The new business roundabout

I am always hearing that, for all the years it takes to train to be a dentist, there is probably only one ‘day’ allocated to being told how to set up and run a successful practice. Little surprise then that people find it hard to get – and maintain new patients.

Some dental practices are good at getting new patients. Others have chosen to buy a practice that has built up its database over a number of years. However, there are two scenarios I very often hear:
• The practice that gets loads of new patients a month, only to see the same number leaving via the back door
• A practice tries a number of measures to get new patients and has great success without knowing which of these initiatives is driving the new business.

Counting ways
How many of you ask each new patient how they heard of you? It could be any of these ways:
A Word of mouth (family member or friend)
B Business (corporate)
C Word of mouth (indirect)
D Google search (web)
E Footfall (passing the practice and liking the look of it)
F Insurance
G Dentist referral.

All are valid, all work, but if you do not know what these numbers are, how are you going to know how to replicate them? The ones that work best are A, B and C. Every practice should develop an approach that encourages recommendations.

Top three ways to get new patients
• Word of mouth (family member or friend) – you need a good chairside manner and a little patter to request referrals
• Business (corporate) – Put together a short presentation for local businesses about your practice and how it can benefit the corporate man with incentives – make your practice the ‘go to’ for their staff
• Word of mouth (indirect) – Online recommendations so ensure you post testimonials on your practice website

Word of mouth (family member or friend)
The statistics show that word of mouth is still the favoured way to discover a dentist, starting with a family member or friend, followed by a colleague and finally indirectly.

The family or friend is quite easy to figure – do a good job for a friend or loved one and others will follow. For many of my clients, this is the main path to getting new patients. But it also needs a bit of patter and an amount of cajouling to get those referrals, and this is often best done by those dentists with the best chairside manner; you cannot rely on just being a good dentist for people to refer you.

Business (corporate)
The second way is colleagues. This is particularly strong if you work in a corporate office that has many staff.

Your word of mouth can spread like wildfire. Better still (if they have one) get to the HR department.

Put together a short, but compelling, presentation about your practice and how it can benefit the corporate man; less time away from the office; some form of incentive for their business, making your practice the ‘go to’ for all of their staff; and finally encouraging the HR department to place your company’s details on their intranet (internal web system for staff only). I have clients who get a great deal of their new business through this; one even gets it without knowing how it started.

Word of mouth (indirect)
The third way is indirect. Mostly, this will be people recommending your services that are seen online in some capacity. We would recommend testimonials; we would encourage reviews; we would urge you to get patients to fill out a simple online digital form on their experience; in the form of ratings.

Surveys cite a ‘friendly and relaxed environment’ as very important, if only because the fear factor still looms large, but ‘value for money’ also ranks highly. Add to this that the biggest complaint from patients is that there is little or no transparency in costs and you can see that ‘value for money’ is a double-edged comment. Also, fewer than one in five patients have a dental plan.

This is a big opportunity, as it gives you some indication of a guarantee of income, if you properly monitor those patients that are on a plan. It helps spread the costs each month and build for profit. In my industry it’s called a retainer; in yours that’s an industry ‘in joke’.

Best dentists
The best dentists have a very busy book; but they have something more important; they have time for their patients. The best dentists spend time with their patients before the treatment, chatting generally. After the treatment, they’ll go through where they are at in the cycle of their plan and chat some more to make sure the patient is happy and comfortable.

The more it looks like a sausage factory, churning clients through your front door, the more you will lose out the back.

Remember also that half of private and NHS patients show an interest in ‘elective’ cosmetic dentistry, if only they had more of an informed choice.

And, with oral health becoming ever more prevalent in the national press, the opportunity for a dentist to be a complimentary safeguard against things like cardiovascular disease and the early onset of oral cancers, is a great new business opportunity.

Andrew Robinson has worked in the communication, design, advertising and digital design industries over the last 24 years. He has an extensive knowledge of branding, strategy, campaigns and implementation and has advised clients across a large number of industry sectors. Andrew has chaired seminars on new and online media at BAFTA, lectured to media and television companies and is currently booked to give keynote speeches to industry professionals at targeted industry events in 2011. As well as providing consultancy services, Andrew is the creative director of Mindcorp, an established digital design and branding agency based in London. For more information, visit

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