In this article, we’ll take a look at all the different factors you need to consider to grow a dental practice. From structuring your finances and accounts to digital marketing techniques, this guide will cover everything you need to know when it comes to growing a dental practice.
Why the Climate is Right for Growing a Dental Practice
According to a report published by IBIS World in 2017, the size of the dental market in the UK was £6.7bn, with a growth projection of 1.1% over the following five years. This means that the time is right to grow a dental practice. If you get it right, you can take advantage of the growing UK population, which is leading to a growing demand for dental health services nationwide.
The UK population is continuing to grow. By 2039 it’s estimated to reach 74 million. You can take a look at more detailed figures, provided by the Office for National Statistics. A growing population leads to an increased need for resources, including dental care. As strain on NHS dental care increases, there is an increased need for good quality private dental care.
The population is also ageing and, as the only part of the human body that has no self-repair ability, teeth require on-going repair and maintenance, if they are to last into later years. As I have discussed with several clients in recent years, there is plenty of opportunity to scale a dental practice, as long as the scaling process is completed correctly.
Factors to Consider When Growing a Dental Practice
In order to grow a dental practice, it’s important to have a good understanding of the methods that you need to use. Making the right use of these methods is essential if you want your dental practice to expand and thrive.
From accounting and finances to the in’s and out’s of digital marketing, it’s essential that you consider all aspects of the business when you decide to grow your dental practice.
As a dental practice grows, there is likely to come a time when significant additional funding is required in order to scale further. This funding may be needed to purchase new equipment, to extend a current practice, or to buy more dental practices to become a group.
The first point I want to make is that it’s not all about profits when it comes to growing a dental surgery.
It’s important to consider the costs of running a practice, which are also likely to increase significantly over the coming years. For instance, payroll costs can account for almost 60% of revenue expenditure on average. In 2019 especially, the increase in the National Living Wage made a significant difference to dental practices that employ younger administration and support staff.
These cost increases need to be factored into any decision to scale a dental practice. Other on-going costs that should be accounted for include non-payroll related expenses, such as the purchase of materials, payment of utility bills, insurance premiums and the cost of marketing.
The obvious lesson to take from all this is that any dental practice owner needs to concentrate their efforts on increasing revenue as soon as they take over at a practice or start up their own dental surgery. It’s these efforts that make expansion a possibility.
Work with Professionals When Looking for Growth and Acquisition Financing
In the same way as it’s important to work with expert dental accountants and dental solicitors when financing and buying an initial dental practice, it’s also vital to work with professional brokers when you plan to grow your dental practice.
Never forget that a dental surgery owners talents lie with running the practice itself and not with accounting or legal implications. It’s better to work with experts to deal with these factors. on these aspects of scaling a dental practice with clients on many occasions and it’s made the process a lot simpler for them.
- Contact a dedicated dental accountant if you haven’t already. You can read more about what look for in a dental accountant here.
- Contact a commercial finance broker before you approach a bank or other financial institution to borrow finance. It’s important that you make sure the broker you work with has extensive experience in the UK’s dental sector. They will be able to make sure you choose the right option and get the best deal for your business.
Apply for Financing
There are a wide range of reasons for which you may need to raise funds as a dentist. From expanding the premises and equipping new surgeries to raising working capital or paying off outstanding debts, there will most likely come a time when you need to raise commercial finance.
Banks and other financial institutions want to reduce their risk and tend to only lend to businesses that can prove they have reliable revenue and are in a position to make repayments on time.
It’s worth bearing this in mind when making decisions to grow a dental practice. Planning ahead is essential. Ideally, plan 10-12 months ahead of time, and make sure that revenue is optimised and accounts are up-to-date and accurate before applying for funding. When you apply for funding, be prepared to provide a significant amount of documentation including:
- An up-to-date business plan.
- Up-to-date and accurate accounts (personal and business).
- Up-to-date tax records.
- Details of expenditure.
- Detailed analysis of proposed finance spending and growth of the practice.
Having everything in one place before applying for growth or acquisition funding makes a successful outcome more likely.
- Cut your business’s expenses where you can. You can read more about cutting small business expenses here.
- Conduct a cash flow assessment of your business. You can find out more about managing your cash flow, including performing a cash flow forecast, here.
- Consider refinancing your business’s assets. You can find out more about asset finance for dentists here.
Structure Your Accounts and Finances Correctly
We’re dental accountants at heart and we firmly believe that structuring your accounts correctly can make or break your business. You can save time, money and effort when you go digital with your accounts and use programmes like Xero and Quickbooks. Automating your accounts and finances with these kinds of programmes brings huge benefits for your business. You can read more about the benefits of automated accounts here.
As we’ve already mentioned, it’s essential that you choose a dental accountant who has experience in the dental industry. It’s not enough to find a good accountant. They need to have a working knowledge and understanding of the tax, accounting and financial issues facing the UK’s dentists.
- Use programmes like Xero to streamline and automate your accounts and get rid of the need for mountains of paperwork and receipts. You can read our 4 steps to streamline your dental accounts here.
- Make sure your accountant is experienced in the UK’s dental sector.
- Structure your accounts and finance to reduce your tax bill.
Maintain a High-Performing Team
When you set up your dental practice, you put a team in place that you could trust. It’s important to retain this team if you want to grow your dental practice successfully. This means that you have to consider several factors.
Make Sure The Working Environment is Positive.
A working environment that is less than positive environment will deter people from wanting to remain working at your practice. Make sure that everyone is aware of the vision of the practice and working towards it. You should also make sure that members of your team have access to the training and technology that they need.
Encourage Good Performance.
You cannot grow a dental practice without having a high performing team in place. This is why it’s so important to make use of key performance indicators, SMART objectives and an effective appraisal system that includes an emphasis on personal development.
Make Sure That Communication Works.
Effective communication is central to the success and growth of any dental practice. This may sound easy, but communication can become confused and messy if you let it. Make use of tools such as a communications strategy, an Intranet system and weekly team meetings, to help make sure that this does not happen. It may sound simple, but a clear communication strategy that everyone understands can make the world of difference in any workplace.
All of these factors can help you to keep your high performing team in place.
- Set KPI’s and objectives with your team.
- Dedicate a specific time each week (or every 2 weeks at the most) to meet with your team to listen to their ideas and air any issues.
- Make sure you are open about, and that your team buy into, your vision for the practice. Be prepared to make some tough decisions about staffing if any of your team do not buy into the vision and objectives of the practice.
Use Marketing to Grow A Dental Practice
You can have an exceptional dental practice, but it’s not going to grow and flourish if you do not market it effectively. Optimised marketing is essential to the growth of any business. It’s important that you emphasise the benefits that people can get from choosing your dental surgery, rather than simply concentrating on the brand itself.
It’s these benefits that will attract people to your practice and make it easier for you to retain their loyalty.
The first step is creating a website for your dental practice that ranks highly on Google and converts patients. It’s important that you understand the basics of SEO for websites, if you’re planning on creating it yourself. You can find out more about SEO for dental websites here.
Remember to keep your website’s layout simple. Make sure everything is easy to find and the menus are simple to navigate. Whilst you need to pepper your website with videos, images and other widgets, it’s essential to keep in mind that speed is paramount – don’t go overboard! Do not forget to optimise your website for mobile, as more people use mobile devices to access the Internet than use desktops or laptops.
When you are marketing your dental practice, do not forget to make full use of social media. This is where large numbers of potential patients spend time, and it’s the perfect place for you to reach them and communicate with them. You can also choose to pay for social media advertising, as well as other advertising options, such as Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising.
Your website and social media’s content should be central to your marketing efforts. You need to make sure that the content is fresh, interesting and well-written. Starting a blog may seem time-consuming but you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get into – and how useful it is for marketing! Start writing your top tips, start educating patients on your different treatments, start a newsletter and you’ll start attracting new, interested leads.
By getting the marketing right, you’ll attract new patients, convert leads and retain new patients far easier. Digital marketing especially is becoming more and more important with each year. You need to make sure you are paying attention to SEO, social media and PPC in particular to ensure the growth of your patient list and practice.
- Perform an SEO audit on your website and improve the on-page and local SEO as much as you can. You can learn more about SEO for dental websites here.
- Start writing blogs and articles, as well as creating video content with your team.
- Improve your social media profiles and start posting your blogs and engaging with patients – set aside an hour a day for either you or a team member to post and respond to followers.
- Start some simple Google Ads campaigns using your most popular treatments and your location as keywords – for instance ‘invisalign Brighton’, ‘dental implants Wigmore Street’
- Use these 5 free ways to grow your dental practice.
Attract Emergency Patients
Emergency patients are our secret weapon to growing a dental practice. Emergency patients are actively and urgently looking for a dentist right now. They’re most likely in pain, a little desperate and willing to travel farther than general patients. This means that, while other patients are idly considering dental work sometime in the future while they look at your website, emergency patients are looking for a dentist right here and right now. They’re hot leads just waiting to be converted.
The best bit is that you’re not just trying to attract patients for one-off emergency treatment. You were there for them when other dentists weren’t – maybe even their regular dentist. If your front-of-house staff are good enough, this gives you a real chance of turning these emergency patients into regular patients. Patients will travel farther than you think for a dentist they like – make sure that dentist is you!
- Make sure your website has a page dedicated to and optimised for emergency dental appointments.
- Give patients as many ways as possible to contact you in an emergency – for instance; WhatsApp, Facebook messenger or you could forward the practice phone to your own personal mobile out-of-hours.
- Offer as many evening and weekend appointments as are feasible for your team and practice.
- Set up PPC campaigns on Google Ads and Facebook Ads for emergency dental appointments in your area.
Retain New Patients
Attracting new patients is not enough to grow a dental practice, you need to make sure that they are retained. There are several things that you need to do, in order to make sure that this happens.
- Make a good first impression. That includes maintaining a welcoming but tidy waiting room and making sure that reception staff are friendly as well as efficient. The importance of friendly front-of-house staff that your patients get on with cannot be overstated!
- Engage with your patients. No-one expects you, or the associates who work at your practice, to be best friends with patients. However, you do need to engage with them. Few patients will return to a dentist who is unapproachable and distant.
- Remind patients in a friendly manner. We all lead busy lives, and it’s easy to forget things like dental check-ups. Keep your patients engaged by sending them friendly reminders, but do not harass them with constant contact.
- Monitor the retention of patients. In order to understand how your patient retention efforts are working, you need to monitor their effectiveness. If you do not do this, you cannot hope to grow your dental practice successfully.
- Set up a simple contact form on your website (just ask for name and email address) and encourage people to sign up for a newsletter. Send these contacts offers, discounts and updates once a month.
- Set up a referral programme and offer benefits to patients who return and refer a friend.
- Upload your patient list to Facebook and encourage patients to follow you on social media. Make sure you are posting interesting content and engaging with your followers as often as possible.
- Install an automated process for reminding patients of their upcoming appointments or that they need a check-up soon.
- Set up a cheap brand awareness campaign on Facebook Ads and Google Ads targeted at audiences who have already been on your website.
Expanding a Dental Practice
For anyone who is successful in scaling a dental practice, there will hopefully come a time when a physical expansion is necessary. There may be an option to re-design the current surgery in order to make this happen, or it may be necessary to acquire additional property, in order for expansion to take place.
Optimising the use of current space
The first question to ask when looking for room to expand is, “How effective is the current use of space?” For instance, staff break rooms do not need to be large, luxurious spaces. They simply need to be a place to take a reasonably comfortable break before returning to work. It may be possible to use some of this space as a treatment area.
Unused hallways and storage areas can also be utilised. Taking the time to consider the current usage of the entire surgery space, and coming up with new design options, can save on the cost of having to acquire additional premises, in some circumstances.
Dealing with the landlord
This will only be an issue if the leasehold of the property is not owned by the dental practice. If this is the case, it’s important to discuss any refurbishment or re-design ideas with the landlord, before any work commences. Failure to do so could lead to legal complications further down the line.
Depending on how good or bad the relationship with the landlord is there could be an argument for involving a dental solicitor in the discussions, or at least seeking their advice and support.
The Issue of Planning Permission
If the purpose of the premises is to remain the same, it’s unlikely that planning permission will be needed. However, there may be times when there will be a need to acquire planning permission when extending a dental practice. For instance, part of the property which is currently being used as a residence may be converted for business use, or neighbouring residential property may be purchased for conversion.
Any property that is going to be used as part of a dental practice should have D1 planning consent. If the correct consent is not in place, it’s possible that enforcement penalties could be imposed. It’s always best to check if D1 planning consent is needed, before going ahead and making any changes. The government provides advice on this subject.
- Contact a commercial finance broker to discuss your financial options when it comes to expanding the practice.
- Conduct market research and be certain you will have the capacity to fill the extra surgeries or chairs after expansion.
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