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Steven Anderson offers four basic rules to foster success in any economy
I recently received a call from a dentist that I have known for over 10 years. When we first met, we put together a plan that dramatically increased the value and sales price of his first practice. His next practice was thriving, or so I thought, until the distress call came.
Admittedly, they were practicing in one of the most economically depressed communities in the country. With a heavy dependence on the auto industry, the community was riddled with uncertainty as the entire industry was going through a massive transition. Corporate restructuring and job layoffs were in the local news daily. The unemployment rate had soared. People were running scared. As a result, or so it appeared, the practice was suffering. New patient flow had slowed to a crawl. Production was at the lowest point it had been in years. Cash flow was getting tight. The dentist was panicked.
What transpired next is a lesson for any dental practice facing a slumped economy. No matter where you are, the actions to be taken are similar. But beware! This field guide to operating in a down economy is not for the weak hearted or ‘follow the crowd’ dentist. Keep in mind, if you want to get different results than everyone else is getting, you have to be willing to do things that others are not willing to do! So read carefully, take notes, and get ready to take action today.
Having spent nearly 20 years working with dentists, we have ridden some economic ups and downs together: the Gulf War, the dot com boom and bust, 9/11, and now the mortgage market debacle coupled with record oil prices. Through all of these ups and downs, those who have weathered the economic storms the best and have thrived instead of just survived, seem to follow a few basic rules that foster their success in any economy. So here are four such rules for your thoughtful consideration and immediate action.
1. Stop watching the news
It is amazing how the economic news of the day, day after day, can work on your psyche. Any mind fed on a steady diet of economic doom and gloom can’t help but start to believe that it really is a down economy. It is all because the moment the mind adopts a belief, it acts accordingly. Any dentist and team that believes the economy is slowing, that money is tight, and that people are tightening the purse strings, will naturally start shrinking when it comes to diagnosis, treatment planning and financial arrangements. ‘They can’t afford it right now’, ‘money is tight’, and ‘it is just not a good time right now’, are all common refrains that begin to creep into the repertoire of ‘slow economy’ self-talk. And so it naturally becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I believe that the economy is down and that everyone is affected by it, then I will naturally start treating everyone as if they have little economic means to do anything discretionary. And so, I stop using my comprehensive treatment planning and case presentation methods. Financial arrangements are presented with reluctance and patients respond accordingly. Practice production begins to suffer and things slow to a crawl. All of a sudden, the team looks around, and low and behold the belief is confirmed: ‘It’s the economy.’ Wrong! It’s your belief in the economy that has led you to these results.
2. Stop talking to other dentists
A recent query on a dental message board was very telling: ‘Looking for some feedback if anyone is experiencing a bit of a slow down right now. We have a little bit and we are trying to get a sense of how dentistry is doing regionally and nationally with the economic realities of today.’ Translation: ‘Our practice is down and I would really like someone else out there to tell me that their practice is down as well so we can just blame the entire thing on the economy and not have to do anything about it.’
Misery loves company! And so do dentists. Think about it. Human nature is quick to find explanations for poor results by pointing to things that are too big and too complicated to do anything about, thus relieving us of having to do anything about it. After all, who can tackle anything as big and unmanageable as the economy? Who even understands the economy? So if it is too big, too unmanageable, and too complicated to even understand, then let’s just throw up our arms in bewilderment and frustration and wallow in our woes until things turn around and get better... somehow.
Dentists as a group love to commiserate. If you are like most dentists, you have done it at least once: it is a slow day. You call your dentist buddy across town. ‘How are you? Things kind of slow for you? Yes, me too.’ You hang up and somehow feel better because someone else is suffering just like you. And so you go back to doing nothing! Commiserating is exactly that: from the Latin, com (with) + miserari (lament). Or more simply put: to cry together or co-misery!
So stop talking to other dentists to look for validation for your own poor performance. If you are looking for excuses, they are easy to find right down the street or right next door. You don’t need a crying buddy. You need an action-oriented energiser. That’s where you come in…
3. Redouble your efforts
Extraordinary times require extraordinary efforts. When things reach rock bottom, we need to do the things that work the best. Roll up your sleeves and refresh your verbal skills and case presentation methods. If it has been a while since you took a good practice management course, now is the best time to do another. Even the most experienced, well-versed practice management genius is not doing everything that he or she can do to maximise practice performance. In many cases, it is not what you don’t know that is the biggest obstacle, but what you do know that you are not doing or not doing consistently.
When there are outward signs that there may be tougher economic times on the horizon, it is time to strengthen your economic, management and people skills. The economy within your practice does not have to reflect the economy outside your practice. Not everyone in every economy is losing. There are always winners and losers in every economy. Which side you are on in dentistry is largely a matter of choice. So go back to the basics that work inside your practice: good patient service skills, good telephone skills, good verbal skills, good case presentation skills, good financial arrangement skills, good scheduling skills, and good patient retention and activation skills. There is a lot to do. So do it right. Redouble your efforts to execute with excellence on the basics every day, with every patient, at every appointment and you will be amazed at the results, no matter the economy!
Remember: when one starts buying into bad economic news, one stops doing the things that work. It is an unconscious thing. So redouble your efforts and consciously revisit all of the systems and protocols in your practice and focus on executing at a higher level.
4. Be proactive
What are you doing to actively generate new patients? Do you track the source of each new patient? If so, go back and take a look at your results over the last 12 to 24 months. What has worked the best? Can you do more of it? If you haven’t done much in the area of marketing, what can you start doing to generate interest in your practice?
For starters, what are you doing on a daily basis to ask your existing patients to refer their family and friends? What systems do you have in place to create more qualified, less resistant patients on a consistent basis? Now is the time to do more of the things that work the best. While the other dentists in town are singing the economic ‘blues’, get ‘jazzed’ and make something happen. You have to fight human nature on this one. When things look like they are tightening up, we are tempted to go into our shell and run for cover. The reality is that we need to do exactly the opposite. For the best indication of what you should be doing, just look at what all the other dentists are doing and do the exact opposite! If they are scared, be bold! If they are reducing, expand! If they are pulling in, push out. The market has a way of responding to those who are bold, brave and persistent.
It has often been said that, ‘A terrible thing happens when you don’t advertise… nothing!’ And so your results will be. Stop proactively promoting your practice internally, externally or both and your market will quickly forget about you. So be proactive. Promote your practice like you expect people to respond and an amazing thing will happen... they will!
5. Meet it head on
Hold a team meeting immediately and have an open and frank talk about the economy and the power of belief. Talk about the three steps above, write out your team action plan to make it happen, and then communicate your resolve to have a booming economy within your practice regardless of what is going on outside the practice. Set up some rules for attitude, belief and team talk as it relates to the economy. It may be gloom and doom on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the BBC and every other letter of the alphabet, but your team determines the economic forecast for your practice and what the atmosphere is going to be. That decision is either made by default or by design. It all depends on the action you decide to take. Make the decision as a team, stick with it, and support each other every day to stay on track with your positive, proactive, booming economy mentality. If nothing else, it will make your days more enjoyable and a lot more fun!
So there is the simple four-step ‘thrive in a slumping economy’ prescription:
2. Stop talking to other dentists!
4. Be proactive.
That brings us back to our dentist who was in a panic at the beginning of our article. What did he do? He did steps one to four to get started. Specifically, after turning off the TV, throwing away the newspaper, tossing his local dental society phone directory, meeting with his team and making some fundamental attitude and belief decisions, he went back to his marketing results. They had been running a very successful direct mail marketing campaign. The results were predictable and consistent. So, what did they do? They did more of what was already working. They increased their marketing. That combined with their rededication to good verbal skills and case acceptance methods produced predictably positive results.
Within 45 days, the practice was back to producing at or above goal again, all because they followed the rules, the rules for thriving in a slumping economy.
Remember, not everyone is broke, despite what you hear on the news. It may take a little more effort to get the same results today than it did a year or so ago, but that is what separates the winners from the ‘also rans’. The beauty of dentistry is that it is a proactive business. Unlike our friends in retail, we can much more easily break out of the confines of the four walls of the practice, get out there, and make something happen by doing better hygiene re-care calls, calling on unscheduled treatment, doing same day treatment, and improving our internal and external marketing efforts. The path is clear. You just have to be willing to do it.
So get busy! Put your plan together with your team whether you are feeling a slow down or not. After all, the best time to prepare for the worst is when things are at their best. The best thing about dentistry is that you can thrive in any economy. It’s a choice, not a circumstance. Make it happen!
Steven J Anderson is the founder of several influential dental organisations including the Total Patient Service Institute (www.totalpatientservice.com), Crown Council www.crowncouncil.com, and Smiles for Life Foundation www.smilesforlife.org. His seminars are widely known around the dental world as a premier team case acceptance resource.
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