Starting your own practice – the key steps for success
Nigel Jones examines what you need to take into consideration when opening an orthodontic practice
Taking the first steps in setting up your own orthodontic practice is an exciting moment, but of course, it’s only natural that there may well be some trepidation. To move forward with confidence there are some key steps you can take to give yourself the strongest foundation for success:
Location, location, location
Having an easily accessible practice is particularly key for an orthodontic practice where patients may only be visiting for a fixed amount of time. This deviates from a general dental practice, where patients may be more willing to put up with some inconvenience in location in order to visit a particular dentist that they have built a relationship with over many years.
Take time to research and choose somewhere that is as convenient for as wide a group as possible, e.g. in a central location with good road networks – and, therefore, a car park on-site can be a strong selling point, good connections with public transport, close to other businesses/shops which will mean lots of potential patients passing by regularly.
Create a robust business plan
One of the very first things you need to do is crystallise the scope of your practice, and how you are going to achieve it, whilst being financially sound, in a business plan.
The plan should identify what kind of practice you want to be and the type of patient you want to attract; for example, are you going to offer services to children or specialise in any particular treatment? It also needs to cover how you will market the practice, what the external environment is like, what the competition is and how you will stand out, and any threats and opportunities.
Crucially – especially if you are going to seek external funding – it needs to document your financial plans, eg your budget for investing in equipment, premises and marketing, as well as a cashflow forecast.
Often, I see practices that have budgeted for everything that is needed to get the doors to the practice open but neglected how they will attract people through the door, ie their marketing plan.
Start building your reputation immediately
Focusing on how you are going to market and brand your practice from the beginning, is critical. Key to this is identifying your target audience. Do you want to attract wealthy retirees? Young mid-thirties professionals? This will help with selecting elements of branding, such as the font, colours and images you use, what treatments you promote, and where you advertise.
You also need to think about the reputation you want to build. A good place to begin is to consider what you would like to overhear patients saying about your practice when they think you’re not there. That will help you to define the messages you want to communicate through your marketing.
With an orthodontic practice, it is key to remember that you, and the patient, are not necessarily seeking to build a long-term relationship as is the case between a patient and a dentist that they see on a monthly or yearly basis. Instead, you are marketing to patients who are seeking someone to fix a specific issue.
I would also strongly advise that if you are planning on building a practice that relies a lot on referrals from dentists, don’t just send them a letter of introduction. Make some effort to engage with them personally, arrange to see them face-to-face or hold open evenings for them to come and visit your new practice. Building strong relationships with your local dental practices is a must if referrals are going to be a big part of your business.
Surround yourself with the right team
Your team will be absolutely vital to the type of reputation your practice has. The type of service patients receive, on a personal rather than a clinical level, will inform the way they talk about your practice, and whether they recommend you or not.
Recruiting and selecting your team members is crucial, and while you may know what clinical skills and qualifications you require from them, spend some time thinking about what other qualities you would like them to have. For instance, your front desk team is generally the patient’s first port of call so you need to choose someone who is people-orientated and enjoys interacting with patients.
I would also strongly recommend creating a clear patient journey that you can put into place from the outset. This should map out which members of your team interact with patients at what point, what they will say to them, and when they hand over to another member of staff.
It is imperative that this journey does not end with giving the patient a quote, you need to include who will be responsible for a follow-up call. This is also important if you know that a patient is really happy with their treatment, as they may be able to provide a testimonial or review, which is great for marketing.
Laying this patient journey down and recruiting the right team to deliver it means your patients should receive a consistent, quality experience. Which will help to create your positive reputation and drive the business forward.
Finance for the practice and patients
Opening a new practice is likely to require some investment, which for many will mean securing external funding. With the type of business plan outlined above, which shows you have done the necessary research and thought through how you will sustainably grow the practice, you are more likely to receive the finance you require. It’s also worth approaching banks that specialise in working with the dental profession, as you can only benefit from their experience.
When thinking about the fiscal side of your practice, also spend some time considering whether you want to offer patient finance. Offering this option can help to remove the affordability obstacle for some patients, and will help you to appeal to a wider audience. If no other practice locally is offering this, it can be a unique selling point and could tip the balance for a patient choosing between you and the competition.