How do you make ‘I do’ work in business?

This month, Kaival Patel shares his tips and tricks for successfully running a small dental business with a spouse or partner.

This month, Kaival Patel shares his tips and tricks for successfully running a small dental business with a spouse or partner.

I’m writing this blog on the eve of a family trip to Turkey. While Shreena, my wife and co-director of the Kana Health Group, masters the art of negotiation with a nine-year-old (I’m sure she’s had some sort of training with MI5, you know) and calmly explains that it is very unlikely the entire contents of his room are going to fit within a teeny tiny backpack, I find myself watching our two-year-old ruler of the household ruggedly unpacking the family suitcase that we had spent the last two hours filling up.

Luckily, the middle child has been sent on a wild goose chase and is currently trying to google the meaning of life on his tablet. That will keep him occupied for a few minutes at least. 

You may ask, and rightly so, what am I doing to aid in my poor wife’s struggles? Well, I’m writing this blog of course, the aim of which is to give some tips and tricks on how you can successfully run a small dental group with a spouse or partner. I hope you enjoy it. 

To explain how we find ourselves in this position (with the business, not the kids – although if anyone needs any diagrams for the latter, I am happy to help) we need to take a trip down memory lane when the hair was a little blacker and the waist was a little slimmer…

Where it all began

I saw my wife-to-be across the room in a crowded, sticky-floored, student union in Manchester. Then, it only took me eight years to convince her that it was love at first sight and finally we became a couple. Soon after, she decided to take the plunge and we were married! 

In our parents’ eyes, the so-called ‘traditional pathway’ for two dentists that marry would be to embark on practice ownership. It makes sense right? What could be more pleasurable than spending every waking moment with the person you have contractually obligated your life to?

We very much bought into this. In fact, we were so hell-bent on this philosophy that we actually started looking for a practice in the year leading up to the wedding and were due to complete on our first practice just two weeks before the wedding day! The practice didn’t quite work out in the end, in probably one of the most stressful periods of our life, but I will leave that story for a forthcoming blog.

Over the years, one question we get all the time is ‘how do you run a number of practices, a teaching academy and manage to have a family life at the same time?’. Well, here are my three top tips…

Three top tips

1. Have clear and defined roles

You have to take the marriage part out of the equation when it comes to the business. Have clear parts of the business that you are in responsible for. As with any other business partner, when your roles merge there will always be the risk of conflict.  

The benefit of having a business partner rather than spouse in that situation is that the disagreement can usually wait until the next working day starts. This is certainly not the case when you live with the person you are disagreeing with and you soon learn this when you politely ask for the salt and it comes whistling past your ear.

How do you define your roles? Simple. What are you good at? What do you enjoy? What’s your superpower? In our case, I love growth and everything to do with it. Increasing turnover, marketing, acquisitions, thinking outside of the box etc, and I need someone who gives me that flexibility to go out there and do it. In football terms, I’m the number 10 and need a free-role to be a playmaker. 

Shreena has a far more analytical brain. She’s able to understand and decipher, and consequently deliver, a 50-page document sent by an obscure governing body in a matter of minutes.  She loves a good system and process and her problem-solving skills are really her super power. She’s the box-to-box midfielder that doesn’t do it for the recognition but puts in the shift, without which, the rest of the team could not perform.

As we have grown, we have invested in a senior management team that are even better than us in these aspects and I will delve into that in my blog about scaling.

The key, though, is that on a daily basis we don’t need to get involved with each other’s core responsibility unless it’s a decision that needs both of our input.

2. Coaching with a healthy dose of mediation

There is one meeting a month that we both couldn’t do without. 

We have been blessed to work with some of the best coaches in dentistry. I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning him, but Chris Barrow was an absolute linchpin when we first started our journey. His mix of experience, knowledge of the industry and the occasional (much-needed) dose of tough love helped us create our foundation. I would highly recommend Chris for any level of business or management.

More recently, we spend an hour a month with a business coach who is completely non-dental. Her name is Debbie Lewis, and she is so critical to not only our business but also our relationship.

The first 30 minutes of every coaching session is what I call the counselling session. Debbie just listens. Shreena and I will unload all of the things in our head and often it’s the first time we will both truly understand the problems that each other have been facing. Yes, of course we will witness these throughout the month, but there is something so much more profound when you have set aside time to discuss it and you have a third party there who is steering the conversation with no distractions to end the conversation prematurely. 

The second half an hour is all about moving forward. You want to leave that meeting emotionally lighter, but also with a clear action plan that you have both agreed on together. You have organised your action plans together and you now have a clear road for the next month.

3. Get rid of the guilt

Running a business and having a family life often feels like we are living in a balloon. You squeeze one end and the other hyper-inflates, you then naturally squeeze it back in and the other side pops out!

The biggest tip I could give anyone, including myself, is to find a way to get rid of the guilt. 

When you are spending time with the kids, are you truly there? Yep, you may be physically in the room with them, but are you really present or are you thinking about that dental material you need to order for that case on Friday, or which contract you need to finish signing? When you are at work or in a meeting, is your mind 100% in that room, or are you feeling guilty that you haven’t spent time making little Michael’s World Book Day costume? 

In both instances, you are doing a disservice to the people in that room and, most importantly, yourself. You end up being, at best, 70% productive. You have to find the balance and find a way to get rid of the guilt. 

Find your focus

Practice ownership just isn’t a 9-5 job. How do we do it? Shreena’s most connected time with the kids is when she’s dropping and picking them up from school. The kids are locked in their car seats and want to tell her all the ins and outs of their day. Mine is taking them to their sports clubs at the weekend or dusting off a board game and playing it with them. So, we make sure we make the time to do it. 

We will virtually always ensure we eat dinner together. The sacrifice (the balloon again) is that once dinner is over and the kids are in bed, we are back on the laptops and will often work late into the evening, but that’s okay because we had quality time with them.  

When it comes to work, for me to be able to focus on growth and innovation, sometimes I just need a change of scenery or some external inspiration. I used to feel immensely guilty leaving the kids behind or missing some of our weekly meetings and it would often take Shreena noticing this, often when I could not, and just booking me a couple of days away without my prior knowledge for me to take the plunge!

I would always come back ready to drive the business forward now that I can see the wood from the trees. She would find similar ways to get the same result, but for her it would mean ensuring she has some protected time to finish a project or task.

I’m not saying this would work for everyone, but the premise is the same. Get rid of the guilt and focus on whatever you need to happen. If you do this, I promise you, you will be more productive in every aspect of life.

Find what works for you

Have we nailed it? Hell no! We have found something that works for us until the next curve ball comes our way. But when it does, I’m certain we will evolve and make it work. 

Communication is 100% the key. Find out what process works for you, whether it’s a spouse or business partner and then try it, review it, evolve it and repeat!  

We are proud to be the directors of The Kana Academy, a teaching academy based in Milton Keynes, and next year we will be looking to launch a business and management course. I have one favour to ask: if you have found this article useful or would like us to cover more on this topic or indeed anything else, please reach out to me on [email protected]

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This article is sponsored by Kana Health Group.

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