What Will Dentist Practice Appraisals Show about Your Overhead Costs?

One of the major factors that affects value in dental practice appraisals is overhead. Overhead is a term that represents the ongoing costs of operating a business. These are expenses you incur regardless of how many patients you see or how much you charge in fees. These include rent, employee wages and benefits, lab costs, materials, and so on. Simply stated, overhead is everything that isn’t money in your pocket.

Overhead is important for three related reasons. First, it tells you how much it costs to run your practice. Second, it shows the profitability of your business. For instance, if your overhead costs are 65%, which according to some researchers is about average for general dental practices, this means that for every dollar you collect, $.65 pays your overhead and you get to keep $.35. And, third, when you start to look at overhead by category, it shows you where you might trim some fat to make your practice more profitable.

Some overhead expenses are fixed, such as rent, meaning they don’t change from month to month. Some are variable, such as costs for certain materials or lab costs, which will vary depending on your patient treatments. And some are semi-variable, like utilities, where you may have a fixed base charge with additional costs that depend on usage.

While it’s important to look at your overhead costs as a whole, the real work is done by looking at each category, line by line. There are national averages which can be a rule of thumb on where you should be with each category, but these are just general guidelines. If you are over the average on rent but under on employee costs, it may balance out, as an example. But national averages can also be problematic. For instance, as noted above, the national average for total overhead may be as high as 75%, but 60% is really where most practices should be. Below, we’ll discuss a few categories where you can start to examine overhead, especially if you are considering putting your dental practice in Texas for sale or are considering dental practice appraisals.

Employee Costs

Number of Staff Members

If you are like most doctors, this is your biggest expense. The target here is for employee costs to be about 25% of your intake, and that should include not only wages and salaries, but also any benefits, bonuses, and any other compensation. If you are above that range it likely means one of two things: you either have too many employees, or you are paying them too much.

Over-hiring is a common problem. If your staff is busy and balls are being dropped, the easy solution is to hire another person. But you have to carefully consider whether you really need another employee, or if your present staff just needs more direction or training. Hiring additional staff doesn’t typically solve the problem, and in most cases, it just creates a new one in the form of higher overhead. If you’ve already made this mistake, you are faced with a tough decision. Eliminating staff is one of the most difficult aspects of running a business, but, at the end of the day, you need to have a dental practice that is running as efficiently as possible.

Managing Staff Members

If your office isn’t running smoothly, it may be because you haven’t been as effective in your role as CEO of your dental practice as you need to be. Being a good doctor doesn’t necessarily mean you are also a good manager. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to better support your employees.

If employees are not clear on their job descriptions and responsibilities, if they lack the vision to see where they fit into the whole of the operation, or if they are not as efficient or productive as they could be, more often than not, it’s a matter of training, supervision, and support. Having specifically delineated job descriptions, written policies, and clear instructions on office procedures can go a long way toward making sure everything is being done properly and on time. Employees benefit from performance measurements and frequent feedback, and your business will benefit in turn from the increased efficiency, which will be reflected in dental practice appraisals.

So, before you hire another person, look at, for instance, how patients are moving through your office. How long do they spend at the front desk? It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to check a patient in and out. If your offices sees 20 patients a day, that’s 200 minutes of time at the front desk. If there are 480 minutes in a work day, you shouldn’t need more than one person at the desk. If your front desk person can’t keep that time in line with where it should be, even with additional training and support, then what you need is a replacement, not additional labor.

Employee Compensation

There is a notion that employees should get some kind of pay increase each year. This is wonderful  if your practice is increasing collections each year. However, if your practice is stagnant or declining, you simply cannot afford yearly raises. Remember that every dollar of increased overhead is a dollar by which you decrease profits. If you can give raises and maintain 60% overhead, then it is fair to compensate your employees for the efficiency they bring to your practice.

If giving raises will take your employee overhead costs above the 25% target, then you should consider making raises dependent upon the practice’s performance. While stagnation or declining profits is not likely the fault of one employee, it’s unlikely, under these circumstances, that your employees are operating at peak efficiency. And if they know that they’ll get a raise each year regardless of performance, they will lack incentive to improve. Here is where performance standards can carry real weight— instituting a policy where raises must be earned on the basis of what an employee brings to the business.

Patient Recall

One of the many factors potential buyers of dental practices want assessed in dental practice appraisals is patient recall. Returning patients indicate that your monthly and annual collections are something that can be replicated in the future. When a young doctor buys a dental practice, they want future success, not past ones.

Unfortunately, many doctors don’t prioritize a patient recall system. If you haven’t already, you should set up procedures for your patient coordinator to contact past-due patients and schedule appointments, with a goal for making a certain number of calls and appointments each day. Recall patients bring in revenue you would not have otherwise collected, increasing profitability and reducing overall overhead.

Raising Fees

Many dentists resist raising fees because they think that higher costs for patients might drive those patients to other practices. The fact is, consumers expect prices to rise over time. If you regularly review your fees and make incremental increases, keeping in line with the market value of your services, it won’t surprise or upset most patients. The problem is waiting too long. Then you have to make bigger increases, which are harder for patients to accept.  Also, if you have an eye toward selling your dental practice in Texas, a potential buyer may be wary of a practice that has too low of fees. If the buyer wants to bring fees in line with market value, they don’t want to be the one to do it, as a change in ownership coupled with higher prices may increase patient attrition.

Other Important Overhead Categories for Dental Practice Appraisals

The other overhead costs you can count on for any dental practice will be rent, utilities, lab costs, materials, equipment, marketing, and accounting. There are industry standards for how much of your overhead should be allocated to these categories. For instance, rent should be about 6-7%, materials and lab costs should be about 6% each, marketing should be about 2-3% of your overall overhead costs, and account should be about 1-2%. Before you put your dental practice for sale, you may want to consider having a business valuator look at your practice and review where your costs can be reduced. When a potential buyer reviews a dental practice appraisal, they’ll be most interested in a dental practice that falls within these industry standard ranges.

But, remember, these are averages. If you are high in one category, making that reduction can bring you within the overall ideal range, then discrepancies in other categories will appear less problematic. Once you know where your costs are and make the necessary adjustments, keep an eye on each overhead category every month to watch for waste, inefficiency, or other ways your costs may be unnecessarily high.

At ddsmatch Southwest, we are uniquely experienced in helping clients who are selling a dental practice to achieve their profitability and lifestyle goals. We are expert dental practice transition specialists, and will help you identify a buyer with a strong skill set and personality match that will carry on the practice and legacy you have worked so hard to build. We ensure that every detail is covered, help you avoid common mistakes, and ensure no step is overlooked.  Plus, your confidentiality is always guaranteed. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation Practice Transition Assessment and find out how we can help you get the most for your practice.