8 min read10 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy Your First Dental Practice

Carrie Webber, Owner, The Jameson Group

How to Buy a Successful Dental Practice

Pick out a successful practice from among the list of practices for sale from retiring dentists, and buy it. Poof! You have a successful practice. 

If only it were that simple, right? 

You already know there is a laundry list of things that must be evaluated before you choose a practice to purchase—financial records, assets, patient lists, operational costs, and more. But more than that, you’re fully aware of the truth in the saying you don’t know what you don’t know. This is your first practice, and there is bound to be a surprise or two. The more you can learn before you make your decision, the better. 

“Sometimes, the best path to understanding what is right for you is through recognizing what isn’t meant for you.”

Jameson Marketing & Management is here to help you step confidently into the purchase of your new dental practice. Here are 10 things you should know.

1. You need to know yourself first. 

As chief communications officer and owner here at Jameson Marketing & Management, I often work closely with doctors and their practices. Having a close professional relationship with Dr. Shannon Maddox, I knew Dr. Maddox has a good story to share with others making the leap into their first practice purchase. 

So I asked Dr. Maddox for an interview, and she graciously accepted. In her interview with Dr. Shannon Maddox, we discussed the pitfalls of buying and building a dental practice. “I just never walked in and felt like this is it. This is what I want to do,” said Dr. Maddox about finding her home in dentistry. “…In retrospect, it’s because I had no clue what kind of dentistry I wanted to do.” 

Dr. Maddox said this not knowing what kind of dentist she wanted to be held her back from going into practice on her own. “I wanted it to be the practice that I was going to be in for the rest of my life.” Like Dr. Maddox, you want a practice that will be your lifelong home. To seek or build that home, you must know the kind of dentistry you’d like to practice.

Sometimes, the best path to understanding what is right for you is through recognizing what isn’t meant for you. So consider your experiences thus far: As you’ve practiced various kinds of dentistry, what experiences have left you shaking your head, thinking, “No, that is not the kind of dentist I want to be.” What experiences have left you feeling fulfilled and excited about the future of your career?

You’ll begin to paint of picture of your future once you eliminate what you don’t want and focus on what resonates with you.

2. You’ll be a dentist, sure, but your job is to lead.

As the practice owner, it is your job to lead your team to success. Stepping into a leadership role can be intimidating, but there’s a secret to effective leadership that will help you to shape your role and action. That secret is vision. 

Your practice needs your vision to be able to move forward with a direction or destination. You need a vision to know where to lead your team. Developing a vision, however, might be more difficult than you realize. It doesn’t have to be, though.

Consider where you’d like your practice to be in five years. Now picture your practice in 15 and 30 years. What do you see? What does your team look like? Who are you and your team serving? How are you serving those patients?

Having a vision for your practice means you’ll be better equipped to implement policies and practices to lead you where you want to be. 

3. Buying a practice with a committed team might not come with the struggles you’re expecting. 

Buying an existing practice usually means you’ll already have a team assembled. Often, you’ll discover a team that is invested in the future of the practice, each member doing their best to provide the best care for their patients. 

The good news: The hard part of selecting team members who will see the practice as their professional home has already been handled for you. 

The struggle: You and your team don’t know each other. 

Imagine for a moment that you’ve found your professional home. You plan to work there until you retire. While you aren’t the owner or leader of the team, you have been instrumental in the success of the practice. Perhaps you’re the leader of your specific department even, and you’ve developed a process and system with your other team members and doctor, making providing patient care and service a comfortable routine. 

Now imagine this: Your doctor is leaving, selling the practice. The future is suddenly uncertain and cloudy. Who knows who will replace the doctor? Will it be someone who takes a similar approach to patient care? Will it be a dentist who understands the value of a well-trained team? Or will that dentist want to start fresh with a team of their own?

Not knowing you, your intentions, your vision, or your approach to patient care will put your team on edge. Start considering now how best you can get to know each other. Building trust will be an important first step. Once your team trusts you have the best interest of your patients and team at the top of your list, they’ll be more accepting of any changes in direction. 

4. You’ll be developing co-owners.

Your good team will have been there working hard to grow the practice and develop a relationship with each patient long before your arrival. They will inevitably feel a sense of ownership.

Invest in that sentiment, and lead from a place of partnership with your team. Having a team invested in the future of the practice is invaluable. Make the effort to get them on board with your vision. 

5. You will have a lot of hard conversations.

Sometimes, you’ll be ready to stick your head in the sand and call it a day, we’ve all been there. But as the leader of the team, you’re it. You’re the person who can’t ignore a problem or potential problem, no matter how small. 

And sometimes, you’ll realize things about yourself you’ve never had to confront before: Conflict is not something you’re comfortable with. In fact, you’d rather run as fast as you can in the other direction. Worse, you often do, waiting days or weeks to confront an issue if you confront it at all.

If this is you, you might consider partnering with a coach from Jameson. That coach will talk you through that urge to run, and together you can come up with a plan and language that will put you more at ease with the tough conversation ahead.

6. You will have more drive than you’ve ever experienced before.

It’s your practice. That makes it your baby, and you’ll discover no one else can take care of it quite like you can. You want your baby to grow up to be big, strong, and healthy, and you’ll push yourself harder than you’ve ever pushed before to achieve your goals. 

7. You will have a moment that will reaffirm it was all worth it.

That moment might not happen right away. It might not happen for weeks, months, or even years. But there will come a time when you go home for the night, heart full, mind spinning, heart racing for another day exactly like the one you just had.

In that moment, you will know all of the work, all of the wondering and worrying will have been worth it.

8. You can’t throw your hands in the air and expect everything to work out on its own.

The livelihood of your team is dependent on you. Your livelihood is dependent on you. There are going to be situations where you won’t know what to do. Those moments are the ones where your leadership will be the most vital. 

Let your team see it’s okay not to have all the answers. Let your team see it’s better to wait to research, learn, and enlist the help of others if needed to get the best answer. Jameson’s team of coaches is here for you if you ever need a sounding board.  

9. You’ll learn to celebrate progress.

As our founder Dr. Cathy Jameson says, there is no status quo—you’re either going up or going down. As a professional who chose a career path that included a lengthy educational path, you probably identify with Dr. Jameson’s words.

“There is no status quo—you’re either going up or going down.”

Dr. Cathy Jameson

As the practice leader, however, you will have to learn to appreciate progress. Sure, you aren’t to your goal yet, but you and your team have made progress. To keep them motivated and reaching for the big goal—going up, up, up—then try to celebrate the progress you’ve all worked so hard for. Appreciate where you are.

Then dig deeper and reach higher.

10. Sometimes you have to take the leap.

Fear. It’s such a short word to describe something that can hold us back from some of the biggest and best moments of our lives. Because of fear, we often mistake bumps in the road for journey-ending obstacles. Because of fear, sometimes we never try. We call it a loss before we begin.

Growth rarely happens from the safety of your comfort zone.

So, are you ready to take the leap to your first practice?

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