Is Your Practice Underperforming? Fix it Before Putting Your Dental Practice for Sale

No one sets out to fail. But life does not always conform to our expectations and things often don’t go our way. If your dental practice isn’t performing the way that you’d hoped, you might be concerned about your future and retirement. If this sounds familiar, take heart, all is not lost! You probably still have time to turn things around and build more—and more consistent—value into your business before you put your dental practice for sale.

A dental practice is, in many ways, no different from any other small business. Some experience steady growth, some experience consistent performance, some experience ups and downs in production, and some crash and burn. If you find yourself in a slump—or worse, a downward spiral—there are things you can do. Below, we’ll address some steps to take to help you get back on course.

Do Not Lose Hope

Before we get into what you can do, we’ll address the one thing you absolutely cannot do. You must not lose hope. When things don’t go our way, it’s easy to get upset, angry, or depressed. These emotional responses, however, will distort your perspective and cloud your judgment. Hopelessness is anathema to making positive change because you think, “Why bother? What difference will it make?” By setting emotions aside and taking a clear-eyed approach, you’ll be able to see solutions where you didn’t see them before.

This is most certainly easier said than done, especially when it comes to your dental practice. You’ve put a lot of time, effort, money, and care into starting and building your business. It’s tough to see it underperform. But your emotional attachment to the business will only get in the way of you being able to most accurately assess the problems and make critical decisions. When you act from a place of negative emotions, you are more likely to avoid making the hard decisions that could save your business, your career, and your future. 

Here at ddsmatch Southwest, we’ve helped many doctors prepare their dental practice for sale. Having worked closely with them as they review their business and consider their dental practice transition, we know how much the practice means to them, what they’ve invested in their work, their employees, and their patients. Because of this, we want to see dentists succeed in their careers—we know how meaningful it is. But, sometimes, that means making hard choices. And you must be up to that task if you want to turn waning practice into a strong one. You must put every option on the table. And you cannot let any of it be personal.

Essential Steps

With that out of the way, let’s move on to what you can do. These suggestions are ways to quickly increase production and profit. If your practice is really struggling, you must take these steps.

  1. Cut your unnecessary expenses. This might seem obvious. And maybe you think you have cut all unnecessary expenses. But, trust us, you probably haven’t. You may need to reevaluate your definition of “unnecessary.” Review all of your costs, being as objective as possible, and carefully consider what you really need at the most basic level. Cut anywhere you can and do it now.
  2. Cut necessary expenses. This might seem counterintuitive. How do you operate a business without paying for required elements? Well, if you’ve really cut all unnecessary expenses and that wasn’t enough, you’ve got to start making the cuts that will really hurt. This may include labor, technology, equipment, laboratory fees, and supplies. Don’t be swayed by a sense of obligation to vendors or employees. It might be hard for someone to lose an account or a job but your goal isn’t to guarantee anyone else’s income at this point. These cuts will, emotionally and psychologically, be the hardest to make, but you must change your mindset if you are fighting for survival.
  3. Increase Your Hygiene Production. In most practices, dental hygiene constitutes about 25% of the practice’s production. But, in most practices, there is room for growth in this area. Consider what hygiene work has been left undone. Work with your staff to identify which patients have incomplete work or who might be amenable to elective work. Reach out to your patients, have your hygienists help you with this, and start scheduling them for treatment. Also, if you don’t already have a periodontal program, start one immediately. These two together can add tens of thousands of dollars a year to your practice.
  4. Increase Your Active Patients. Again, this might seem obvious, but if you were already doing this effectively, you might not be in the situation you are in. Review your patient files for overdue patients and create a program to contact every one of them that is not currently scheduled and get them into your office as soon as possible. Your goal here is to get 96% of them scheduled. As soon as these overdue patients start coming in for treatment, if you keep your costs down, you’ll start seeing your production increasing. Once you have this going, keep it going. It’ll be a great selling point when you want to put your dental practice for sale.
  5. Schedule New Patients Within a Week of Their Call. While it’s great to get your overdue patients in, it’s the new patients that really boost your practice’s income. These patients must be the top priority for your office. Make sure anyone who answers your phone knows to schedule new patients as soon as possible, within seven days of that first call. The faster you get them into the office, the faster they get diagnosed, and the faster you can present them with treatment plans they will start paying for.
  6. Start All Large Cases Within a Week of Being Accepted. Relatedly, you want to close the lag between a case being accepted and treatment starting. Many patients will lag at scheduling their first appointment and a lot can happen during that gap in time, including the patient changing their mind. Instead of leaving the ball in their court, once the patient has accepted, get them immediately scheduled. Again, make sure everyone in your office is clear about this.
  7. Collect Anything Owed to You Immediately. Often, practices that are struggling have a large accounts receivable. This is money that belongs to you and should be paid. If you don’t have a collection system in place, start one now and keep it tight. Start a collections campaign (along with your overdue patient campaign) and get what you are owed. Also, start requiring payment at the time of service.
  8. Improve Your Case Acceptance Production. If you follow the usual method of having a large amount of single-tooth dentistry, you need to start being more expansive in your diagnoses. Give your patients a comprehensive diagnosis that addresses both necessary and elective options. Give them the option to get something they might want but don’t necessarily need, paying you for the service.

A lot of this advice might be hard to implement, but it will certainly be easier than having to close your doors. Remember to set your emotions aside and be rigorous in evaluating your costs and needs. Your dental practice needs a strong and dispassionate leader who is equipped to make the necessary, tough decisions. In the end, you will be glad you did.

We Can Help You Prepare Your Dental Practice for Sale

We are dental practice transition specialists that bring the experience of hundreds of successful dental practice transitions and put it to work for you. If you are considering putting your dental practice for sale and it’s not performing where you want it to be, we have options that can help. If you are considering transitioning your practice in the next five years, we offer a Practice Optimizer program to help doctors plan and prioritize for their future and retirement. We also offer a free, no-obligation Practice Transition Assessment during which we will provide valuable tools and advice to plan and prepare your practice for a smooth transition. Contact us today to set up a consultation—it starts with a conversation.