How Long Does a Practice Transition Take?

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As dentists begin their practice transitions, nearly all have the same question on their minds: how long do you think this is going to take?

As an ADA Advisor who helps ADA Practice Transitions members navigate their transitions, I wish I could supply a definite answer – but it just isn’t that black and white. In my experience, since no two dental practice transitions are the same, each has its own timeline.

One thing I have identified as the common denominator in a streamlined turnaround is the overall readiness of both parties. That takes several forms:

  • Are the owner’s finances organized and ready for review?
  • Does the buyer have a pre-approval letter from a lender or two?
  • Does the hiring doctor have an associate contract ready to go?
  • Does the incoming associate have a firm understanding of what is most important to them?

My ultimate goal is to connect dentists with quality, motivated candidates who are ready to take their next step. When I identify two doctors who have a possibility of being matched, I recommend the first touch point (a 15-minute phone conversation) occur within 48 hours. If both candidates see potential after that first conversation, I then encourage a site visit to keep the momentum going. As long as communication remains open and timely, the rest of the transition can move quickly – but only if both sides do their part.

In nearly every case, the longest phase of the process is finding the dentist or practice that fits your transition goals. This part can range from as quick as a couple of weeks to stretching beyond a year.

The key is to set realistic expectations for yourself by having a firm understanding of how your unique situation may affect the search. Then, you can take steps that speed up everything that happens after you find the right person.

Understand your situation

Your “search” period will largely depend on your situation. For example, if you are trying to sell a fully updated practice in a highly desirable area with strong financials (and you have all the documentation in order), you may be able to sell in just a couple of months. A less desirable area or a practice that is not at all updated usually takes longer.

For a job search, a tight restrictive covenant/non-compete clause may extend your search. Historically, noncompete clauses have been included in many associate contracts with the intent to protect the employer’s business by disallowing the associate from providing dental services in a surrounding area for a specified length of time. On April 23, 2024, the Federal Trade Commission issued a final rule banning noncompete clauses nationwide. Once it goes into effect, the final rule applies to noncompetes entered into after the effective date and some noncompetes currently in existence. Every dentist should consult a lawyer about any existing or new noncompete clause as it may still be enforceable. Read more about the ruling on ADA News.

Once you have found the right person or practice, the rest of the process can move relatively quickly. An associate hire can be executed within a few weeks after the match, especially if both sides are ready to negotiate. ( See our tips on preparing for negotiations.) A sale naturally takes longer because it involves more parties and higher stakes, but if the buyer and seller are both ready to move, it can close within a couple of months.

No matter your path, there are several things you can do during your search to streamline what comes next.

How to speed up your timeline

The more prepared you are, the faster you can proceed after you find the perfect dentist or practice. Too often, deals fall apart because one side simply wasn’t ready. See one such story in our What Went Wrong series.

Understand what you want – and what you don’t want

I often see candidates drag their feet because they aren’t quite sure what they want. By the time you start receiving suggested matches, you should have a pretty good idea of your goals. And if not – contact your Advisor! That’s what I’m here for.

As you think about your transition, make a list of your must-haves. If you are an ADAPT member, you have access to a trove of “Get Ready” resources to help think this through, plus an Advisor who can act as a sounding board. This exercise will help you make quicker, more informed decisions when presented with a potential candidate.

Involve your spouse or partner in your thought process to make sure you are on the same page. They can provide valuable feedback and brainstorm what is best for the whole family. And remember the 5 Musts for a Successful Dental Career.

Keep an open mind

At the same time, don’t overly narrow your focus. The perfect opportunity may not look like you expect it to. If a candidate or practice checks most, but not all, of your boxes, I recommend having an initial conversation. You can learn a lot with a 15-minute chat, and you may discover that this candidate is actually quite right. They may have skills you hadn’t considered, or a practice may have “good bones” that you can transform into your “dental dream home.”

Be especially open about location. So often, I see candidates immediately rule out a practice just because it isn’t where they think they want to live. But these practices can offer the best opportunities, particularly among rural practices where the cost of living is lower, practices cost less, and you may be able to enjoy a great work-life balance by working part time.

Build your team

Identify your lawyer and accountant before you need them. It is much easier to take the time to find the right professionals – who have navigated the intricacies of dental practice transitions – now, before crunch time.

If you’re considering a transition, start talking to your state or local society to find vetted professionals well versed in your state’s regulations. You can also ask colleagues for their recommendations.

Get more tips on building the right team for your practice transition.

Line up your financing

If you are buying a practice, your lender can make or break your transition. Use the “search” phase to interview three to five lenders. Learn about the terms they can offer you, the process they follow, and what they will need.  Resources to help you think about your financing needs.

See also: Talk to 3 Banks: The First Step in Buying a Dental Practice and 5 Financial Must-Dos Before Buying a Dental Practice.

Get your paperwork in order

If you are selling, your buyer (and their lender and accountant) will need a lot of information about the practice’s finances. The entire transaction will go much more smoothly if you have it all rounded up, ready to go. Work with that trusted accountant you already identified to prepare the reports and data the buyer’s lender will require.

If you are buying, ask your lender and accountant what they will need from you – tax returns, bank statements, etc. – and begin assembling your file while things are relatively calm.

Write your job description and have a plan

If you are hiring, think about how the new associate will fit into the practice. Ask yourself:

  • What hours will they work?
  • Will you need to hire additional staff?
  • How will you divvy up current and new patients?

Now is the time to consider your preferences! Download our free integration plan and get a checklist to ensure a successful start for everyone.

During the interview process, your list can guide a productive conversation that will help you ensure you are on the same page and can successfully work together.

Be prepared to have timely and open discussions with candidates

Let’s be honest: the dental industry isn’t THAT big, so the better the communication, the better the reputation. If you are not interested in moving forward with a particular candidate, there’s no need to keep it a secret.