A good business plan is the essential ingredient for the success of any dental practice. And it’s never too late to put one in place. By Shane Conroy
Dr Wally Hassoun is a busy man. Not only has he spent the best part of three decades building his thriving general practice, Dentist Melbourne, he’s also the founder of the TMJ Therapy Centre, a state-of-the-art practice in Toorak for the treatment of orofacial pain, headache and sleep disorders.
His is an enviable CV, but running two successful practices at the same time didn’t happen by accident. Growing up in the hospitality industry gave Dr Hassoun a good head for business, and he learnt some powerful lessons during the early days of managing his first practice.
“I was micromanaging with a lot of the processes in my head,” he says. “That was okay while I had a fantastic team in place, but when they began to retire or move on, I needed a much more effective way to onboard new staff. Obviously they can’t read my mind.”
That meant formalising his mental practice management into a business plan that articulated his overall vision for the practice, how he aimed to achieve it, and how he would manage staff towards those goals.
“It was also about moving towards an entrepreneurial mindset rather than just focusing on day-to-day operations. University may teach us to become good dentists, but it doesn’t help us to become great business people,” he says. “Successful entrepreneurs are not tunnel visioned. They are most often open to new ways of thinking and running their businesses. As dentists, we need to be thinking beyond clocking on and clocking off if we really want to build successful practices.
“That starts with a business plan. It’s about knowing what your end result is before you start, and planning to achieve it.”
Enter Ameena Basile. She’s a business coach and the founder of consultancy firm Dental Management Expertise. Basile works with Dr Hassoun and other dental clients to improve business practices and maximise profitability. She has a background in practice management, and was inspired to go into business coaching after witnessing her father’s experience.
“I want to make sure that other hardworking medical professionals benefit more from their efforts, and a good business plan is vital to achieve that.” Ameena Basile, founder, Dental Management Expertise
“My dad was a GP and despite running a very busy medical practice for 35 years, he had little to show for it financially when he died,” she says. “I want to make sure that other hardworking medical professionals benefit more from their efforts, and a good business plan is vital to achieve that.”
Basile argues that all dental practices can benefit from a business plan, even if you’re not considering expansion: “It can just be about increasing the profitability of what you already have,” she says. “And if you’re seeking finance, banks and other lenders are going to want to see a detailed business plan.”
Basile’s top tips for writing a business plan are as follows:
Step 1: Define your vision
“When I first meet with a new client, we sit down and discuss the vision they have for their practice,” says Basile. “I need to know their purpose and what their desired directions are. This could be expanding the practice as much as possible, or it might be more around lifestyle goals such as only wanting to work three days per week. Whatever your vision, the clearer you can be about the specific things you want out of your practice, then the more effectively we can plan to achieve them.”
Step 2: Set your goals
“The next step is to break your vision down into a series of achievable goals. This essentially forms a road map that leads towards your ultimate vision for your practice. The goals you set will depend on your particular vision—there is no one-size-fits-all approach to business planning. Every practice is different and every dentist wants something different out of it.”
Step 3: Assess your market position
“Your business plan should also consider your demographics so you can market to your patients most effectively. For example, if your practice is in the CBD, focusing on children’s dentistry is probably not the best idea. And keep in mind that the demographics of an area change over time so reassess regularly. That is, you might have set up 15 years ago in a low socio-economic area that has now become a trendy inner-city suburb. Your services and branding should evolve as your market changes.”
Step 4: Consider your exit strategy
“Don’t leave your exit strategy until you’re ready to retire. Your exit strategy should be set out in your business plan as early as possible as it will influence other decisions you make. For example, if you plan to sell your practice in the future, don’t name it after yourself. You want to create a brand that will have sellable value to the next owner.”
Step 5: Develop an annual plan
“I advise my clients to break up their long-term goals into an annual plan, and set up a system of KPIs (key performance indicators) they can use to measure their progress. This is also helpful for staff management—you’ll be able to identify the areas you may need to provide more training, and develop a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your practice.”