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Growing the Practice

10 steps to starting a Head Start program in your office

Head Start began as a summer program in 1965 and serves the nation’s most vulnerable children. It focuses on school readiness with inclusion of medical, dental, nutrition and mental health.

Action for Dental HealthAction for Dental Health has created a basic 10-step process to launching your own Head Start program in your dental office.

In essence, the 10 steps are:

  • Step 1: Call the local Community Action Agency and speak with the director about oral exam federal compliance opportunities.
  • Step 2: Discuss with local officials (county commissioners) what percentage of their Head Start children have received dental exams and what more can be done.
  • Step 3: Arrange appropriate follow-up care for those children identified with dental needs.
  • Step 4: Present in-services on early childhood decay to local pediatricians/family medicine staff and promote the need for caries risk assessment, anticipatory guidance and referrals to establish a dental home.
  • Step 5: Become a registered state dental Medicaid provider.
  • Step 6: Meet with community leaders from United Way, local foundations or faith-based communities to discuss health needs/support for young children to access dental exams.
  • Step 7: Discuss opportunities to partner with local business community in holding events aimed at Head Start children receiving dental screening services and oral health education.
  • Step 8: Utilize local dental society meetings to coordinate Head Start screenings and follow-up care.
  • Step 9: Evaluate the success of the program.
  • Step 10: Visit the Women, Infant, Children Department (WIC) in the local health department or county offices and determine need for children under age 5 to have dental exams.

To read more on the 10 steps to starting a Head Start program in your office, click here. For more information, contact Dr. Jane Gover, director of the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations at groverj@ada.org. For more information on Action for Dental Health, visit ADA.org/action.

Editors’ Pick: Favorite New Dentist Now blog posts of 2014

It’s been an eventful 2014 for New Dentist Now as it continues to feature resources for new dentists and dental students, along with news and insight on the dental profession and beyond.

Just in case you missed them, here’s a look back to some of our favorite and most popular blog posts of the year.

PBHS: 3 rules for a successful direct mail campaign

Here are three rules to follow to make your direct mail campaign a success, according to PBHS, the website and marketing services provider endorsed by ADA Business Resources:PBHS

  • Select your mailing list: Define your audience by selecting demographic constraints that are applicable to your target market. For example, age of targeted patients, household revenue and geography. Legally purchase your list from a reputable source. The more careful you are in analyzing your direct mail lists, the better your chance for success.
  • Deliver a clear message: A direct mail campaign should visually engage your audience and create an emotional response within a few seconds. State a clear message, incentivize your patient and promote a call to action which will drive the patient to contact you easily and quickly — offer, suggest, encourage and evoke a response.
  • Design is the key: Let a professional designer help you select images, fonts, colors and layouts that best reflect your practice brand in a consistent manner. Visually engaging campaigns create a feeling of trust and encourage the audience to take action. Support your campaign with online tools, such as analytics, call tracking and contact form to better understand your return on investment.

Have you ever done a direct mail campaign? How did it go?

Working with a marketing firm

After buying the practice where he had been an associate in a few years ago, Dr. Ash Vasanthan wanted to start from scratch when it came to rebuilding his brand.

“I had a client base and an active website, but I wanted to rebrand myself,” said Dr. Vasanthan, a periodontist who has been practicing for 5 years in Roseville, California.

Dr. Vasanthan  In January 2013, he started working with PBHS, the ADA Business Resources-endorsed website design and practice marketing firm.

Working with a graphic designer, one of his first decision was choosing colors, which led to the creation of his practice’s logo. Both colors and logo are used throughout his practice, from his website and stationary to letterheads and coffee mugs.

Meanwhile, PBHS also built Dr. Vasanthan’s website — which, for people searching for periodontists in his area, is now the top result online.

“Everything had to be very precise,” he said, when it came to working with PBHS. “Building my brand was a defining moment for me because I was a new business owner.”

Dr. Vasanthan spoke with ADA New Dentist News to share some suggestions and advice for making the most out of working a marketing firm.

Call around

“PBHS isn’t the only marketing firm around,” Dr. Vasanthan said. “But dentists need to do their research to find the best firm for their needs. I really wanted a company that would take me and say, ‘We can brand you, we can start from scratch.’

“I zeroed in on PBHS because I felt they would be able to provide me with what I was looking for. It’s also a good idea to just call around. I partly chose PBHS because their customer service was great. I never reached a machine.  Jay Levine, PBHS president, was always available and accessible to answer any questions despite being the very busy.”

When it came to building a website, which Dr. Vasanthan considers his top marketing tool, he compared the construction of a house.

“If you want a beautiful, sturdy house, you have to find the best builder in town for you,” he said. “I called a few places, visited several websites and asked friends for recommendations before I found the one.”

Consider your budget

“For new dentists starting a practice, you have to spend money on so many things on top of trying to repay student loans,” Dr. Vasanthan said. “For me, I didn’t go for PBHS’ top tier offerings. I went with somewhere in the middle. I would tell new dentists to really look at what you’re getting for what you’re paying. Sometimes, you don’t have to choose the most expensive package or service to be happy and to get the results you want.”

Get a website

Dr. Vasanthan said his main focus when he hired a marketing firm was to increase his Web presence.

“My website is my number one marketing tool. It’s my face on the Internet,” he said. “When starting a new practice, it’s important to have a website immediately. I would say it’s only second to having a phone number set up for the office. A potential patient can only reach you 8-5 on the phone. A website allows them to access you 24/7.”

Make things easier for patients

Just because a website or a successful marketing strategy help potential patients find you easier, it should also make things more convenient for them, Dr. Vasanthan said.

“The simplest thing a new dentist can do is to have a responsive Web design with a fill-able patient registration available online,” he said.

Dr. Vasanthan’s website allows potential patients to fill out and submit new patient registration forms when making an appointment. This way, the patient doesn’t have to fill it out at the office and it helps his practice track how many new patients are coming in due to his Web marketing.

Stay involved

When it came to the designing your brand, you have to be very involved, Dr. Vasanthan said. He worked exclusively with Alejandro Salazar, a PBHS graphic designer, who translated his vision into art and helped design his logo, business cards, letterheads, etc.  Dr. Vasanthan said he is extremely proud to hand out his business cards just because of the many times he gets complimented on the design and the quality.

“I put my logo on everything. I’m very proud to show it off. To me, being able to explicitly express what I wanted or looking for was very, very important,” Dr. Vasanthan said. “What you’re doing should reflect who you are.”

Have ideas for the ADA’s Center for Professional Success?

The Center for Professional Success is a members-only Web resource that provides practice management information, online education and support tools to help you manage your career.Center for Professional Success

They are currently seeking new members for their Center for Professional Success users group. You will help determine the direction of the Center’s content. What are your major practice concerns? What tools do you need to improve your practice?

If you are interested in learning more about the user group or becoming a member, email Sarah Hughes at hughess@ada.org. The deadline to apply is Dec. 19.

 

Log on to Success.ADA.org for valuable resources

The ADA Center for Professional Success, Success.ADA.org, is a unique web portal for dentists in every practice setting who want to succeed as dental practitioners.

Resources include frequently asked questions about dental codes; information on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance issues; financial calculators for loan and overhead analysis; in-person and online educational opportunities; and guidance for new dentists on how to understand employment agreements before they sign on the dotted line.

The ultimate goal of the Center is to provide accurate answers to specific questions members have helping them balance their professional careers with their personal lives.

Determining the ideal size and space of your practice

Opening a dental office is a significant step in a dentist’s career. It is also quite taxing. According to the ADA Center for Professional Success, taking it one organized step at a time can help alleviate some of the stress.

One of the first major things you need to decide is the size and location of your ideal space.

The size and location are based on your 10-year plan. This plan is how you envision your business to be functioning in ten years, in terms of maximum production. Having a 10-year plan will enable you to determine the number of operatories required to achieve your goals. Some dentists simply want to be sole proprietors, with a full-time hygienist and possibly another part-time hygienist. Others may want to hire an associate down the road or even run a multi-provider clinic.

Dental Office DesignOnce you have determined the number of operatories necessary to support your 10-year plan, you can determine the square footage you will need for your new office.  Dental Office Design, published by the ADA, offers a formula that can be an excellent starting point to determine required square footage:

Number of Operatories
Multiplied by Square Footage of Operatories
Divided by .275

A full chapter excerpt from How to Open a New Dental Office or Relocate Your Current One on deciding how many operatories an office will need, how much square footage an office will require, and other preliminary decisions when choosing and constructing a dental space can be found here.

This excerpt is provided courtesy of Gordon F. Osterhaus Jr., DDS. Dr. Osterhaus is the author of How to Open a New Dental Office or Relocate Your Current One. The book is available online at www.valleydentalconsulting.com. Dr. Osterhaus is also a contributing author to The ADA Practical Guide to Dental Office Design available through the ADA catalog.

ADA executive program in dental practice management

According to the ADA Center for Professional Success, new dentists can match their passion for dentistry with a mind for business with the ADA’s Executive Program in Dental Practice Management.

Launched in September, this Web-based program takes on the tough practice management challenges today’s dentists must master, such as reducing costs, enhancing marketing strategies and practicing amid increased regulation.

Center for Professional SuccessDental practice management experts and first-rate business lectures from the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business — all carefully selected by the ADA for certificate fulfillment — merge to provide a comprehensive six-course certificate program in disciplines crucial to practice success. The first three to be available are:

• Legal and Ethical Issues in Dental Practice
• Negotiation and Conflict Management
• Understanding Leadership

And following soon will be:

• Business Strategy and Systems
• Dental Team Management
• Financial Management

Accessible by desktop, Internet-enabled mobile device, MP3 and MP4 formats, the state-of-the-art online classroom is available anytime and anywhere, with around-the-clock technical support. Participants will also be able to earn continuing education credits when appropriate from those classes which apply, but must take the entire sixty hour series to earn the certificate.

Whether you have your own practice or aspire to do so, it’s time to complement your clinical expertise with skills for the business side of dentistry. To register, click here.

Be prepared before seeking a practice loan

The thought of seeking a practice loan for a new dentist might be intimidating. But being prepared with good information can prove to be key to an easier—that is, successful—experience.

Allison Farey, president of Wells Fargo Practice Finance, named good credit as the No. 1 criterion that a new dentist should meet before seeking a practice loan. Ms. Farey said that a FICO credit score “north of 700” is a good place to start.  While that means being in good standing with student loan payments, for instance, it doesn’t mean that heavy student loans themselves will be an issue.

Wells Fargo“That does not matter whatsoever when we’re analyzing the doctor for a practice loan,” Ms. Farey said.  “We do not factor in the debt load on the student loans because we know they have them, and we consider that good debt. But what does matter is if they buy really fancy cars or large houses with big mortgages on them. That will have a big impact.”

There are a few distinctions between buying an existing practice and establishing a startup that should be noted. But from Wells Fargo’s perspective, one approach does not trump the other.

“We don’t judge them as one is better than the other,” Ms. Farey said. “What we look at first and foremost is the character of the borrower or dentist. We do that through their credit. If it’s a startup, we’re looking at your business plan.”

But as a preliminary step, Wells Fargo will help the applicant get the plan in good shape prior to their application, Ms. Farey said.

“We’re really looking to help set up a business plan with them and give them the tools to do that,” she said of new dentists. “We refer them certainly to the ADA to also pull tools down for them to reference in building a business plan, etc. We have some practice management consultants on staff that may have a conversation with the doctor, to make sure they’re ready to go.

“For the existing practice, we’re looking at the historical cash flow of the practice. We’re looking to make sure that the debts can be covered by the historical revenues that come off of that practice.  So that’s a completely different way that we would underwrite a purchase versus a startup.”

Another major preparation step for a new dentist planning to seek a practice loan is to get all preliminary, self-assessment out of the way before applying for a loan, Ms. Farey said. “They need to be prepared by knowing where they want to be, not ‘I think I might want to do this or I think I might want to do that,’” Ms. Farey said.

But Wells Fargo can even help with those early steps, she said. New dentists may consult with her division to get help focusing their intentions, such as where they will practice.  “They certainly can call,” she said. “We talk to doctors way back to when they’re students.”

To learn more about Wells Fargo Practice Finance’s programs for new dentists, visit wellsfargo.com/dentists or call 1.888.937.2321.

Marketing snapshot: How one practice does it

Somerset, Ky. — It took less than a minute for Dr. Ricky Farmer to post a “selfie” with a smiling child he treated at a free community health clinic this summer on his practice’s Facebook page.

Within a few hours, the photo generated more than 250 “likes” and several comments from patients who wrote and posted positive testimonials on Dr. Farmer’s work.

Dr. Farmer

Dr. Farmer

“I had nearly 400 views of that post within a few hours of posting and it was free,” said Dr. Farmer, who has been practicing for 11 years. “It was a wonderful ‘ad’ if you will.”

Today, Dr. Farmer’s Facebook page for his practice Lake Point Dental Care is part of his overall marketing strategy as he moves to relying more on online and social media efforts to effectively promote his practice.

“Online marketing takes up probably 80 percent of my marketing strategy, and 20 percent everything else,” Dr. Farmer said. “That’s completely flip-flopped from when I started out about 10 years ago.”

After graduating from dental school, Dr. Farmer was 25 years old when he opened his practice in the small Kentucky town where he grew up. To get the word out that he was open to see patients seeking dental care, he had one strategy: mass marketing. He sponsored Little League teams, bought recurrent ads in the regional newspaper and magazines, sent out direct mailers, shot local TV ads, recorded a few radio spots, networked with other local businesses and launched a no-frills, one-page website.

“I pretty much tried everything but billboards,” he said.

Dr. Farmer said each mode of marketing had its success though his practice didn’t do detailed return on investment tracking in the initial stages of practice growth.

“In hindsight, that was perhaps not the wisest business decision,” he said. “But at that point we were just focused on mass marketing across the board.”

As time went by, his dental team began to loosely track how patients found him and started pulling out of certain marketing modes based on effectiveness and the strategy’s relevance. For example, he pulled out of the Yellow Pages and other publications saturated with ads from other dental offices.

“What we found was that online was where it’s at when it comes to advertising, where it was the phone book a decade, two decades ago,” he said.

It wasn’t until 3-4 years in to his practice that Dr. Farmer shifted his focus to online marketing. He hired PBHS, a website and marketing services provider, to handle and direct all of his online marketing outlets, including his website and social media accounts. PBHS, the online marketing and branding company endorsed by ADA Business Resources, can track how often people visit his website and social media accounts. However, return on investment tracking remains his practice’s responsibility during his new patient registration process.

“Our marketing efforts are always evolving because our community, culture, society and our patient base are always evolving,” Dr. Farmer said. “Our mobile devices allow for instant access to information and communication. And as a society, we now expect immediate results and answers.”

Dr. Farmer said more of his patient base is savvier in social networking and new technologies.

Dr. Farmer often interacts with patients or prospective patients through his social network accounts, which includes Twitter and YouTube. He would log on and personally thank people who leave positive testimonials on the comment section of his latest posts.

This fall, he’s set to launch the latest redesign of his practice’s website to optimize his capabilities posting photos and sharing educational videos. His practice also has a blog where he posts information on certain procedures his patients may be interested in.

Along with the focus on online marketing, Dr. Farmer continues to advertise in more traditional media — though more strategically.

Instead of a recurrent ad in the newspaper, he targets specific events, such as back-to-school issues. He also continues his community involvement. Earlier this year, his practice participated in a local initiative that help kids in the local school system by filling backpacks with food and needed items. His practice helped filled the backpacks with toothbrushes and toothpastes.

However, despite all the savvy marketing strategies, Dr. Farmer said, no external marketing alone will ever be able to ultimately grow a practice over time.

“There are a multitude of ways to attract a new patient to your practice, but only a few ways to keep them,” he said. “While my marketing avenues will change, my commitment to delivering the highest quality of contemporary, comprehensive and compassionate care will not. And that is truly my best marketing strategy.”