How to own a Dental Practice and still have a life

One of the main reasons that Breathe clients ring us in the first place is because they feel they are working harder and harder, that their practice is all consuming and they are really struggling to find time or energy to devote to family, friends and interests. These kinds of demands wear them down over time, stress levels spiral and the cumulative effect is that they are losing their passion for dentistry. Very often, the practice owners:

  1. Are earning most of the gross fees in the practice, that is, they are doing most of the clinical work.
  2. Spend a lot of hours every week in the practice, trying to bring in enough fees and also run the business in their breaks and at weekends.
  3. Have little left in the way of time or energy to do much else with their evenings and at weekends.
  4. Take short holidays, rarely more than one week at a time for fear the practice will suffer.
  5. Have stopped taking care of their health and fitness.
  6. Have various messes at home that need sorting out including personal and family relationships that are under pressure.
  7. Feel overwhelmed and disillusioned by owning their practice.
  8. Feel undervalued by the amount of profit they make in return for all their hard work.
  9. Have too much to do and so sometimes do nothing.
  10. Feel as if they and their practice are out of control.


These are the symptoms of a practice owner who has not considered an alternative business model to the one they have either bought or built. The model they are running is failing them (and the people close to them). The new model that they need has to start with their time.

Your Time

If any of my list above applies to you, then I want to describe some proven solutions!

After many years of working with practice owners (and running my own businesses) I’ve discovered that the most effective way to reduce personal overwhelm is to start by getting back in control of time. If you do not restrict the number of days you spend delivering dentistry, you will spend all your time delivering dentistry, because in the short term, this seems to be the most productive and profitable use of your time.

It isn’t. The most productive and profitable use of your time, in both the short and longer term, is to work on growing your practice, not working in your practice as a dentist!

So, with a new year upon us, I suggest that now is a good moment to get back in control of your time and plan your diary for 2011.

Ask these questions and the answers will shape your year and your practice.

In 2011:

  1. How many days will you deliver clinical dentistry?
  2. How many days will you work on growing your practice? (This will include: Financial monitoring and control. Marketing. Sales systems. Client Experience. Staff recruitment, motivation, retention and appraisals. Operations and systems. Compliance and going to conferences, exhibitions, CPD, etc.)
  3. How many days will you take off in order to create a life outside of Dentistry?

Here are my suggestions. Spend:

  • 3.5 days/week (maximum) delivering clinical dentistry, 44 weeks per year (maximum). That is, 154 days/year.
  • 1 day/week (minimum) working on your practice, 44 weeks per year. That is, 44 days/year.
  • 2.5 days per week off, every week, having a life (and 8 weeks holiday). That is, 167 days/year.

Put your version of this in your practice diary now and ring-fence the time.

Your Business Model

The most likely two outcomes of planning your time in the way I describe are these:

  1. You immediately feel better for getting back in control of your time and
  2. You realise that the economics of your practice are unlikely to work if you reduce your clinical time in the way you have planned.

However, don’t panic, now is the time to build a simple business model for your practice (use an Excel Spreadsheet) so as to determine:

  1. How many additional fee earners you need to make your practice work financially?
  2. How many support team you need to service these additional fee-earners?
  3. How many patients these fee earners require?
  4. How much profit your model earns and is this enough?

Once you have a business model that works for you, both in terms of your time and the profit it generates, you will of course need some strategies to implement it. These are most likely to be recruitment, marketing and sales strategies.

Your People

Growing a practice beyond a simple one-dentist model is really all about finding the right people to work alongside you so that your practice delivers your style of dentistry to a wider group of patients. If you have to recruit more fee earners and support team in order to re-balance your life, then you will need to decide when will you need these people, where will you find them and more importantly, who will manage them?

Your Leadership

One of the problems of working in your practice as well as leading it is that whilst you are being a dentist you are, to all intents and purposes, an absent leader. So, how will you get your fee earners and your support team to behave in the ways that you wish them to? How will they know where you want to take the practice and how will you know what they are up to? Most importantly, how will you communicate with everybody and how often? You will have to wear two hats, that of the leader and that of the lead clinician. That’s an additional role and one that you will need to schedule time for.

Measuring Your Progress

So, if this turnaround is working, you will have exchanged the first list in this article for one that looks more like this.


  1. Are earning some of the gross fees in your practice, perhaps less than half of the total turnover.
  2. Spend 3 days or less, 44 weeks a year in your practice earning fees. You run the business during the days you have set aside to do this.
  3. Have plenty of time and energy to have a life as well as being a practice owner.
  4. Take 8 weeks holiday a year, some holidays are two or three weeks in length. The practice runs well without you!
  5. Take enormous care of your personal health and fitness.
  6. Have fixed all the various messes at home that need sorting including personal and family relationships.
  7. Feel ambitious about your role as a practice owner.
  8. Are pleased with the amount of profit you make in return for your hard work.
  9. Have the right amount to do and have delegated the rest.
  10. Feel as if you are in control of your life and your practice.
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