something to be drawn from reading and learning. Articles, fiction, nonfiction, journals, blogs, you name it, are full of pearls of wisdom that if applied, are relevant to your personal and professional growth.
Learning from how others have built their business is great but you have to have a sense of courage and a daring wit as well. What worked for one may not work for you. Be willing to not just break the mold but create a whole new one and do something different. For after all, the definition of insanity is doing what has always been done and expecting different results. I would rather be a trend setter than rule follower. My creative ability has allowed me to stand apart from the crowd rather than stare at the crowd as an onlooker. If I have a new idea that someone says won’t work I always ask “why not?” or “says who?”.
By conventional wisdom my choice to make a change in July 2009 was not thinking wisely. The economy was not doing well but I knew inherently that if I did not make this change I was going to die, if not physically definitely spiritually! I won’t say that all my hard work, doing the right thing and having faith allowed things to all work out without any glitches along the way. But, from each setback, disappointment and failure I have chosen to learn and do even better. So, because of the combination of working hard, doing what is right, and having faith the practice has grown and I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I now sleep at night, enjoy my family, and do what I love versus doing what I have to just to survive. This has all been done by me learning one simple little word, NO. I cannot do it all, but I have become phenomenal at delegating and I have learned to prioritize. Right in the midst of it all is me taking time for me and to refill my cup that for too long was empty.
So, enough about how I got here and on to what I am sure you are dying to hear, how does it all work. Be sure to guard your time. Though you will see my schedule below, whatever yours is, guard it with your life. Patients do come first, but if you are not careful, if you start accommodating everyone you will be right back where you started. Teach your staff to tactfully share your schedule with patients but by all means if it is the difference between keeping or losing a patient you will have to be flexible sometimes. Just use this as a last resort rather than the first option.
schedule: Thursdays 2pm-6pm and every other Friday from 7am-10am with a team meeting from 10am-12pm on the Fridays the office is open. This averages out to 5 hours per week in patient care.
The blueprint that I followed to get to the point where my practice was supported is simple and could be executed easily by any other dentist that truly wanted a change. I am the sole owner of my practice and at the time that I went to a 5 hour a week schedule, I had two associate dentists (technically they are independent contractors for various reasons). That is another story entirely, so we will not save it for another time.
Our strategy is to get interested patients through the door. Next, we have developed a strong system for our team to lead the potential Invisalign patients through to make certain they understand the process. Then, I meet the patient and let them know whether or not they are a candidate for Invisalign. I answer any questions they may have and get to know the patient by finding common ground. The principle of “liking” comes into play here, I want the patient to understand that we will enjoy spending time together as they have their dental care. The patient is then given our menu of financial options. This is NEVER done by me, as I am the worst person in the entire practice with financial arrangements, so we stick to where our unique abilities lie. The patient then either accepts a financial option and proceeds with records or is put into our system for follow-up. Either way, the patient is made to feel comfortable, accepted and genuinely liked by all of us.
Now, all other dentistry in my practice is done by three associates. This was difficult initially because patients all have doctor preferences. Some patients really had a tough time letting go. But during the transition I personally talked to them and even “passed the torch” in person to the next doctor. I assured them they would be well taken care of and that if they had any problems certainly do not hesitate to share them. Most of our fear lies in the unknown, don’t leave your patients in the dark and communicate clearly and concisely why the change and what they can expect next. What they don’t know and understand is what will cause problems so minimize problems using multiple methods of communication; newsletters, personal letters, face-to-face appointments, whatever is necessary.
Marketing is really a fairly new word in dentistry. My definition is to let potential patients know what their benefit will be if they visit the practice. Strong businesses market their business in many ways using multiple media forms. Internet, social media, radio, TV, print ads. We have followed our marketing efforts closely and chosen to spend marketing money on what works rather than what we think works. Because orthodontia is not typically a covered benefit for adults, Invisalign marketing efforts are targeted to high income levels. Do not fear failure, try many many things but always be sure you are tracking your efforts to you know what has been effective.
Marketing is not always done through the buying/selling of products and services. I was raised to “give back” and I am teaching my children to be givers. Community marketing through participation in as many community outreach endeavors, I know has helped build our practice. Participating in efforts such as Toys for Tots, Mission of Mercy, American Diabetes Association’s Walk for Diabetes, Halloween Candy Buy-Back and donating to numerous charity events helps set us apart as the dental office that cares, because we truly do. There is a true sense of caring and support for our patients and a feeling of gratitude amongst the team. Our patients are in need and if they don’t know we care, how will we ever reach them? We have a wonderful marketing assistant who sends press releases for us, which in turn becomes virtually free marketing. But don’t forget, Invisalign does a lot of marketing for you. Be sure your website highlights their website so that you can attract patients that you might not have gotten from other web searches.
It takes a team effort to be innovative. Not only do my other doctors do the majority of the dentistry, the team supports them. Our goal is for the doctors to only sit down to perform the dentistry and form real relationships with patients. All the other essential functions are done by support team members. Other non-essential tasks are outsourced. Automation is an all time high quality and low cost so take advantage of the many ways to reduce the tasks that your team members perform. For instance, we use Send Out Cards (real cards are sent, but the message is typed online) to send Welcome cards to new patients rather than stocking cards and stamps. They are mailed using an actual postal stamp and have personalized messages but it takes little to no time to get them in the hands of patients. Rather than hire more team members, look into systems that with often one-time only costs can be used to reduce time spent and minimize the margin of error.
Trick question, can you ever train too much? The answer is no AND yes. No, you cannot train on the same thing too much but yes you can train one person on too many things. It is critically important to cross-train and to ensure that one person is not doing everything. However, having assigned tasks and not giving too much to people all at one time is a must. Training is a peculiar thing and don’t think there is only one way to teach because there are certainly many ways you can learn. Capitalize on electronic modes use as webinars, teleseminars, and blogs. But also use your team members to do the training. Nothing feels better than to be called upon as the expert. If someone has finessed a skill, by all means put them in front of the team. Be careful not to pit your employees against one another but create a culture where leadership is embraced, taking initiative is expected, and sharing your knowledge with others is required. Morning huddles should be done daily and small items can certainly be addressed during that time. No less than two full team meetings a month is critical. One meeting a month should be used for training, even if it is just brief. Department leaders are a tool that you should use to identify training topics. Department meetings monthly are a great time to do training and development on topics that may not be germane to the entire team.
So, in summation here’s the nuggets of insight I can provide:
1. Invisalign does not require a ton of time therefore it creates a lot of time for you to begin doing what you haven’t been able to do.
2. Never do what others think you should be doing, do what you KNOW you should be doing and love it…if you don’t, leave it behind.
3. You are only as strong as the strength of your team, invest in their development and spend time with them, especially getting to know the on a personal level. As much as you know and understand their personal lives is as successful as you will be in developing a phenomenal employee.
4. A life out of balance is not much of a life, it is merely a rote existence that has moments of passion but lots of time filled with resentment, fatigue, disappointment and a longing for something different…dare to do the unconventional.
5. Never let someone else’s idea of success become yours, know what you want and don’t be satisfied until you have achieved it!
Here’s to your continued success. I wish you as much as you can possibly handle!
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