Nine years ago, when my partner and I bought a practice from a retiring dentist, I had big dreams: a flourishing practice with happy patients spreading the word about us….
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After graduating from the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry in 1986, I opened my own dental practice. For five stressful years, I worked long hours, dealt with staff upsets and made too little money to show for my troubles. I had no time to spend with my wife and kids and no life of my own. Fed up, I wanted out.
Dentistry wasn’t the problem: I loved it and was a competent doctor, but I had no business sense. My staff, for example, were unproductive and I didn’t know what to do about it. To make matters worse, I disliked confrontation and was nervous talking to them. If I tried to correct a mistake, they would get defensive and disagreeable. Backed into a corner, I “solved” my dilemma by treating them with kid gloves and got nothing done. The hiring, which I did by the seat of my pants, was no better. One new employee nearly wrecked the practice in only three weeks.
Talking to patients also put me on edge. I was so uncomfortable discussing large sums of money, I wouldn’t even present the bigger cases. On top of that, my practice was loaded with PPOs and other plans that required I write off a lot of money. Before calling it quits, I sent away for Sterling’s DVD. While watching it, I felt as if the speaker were personally talking to me; every issue he mentioned I had experienced.
After an introductory consultation, I became a client. That’s when dentistry started to be fun again.
I’ve found the motto of most consulting companies to be “my way or the highway”—not Sterling. They tailored their program to my practice and showed me the ropes on managing without the turmoil and how to hire good staff. They also taught me how to comfortably talk to patients and staff without all the mental “background noise.” After my training, whether speaking with an upset employee or presenting a big case, I could do it all with confidence and ease. The results of the program were nearly immediate; case acceptance shot up and staff disagreements diminished. The changes in me spilled over into my personal life. I wasn’t just becoming a better boss but a better husband and father, too.
That was twenty-five years ago and I am still a Sterling client to this day. Before their program, my annual collections were $400,000; last year, they were over $3 million. Case acceptance improved so dramatically and I had so many new patients, I ditched the PPOs and became virtually 100% fee-for-service. Most importantly, I gained plenty of free time to be with my family and pursue my other interests, such as helping other businesses.
I didn’t become a client to get rich. I did it to get back my family and my life. Thanks to Sterling, I accomplished that and much more.
Scott Scharf, DDS, Minnesota
I am a sole practitioner in West Allis, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. The practice is thriving, with $1.5 million in revenue and patients coming from more than 100 miles away for our services. That is certainly not how I started out.
I opened my practice in 1982 and ten years later production had risen to $50,000. No, that wasn’t my monthly figure, that was my annual production. I wasn’t slacking off: I had been brought up to believe that the more hours you worked the more successful you would be, and so I was working from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. Those long hours and stress hadn’t led to success, but they were taking their toll on me and my family. I was alternating between franticness, nervousness and hopelessness, I was suffering from stress-caused migraines and I didn’t have time to give my wife and sons the attention they deserved. I knew that other dentists were successful, and I could be too, I just didn’t know how to do it. Clearly, working 14 hour days wasn’t the solution.
Then, in 1992, I found what I had been missing: Sterling’s practice management system. Their system isn’t brain surgery, but simple step-by-step actions to create the type of practice, the income and the lifestyle that you want. Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned was how to quickly detect changes in the health of the practice as well as the exact steps needed to diagnose and treat the source of any problems.
One of the first benefits I noticed was that patients started accepting full treatment plans. Not only did my income improve as a result, but so did the health and appearance of my patients. Instead of disappearing after their first appointment, they now stay with me for life and bring their families in with them.
Sterling also taught me how to manage and motivate my staff. I had been afraid of upsetting the few staff I had and would do things to try and make them like me. It didn’t work. Now we are all part of the same team and all profit when the office does well.
As a result of the Sterling program, my practice and my life have completely turned around. Our revenue is 30x what it was when I started. I am working 40 hours a week, not 14 hours a day. I could work less hours, but I don’t want to. I’m having a blast. I like doing dentistry, I like my patients and I am surrounded by competent, motivated employees who are fun to work with. And I have a vibrant, profitable practice to sell should I ever decide to retire.
As I learned firsthand, hard work alone won’t do it. I needed to know the right steps to take.
James M. Fakler, DDS, Wisconsin
I opened my own dental practice right out of school in 2003 and spent six years growing it large enough to bring on an associate. Things had been running well and with one doctor; there were not as many challenges. When my associate started, I was unprepared for the growth and how to handle the increased work administratively. I ended up with inefficient systems and an overstaffed office with overpaid employees. In addition, I was, in essence, doing the work for the staff due to their mistakes and inability to handle their own areas. Collections started to became a problem, leaving me no wiggle room.
The practice felt confused and out of control. The office manager was working against me. Whenever there was a disagreement amongst the staff, he would “throw me under the bus.” He was basically unable to hire effective team members or even manage the good ones properly.
The stress weighed on me. I worked long hours doing my job and everybody else’s. Managing a practice was not something they taught at the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry.
After receiving an email from Sterling, I contacted them for a free practice consultation. The consultant reviewed different scenarios for improving profitability, managing staff and more. I realized I needed this program and signed on. I had a Sterling consultant come to my practice for a week to resolve the personnel issues. We implemented a system which enabled me to quantify staff productivity and establish a pay system with bonuses for productive staff. Three months later, we had totally revamped the staff. Profitability was up by 200%.
I went to Sterling’s offices to take their management classes. The classes were life-changing and woke me up as to what I was missing in running my practice. The customized one-on-one consulting is a constant source of guidance and support. Since starting with Sterling, profitability has doubled, production is back on track and the staff are a united team. As
an endodontist, virtually all of my new patients are from referrals. Sterling has given me appropriate marketing ideas and new patients have increased. I’ve even opened a second office.
Now I enjoy running my practice because I know how. Just as it’s satisfying to do a procedure on a patient, it’s satisfying to manage my practice well.
They (Sterling) helped me have a better practice and a better life.
Carla Webb, DMD, Mississippi
When I graduated from dental school, I was certain I knew it all. As a trained medical professional, I looked forward to a life of wealth and ease.
After finishing my residency in 1975 and working as an associate for a few years, I opened my own practice in Severna Park, Maryland. Far from living the life of Riley, I was living a nightmare. My staff were constantly bickering with each other and me. They would come to me to complain about one another and finger-pointing was their approach to correcting goofs. But even though they were making my life miserable, I continued to pay them so they wouldn’t leave. It was clear I didn’t know how to control my practice or manage the staff. Paying the bills was also a constant struggle.
All that changed in 1988 when I signed up for Sterling’s services. My wife and I went to their offices to learn the management skills I hadn’t been taught in college. We also received custom consulting tailored to our specific needs. It was an eye-opening experience.
When I got back to my practice, I started implementing what I had learned from Sterling: organizing the office, training my staff to be more effective and setting up a marketing plan. It worked better than I could have imagined. Within three months, my gross income had tripled.
I am still a Sterling client today. I have a multi-million dollar practice with three doctors and 22 staff. We do everything from implants to Invisalign, and rarely have to refer patients to specialists. We see a steady stream of eight to ten new patients every day. I work from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., four days a week and make the money I only dreamed of when I was working many more hours.
Even better than the money, though, has been the freedom. With my practice operating smoothly, I’ve been able to concentrate on living a fuller life, and achieving all my goals, not just those associated with giving people brighter smiles. I’ve been able to spend more time with my wife and daughters, to travel and to become more involved with the community. I take off for extended periods, as much as a year, confident that with the procedures and personnel I have in place, things won’t fall apart in my absence.
What I’ve discovered is that a person may have dreams, but dreams alone are not enough. It takes skillful application of the right techniques. Just as I needed to know and apply the skills taught in dental school, so did I need to know and apply the management skills which Sterling teaches. If there are areas of your practice that don’t seem quite right, I highly recommend you call Sterling at 800-933-7538 and ask for their free DVD and a complimentary consultation. They helped me build a prosperous practice and lead an enjoyable, fulfilling life.
Neil Woods, DDS, Maryland
In late 2006, I bought a dental practice and discovered a practice owner’s life is very different from an associate’s. Although I was a capable dentist, I didn’t know how to manage a business and my timing couldn’t have been worse with a recession on the way. In 2008, production started to go down and continued to decline for three consecutive years.
We were making ends meet but not saving any money—where would we be in 10 years? I had fewer patients and we weren’t advertising. There were no hiring procedures in place; I would just put an ad in the paper and if the applicant seemed ok, I would hire them. The result was an uncaring, bickering staff. My motivation was fading and the problems in the practice were putting stress on my family life.
I saw a Sterling ad in a magazine which sparked my interest. I sent for their management DVD and received a free practice analysis which zeroed in on our exact problems. I could see Sterling had the solution for my practice, so I became a client in August 2010.
Thanks to Sterling, I experienced a new problem: rapid growth. After a few months into their program, we were so busy, I had to convert my office into an additional operatory. Eighteen months later, we had to move to a larger facility. Expansion, however, came with its own challenges.
To address our growing pains, Sterling sent two specialist consultants to my practice. During their three-day visit, the consultants interviewed and trained the staff, organized the practice and streamlined our production. We got everybody on the same page which smoothed out the flow of patients through the practice.
We get compliments all the time on the friendly “vibe” in our office and that only happens when staff are genuinely happy, not just smiling for the patients. People are also more apt to accept treatment when they see a happy, well-run office.
When we started with Sterling, our collections ranged from $600,000 to $700,000 per year. Last year, we made almost $3 million. Plus, I average over 150 new patients per month.
I am completely revitalized as a dentist and the owner of my practice. Once I was stressed and fearful about the future. Thanks to the Sterling program, the future for my family and my practice has never looked brighter.
Amit Khanna, DMD, Maryland
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