Buying a Dental Practice or Starting from Scratch?

By Scott A. Cabral

 Owning a dental practice may seem very intimidating for many young dentists,  but for the majority of dentists this is the primary goal of their career.  Some will choose to enter into practice ownership quickly, while others prefer to continue their education or work as an associate dentist before owning their own practice.  Gaining clinical skills, speed, and confidence is important, but learning people skills, management of staff, and overall business acumen is essential as well.  There are pros and cons to each path….

Starting a practice from scratch takes a good deal more planning, commitment and time.   However, it also generally requires less initial financial commitment, and allows your practice management skills to grow at the same rate as the practice.

  • Choosing the right location is key, so demographic research is important.  Population growth, dentist-to-population ratio, office space availability and visibility are all factors to consider. There are many companies that will analyze and produce dental demographic reports for review.  After finding a suitable location, be sure to utilize a knowledgable commercial real estate agent when negotiating for the space.

  • Plan the build-out of the space wisely.  Do not initially over-spend, but design a usable space that can expand as the practice grows.  Interview and consider several lenders, architects, contractors, and equipment specialists. 

  • Plan a comprehensive internal and external marketing strategy.  Use the internet and social media (there are many dental focused internet marketing companies available to assist).  Be involved in the community.  Direct mailers and print ads can still be effective as well.  Create an internal referral program and reward patients for referrals.

  • Choose staff wisely, and be sure to train on practice systems prior to opening.  Positive patient interactions with staff, particularly front desk/scheduling/insurance coordinators is most vital in a start-up.

  • Understand that it will take some time to build up positive cash flow, possibly 12-18 months, so plan to have access to another source of income for living expenses during this time.

Acquiring an existing practice generally takes a larger financial commitment, but there is an immediate patient flow and cash flow.

  • Get help in finding a practice to acquire by contacting the trusted dental brokers in your area.

  • Establish a relationship with a healthcare lender.

  • Only consider purchasing a practice where you can replicate the types and quantities of the procedures of the selling dentist.  Ideally, you can add procedures not being done in the practice.

  • Know that when you acquire a practice you are jumping in with both feet, both as a clinician, a leader, and a manager.  Learning and adapting as you good will be important.

  • Your acquired practice comes with an experienced staff, and this is the most valuable asset of the practice.  How you learn from, and lead the staff will likely set you up for success- or doom you to failure.
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