My general rule when asked for expert advice is to go to experts as I define them to be. If you look around, you will find many purported experts on many things such as witnessing, flame throwing and even consulting (which seems redundant, but I suppose you could consult without being an actual expert in a field). I believe that I possess unique insights and am a keen observer of how great businesses succeed and why not so great businesses fail, but I know that when a prominent dental professional organization asks me to impart wisdom as a small business expert, I should, as a matter of professional courtesy, check in with those in that field who happen to be experts in their craft (dentistry) and are successful as business owners. Not all small businesses are created equal and it's reasonable to say that the top 10 business tips for dental practices will not be the same as the top 10 tips for sandwich shops or parking lot paving companies. Therefore, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to two incredibly successful business owners/dentists who helped make sure that I, as a presented small business expert, shared useful and valuable information to dentists on the top 10 list of innovative tips for small business owners (who happen to be dental professionals). My most heartfelt thanks to Dr. Mark Hyman, the "Tarheel Dentist" and the magnanimous Dr. Bill Dorfman for your feedback and support without which I would have possibly advised over a hundred dental professionals to invest in ovens that make fresh baked bread on the premises.
I can feel your anticipation -- you must know these 10 golden nuggets... now. So, here they are...
10) Cash Flow Is King -- Pay close attention to the cash flow in your business for reasons other than the obvious. Cash flow is one of the best temperature gauges of what is and what isn't working in your business. When so much of your business is service, customer feedback is important, but your cash flow will tell you not how your customers feel about you, but what they find valuable and worth paying for. Don't just read cash flow statements to know how it's coming in and going out, but watch your cash flow and compare it to what your customers are telling you about what they VALUE.
9) Know-how Is Only Half the Game, It's Also About the Know-who -- I shamelessly pilfered this catchy phrase from a good friend's Facebook post. But the context in which I share it with our dental professional friends is different than how it's originally intended. In its context for the general small business community, know WHO is about getting to the "decision maker" within a company because often one of the components to success is in the area of B2B. In a specific service based company, such as a dental practice, the "know who" is really about developing a competitive advantage in an otherwise saturated market with few ways to differentiate. It's about creating a brand identity that differentiates you and reaches your customer in ways that are different than other dentists.
8) Hire for Fit -- One of the most underutilized resources in dental practices is staff. Professional skill can be trained, but a love for service cannot. Don't just hire for competence, hire for attitude, passion and chemistry. Dentistry is a skillful art, but the "visit to the dentist" is a service based experience. Never underestimate the power your people have on my decision making process. A couple hundred bucks on a thorough background check is always worth the money.
7) Create a Mastermind Group -- Ya know the old adage, "You know what you know, you don't know what you don't know." Know and embrace your strengths, recognize your shortcomings and surround yourself with people who are experts in those areas. If you're a dental professional, you don't really need to surround yourself with more dentists, unless they are experts in other things such as accounting, marketing, finance, or strategy. Create a core group of advisers whom you can call upon for help when faced with a challenge in your business and keep that group engaged and interested in your success. Ever been sued by an employee? I bet offering a friend who happens to be an expert in EPLI insurance free teeth cleaning sounds like an affordable trade for some good advice.
6) Manage Your Online Presence -- I know what you're thinking, I'm a dental professional, what do I need a website for other than to make sure people can find my information online? Well, lets put it this way, the majority of your future customers are finding you online. If you have a crappy website -- sadly, it will discredit you. And since there are about two dozen other dentists I can go to within a five-mile radius, you won't make my short list. Additionally, since I'm looking for you online, I'm also aware if you have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and your rating on Yelp. If you're not managing your presence online, red alert -- it is managing YOU.
5) Pay Attention to Us Girls -- That's right, it's true, women make 89% of all buying decisions and in the case of healthcare, we make nearly all of the decisions, not just for ourselves, but for our spouses, our children and our aging parents. We matter, a lot. Don't know what we want? Ask us, we would love to tell you.
4) Know Me -- When I walk into your office, it goes a long way if I feel like you know me. Dr. Hyman has a great practice in his office, every morning his team convenes and they go over the schedule of everyone who is coming in, who they are and what, if anything, is important about that person -- not just as a patient, but as a person. By the time that person walks through the door, the entire staff knows who they are, what they're there for and what is going on in their life. They make the person feel expected and welcome and that person looks forward to going to the dentist.
3) Don't Just Be My Dentist, Be My Trusted Adviser -- Your patient is not a dentist, so he/she won't know about new advancements in technology. Guess what, your patient does want stronger, brighter, healthier teeth, but we don't want to be lectured or told what we should be doing more of, but rather shown what our options are. We want whiter teeth, so tell us about Philips Zoom and how quickly we can get the procedure. We know we're supposed to floss more, but after all these years, I'm not about to start doing it more so tell me about this new "Philips Airfloss" and demonstrate it on me.
2) Always Have a Short Term and Long Term Strategy -- If you're not planning for the future, how can you measure the results of what you're doing today? Revisit this strategy and engage and involve your staff and your family in this discussion. You may be the owner of the business, but there are many others who are hitched to your success as an entrepreneur, don't leave them in the dark.
1) Continue Your Education -- I'm not talking about the requisite license updates that come with your industry, I'm talking about developing a discipline for continued learning. Things like pricing strategy are really complicated, understanding why things like net present value is important because it helps you understand the fiscal impact of that $100,000 gadget you are thinking about investing in today and what that means to you over the next 10 years. I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "If you keep doing what you've done, you'll keep getting what you've got", actually, the reality is what you know today may not be relevant tomorrow. In a continually changing world, one that is evolving exponentially faster thanks to technology, you can't afford to not make time and effort to stay ahead of the curve. It is singularly your most sustainable competitive advantage.
And believe me, with the rate at which new dentists are pouring into the world, you better have one now.