Setting out on your own

Mountains smallNeha Shah, solicitor at Hempsons Law, discusses her guide for dentists looking to set up their own dental practice

Many dentists hope to become practice owners at some point in their careers. The most common routes to achieve this are to buy an existing practice or to buy into a partnership. The main attraction with these routes is that there is no need to build up goodwill at the outset.  However, we are now increasingly coming across dentists who want to set up on their own and not pay for the goodwill owned by a seller.

This can be the start of an exciting business venture for a dentist and there will be a myriad of decisions that will need to be made. The first and most frequently asked question is ‘Where do I start?’ Here are some hints and tips to think about if you are asking yourself this very question.

1. Solo or in partnership?

Firstly, you will need to decide if you are going to do this alone or with a colleague/colleagues. You will need to understand the pros and cons of each and decide which is best for you. For example, if you do decide to start in a partnership, it is vital to have a partnership contract that is legally binding and looks after the interests of all parties.

2. What type of business

When setting up your business, you will need to consider your business structure. You will need to consider which of the many corporate or non-corporate structures you wish to adopt.
There are different implications for each structure and you will need to decide which one would deliver to you the most practical outcome. Issues to consider include tax, disclosure, limited liability and whether your chosen structure allows you to hold an NHS Contract (should you be considering acquiring one).

3. Financing your practice

Every new practice will need a financial injection when starting up. Any new practice will need to buy equipment, establish a workplace and if needed, meet any marketing costs before patients start walking through the door.  There are a number of financing options when starting up and choosing the right one/s for your needs is essential. You could:
•    Use your own money
•    Borrow from family and friends
•    Borrow from a bank
•    Attract outside investors.
Depending on what you decide, you will need to think about a Business Plan. Banks and private investors will need to see a business plan to help reassure them that they are making the correct decision when investing in your practice.

4. Location and premises

Deciding upon the right premises in the right location is a crucial business decision. You will need to think about whether to buy or rent. When deciding upon buying or renting think about the future, will the premises still be suitable for you if the practice grows?
The legal aspects of buying or renting will need to be considered carefully especially where leases are involved.  Care also needs to be taken to ensure that the new business does not burden itself with a premises arrangement that makes it difficult to make variations to the arrangement.

‘The main attraction with these routes is that there is no need to build up goodwill at the outset’

5. The IT system

Every practice will need an efficient and suitable IT system. You will need to consider what information it will need to hold, its accessibility capabilities and user friendliness. To get significant benefits from IT, you need to be able to trust your IT systems. This means having confidence in the company supplying, managing and maintaining them. Choosing the right IT supplier is therefore an essential part of selecting an effective IT solution.

6. Health and safety for employees and customers

With every business, Health and Safety of employees and customers is paramount. Therefore, having the correct procedures and policies in place is essential in providing a safe environment for all employees and patients of your practice.

7. Hiring staff

Hiring the correct staff with the correct capabilities is essential for your practice to run efficiently and effectively. When taking on new staff, there are many laws, rules and regulations that you need to follow. You will need to consider:

•    Employment law
•    HR policies and procedures
•    Equality and diversity
•    Discrimination
•    Grievance procedures
•    Employee handbook
•    Employment contracts

8. Choosing the right suppliers

Choosing the right suppliers for your practice will involve a lot more than looking at the pricing. You will need to consider:
•    Value for money
•    Quality
•    Reliability
•    Accessibility
How you decide on the importance of each of these factors will depend upon your businesses priorities and overall business strategy.

9. Terms of business

Starting out with clear and well written terms of business is a must; not only because everyone knows what to expect but also because it gives you a great deal of confidence when negotiating those first crucial contracts.

10. Buying

In many cases, starting a business may not be from ‘scratch’ but will take the form of a purchase of the assets or share capital of an existing business. This requires a lot of enquiries to be made so as to ensure that you get what you pay for and that there are no hidden liabilities that will come along and damage your investment.  Skilled help is a must here – especially from experts who have the correct industry knowledge. Healthcare advice is a specialist area and advisors have to be chosen carefully.

11.  And lots of other ‘first time’ questions

This note cannot hope to cover all the points but in our experience of helping businesses to set up, there are a multitude of possible questions that arise, often without any warning, and we can stand in there with you.


Neha Shah is a solicitor in the corporate commercial department. She advises general practitioner and dental clients on a wide range of transactional and regulatory issues including the sale and purchase of dental practices, incorporation of practices, GP mergers, the creation of GP provider companies and federations, 24-hour retirement for general practitioners, advice on NHS Contracts and the NHS Pension Scheme. Website:


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