Ten Tips for the New Practice Owner

Many practice management companies offer expensive advice and strategies for dentists to market their services in today’s increasingly competitive environment.  However, the most successful dentists have learned that marketing need not be costly or unique.  Here are 10 common-sense suggestions for marketing a dental practice:

1.  Shop where you work.  Visit the local retail stores and get acquainted with other business owners in the area.  They are great referral sources and may be a big asset to your practice.  Don’t overspend or be obvious, just buy a few items from time to time, meet the senior staff and long-serving employees and be sure to leave a supply of your business card with the owners.

2.  Introduce yourself as a new business owner when you meet people in the neighborhood.  Let them ask what you do first, and then tell them that you are a dentist.

3.  Look people in the eye, not in the mouth.  For some dentists this is difficult, but most people with esthetic and cosmetic dental issue are slightly self-conscious and don’t appreciate being looked in the mouth at a first meeting.

4.  Avoid contrived advertising.  Gimmicks do not produce the best long-term results – I have found that direct marketing via flyers, newspapers, cheap give-aways, Yellow Pages and other techniques usually employed by low-budget businesses will produce limited results in the early stages of practice.  Ads work for some locations and styles of dental practice, but most good practices are built on word-of-mouth referrals from existing patients, not from casual walk-ins who respond to glitzy advertisements.  Save your hard-earned money for staff training, continuing education courses and office upgrades.

5.  Join local interest groups.  Business associations, charities, social clubs, religious institutions, sports teams, and museums are always great sources of networking and meeting new people.  Individuals will often be more outgoing and sociable at events within their own community.

6.  Meet your fellow professionals.  Physicians, pharmacists, chiropractors, and school nurses may know many people who will need your services.  Be sure to introduce yourself to your neighboring dentists as well.  Good rapport is important, and they may appreciate your interest in working together versus the more traditional competitive view.

7.  Join in community events such as streetfairs and sidewalk sales.  Find a professional and dignified way to participate in these activities with other businesses in your community.  On Halloween, a dentist on my street gives out sugarless gum and toothbrushes.

8.  Live where you practice, if possible.  The smaller the community the more important this may prove to be.  Many dentists commute to their offices for various reasons, but if you live close to where you work, you will most likely meet more people, gain more respect and build your practice faster.

9.  Sponsor local sports teams.  Hockey and soccer and very popular these days, but a pitfall is that once you have sponsored a team, parents may expect you to sponsor all the teams in the area.  Choose one sport, and rotate your sponsorship over the years to be fair to all the kids and parents who need your support for uniforms, equipment, etc.

10.  Put your home phone number on the answering service.  While many of us may not want to be bothered after hours, this shows you care.  Many dentists who leave a pager or cell number on the office answering machine report that in most cases patients who call after hours may be reassured verbally, perhaps issued a prescription and then will usually make an office appointment for the next working day.  In the rare instance when you may have to come to the office in the evening or on the weekend to attend to a patient, he or she will be deeply appreciative and rave about your service to others.

Whether you buy an existing practice or set up a new office, these 10 tips should help grow your practice at a modest cost for sizeable return.

Ontario Dentist – October 2005