Some observations from the Front-Line

Sales Figures

Collectively, it feels like our clients (and their colleagues) had: a quiet summer, a slow September, which got better as the month progressed, an excellent October (just like the old pre-recession days), and a harder November, with patients beginning to defer treatment until the New Year. Now, with cancellations coming thick and fast due to the bad weather, they are focusing on filling a three week December whilst keeping in mind the need to put some big treatment plans into January’s diary.

Their day-to-day challenges include:
Patients cancelling big treatment plans

  • Patients deferring big treatment plans until the New Year
  • Patients cancelling their standing orders for Membership and Capitation Schemes
  • Patients leaving to go to the new Corporate NHS Practice down the road
  • Gappy Associate and Hygiene DiariesAssociates going home early because there are no patients (instead of staying to help with marketing and sales)

Oh the life of a dental practice owner! There are exceptions to these woes of course. Many Breathe Practices are bucking this trend. At a recent Breathe Business Club in London, 10 practices had, on average, increased their turnover by more than 100k over the last 12 months. If we analyse what they are doing that is working, it is that they.

  1. Have a clinical and non-clinical team who have high self-confidence, exude self-esteem and relentless professionalism.
  2. Have a marketing strategy that is working, in particular ~ an effective internet marketing strategy.
  3. Follow up on sales leads really fast.
  4. Are prepared to think like (and copy) successful retailers
  5. Have a sales and selling culture and associates who sell more than single unit treatment plans.
  6. Have sales systems that track their success.
  7. Have seasonal promotions and offers including a strategy that generously rewards clients who pay in advance and book their treatment now!
  8. Know that price and value are not the same thing and that if their patients do a ‘value check’, they will still say yes.

I don’t see trading conditions changing quickly or the public’s ‘feel good’ factor coming back anytime soon and so it could be a long cold winter! It’s not enough to cross fingers and hope that your practice will buck the trend. It really is time to do what the practice owners whose businesses are growing do; that is, create a practice team that can market and sell services that clients want and then deliver these services in a way that exceeds their expectations.

The Breathe Retreats

In October and November, we held three separate business retreats in South Cornwall (see ) for our clients:

  1. Our 5-day Business Planning Retreat for first timers
  2. Our Leadership Retreat for Retreat returners
  3. Our Entrepreneurs Retreat

All three were variations on the theme of taking out some quality time to consider; what’s going well, what isn’t and what will be different going forwards. Four Breathe Coaches brought their coaching skills together with lots of strategies and the clients created the easy-going community that is essential to the retreat process.

As always, I find it a humbling experience, particularly the willingness of the participants to do the work and dig deep for some of the answers that they need. I think we have now got the formula right (these were our 5th, 6th and 7th Retreats) and by the end of the event, our clients had significantly more confidence about what they wanted to achieve and the strategies to deliver this during the coming months. They also enjoyed sunrises and sunsets over the sea, beach and woodland barbeques, long walks, good conversations, too much wine and many late nights! Book early for 2011!


John Taylor;

The Breathe Retreat took us through a range of emotions always knowing the experience was going to be grounded in reality and good practice. The result is a much more creative and positive vision for me and my business.

Aly Harris;

Going away feeling very relaxed, rested and with a very large to-do list. But clear how to tackle it and make it all happen.

Thank you so much to the whole Breathe team for a life-changing event.

Richard Guyver;

Thank you very much. I feel like I have really got a grip on how the next few years will pan out.

I am very excited about the next few years and look forward to working with Simon and Hutch et al to bring the vision into reality.

Ian Bellamy;

Despite initial misgivings and concerns (ie. why am I here?), the week delivered and exceeded expectations. At the end I was inspired and excited as to where I was going both personally and professionally and eager to implement my visions of the future.

The structure of the week appeared at first very loose and sparse, however, it turned out to be a perfect opportunity to stop and think, which we very rarely do.

Catherine Bellamy;

The retreat provides insights and practical tools to help with the business side of your practice.

We never have time to deal with all those vague ideas running around inside our head, as we are always too busy or distracted. We always have the feeling we should be addressing them but when and how? The Retreat is in a beautiful setting with welcome tranquility, which provides an ideal opportunity to work through business issues with the coaching team and your peers all in one go.

Fraser Hendrie;

John and I have returned buoyed up in many ways having discovered that:

  1. We are a bit grumpy and miserable due to lack of fun!
  2. Our fundamental model is actually not bad at all and dangerously close to coming good in a big way
  3. We can see a way to reduce hours without being crucified financially
  4. We already have all of the personnel on board that we need
  5. We have 3 or 4 other smaller areas to tune up that will boost productivity
  6. All we need now to achieve is the patient flow to make that happen….

Carol Somerville-Roberts;

I just wanted to say a big thank you for a fantastic couple of days. Trelowarren is truly special and I really enjoyed being there again.

Last year I felt it was a more personal journey for John and myself, but this year I really feel that I have made great strides in the business plan and am very excited about the future. We never have time to deal with all those vague ideas running around inside our head, as we are always too busy or distracted. We always have the feeling we should be addressing them but when and how? The Retreat is in a beautiful setting with welcome tranquility, which provides an ideal opportunity to work through business issues with the coaching team and your peers all in one go.

When is it OK for your team to use their mobiles or access social networking websites at work?

A reasonable question? I often visit practices where there seems to be no clear policy on mobile phone/practice computer usage.

Sometimes I watch as:

  • Many team members (including dentists and hygienists) keep their mobiles within range to glance at in case of an incoming message
  • Receptionists and Practice Managers keep social networking sites open on their workstations whilst they work
  • Dentists send texts/make calls in the surgery whilst a patient is present!

Recently, a Breathe client, who suspected that his Practice Manager might be using social networking sites at work, had the hard drive of her workstation analysed. It transpired that she had been using the computer to access Facebook and some dating sites for an average of 5 hours a day for over a year…

She has now left and the practice owner has installed a Workstation in the patient lounge so that his staff and patients can access Facebook, Google etc at any time, but in public view. He has also banned mobiles from being switched on during working hours, making sure that reception will pass on any urgent messages to the team via that old fashioned solution, the land line!

And finally… Check Your Back Ups

A salutary lesson from one of our clients…

This week is going from bad to worse – the snow is of course affecting everything, but on Tuesday our server crashed and we are now on day 3 without access to our appointment book … as you can well imagine it’s quite chaotic not knowing who’s about to arrive, or where we have spaces. We can’t book appointments either – not great for business! 
The computer guys are working hard to restore things, but it now transpires that our back-up tapes have been corrupted at some time without our knowledge, so we are facing the potential reality of having to start again from scratch with a new empty appointment book …

So today’s lesson is: Please, please, please check that your back ups are working

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