After just 10 years as an oral health therapist in the private sector, Leah Smith is out earning many of her colleagues while only working 28 hours a week. Now she’s written a book, The Profitable Practitioner, to share the secrets of her success. By Kathy Graham
If anyone embodies the work smart ethos, it’s oral health therapist Leah Smith. The mother of two, who confides she always wanted to be a mum but not give up her career, says she “just knew I had to be smart and really think about what I was doing in my work hours to make enough money but still have quality time with my family.” The upshot? Although Smith only works a 28-hour week at 1300SMILES in Mackay, QLD, where she’s been employed for the past decade, she’s ranked as one of the top earners (out of mostly dentists)—and that’s without doing the high-end procedures. “I don’t do the crowns, implants, all the money-making stuff but I have the most loyal patient base in my practice and that’s what makes me money,” she says.
Before joining 1300SMILES, Smith had spent 10 years in clinical practice in the public sector on a wage. But her job in the private sector is commission-based meaning if you don’t have patients you don’t get paid. “So if you go to work and you see one patient all day, you will get paid for one patient all day,” she says. “It’s crucial that your books are full, otherwise you’re not going to be profitable.”
So right from the start Smith made it her business to fill up her books. “That was probably the biggest thing in my mind that I had to get around. That yes, you may be employed by somebody, but this is your business—and you need to treat it like one. So I did and started running my own books.”
To attract new patients Smith focused on personal branding, doing lots of video marketing and using social media such as Facebook to maximum effect. Her interactive learning website Active Little Smiles, to promote the oral health of children, has also helped boost her profile, especially among her target market, mums and kids “who eventually turn into patients because they really know that you’re the person they want to go and see because you’ve created yourself as the go-to-person in your industry”.
Of course, it’s one thing to attract new patients, quite another to keep them, says Smith, adding that none of her patients leave without a future booking. She notes, “There’s more to building your business than your clinical ability. I’ve seen other practitioners who may not be the best clinically, but their patients love them. So they will come back time and time again which means profit over and over. You need to really get to know your patients, and in your notes be writing things outside of ‘XYZ needed a filling’,” she continues. “To build that relationship so it’s sustainable and long term, you really need to be making note of other things about your patients so that you can build that rapport and that trust year in year out. I think if any practitioner nails that ‘know, like, trust’ aspect, the rest is easy.”
It’s hard to believe that when Smith switched from public to private, as she says, “I had literally no idea. It was a completely new world to me. Everything about it was, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this?’” Not that she felt overwhelmed and helpless for long. Smith soon turned her attention to “what other people did. I looked at who had the fullest books and I thought, ‘Right, I’m going to find out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and start modelling that for my business’.” Smith says it helped a lot that in the corporate environment she’s in, staff turnover is high so that she “saw lots of different things that different practitioners, dentists, hygienists and therapists did. I was like a sponge; I took it all in, pieced together the things that were successful for others and made it work for me.”
Not surprisingly, as Smith’s business success grew, so too did her reputation, within and even outside of dentistry as the principles and strategies she uses are applicable in any allied health field. “I was getting friends and colleagues asking me how I did it, and what to do if they wanted to transform out of public into private clinical practice and I knew right then that there was a need for me to teach this to help others,” she recalls. Since a lot of these exchanges were on Facebook, as fate (or the algorithm) would have it, Smith saw in her newsfeed one day a how-to for book writing for first-time authors. That was last October. Less than a year later, she had her book, The Profitable Practitioner, in her hands. “Believe it or not, I’m probably the only person in the world who says they loved COVID, but I had seven weeks off with the downturn in dentistry,” she laughs. “So I was like, ‘Right, you’ve got seven weeks, don’t waste it!’”
To capitalise on the publicity her book is garnering, Smith has been busy adding to the courses on offer on her coaching business website (profitablepractitioner.com.au) including her newest—the Profit Platform— that “expands on the ‘how to’ for the strategies in my book and has had some fantastic feedback”. As always, her aim is to help as many practitioners, females in particular, “to create amazing health businesses and to show them that they can do it too. Why I am so passionate about this is as a mum of two, I want to show other women that they can have a career and be a mum and be amazing at both.”