Three lessons about networking with the dental industry

Umair Afzal outlines the key lessons he learned about networking within the dental industry and the importance of building relationships.

Umair Afzal outlines the key lessons he learned about networking within the dental industry and the importance of building relationships.

Dental school wasn’t easy this year, especially balancing my studies with being the president of the Leeds Dental Society. Helping sponsors and planning events required more time than I initially expected. 

However, I never imagined being able to form fantastic relationships with parts of the dental industry, including indemnity companies, dental material specialists, and some of the well-known influencers on social media.

I’m outlining three key lessons I’ve learned throughout my student presidency, which helped me build my professional network this year.

We increased the number of roles that work with dental groups as we forged many new relationships at Leeds, and I was glad to have made friends with these people along the way.

1. People are friendly, but you have to go first 

Initially, I had lots of limiting beliefs about the dental industry as a whole. I thought that no one would take us seriously or bother helping us, and that I couldn’t get in contact. Looking back now, I recognise that these beliefs were false.

The critical thing here is that I had to be the one to start conversations. If we waited forever for companies to reach out to us, nothing would get done. So, we needed to make the first move to get things going. 

A unique selling point of dental societies is that they can provide exposure to the next generation of dental students in exchange for helping them fund their events. 

The value that students like myself could provide wasn’t always obvious, so I had to demonstrate how we could help these businesses by being the ones to reach out in the first place. 

For example, at Leeds, we offer stalls at our ever-growing trade fair where companies can showcase their services. We encourage sponsors to help us fund parts of our freshers’ week welcome socials in return for publicity using our social media channels. 

If a business helped us, I needed to ensure I could help them publicise their brand in return for their investment in the student body. 

I’ve seen a very interconnected dental industry, where everyone seems to know everyone! When companies couldn’t help us directly, they tended to know someone who could point us in the right direction, helping me navigate these diverse sectors. 

Every contribution to our society was wholeheartedly appreciated, and the people I’ve spoken to have been very friendly.

2. A five-minute call is worth a million messages 

At the start, I always believed that the best way to communicate with anyone was through detailed emails. I thought this as the information would all be accessible in one place. 

However, I quickly learned that communicating through lengthy email threads back and forth was slow. Key messages can get lost on emails or text messages, leading to confusion on both sides and reduced productivity overall. 

Once I began requesting quick five-minute calls, it made communication far more personal and more things got done. Following up afterwards with a summary via email made the process more manageable. 

At dental school, our tutors explain that giving a physical leaflet to a patient would help them remember the information provided.

Similarly, these summary emails meant that both parties had clarity about the next steps. 

We scheduled calls to save extensive messaging and ensure that relevant information could reach the right people.

Similar to how we are taught to build rapport with our patients by tailoring our communication style, we needed to ensure that we worked effectively with each company. 

This system changed how we communicated with our sponsors, ensuring a straightforward process for everyone involved simply by having shorter calls more frequently. 

3. Knock on doors instead of opening windows 

There’s an excellent analogy that fits nicely here about window-openers and door-knockers. Once I heard it, it helped me recognise the benefit of seeking opportunities: window-openers are people who want to look through the window to find out if the outcome they like is on the other end and if reaching it is worth their time.

They open the window and pass through if the result they want is visible on the opposite side. 

However, in life, finding the route to the desired outcome isn’t always easy. There isn’t always an open window with the guaranteed, immediate, perfect result on the other end.

The best outcomes are hiding behind doors, so we have to knock to see what lies behind. 

Compared with a window, knocking on doors won’t give us a guaranteed return every time. However, it provides a learning opportunity with the potential to grow. It would have been easy for me to stick to previous businesses and not look for more options. 

A quote that stuck with me was that if we always did what we’d always done, we’d always get where we always got. 

Because my team worked opportunistically, we found new relationships that would now help us in the long run. 

It amazed me how much I gained through door-knocking on email or social media, such as reaching out via Instagram or sending a quick email. 

I knew that being ignored might happen for online communication as not everyone had the time. However, the people who responded made an immense difference. 

Networking and learning 

Overall, seeking these opportunities makes a massive difference, and combining this with a tailored communication style means I could access the dental industry more effectively. 

It’s intimidating to begin with, but taking some small steps makes things far easier in the long run. 

I believe dental societies are an excellent way for companies to support the next generation of members in our profession and act as a good learning platform for students like me to learn more about dentistry beyond university. 

I know that I still have a lot to learn, but I look forward with enthusiasm to working with more people as I approach my graduation date and beyond. 

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