March 2009, Volume 5, Issue 3
Published by AEGIS Communications
Driving Revenue in a Tough Economy—7 Strategies to Revitalize Yourself and Your Practice
Angie Skinner; Penny Reed Limoli
The dental industry is facing one of its most challenging economic times. For years we have been virtually immune to the ordinary laws of business. Over the past few decades as dentistry worked to create newer and better methods of serving patients, the trend in price hasn’t followed the usual economic curve—it has defied it.
So what do we do now, when most of the standards we could count on are gone? Banks and financial institutions that were household names have disappeared. Patient finance companies are sending letters to practices offering recommendations on approvals. Patients are spending less on everything, including dentistry. It’s time to make a choice—do nothing and try to ride out the storm or get smart, lean, and ready to make changes. This is not the time to go hide in the corner and wait it out; the economy of tomorrow is going to be very different and you must make changes now to adapt to the new environment.
First, we have to be honest with ourselves. We have tolerated many things in our businesses because we didn’t want to rock the boat. After all, we were making money, right? Maybe the lady at the front desk is a little rude on the phone, but many of the patients love her, don’t they? And, oh, those evil insurance companies—sure our practice received over $400,000 in insurance reimbursement last year, but we would never consider becoming a preferred provider. Well, today is the day to throw your preconceived rules to the wind and begin to re-evaluate your practice, and each and every decision you make in your practice, as a business owner.
How do we begin to make better, smarter decisions in a difficult economy? Here are seven strategies to start working on now so that you come out on top during these tough times.
Strategy No. 1—Evaluate Your Self-Talk
What does this mean? Start asking yourself positive questions. For example, “How can we serve our patients even better and let them know we care more about having them as a patient for a lifetime rather than strong-arming them into a large treatment plan today?” Stop asking yourself questions like, “How are we going to survive?” and, “When should we start downsizing?” The human brain can only focus on one direction at a time, so be sure to keep it focused on growth and not scarcity.
Strategy No. 2—Find a Mentor or a Role Model
Whether you hire a coach, form a study club, or become a student of business, find ways to improve your practice. Surround yourself with people and examples of success. If you hang out with people whose businesses are heading down a steep slope, minimize your time with that group and seek out others (even in other industries) who see change as a golden opportunity.
Strategy No. 3—Raise Your Standards
It is okay to be friendly, compassionate—the boss who cares. The trouble is that many owners and managers confuse this with being a push-over. If you have not experienced any slow-down in productivity, that is wonderful. But if business is down slightly (or a lot), use this time to improve the work environment and skill level in your practice. This does not mean that you need to blow tons of money on continuing education; rather, look at the skill levels of everyone on your team. If you have one or two superstars among a group of less-than-stellar performers, raise your expectation that everyone becomes a prime employee. You cannot afford to reward below-average work, especially in a tough economy.
Strategy No. 4—Think Like Your Patients
Who are your patients? What is the average age and demographic? Where do they live and work? Are they married or single? Do they have insurance? If you are steadily growing your business without any insurance participation, that’s great! For many others, becoming a preferred provider might be just the ticket to regain patient share and productivity. Another area to consider: when do your patients need to come in? Do you offer appointment times that are workable for your patients (early morning, late afternoon, evening, or weekend)? What would restructuring your schedule do for business? Offer services based on what your patients need and want, and make it easy for them to choose you first.
Strategy No. 5—Keep the Front Door Open
Even with the benefits of highly functioning Web sites, the Internet has not come close to replacing the telephone as the point of entry into the dental practice. In a tight economy, the battle for the new patient is going to reach peaks we have yet to imagine, because for most practices it will take at least 50% more new patients than it traditionally did to produce the same dollars of dentistry. Why? Because your patients are facing uncertain economic times and are a little less willing to let go of their hard-earned dollars. So, be sure your phone is being answered Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm, and especially during lunch. You cannot afford to miss one opportunity.
What else can you do? We have listened for years to the telephone being answered as if it were a necessary evil rather than an extraordinary opportunity to influence patients; this has to stop. If you feel that you have an exceptional practice then you have to make it sound that way over the phone—or you’ll never get a chance to prove it face-to-face. Telephone mystery shopping, a service we began providing several years ago, will quickly let you hear if your practice sounds like something special or just another number in the phone book.
Strategy No. 6—Be Seen
Are you visible in your community? Now is not the time to lay low. If you’ve never participated in community relationships, now is the time to start. Join the local Chamber of Commerce or local Rotary Club. If you are a specialist, get out there and visit your referring doctors. Have lunch with them and get to know their teams. Find ways to educate them on procedures and add value to your relationship with them. Do you have a Web site and e-mail newsletter? Focus on building your database of patient e-mail addresses, and send a monthly e-mail newsletter with educational content for your patients. Choosing a healthcare provider is a very personal decision based on relationship; be proactive and create those opportunities to influence potential patients.
Strategy No. 7—Rediscover the Lifeblood of Your Practice
The practices that have done the best at surviving and growing during these recent economic times are those with a hearty hygiene department. Make it a must that patients schedule their next recall visit before they leave. Have your team evaluate the schedule and make notes so that each and every patient coming in that day has their next hygiene appointment before they leave; take this strategy one step further by checking for immediate family members of patients coming in that day who need a hygiene appointment. Lastly, be sure that the team cues you to say something to those patients about why you want to see them every 3, 4, or 6 months. Gentle reminders from your team just don’t pack the same punch as a comment from you about how long it’s been since you’ve seen that patient for a complete exam and cleaning.
Now is the time to question every business system you have. What is the ultimate impact that each one has on your business? At times, you may have discontinued a system or method in your practice because it was inconvenient or uncomfortable. However, we may have to make ourselves a little uncomfortable to be sure that we are serving our patient base in the best way possible.
Angie Skinner and Penny Reed Limoli are co-founders of Dental Genius®, providing practice management training and coaching as well as marketing to dental professionals.
About the Authors
Penny Reed Limoli