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4 Biggest Mistakes I Made When I Opened My Practice

Mistakes… I’ve made a few.  In my defense, there are literally thousands of decisions that need to be made when starting a dental office from scratch.  Big decisions like location and financing; small decisions like how much impression material to stock; micro-decisions like what brand of coffee to serve in the reception area.

So it’s no surprise that my buddy and business partner, Dr. Erin Thomas, and I made a few decisions we later regretted.  Chalk it up to a learning process, yes.  But that’s also part of being a business owner: making decisions and knowing when to make corrections.

Well there are a few mistakes we made that I wish we had corrected more quickly.  We had a lot on our minds in those early days and we didn’t have the time or mental energy to recognize our boo-boos.  Eventually the dust settled and we were able to get our new business healthy again.  Hopefully sharing our mistakes will save you some grief in the future.

(1)  We didn’t monitor employee hours Erin and I are pretty easy-going around the office.  We like to laugh and keep a positive mood while working hard.  We also trust our team members implicitly.  If a dentist doesn’t trust a person that works for them, then that person should be let go. We have an amazing team working with us and there is trust all around.  But we used to have an employee that took advantage of our generosity.  She fudged her hours here and there to subtly inflate her pay check. What I learned is to trust your team once they’ve earned it.  After that, we can conduct random spot checks to ensure that hours are being recorded accurately.

(2)  We didn’t have an office manual Every office should have one.  Period.  This is such an important topic that I wrote a separate post on office manuals.

(3)  We didn’t look at practice reports Our office runs on Dentrix, a fine piece of software custom fit for our profession.  I have a few bits of criticism about it but it’s still is a great system.  One complaint is that it’s office manager suite is too comprehensive.  There are dozens of options for reports.  I like having options, but there isn’t a user’s guide to help you understand what Dentrix is computing and how it does it.  As a result, my partner and I just ignored it for a while. I’ve written this post, “Critical Reports You Need to Manage Your Practice” to help you organize your business.

(4)  We didn’t pay ourselves It is generally understood that owners do not pay themselves from a brand new business, whether they are dentists, florists, etc.  Our cash flow will be pretty tight initially and that money needs to go back into the business to keep it alive and growing.  Yes, we start with working capital (a nest egg of cash to pay the bills for a few months) but we must ensure that we pay off our expenses first. But I now firmly believe that a new owner should take a little bit of cash every now and then in those early days.  Why?  We can work for free for only so long before we start to lose heart.  We may end up resenting our business, wrestle a bit of depression, or let other negative emotions cloud our judgment.  My advice is to pay off those expensive start up costs but remember to reward ourselves now and then.


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