How We Did It: Turning Around My Practice Against All the Odds

Breathe has worked with many clients to help them drive their practice in the direction they want to go. Rather than hear it from us, though, we are running a series of articles written by our clients about their experience. We have worked with Aly Harris, who runs THE dentist in Salisbury (, for over 3 years as a member of the Breathe Business Club in London. She sent the following heartfelt letter to a new member of the Breathe Business Club, who is just setting out on their journey to take their established practice to the next level in the current challenging economic climate.

“When I read your email, I really felt for you as I have traded through a non-existent cash flow for 5 years. I thought I would share my experience with you as I was very close to going under when I met Breathe, but I now feel more positive and confident than ever that my business will be successful…

I have traded through 5 years of hell (fun hell), with pretty much zero cash flow i.e. whatever came in went straight out; there has never been enough and never any left for me!! I have been in a desperate situation, my partner and I had put all our savings into THE dentist, so personally we had nothing left. My bank account was moved to a special department – for businesses expected to go bust at any moment, I was paying wages late, getting behind with PAYE, and most of our phone calls were from creditors! At one point, there was even a stop on the business account!

How did I manage to climb out of that? – Answer- a friend told me about Breathe. Simon Hocken visited us and immediately recommended several simple common sense (but we hadn’t thought of them) strategies to quickly increase the turnover. They worked! We have not looked back. Over the next year, putting trust in the Breathe team and their experience, we put into place nearly everything they recommended and have seen a 50% increase in takings. Yes, we have had some poor months along the way and we still have a way to go, but I am now friends with the bank manager, about to re-finance to clear previous debts and feel in control. I know how to measure what is and isn’t working and do more of what is! Breathe has made sure that we have a vision for the practice which the whole team shares.

Meanwhile we have run THE dentist on next to nothing! I think one of the most important things we did was to always appear cheerful and positive (even though some days I just wanted to run away), make the patients still perceive that we were successful and go overboard on customer care and their little luxuries. We focused on the things that didn’t cost – the bits the patients can see, hear and feel.. you can create an improved ambience very cheaply!!

Some of the things our patients LOVE and comment on (and notice when they are not there):

  • Being met at the door in person by a member of the team – feeling looked after from the minute they arrive
  • Nice soaps and perfumes in bathroom
  • Scented candles or oils burning – everyone loves the smell of our place
  • Fresh flowers – you don’t have to spend loads – M+S do some tasteful ones which arranged nicely look great
  • We have a digital photo frame with pics of team events, scenery, charity things we do, holidays etc – great talking point, they love it
  • Good tea and coffee made by members of the team (we note how they take it on their records)
  • Relaxing music
  • Pillows and blankets for stiff necks, backs and cold people
  • Members of the team spend time chatting to patients, putting them at ease, finding out about them – we go overboard on patient care and they don’t have time to notice the slightly threadbare carpet!
  • We ask the staff to sit in the waiting room (we call it the lounge) and the surgeries and see what they notice.
  • We get feedback from patients about their experience and act on it – we get comments on friendliness, service and cleanliness, no one seems to care about the ceiling tiles that don’t all match
  • We run on time and never hurt anyone.

In our critical times, we would re-fill our Molton Brown soap container with something else because we couldn’t afford the real thing, we were taking printing home because we didn’t have any ink, I was washing all the uniforms at home because the practice washing machine had broken down and I couldn’t afford the repair and we were ordering the bare minimum of stock literally on a daily basis ( I know, not the most cost effective way!), but it meant there was no excess stock sitting in the cupboards. Our staff knew the score and rallied together to help in every way they could – they have learnt not to waste materials and they quickly realised the importance of looking after the patients as it was they that would be paying the wages!

And the patients didn’t notice… they still thought we were the best and continued to recommend their friends.

Back home, I learnt how to enjoy life for almost free and we play tennis on dilapidated courts, cycle on a cheap bike and walk for miles. We have a small fleet of old bangers, the house needs lots of attention but we all love it the way it is. The kids value small things and don’t care that they still have the same bed covers that they had 5 years ago and don’t have the latest X box. We have lots of fun together, sit together at meal times and I truly believe they are better for a bit of hardship!!

I’m sure you will never be in the position I was, but I hope this helps you see light at the end of the tunnel!

Alison Harris, THE dentist, Salisbury (

If you would like to know more about how Breathe can help you drive your practice in exactly the direction you want to, then please contact Ernie on 0845 299 7209 or and find out more about becoming a member of Breathe, either in the Breathe Business Club like Aly, or joining Breathe Breakthrough.

We have a SPECIAL OFFER to join the Breathe Breakthrough programme throughout September – the next meeting date is Thursday 23rd September – so please do call Ernie to take advantage of this offer, quoting this ezine!

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