With the start of the new year as well as a new decade, now might be the right time for a new approach to the business of your practice. By John Burfitt
With the dental market as competitive as it has ever been, the arrival of 2020 as well as a new decade is not the time to be complacent about the future of your practice.
In fact, some of Bite magazine’s most regular dental profession commentators agree the early months of the new year are the ideal time to create new goals to set up 2020 for success.
“With the way dentistry, not to mention the general business marketplace, continues to evolve at such a rapid pace, it’s essential to have a plan that outlines what success looks like, and how you’re going to achieve it,” Julie Parker of the dental consultancy Julie Parker Practice Success, says.
Here are five key points our panel claim need attention to make 2020 a winner.
Create a plan
Julie Parker says outlining a comprehensive business plan for the year ahead is like deciding on a destination, and then having a map to lead the way there.
A 12-month plan needs to both outline key goals for the practice, and the action required to make them happen. Most of all, it needs to be written down.
“Rather than have some ideas running around your head, write down your goals and put that plan somewhere you will see it regularly,” she says. “You are 42 per cent more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down. And be specific. Know the ways you’re going to achieve those goals.”
She adds it’s also vital to hold yourself accountable in terms of reaching these goals. “Possibly check in on those goals at the end of every month to see what you have done and what you still need to do in the month ahead to get where you want to go.”
Know the numbers
Now is a good time to pour over the accounts from the previous year to analyse what the figures reveal about the state of your practice.
“You must look at the numbers, to see where the money has been coming from and going, and what’s happening with patient flow,” Dr Phillip Palmer of Prime Practice says. “This is not a time to make guesses—it’s about looking at those numbers and understanding what they tell you.”
The analysis might reveal who are regular patients, how much they’re spending and what treatments provide the greatest return. It might also show which patients are not coming back. “Considering why that is might be the best lesson of all,” he adds.
Not having a clear grasp of the numbers in the business is what Dr Palmer calls ‘the silent disease’.
“I have seen some practices lose 30 to 40 per cent of their patients, and not even know it. Pay attention to the numbers and whatever is going on, and then continue to measure it so you know how to move the business forward.”
Putting the house in order
Marketing strategist Carolyn S Dean, author of Fully Booked: Dental marketing secrets for a full appointment book, says starting off the new year completing a ‘marketing health check’ of the practice can pay dividends later on.
“Do a comprehensive check on basic areas like your website, positioning statement, logo and printed materials like business cards and pamphlets,” she says. “Check they are up to date with details of opening hours, contact details, range of treatments and payment plans. Things may have changed, so if anything needs to be amended, do it now.”
This is also the time to confront what is and isn’t legal, she says, rather than avoid marketing all together if uncertain about the current professional guidelines.
“If you don’t understand the laws, then work with someone who does so you can up your marketing game, stay competitive and not fall behind,” she says.
Communicating the message
At a time when communication is easier than ever, with automatic emails and SMS, it’s just as important not to lose sight of personal engagement with patients.
Establishing a practice culture which sets high professional standards of communication needs to be a priority, Dr Alex Holden of the University of Sydney says.
“It must always be a case of looking after the patients first, making them feel valued and well cared for,” he says. “Having all the latest gear in your practice might be great, but it is pointless unless you offer effective communication and good patient service.
“Professionalism is about taking the time to understand each situation from a patient’s perspective.”
With competition in the dental marketplace so strong, maintaining a focus on how the full patient experience is delivered must remain a priority, he adds.
“Small business must offer a service that understands their consumers and that dentistry is driven by how well we as clinicians understand our patients and provide care.”
Invest in yourself
In the current age where upskilling and retraining have emerged as vital aspects of modern dentistry, gaining higher standards of knowledge has seen renewed focus on continuing professional development.
With the Dental Board of Australia’s latest CPD cycle having begun on 1 December, the ADA’s Clare Payne says now is the perfect time to make a commitment to further learning.
“CPD is a commitment to providing best health outcomes for your patients, ensures confidence in new adventures and develops vital practice management skills,” Payne, the ADA Learning and Professional Development Manager, says.
She suggests practitioners identify subjects of most relevance to what customers are demanding, and then look for relevant courses through the ADA’s CPD portal.
“Practitioners can reflect on developing new skills in such areas as fine-tuning techniques, building a better practice, improving communication skills or catering for the needs of a new patient,” she says. “Learning is a lifelong adventure and the start of that cycle is a great way to reset the pathway for success.”