Many dentists struggle to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, but if you own and manage your own business and lead a team of people, that’s exactly what you are, says Jay Geier. He explains why it’s important to understand—and to own—that role.
You undoubtedly get asked all the time what you do for a living. When’s the last time you answered, “I’m the CEO of XYZ Dental Practice.” Never, I’ll bet. Dentists always introduce themselves as dentists or doctors, never as business owners. The distinction may seem like semantics, but psychologically the difference is enormous. You keep your identity and even self-worth limited to your clinical role as a doctor, when in reality you are an entrepreneur; you own and manage your own business, lead a team of people, and provide extremely valuable products and services to consumers.
Of course, you should be proud of having achieved a level of education and credentials only a small percentage of the population ever does. But the moment you decided to buy or start your own practice, you took on an additional role. In addition to caring for patients, you now have the role—and the responsibility—of running a successful business.
At the very least, that means you’re sufficiently profitable to actually stay in business for the sake of your patients, for your employees whose livelihoods depend on you, and for your family that relies on you to provide a good life for them. You should of course aspire to do much more than just stay in business, though, by growing the business year over year so you not only build long-term financial security for you and your family but also have the means to have a positive impact on those around you.
Break out that CEO hat
Unfortunately, you received virtually no training in dental school on how to be an entrepreneur, so wearing the CEO hat naturally feels uncomfortable at first. Just like a new pair of shoes, you have to try it on, see how it fits, then wear it for a while and let it form-fit to your own personality and natural leadership style. Psychologically this will cause you to see things in your practice and in your people through a different filter—and this is the profitable delivery of a superior all-around experience that keeps patients coming back, generates referrals, and constantly attracts new patients.
Try introducing yourself as the founder, owner, CEO, or president of your dental practice. You’ll find the conversations to be entirely different and quite valuable if you’re talking with other successful business owners of any kind, not just dental practices. Just like your favorite pair of broken-in old shoes, you may ultimately find your CEO hat the most comfortable one of all, and one you’ll never want to part with.
At the other extreme, you could be much too quick to part with the hat without ever trying it on or taking time to get used to it. You’ve probably already been approached about selling your business. You’re being sold on the idea that “you’ll just get to be a doctor and not have to worry about anything else having to do with practice management,” as if that is in your best interest and something you would be happy doing. If you’ve never worn your CEO hat, it’s time to put it on!
An important aspect of being an entrepreneur is learning to evaluate return on investment, so you’re always making profitable business decisions that you expect to provide the best long-term payback. When it comes to selling the practice—one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in both your business and personal life—very few practice owners are in a position to make that evaluation. Why? Because very few have ever had the business appraised (at their own expense, not by a prospective buyer). An appraisal will tell you what your business is worth now, as well as its long-term earning potential.
Figure out the value of your business
Unless you know the value of your business, you can’t possibly know if an offer is fair and in your best interest. You could end up selling your life’s work for much less than it’s worth, forfeit the opportunity to grow the business and solidify your long-term financial security, cede control over quality of the patient and employee experience, and sacrifice the pride that goes with being an independent business owner. Even if you never introduce yourself that way, the pride is certainly there.
If your practice is worth so much to someone else that they want to buy it, it should be worth enough to you to do some things differently to build the value of that asset for your own benefit. Instead of giving up and giving in, put on your CEO hat, get coaching and support to help you build that skill set, and work to grow the business. Then, if and when you decide the time is right to sell, you can be confident in your ability to make a well-informed decision based on value, profitability, and whether it really is in your best interest. A successful entrepreneur would never do otherwise.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the October 2021 print edition of Dental Economics.
Jay Geier is an advocate for independent dentists and authority on growing independent practices. His mission now, after 25+ years of coaching doctors, is to help them preserve and protect their legacy and their financial future so that they can live the life they dream of and help people in more ways than they originally planned. Check schedulinginstitute.com/de to see dates and availability of upcoming events. He also advises on this topic often on his Private Practice Playbook podcast at podcastfordoctors.com/de.