Opening a new dental clinic carries many risks. However, it is natural for dentists to finish their studies, accumulate a few years of experience, and wish to open a new clinic in order to achieve economic and professional independence. The problem is that most dental schools do not train future dentists for opening a new clinic and manage it from a business-marketing aspect, so at this stage, dentists are in a field that they do not know and act according to intuition only, which increases the chances of making the wrong business decisions.
Moreover, in most cases, those who study dentistry are less talented in business management and marketing. If this were a strong suit for them, they probably would have gone to study business administration. Therefore, even if young dentists were to study the basics of business management at dental school, this would probably only make the problem worse rather than solve it. Over the years, I have encountered quite a few cases of dental clinics that did not survive for long because the procedure of opening the clinic wasn’t done systematically or professionally, or in certain cases, the clinic should not have been opened in the first place. Needless to say, a clinic’s failure is not a trivial matter and usually accompanied by big debts. Here are some important principles to consider carefully before deciding to open a new clinic.
1. Are you sure you need it? – Having a clinic is not the goal but the means. Some dentists make a very good living as employees or freelancers in other clinics and perhaps they should not open a clinic. Another thing is that not everyone is fit to run his or her own business. There are excellent dentists who are business owners but are such bad managers that it is better for them to work for someone else. It is better to put aside the ego that says, “I want my own clinic!” As mentioned, it is best to open a clinic only on the condition that the result would be better than being an employee.
2. Financial investment – Many new clinic owners fall into this category. They invest all of their money (which is always beyond what they planned to spend) on modern furniture and equipment, panoramic photography, plasma screens, new parquets, and units – leaving no money for advertising that there is a new clinic in the area. The result? There is a new, well-equipped clinic, but no one knows that it exists. So what should be done? Well, the first step in establishing a new clinic should be experimental – in the first two years, it is not worth investing too much in equipment and furniture. For example, you can use refurbished, basic furniture while investing resources mainly in bringing new patients to the clinic. Only after an initial patient pool is accumulated and stable sales cycles are reached, and you decide that this is the right place for years to come, invest in the clinic and upgrade it as needed.
3. Advertising – Just as you cannot light a barbecue without combustible material, it is impossible to build a new patient pool without a massive investment in advertising. The investment in advertising must be made over a number of months and on all channels) in accordance with the existing budget) in order to inform your surroundings of the new clinic’s existence and create an initial movement towards the clinic. After the patient pool is built, it is possible to dilute advertising and switch to maintenance advertising. Skipping this step may create very slow growth at the clinic if at all.
4. Building a new clinic or purchasing an existing one – It is usually preferable to purchase an existing clinic rather than to set up a new one, provided you can buy the right clinic at the right price. Buying an existing clinic is a complex matter, mainly because of the difficulty of assessing the clinic’s value. “Passing the baton” from the seller to the buyer requires special attention. At the same time, a big advantage in the purchase of an existing clinic is that you can start working immediately, knowing for sure what the clinic does and assess how much it can do. In general, it is easier to improve an existing situation than to build something from scratch in most cases. Working properly with the existing clinic database can provide excellent initial work for the clinic buyer, provided that this is a good clinic with an active and loyal customer base.
5. Business plan – Those who skip the business plan stage take a dangerous risk. For example, you may find that expenses are much higher than you expected and enter into a cash flow crisis that will make it difficult to continue operating the clinic. The business plan should include all the steps that should be carried out in the first year or two, with both pessimistic and optimistic scenarios, and be prepared for all cases. How many investors are there? Where should you advertise? What should you advertise? How much should you advertise? What other marketing actions should you take? How much does this cost? What will the clinic’s concept be? And so on and so forth. Of course, building a business plan should be done by a professional experienced in the dental clinic field; the better the plan, the greater the chance of success.
By the way, the business plan may reveal that you do not have enough money at this stage to open a clinic. Very good! It is better to wait a year or two and open a clinic when you have the means to do so rather than opening too soon with a high probability of failure.
6. Clinic concept – Will the clinic focus on dental implants and be called the “Dental Implant Center” or would it be a dental center for the whole family? Will cheap or expensive rates be charged? Will it employ only specialists or general dentists? Will the clinic have an arrangement with insurance agencies? And so on. You should define the clinic’s concept in advance: what does it offer and to whom? These questions are not simple and the answers should be included in the business plan. Of course, the clinic’s concept should take into account the demographic environment and all the elements that constitute the competition.
7. Location – The location of the new clinic is of great importance. It is worth remembering that a dental clinic does not have to be located on the main street, because clinics are not built on passersby, however, it is very important to pay attention to accessibility by public transportation and parking for patients who come in a vehicle.
8. Partnerships – There are cases where dentists do not feel secure enough to open a dental clinic alone and therefore look for a partner. A partnership is a wonderful thing but we need to remember that it is a complex, economic relationship, which might end with an ugly divorce. Therefore, the type of partnership must be carefully examined: who are the partners, what level of contact do you have with them, and as a rule, it is worthwhile to aspire to start alone and introduce a partner only if the need arises. Along the way, you may find that dental clinic management is not necessarily a complicated matter; all you need for the first stages is to recruit a good team, an accountant, and a business-marketing consultant who understands dental clinics.
9. Goals – Anyone who establishes a new clinic must understand that they are entering a process in which the main fruits will be reaped only after a few years. The main target of the first years should be building a circle of satisfied customers who will be the clinic’s “ambassadors.” In this context, it is important to note that at this stage the clinic will usually work at a relatively low price range, to capture as many market segments as possible and bring as many customers to the clinic as possible. After achieving this goal, you may move to the target of profitability, including a gradual increase in prices and a reduction in advertising and marketing.