Feel ‘stuck’ and don’t know what to do? No-one to discuss challenges with?

Should you use a business consultant at your practice? If you decide to, here are some suggestions on how to get real benefit

It has often been said that management consultants just use your watch, to tell you the time and then charge you for the privilege! There may be some truth in this so, therefore, the buyer – i.e. practice owner – needs to be clear on the short/long term benefits which they want from any consultancy engagement.

This article will look at the history of consulting, the position of management consultants in business generally, consultants in dentistry and how you as an owner might work with a consultant.

Management consultancy really began in the late 19th century as an interest in the process of management developed. It slowly developed with industrialisation and really expanded in the 1960s and 70s as larger companies looked for process improvements and to quickly get an outside perspective from consultants who had global exposure to the problems which they faced. Today, it is a multi-billion-pound industry, so you are definitely not alone when you hire a consultant!

“Business consultancy in dentistry is commonplace, but like all the services you buy, have a clear idea of the outcomes you are aiming for and in what time frame”

It was only as dental practices began to increase in size and complexity and owners realised the need to market their services, that a very few individuals noticed an opportunity to provide advice. Historically, the main source of advice for a practice owner was their accountant. If the accountant had a few dental clients they could quite easily compare these practices, by looking at the Profit & Loss statements they were creating and extract some useful benchmarks. Notably on costs – accountants haven’t picked up the slightly derogatory moniker as ‘bean counters’, for nothing!

Clearly, the practice owner should ensure that their accountant provides the desired level of commentary on the performance of their business in a timely way, but furthermore advises on the funding (for growth), tax planning, compliance and exiting (selling) assistance, that is also needed. So, why seek the services of a dental business consultant? The reasons will probably fall into the following categories:

  • Want to grow (want more profitability) but not sure how
  • Feel ‘stuck’ and don’t know what to do
  • Feel lonely/have no-one to discuss the challenges with, within the practice
  • Have a ‘difficult’ manager who is an obstacle to development but don’t know what to do about it (and so want someone to help ‘remove’ them without contravening employment law).

If any of the above apply to you, or even if you have a different reason, try to write down what you want a consultant to help you achieve and how long you think it might take. Ideally, make your objectives SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound). So often, a consultant engagement becomes open-ended and the initial objectives get forgotten and never referred to. You should be very clear on the costs involved and how long the engagement will last. There are dental practice owners paying many thousands of euros a month for a consultant’s input yet the amount of time they work ‘for you’ can be hugely variable. Duration-wise, it’s difficult to make real change in less than a year, three years should be more than enough time to make fundamental changes.

Some owners become totally dependent on their consultant and they assume every word they utter or write is business ‘gold’! Unfortunately, not every initiative they suggest will be right for you or will work in the context of your practice. It is possible that the implementation may not deliver as expected; perhaps a key staff member (who is part of the implementation) might leave, or you might not invest appropriately.

It always surprises me that an owner doesn’t ask for a six-month or a one-year ‘break’ in the consultancy engagement while they consolidate. It is natural, if a consultant is paid by the month that they will keep pushing the pace. It is very easy for them to keep suggesting/insisting what needs to happen next, because they feel they are justifying their fee. Often what is needed is stability, consolidation and consistent growth. Take control and say what you believe is right for you.

When meeting your consultant, put aside the appropriate time: have the meeting at an appropriate location and don’t let it be shortened/interrupted. This is a constant bugbear for business consultants and can be an indicator of the importance you attribute to business development. (Once, I was in a client meeting in an office which was too small for two staff and yet there were four of us in there! Seriously, go to Starbucks or pay the £100-£200 for a hotel meeting room, for the morning/day.

Business consultancy in dentistry is now commonplace, but like all the services you buy, you should have a clear idea of the outcomes you are aiming for and in what timeframe. Every business situation is unique, but it can be useful to look at trends and developments across the industry: ultimately the right course of action for your practice can only be decided by you.

About the author

Richard Pearce lives in Northern Ireland. Following a business career in various sectors and an MBA, he joined his dentist wife in dentistry. Richard combines his wide commercial experience with being attuned to what it is like for an associate dentist, a practice owner and a practice manager. His unique perspective ensures he can assist a practice owner with every area of the practice to create a more profitable practice and to achieve their smart objectives. Find out more visit: www.smartpractices.co.uk

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Published: 5 November, 2019 at 07:08
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