7 ways to be a dental entrepreneur


You might not have heard the words ‘dentist’ and ‘entrepreneur’ spoken in the same sentence much before, but it’s becoming apparent that to succeed in this industry that’s exactly what dentists have to become.

How much of an entrepreneur you are right now, and how much more of an entrepreneur you want to be?

There is a popular misconception that the entrepreneur needs a brilliant idea or radical approach to a business opportunity. This is not the case – an entrepreneur looks at what he has in terms of resource, finds an opportunity and simply tries to make it work.

An entrepreneur has absolutely no fear of failing; in a way, the entrepreneur anticipates failure and typically will have three other options waiting in the wings ready to drop into service if the first idea falls over.

Another misconception is that entrepreneurs are born – again, this is simply not the case. This is a learnt skill, and admittedly some people fail to learn, some are not very good at it and some have no desire to learn what sits outside their natural comfort zone.

In reality we all sit somewhere along a scale that will shift to different positions at different stages in our lives. Entrepreneurism is a learnt skill which eventually becomes a habit and ultimately a mindset – for life.

Your character or ‘preferences’ in terms of behavioural style will, of course, heavily influence your attitude to risk. If you are an associate and currently work for an entrepreneurial principal then the chances of acquiring an entrepreneurial mindset are substantially greater than if you are working for a traditional old-school practice.

Please do not fall into to the trap of thinking that entrepreneurial means exclusively private practice. Some of the biggest dental fortunes today are made in larger low-skill-set NHS practices.

The seven components of the entrepreneurial mindset:

  1. Risk

The overriding driver behind making business, or indeed life decisions, is understanding and mitigating risk. Risk is not just the reason why people don’t do things; perversely, it’s also the reason why people do them – the gambler loves the adrenaline rush of rolling the dice or waiting for the next card; it’s the anticipation, the uncertainty, that drives them on to the next gamble or risk.

We are all risk takers to a greater or lesser degree, we all take risks every day, driving at 85 when the limit is 70, flirting with the attractive lady in Boots or dressing in a low cut top (that’s the ladies). We all get a bit of a rush when we take a chance and it sort of spices up life.

Strangely, not taking a risk can have a long term depressing effect on your life, creating an irritating merry go round of thoughts in your head when things go wrong or are flat in your life: why oh why did you not take that associate job in Sydney back in 2001? If you had done you would not be in this miserable NHS practice in Clapham on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in February with a waiting room bursting with ungrateful, dull, smelly patients…

Your attitude to risk shapes your whole life. I am not suggesting you have to take it to have a happy life, but you do have to take risks regularly if you wish to be an entrepreneur.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Mark Twain.

  1. Motivation

The bottom line is: do you want to play it safe and be a ‘Steady Eddy’ or do you want to take a chance and be remarkable?

Getting this bit right in your head is fundamental to your approach to your business. However entrepreneurial you are in character and behavioural style, if you don’t really want it you are going to struggle to achieve it. And, frankly, we need Steady Eddies – like the captain flying the plane to take you and your family on holiday.

  1. Continuous building and development 

I found it difficult to come up with a better phrase, but continuous building and development describes the notion of taking various apparently unrelated elements or situations and creating something bigger.

The perfect illustration for this philosophy is Jeff Bezos, the guy who created Amazon. Bezos runs the world’s largest e-retailer, yet he did not invent the internet and e-retailing had already been invented by the time he came on the scene.

The reason behind Amazon’s success was not part of his plan – the business model was all about tax avoidance at first. In the US, online retailers don’t have to collect sales tax in states where they do not have a physical presence, which provided Amazon with a significant price advantage.

But Bezos was not going to stop there. When he happened to meet a guy who told him about predictive analytics, he thought he’d try making it work with his product, and this happened to be a stroke of genius.

As customers, we all love the idea of being offered yet another book on our obscure but favourite subject. As an e-retailer it’s the perfect differentiator that simultaneously makes the shopping experience memorable and turbo charges sales while at the same time engendering outstanding loyalty and lifetime customer value. It made Amazon take off.

The imperative of continually building provides ever more opportunities. It’s a bit like a practice opening at the weekend for emergency treatment and discovering there is a significant number of new patients that would really like and happily pay a premium to see the hygienist on a Sunday afternoon.

  1. Be happy about making mistakes

Get ready, you are going to make loads of mistakes in your business career. Running a practice is not an exact science. Think back to the 1980s and Sir Clive Sinclair’s C5, which sadly became the decade’s biggest laughing stock, or Coca Cola’s disastrous launch of ‘new’ Coke in 1985.

You will make loads of mistakes in your practice this year. Feeling the icy water of reality down your back, telling you the clever new pay plan with your star associate is not going to work for you, means you have to change it and fast, however painful.

The reality is that failing quickly is not really that bad, it’s inconvenient but you will get over it. Failing slowly is deadly and it’s bloody depressing. A simple tip is to always have a plan B and C before you change things – if nothing else it will lift your confidence level.

Entrepreneurs make loads and loads of mistakes. They don’t get hung up, they just move on to the workaround or next idea swiftly – but they always learn.

  1. Learn quick

When things go wrong, take them apart quickly and work out which bit failed to perform. Did you fail to sell it in to the team? Did you misinterpret the patient’s needs? What was the failing component that brought the aircraft down? Equally, when things go right, what is the particular element that people really liked, and how can you develop it?

The entrepreneur learns quick, but always shares the results – good or bad – with the team in order to make the boat go faster.

  1. Respond to changes

In 2007 Nokia was at its peak and almost invincible. It was the cool brand and had been for the previous 10 years. It had an estimated 32 per cent share of the global feature phone market where the margin averaged a robust 36 per cent. But Nokia failed to enter the smartphone market quick enough, leaving the space wide open. Apple and latterly the unstoppable power of Samsung rapidly filled the space and now dominate.

Often as a company grows the sparks for innovation fade, or as the practice reaches its zenith (in the eyes of the owner) it fails to develop or take any risks by responding to marketplace opportunities, like a new pharmacy opening two doors down… How would the entrepreneur take advantage of that?

  1. Work smart

Entrepreneurs are often gifted with a false sense that only they can perform tasks, only they have the ability to get things really right. Of course, this is completely bonkers and has a massive adverse impact on their effectiveness.

The 80/20 rule always applies. Typically 20 per cent of your activity generates 80 per cent of success – however success is determined.

Spending hours trying to make your diary sync between your laptop and desktop when the right person could achieve that in three minutes is daft when you could have spent the afternoon growing the business directly.

Be smart, know what you are good at, know what are you are bad at and play to your strengths. Carefully develop or recruit people that complement your strengths and mop up your weaknesses.

Work out when your most productive time slot is. Everybody has one, mine is between 6am and 11am – my productivity and ability to think diminishes rapidly after that time.

The entrepreneur above all else knows himself and treats himself as a machine, will always make sure he is in top condition both physically and mentally, and may often display a touch of hypochondria!

Best wishes






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