(This article originally appeared in The Daily Grind blog)

Unless you graduated with a finance, accounting or human resources degree, the operations and financial requirements required to run a successful business in today’s economy may seem daunting to you. You are not alone. I believe that the dental school curriculums have failed the “business dentist,” and way too many excellent clinicians have suffered as a result. 

There are myriad systems, processes and strategies required to run a successful business. I have taken the opportunity to provide a snapshot of the ABCs of a successful dental practice.

Analytics: Never underestimate analytics. If you are not evaluating your numbers on a monthly basis, you are undervaluing your career investment and probably leaving $500,000 to $1,500,000 on the table.

Business: Knowledge is power, and you owe it to yourself to take the time to increase your business acumen. For example, do you know what key performance indicators (KPIs) should be monitored on a monthly basis? If not, take the time and learn so you are equipped with the necessary information for the balance of your career.

Consultant: More than 90 percent of dentists could reap substantial benefits if they hired a mentor/dental analyst who has “walked in their shoes” as a clinician and business owner. Choose wisely, as your return on investment should net you 10 times their fees.

Dental hygiene: In the average general practice, the hygienist should account for 25–33 percent of your daily production.

Demographics: A well-prepared demographics study incorporates your patient’s average age, income, the number of children per household and your patient’s education level. It also incorporates the number of homeowners, apartment-dwellers, the location of the competition, and estimated five- and 10-year growth by carrier route.

Embezzlement: Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Do you have a foolproof system to ensure your day sheets are equal to your deposits? In the banking business, the teller doesn’t go home until he or she balances to the penny. How about looking into the backgrounds of your front office personnel who are responsible for your money?

First impressions: More than 90 percent of new patients will formulate an opinion based upon their first impression. Is your office in order? Do you inspect your office weekly? Do you check out the windows, ceiling tiles, restrooms, uniforms, employee hygiene, dental lights, baseboards, floors, plants, etc.? I recommend that next week, you take a few minutes to lay in each dental chair and ask yourself, “What does the patient see?” Are there improvements that can be made? Maybe you and your team can develop a list at your next monthly meeting.

Growth: Conservatively, your business should be growing 5–8 percent per year. If you are not, then get help. You need a diagnosis by someone other than yourself to develop a business treatment plan before it is too late. Turn to an expert who has walked in your shoes

Handoffs: For continuity of care, it is imperative that your entire team understands the importance of mastering patient “handoffs,” or a transfer of responsibility to convert the case for the patient’s and team’s benefit. Just like a football team that practices the “down and out,” your personnel should master the “handoff” or transfer of information from one team member to the next. If you don’t know how to perfect this communication technique, then get help. If you want to operate at the highest level while providing the highest level of customer service, it is imperative that this responsibility is cohesively shared by all.

Intraoral cameras: If you and your dental hygienist are not using intraoral cameras with big-screen monitors on every patient, you are doing yourself, your team and the patient a disservice. When you incorporate intraoral cameras on a regular basis, your case acceptance will soar. Intraoral cameras, large screen monitors, co-diagnosis (“What do you see on the screen, Mrs. Jones?”) and printed color pictures of the patient’s dentition (your recommendations) will move more dentistry than the best clinical treatment you can ever provide. The visual component elicits emotion, and emotion is how the consumer/patient makes his or her buying decision. There are more than 40 uses for the intraoral camera.

Change is inevitable. It can be logical or forced. I have seen way too many colleagues fail to heed the above recommendations while continuing to resist change, ultimately committed to doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. It is OK to seek guidance from experts in the “business of dentistry” and from those who have “walked in your shoes.” After all, we don’t hesitate to enroll in clinical continuing education programs.

A comprehensive knowledge of every aspect of your business is paramount. The business clinician who can master excellent business and clinical skills will always have a place providing wonderful dental care with reduced stress and a balanced lifestyle.

Duke Aldridge DDS, MBA, MAGD