Top 5 Predictors of a Successful Practice Transition

Dr. Ebert
Dr. Ebert: "I joined ADAPT in part because of the focus on philosophy of care. Throughout my career, I have seen how important compatibility is for long-term success and what can happen when dentists are not aligned. My goal is to help dentists find someone who shares their philosophy of care so they can set themselves up for future success."

Editor's note: This article originally appeared Dec. 19, 2019, in the ADA Practice Transitions' ADAPT Blog.

This year, ADA Practice Transitions (ADAPT) went live – and I have had the privilege of working with dentists in the midst of career transitions of all types. From dental students to dentists wrapping up 40-year careers, I am thoroughly enjoying working with each and every one!

As we look ahead to 2020, I wanted to share five of my thoughts on the biggest predictors of a successful transition.

#1: Keep your options open!

Many people – not just dentists – fall into a trap of thinking their career needs to follow a predetermined path. But in reality, you determine your dental destiny. By keeping your options open, you may discover an opportunity that you would have otherwise dismissed at first glance but is exactly right for your needs.

To really commit to this path, start by thinking about your top three “must-haves” for your next role. These could be anything: a location, a specific practice size, or your thoughts on life after retirement – anything at all! But then challenge those assumptions. If the “perfect” practice pops up in a small town, explore that town. See what a larger or smaller practice might offer you. Discover what types of interesting work an FQHC or residency program could provide for life after retirement. You may find that challenging your knee-jerk assumptions opens the door to some amazing opportunities.

For example, Dr. Christy Rens assumed she would end up practicing in urban Minneapolis – until a fantastic short-term contract opportunity presented itself in rural Wisconsin. She transformed that contract into a very rewarding career that provides engaging work, flexibility, and a comfortable lifestyle. Read her story.

#2: Think about philosophy of care FIRST

I joined ADAPT in part because of the focus on philosophy of care. Throughout my career, I have seen how important compatibility is for long-term success and what can happen when dentists are not aligned. My goal is to help dentists find someone who shares their philosophy of care so they can set themselves up for future success.

This is not to say that two dentists should do clinical dentistry the same. It just means that they share an overall commonality in how they approach their patients, staff, and communities.

When evaluating an opportunity, many dentists want to see financials first, before they have even made contact. This is a mistake. Since an in-depth view of the financials typically requires paying an accountant, we suggest determining the “easy” stuff first. Namely, decide whether the practice is one where you can thrive, based on the overall philosophy and general overview of the operations. Doing this takes real listening, both to the other dentist and your own gut. Ask questions about how the practice or person operates and pay attention if something does not feel “right.” (More on this in #4 below.)

Taking time to really listen can help avoid the trap of investing funds and then feeling obligated to continue into a transaction even while your gut is saying that the situation is not quite right.

Instead of waiting until late in the process, START with philosophy of care to make sure you are both on the same page. ADA Practice Transitions does an initial screening and will only suggest matches when the rough numbers are aligned, so you can take a bit of time to investigate whether this is someone you can work with or if you can feel comfortable turning over your legacy. Once you have that initial connection and both agree to move forward, then you can start digging into the numbers.  

See two examples of how philosophy of care mismatches lead to failed transitions.

#3: Take the time to do it right the first time (and get it in writing!)

Half of all associateships fail within the first two years. That generates frustration for all involved: the associate, the owner, patients, and staff.

There can be a better way, though. Rather than jumping at the first opportunity, take the time to find a match that fits your needs now AND in a few years.

That is where I come in as your ADA Advisor: I will help you define your short- and long-term goals so you can find the situation that is just right for your needs now, and in the future. I will also help you think through the entire process so you can take control of things right from the start.

Do everything you can to avoid the all-too-common situation where you were promised ownership and then four years later, find that the owner is NOT willing to follow through. Alternatively, ensure an associate who says they are interested in buying out the practice does not “back out” three years down the road because they decided they would rather remain an associate – leaving you in the position of finding another buyer when you are more interested in hanging out with your grandchildren.

Allow your ADA Advisor to screen applicants/practices for you so you do not waste your time on less ideal options, and let us guide you as you wander down your individual path. This can take more time upfront – but it might help you avoid another search in a couple of years.

Review some of the things you should think through when planning your career moves.

#4: Listen closely (to yourself and to others)

So many misunderstandings and disappointments could be avoided by better listening. Throughout a practice transition, check in to make sure you are really listening both to yourself and to the other person. Are you hearing their answers, or just what you hoped to hear? Are you pausing so they can ask their own questions? Are you listening to what your gut is telling you, or are you paying more attention to those around you?

If you are trying to sell, it can be tempting to think you need to really sell your practice. But the truth is, if your practice is right for the other doctor, overly aggressive or salesy tactics may drive them away. Instead, while you should clearly state what is great about the practice, make sure you let the other dentist respond! ADAPT CEO Bill Robinson shared his own tips for better listening.

#5: Owners: update your practice. Incoming dentists: look past the paint

I see many potential buyers or associates who are unable to look past a dated facade. Updating your practice can be relatively easy, but too often it gets pushed off.

Look at your practice from another dentist’s point of view. Ask a trusted friend or colleague for their opinion. A fresh coat of paint and updated upholstery can go a long way towards freshening your office space and making it feel more modern.

For incoming dentists, look past the cosmetics and be on the lookout for a “fixer-upper.” Just like on TV, if the bones are good and you have the guts, you can create your dental dream home!

Many younger dentists see digital x-ray and computer compatibility as essential, so if you have been on the fence, go ahead and invest in the upgrade. It will make your practice sale easier.

And do not overlook your practice’s financials. Updating your collections policies and fees can improve your bottom line, which helps make your practice more marketable. Make these changes as early as possible to boost your average annual collections.  

See other quick ways to boost your practice’s curb appeal.

I wish you peaceful holidays and a successful 2020! If your resolutions include a practice transition, create your ADA Practice Transitions profile today. Once you submit your profile, I will help you think through your own goals and guide you through each step of the process.