January 2012, Volume 8, Issue 1
Published by AEGIS Communications
Retirement Planning & Investing Value in Your Practice
Two years ago, solo practitioner Harry Long, DMD, sold his New Jersey dental practice after more than 30 years in business. He is now semi-retired, working 3 to 4 days a week for 4 to 5 hours per day in the practice he sold.
While Dr. Long was fortunate in that he sold his practice at a high point in the market, there is still much to learn from the process he began 20 years ago to prepare for his retirement. “You don’t simply wake up one day and decide you’re going to sell your practice, because if you do that, you won’t be able to get the maximum return for it,” he says. He sought a mentor to guide him through the process, and took courses in practice building. He wanted to limit his practice to cosmetic design at that point, and he set about learning how to focus on developing the sort of practice he envisioned. He spent time with consultants who helped him understand that a successful practice is as much about working on the practice as it is working on the patients. “A cliché, but true,” he says.
He began building value in his practice. A key aspect was assembling and training a superb staff. The staff’s excellence allowed Dr. Long to delegate a great many tasks to them, giving him more time to produce dentistry. “A well-trained staff is probably the most important thing you can do in terms of creating a successful practice and creating value for your practice,” he says. “My staff does most of the selling of the practice, talking about my ability to do cosmetic dentistry, and the hygienists do a sort of pre-exam that plays a key role in case presentation.”
The staff created a warm and caring environment. “You want the patient to trust you, so they come back and want to spend the proper amount of money to get good care,” he says.
A great marketing plan is critical. Dr. Long has 17 websites, each specific for a service he provides, such as smile design, sedation dentistry, implants, and Invisalign. “I want it to be easy for people to find me whatever way they’re searching for these services, and they’re indexed to link to each other,” he explains. Fully 95% of the people who come to his office have been to one of the websites. Newspaper ads also list the website information.
Building value in the practice includes caring about how the practice looks and what first impressions it produces. Is the front door clean? Is there a cared-for, inviting atmosphere? “These things impact the cosmetic-oriented patient,” Dr. Long notes.
While he was building the practice, he was also saving, first through a 401K plan for himself and the staff, and when he got more successful, a defined benefits plan that allowed much larger tax-free savings.
“It took me 20 years to get everything organized and become a really high-producing practice, so that when I wanted to sell the practice, it would have value for someone who wanted to buy it,” Dr. Long recounts. “Once I began planning and I became the visionary, not the manager but the guy who set the goals and pointed us in the right direction, it became a lot more fun, once we had a plan and were working toward concrete goals.”