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How one New York City practice grows by keeping referrals in-house: An interview with Dr. Paul Williams

May 8, 2018
Through saavy marketing and learning how to keep referrals in-house, Dr. Paul Williams and his colleagues have built a highly successful dental practice in the Bronx. Learn more in this interview by Adam Smith.
Adam Smith, Co-Owner, Oxford Dental Care

I recently had the chance to run through some marketing questions with Paul Williams, DDS. Dr. Williams runs Dental Smiles Unlimited in the Bronx in New York City. He has managed to help grow Dental Smiles Unlimited to a multimillion dollar practice in a competitive market, so when he agreed to give me some of his time, I was very excited.

Interview with Paul Williams, DDS

SMITH: Dr. Williams, give us a little bit of your background.

DR. WILLIAMS: I grew up in the Bronx. I did my undergraduate studies at New York University, where I majored in anthropology and minored in chemistry and biology. I went to dental school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and after graduating I did my residency at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Since finishing dental school and my residency, I have focused a lot of my additional education on dental sleep medicine and TMD.

SMITH: Now you are running Dental Smiles Unlimited, which has experienced amazing growth over the last few years. Can you give us an idea of some things that have been working for you?

DR. WILLIAMS: Sure! We have used a lot of different marketing strategies over the last few years. We track them very specifically, so I will give them to you in order of effectiveness for our office.

Our highest number of new patients comes from internal referrals. We have a great system that keeps that ball rolling pretty smoothly. We send a nice hand-written thank you card anytime someone refers a friend as well as sending a welcome card to the new patient. They seem to really appreciate the effort of the dentist writing a hand-written note to them, and it pays back in a big way with additional referrals. We average nearly 30 new patients per month from patient referrals.

Our next highest referral source is postcards. We do a lot of mailers, and they do cost quite a bit of money to send out, but they are also bringing in a lot of new patients. The success of our mailing campaigns is highly dependent on the offer on the card. Depending on the offer and the time of year, we get anywhere from 10 to 30 new patients per month from postcards.

Our last consistent marketing strategy is SEO and Adwords. We typically average around 15 new patients per month from each of these.

SMITH: So I am just doing the math really quickly, because I am nerdy like that. That totals about 55 to 75 new patients per month. How have you managed to grow to five doctors and multiple millions of dollars in revenue per year with that kind of new-patient flow? I'm not trying to say that those aren't impressive numbers, just that I typically see more new patients needed for a practice of your size.

DR. WILLIAMS: Sure, I get where you are coming from. Our practice is pretty unique because we have several dentists who like to work in specific areas of dentistry. For example, I like to do sleep dentistry and also help patients with TMD. We have another dentist who likes to do a lot of root canals, and we even have an oral surgeon in our office. This means that we can keep almost all of the treatment our patients need in-house. I definitely think this is one of the things that has allowed our office to grow to the size it is without needing hundreds of new patients per month.

SMITH: That makes sense. I find a lot of dentists are leaning toward that strategy, though it is sometimes in a slightly different way. They try to learn as many procedures as they can so that a single dentist can keep as many procedures as possible in-house.

DR. WILLIAMS: Yes, I've seen a lot of my colleagues do that too. That is one area where we are a little bit different from many other practices.

SMITH: I'd love to ask one final question that I think provides a lot of value to the dentists reading these interviews. If you had to start from scratch today, how would you go about building a practice?

DR. WILLIAMS: That is a great question. If I had to start from nothing today, I would start by figuring out exactly what I wanted the patient experience to look like from A to Z. I'm talking about a patient experience that will really wow the patient. I think many dentists think patients are really happy, when in reality, the patients are only "not unhappy." There is a difference!

Once I had that dialed in, I would decide who I needed on my team to accomplish that and hire an awesome team. From there, it would be getting the things in place that we needed to set up this amazing experience and putting the plan in action. Once the patient referrals were flowing in, we would start adding more marketing pieces to the puzzle.

SMITH: That is some great advice! It sounds like you have thought about that before.

DR. WILLIAMS: Of course. I think about that scenario a lot because it helps me keep my priorities where they need to be.

SMITH: Dr. Williams, thank you so much for your time today!

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adam Smithis co-owner of Oxford Dental Care. He has personally consulted with more than 70 dental practices across the United States and Canada. Smith worked as a consultant and a data analyst with Dental Intel, where he fell in love with the statistics and business aspect of dentistry. He has a background in online marketing and website development, and works with select practices on their marketing on a referral basis only. He also runs a dental marketing Facebook group where he provides tips to dentists to improve their online marketing. He can be reached at [email protected].

Additional articles by Adam Smith

How one dentist built a successful referral-based practice in a competitive market: An interview with Dr. Anoosh Afifi

Using internal marketing to create an ideal patient base: An interview with Dr. Christopher Baer

One dentist's creative new-patient solution since 1989: An interview with Dr. Timothy Elloway

Tooth jewelry, celebrity patients, and social media: An interview with Dr. Bobbi Peterson

There's a hole in your hygiene: How reappointment rates dramatically affect dental practice growth

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions.

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About the Author

Adam Smith | Co-Owner, Oxford Dental Care

Adam Smith is part owner of Oxford Dental Care and has personally consulted with more than 70 dental practice across the United States and Canada. He worked as a consultant and a data analyst with Dental Intel, where he fell in love with the statistics and business aspect of dentistry. He can be reached at [email protected].

Updated April 17, 2017