5 do’s and don’ts of a dental startup

Through: Anna Borden, DDS

My startup journey was one that was somewhat expected, somewhat forced. I had been looking for a practice to buy for about two years, but many practices were too expensive with equipment malfunctioning or in need of a complete renovation – or of course the doctors who wanted to stay there for a minimum of ten years.

With the advent of COVID, I lost my partnership and my boss told me that unfortunately he had to pay three mortgages and couldn’t keep paying me. When I got home that night, I declared to my (always loving and always supportive) husband that if I failed again at this dentistry thing, at least it would be on my own terms.

As fate has it, the following week I found a space where a dentist had closed shop during COVID in a newly renovated space, talking about great dental real estate waiting. There was a note taped to the front door informing patients that it was no longer in business – what a goodbye. In my oversaturated city, this was almost unheard of.

He had already declared bankruptcy and although I could not buy the contents of the building or the practice itself, the space was already leaded and equipped for an office. The initial cost still seemed staggering (especially during this joyous period of unemployment during COVID), but I closed my eyes and signed on the dotted line for the lease. While the doctor failed for me in the same room, I think this really lit a fire under me to be successful.

The five DO’s to start your own dental practice

First off, if you can find something like that, ABSOLUTELY do it. I didn’t buy the equipment or the patient base, but having a shell of a building to begin with saved me a lot of capital.

Two, definitely shop around for equipment. I did some, but was liked by some of the bigger equipment brands. I rarely heard from them after installation.

Third, have the best team and don’t be afraid to replace people. This was a hard lesson and I struggled the hard way to learn it myself. Two pearls strike me: “Never hire someone you can’t fire.” and “Rent slow, fire fast.”

Four, spend a ton on marketing that first year. You build a solid patient base which will lead to many internal referrals. We’ve dropped our marketing 100% since we entered our second year and we have more, not less, patients.

Five, treat every new patient like gold. From that first phone call to their time in the chair, make every second count. Most of our referrals are now internal because existing patients have a great experience. Give every patient the Disney experience.

The five DON’TS of starting your own dental practice

First, avoid doing things in the office that make you stressed. I refer to procedures that cause me unnecessary anxiety or delay. You can always add these procedures after you feel confident in your business and have completed some more CE courses.

Second, avoid unnecessary people in the office. Be it patients or employees, life is too short.

Three, don’t give your staff money. Pay them well, give them benefits and reward those who have stayed with you from day one. It took me a year to get started where it was comfortable and it was a great pleasure to be able to add benefits for my employees. Don’t be the doctor with three houses and a boat, but a staff with no retirement account.

Four, avoid the isolation that dentistry often brings. Being an independent entrepreneur is lonely at the top. Make friends with the entrepreneurs around you, invite your dentist neighbors to happy hour, spend time with the dental professionals. Exercise, eat well, take lunch breaks.

Five: Avoid being so focused on the business that you forget what’s important in life. As my gross anatomy professor, Dr. Steve Gudas always: ‘Husband. Children. Work. In. Which. Order.” He had many pearls of wisdom, but this one has stayed with me forever and I strive to keep that as my motto.

Should you start your own dental practice?

Starting a dental business is a huge amount of work and so very rewarding. I wish everyone reading this the best of luck with their journey.

Anna Borden

Anna Borden, DDS opened her startup Oasis Family Dentistry in Charleston, South Carolina in November 2020 – in the midst of a pandemic, what could go wrong? She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 and completed her AEGD residency at the Medical University of South Carolina. She has served on the board of the South Carolina Dental Association as one of its youngest members and is also past president of the Coastal District Dental Society. When she’s not at the dentist’s, you’ll find her with her husband and two toddlers keeping her busy and exhausted.

Next: Leading an Old Team Like a New Dentist

photo by Daniel Frank from Pexels

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