By Ross Martin, Accountancy Director at Hive Business.
We’re talking to some of our most successful clients in the world of dentistry to see if we can find some pieces of wisdom to help you prosper in the increasingly competitive world of dental business.
This week I spoke to Ian Hutchinson, owner of The Smile Lounge in Chepstow and co-founder of Wired Education, an award winning training company with its own lab (Wired Orthodontics) that helps general dentists build ortho expertise without doing a full masters, and provides mentorship.
Ian is the chair of the British Lingual Orthodontics Society and serves as an expert witness in court. He has a very disruptive mindset and is always looking to improve things, break through obstacles, and move the industry forward and, I might add, he’s a pleasure to work with.
Here’s what he had to say to our five questions…
How has dental business changed over the past five years and what are your predictions for the next five?
Firstly we’ve seen the rise of the corporates; they’re certainly getting bigger in terms of the number of practices they own. There’s also been a move to digital dentistry, which I think will rapidly accelerate — we’re going to see more scanning of dentition and faces and more digital technology applied to the production of restorations, with digital milling machines and 3D printing properly taking off. I expect that a clearer division will emerge between practice types and there’ll be three main tranches: NHS, affordable and boutique. I, for example, work on the boutique side, mixing ortho with restorative, which means I have to come up with unusual solutions for patients who have been told by other clinicians they can’t be treated. The Smile Lounge is essentially a bespoke, problem solving practice. Finally, I think we’ll see a move to dentists being employed rather than self-employed.
How do you deal with the dichotomy of your clinical and business roles?
With difficulty! The time allotted to my business role nearly always gets reduced due to ever expanding clinical needs. The old adage of working on your business rather than in it is true, but it’s very hard to do. It’s all too easy to think a focus day is a day off, but I’ve found it helps to develop routines like cash flow assessment, invoice checking, KPIs, and team meetings that help to structure those focus days. I still get roped into clinical work though, especially if it’s an interesting case. Ortho cases generate so much work and I can find it very easy to do seven days if I’m not careful, the struggle is keeping everything capped.
I don’t have a designated day of the week for my business duties and I also spend a significant amount of time teaching and a couple of days a month as an associate in London, so business duties do get squeezed into spare time, cancellation time, or evenings and weekends. Which is not ideal, but I’m OK with it because I’m not really a business person, I’m a dentist. I’d quite happily delegate all the business functions, but I think it’s tricky to find the right person to manage that well enough to justify the expense. I’d need someone who doesn’t always tell me what I want to hear. It’s a risk because I know I’ll have to work harder and see more patients to pay for them, whereas the alternative is actually OK; I see less patients and feel less stressed and enjoy owning my own business. The beauty of it is you get to choose all the kit you want. I’ve just bought full frame Canon SLR camera because I want to do more clinical photography and video (I imagine a business manager wouldn’t be too pleased with this expense, and let’s not mention the new 3Shape intraoral scanner…).
What advice would you give to ambitious dentists who wish to acquire or grow a practice?
Young dentists need to be organised. I haven’t come across a single one that’s particularly organised. They leave a trail of destruction in their wake. They need to identify the type of dentistry they want to do and the type of client they want to serve, because they can’t be everyone’s dentists. My advice would be surround yourself with a team that are better than you and learn to delegate. Maybe it’s worth employing a business recruitment company to find your key team members. Getting advice off someone independent really helps in my experience — that’s why we set up Blue Sky business club, where eight principals can chew the fat with impartial colleagues.
With infinite time and budget, what would you consider implementing to transform your dental practice?
I’m lucky at the moment because my practice has got a lot of space, there’s lecture rooms and a lounge area. What I want is some rearrangement of the space to create a dedicated photography and video studio (at the moment we’re doing it in the surgery) because I think visualisation really helps; when the patient sees their new smile it can be very emotional. And I’d like a separate room for presenting imagery; it would contain just a screen to show patients their photos and videos. The idea is you shut up and let the patient tell you want they want. Letting the patient take ownership is a very effective approach because it enables you to start with what they want, then work out a price for their preferred outcome. When you do this patients are much more amenable to committing because they’ve taken joint ownership of the project. Compare that to a patient lying in the chair, with you dictating what they need and the price. There’ll only go away and “think about it”. Not enough.
If you could give your 21-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Despite how much you read books and journals and watch videos, you don’t know it all. Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Learn to keep an open mind because you’re not always right and things go wrong, and get as much experience as you can. Invest in education. Take photos of everything. Make time for reflection. Forget about money, that will take care of itself, just focus on being the best you can be. Do an NLP course as soon as possible — I eventually did one with Martin Crump at Evolution Development and it made an impact on a personal level, helping me communicate by talking to patients, not at them. This is so important because these days there’s an abundance of electronic communication and the art of communicating with people is lost. And one last thing, it’s not all about you! Young dentists think it’s all about me, me, me, yet once you look at the bigger picture the rest comes naturally.
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