Dental offices are small businesses, but unlike most small businesses, the dentist/owner is often not a small business expert. So when it comes time to sell a dental practice, it is in the best interest of the dentist to let an expert at buying and selling businesses handle the marketing and selling. Many of today’s dentists find that they want to transition out of their practices at a younger age than previous generations of dentists because of the growth of financial planning and the recent popular onset of lifestyle design.
The newest generation of dentists wants to have financial freedom, and owning a dental practice is one way to get there. Just like any other business, caring for a dental practice can be stressful, but there is flexibility available to practice owners that is not available to dentists who do not own their own practice. Many experts are predicting that dentists might only practice for about 15 years before they transition out of one practice and into a new one, become semi-retired, or start a new career altogether. This is very different from previous generations, when dentists worked in their practices until they could no longer hold the tools. In this and future dental markets, it will not be uncommon for dentists to change careers, partners, or practices several times through their working years.
When dentists are looking to transition out of their current dental practice, they can do a few things during the preceding 12 months to build more value in the business. If dentists do things properly, they can sell their dental practices in a shorter amount of time. Activities that will increase the value include managing the dental office’s website, becoming active on social media, marketing to new patients, and improving the professional atmosphere of the office.
If your dental practice does not have a website, it is vital to the value of the practice to add one to your marketing portfolio. The website should be full of content and educational materials. It should have online forms for clients to complete so they do not have to complete forms in the office. If a dental office uses the best technology, it will attract patients who also use technology. Those patients will bring their children, and the generations will continue to come to the office.
If your practice is not active on social media, then it’s time to start connecting with your patients on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Many dentists connect with each other on LinkedIn, which is one way to find out about new opportunities or gain relationships that can help shape your lifestyle. Every dental office should have a home page on Facebook and a Twitter account, and those should be updated a few times each week. The information should be interesting and interactive so that patients will keep you in mind. Having an active social media existence will make your dental office inviting to potential buyers and will show that your marketing is current and front-of-mind to potential and current patients.
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Along with maintaining an online presence, it is important to follow what people are saying about your practice. Even if you do not have a website (which is practially a dental marketing sin these days), there are still many websites that allow people to leave reviews about local dentists, so you should be aware of what they’re saying. Patients are more likely to leave reviews when they have received either stellar service or horrible service. When patients are looking for a dentist, they will turn to the Internet and their friends, so what is said about you online is important to building your reputation and your base of patients. Also, quick and professional responses to negative feedback can often turn a social lemon into lemonade. If maintaining a website is not your forte, then hire someone to maintain your website and online reviews. Although your hygienist or her niece might build nice websites on the side, your Internet presence is no place to save pennies.
After your online presence looks professional, it’s time to do the same to the office itself. Many interior decorators specialize in office spaces, and many of them offer free consultations. When planning to sell a practice, the office, waiting room, and exam spaces must look current. Often small, family-owned dental practices contain family artifacts. When selling, these should be removed. The entire practice space should be clean and well lit so that potential buyers will be attracted to the space.
Finally, each dental practice moving toward transition needs to have a business plan designed to bring in new or inactive patients. The plan should include a way to encourage referrals from active patients. It should also include a way for the dental office to work with employers and dental insurance companies to bring patients to the office. There are financial advisors and marketing experts that can help develop the plan, and a strong plan will bring in more potential buyers.
To conclude, when a dental practice engages with the community online, provides an attractively decorated practice, and markets to new patients, that practice will be attractive to potential buyers. When the office has an inviting atmosphere, the transitioning period is shorter and the valuation and potential selling price is higher.
Aaron Schulman is on the Advisory Board for 5th Avenue Acquisitions & Venture Capitalists, a team of transition experts with offices throughout the United States, assisting dentists with professional services when they want to sell or buy a practice. Read more about them at www.5thaavc.com.