The Seven Pillars of a Successful Dental Business…simplify, simplify, simplify.

There are times in your life when you have to sit down and simplify.

I did it first as a DJ by asking myself what really makes people dance and enjoy themselves and how could I cram all that fun into a short space of time.

I did it 40 years ago during my first job when the pressure of being “on” for 7 straight days threatened to turn me into a blob of jelly and bones.

And again 30 years ago as I became a practice owner, that exercise took place whilst sitting on the floor in Malaga airport enduring a 6 hour delay for a flight to Gatwick. I produced a one sheet marketing plan that proved so practical and successful I used it again when I started my second practice a year later.

I did the exercise once more when I finally changed career from clinician to coach. Here’s the back story.

The Seven Pillars of a Successful Dental Business

In 1995 whilst studying on the MBA course with the Open University I was struggling to reconcile the structure and working patterns of a dental practice with those of the businesses that we were examining. Yes, there were some things that they had in common but there were also glaring differences, so I devised what I thought fitted the business of dentistry. In the dozens of practices with which I have worked since then the definitions have been re-enforced and I have come to rely on them so they are an almost unconscious backbone to my analysis and planning.


The cliche is, “if you don’t know where you are going then you have no idea if you are getting closer or further away.” This is at the heart of my initial work with a client and their business. They need to know what they want, so we work hard at the outset and taking the long term view, perhaps as long as a decade, to discover what direction they need to take and what growth will mean for them. This is real “what is your dream?” area. From there we chunk things down, initially to 3 years then to 12 months, then 90 days and smaller. Classic coaching protocols, not used nearly enough.

Financial Controls

If you are going to have a dream and aim towards it then you must know what your financials are going to look like. I am still amazed that many practice owners only look backwards, even in this age of online banking they wait for their bank statements and reconcile; at some point after their financial year end they wait for their accounts to be produced so that they can discover what they did maybe 20 months or more ago.

So I encourage my clients look to forward using spreadsheets or other financial software (spreadsheets are simpler) in order to see monthly general and cashflow budgets. The advantages are clear, for long term planning, for setting of fees and for the day-to-day monitoring of cashflow.


Let’s get one thing clear – we’re all in sales. Selling can and should be one of the highest form of communication that takes place. It is all about establishing and maintaining a relationship with the patient. I have no time for people who say that you should earn £X from every new patient, in my experience to push new patients before a solid relationship is in place is doomed to failure and frequently results in buyer regret.


I take John Jantsch’s definition as the bedrock of all marketing. It’s simple and effective: “Marketing is getting people who have a specific need or problem to know, like, trust and do business with you and then to refer you others who have the same need or problem.” If your marketing doesn’t do that, at a reasonable cost, then there is little point in proceeding. No amount of money spent on external marketing will replace a good internal marketing system. The biggest crack through which business falls is the failure of the team to ask for referrals.


The recruitment, training and maintenance of a good team takes constant work. First rule, start as you mean to go on, ensure that the new recruit is imbued with the core values of the practice and that their formal induction lets them see and absorb the culture of the business. Next, listen to them through regular appraisals that are a two way street, and respond to the established training and development needs.


Einstein said that things should be made as simple as possible, and no simpler. Unfortunately enforced compliance has overtaken what should have come naturally, the heart of the administrative systems must be your practice manual or “how we do things here”. This should be a living document, constantly being adapted, adopted and improved as the demands on the practice evolve.


Is the practice a place you would want to visit? How does it look, smell and sound? How does it feel? Regularly revisit the physical environment so that you can see things from your patients’ points of view.

How’s your practice doing? Does it need a Health Check?

Published by Alun Rees

Dental Business Coach. Analyst. Troubleshooter. Consultant. Writer. Presenter. Broadcaster.

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