By Ben Burris, DDS, MDS
If you don’t have a competitive edge, don’t compete!
If we follow this FIRST RULE and are sure our business, our model, our product, our target demographic and our marketing are what and where they should be before we begin, then life is easier and competition becomes irrelevant.
Whether this means having the best product, most desirable product, coolest product (these are not synonymous), being in an underserved area, having the best customer service, the least expensive product, the most convenient location or just being an overall dominating force that does everything just a little better than anyone else, we must have an edge. We must also be aware of exactly what we do and who we are that gives us our advantage:
Who is our target demographic for 1) patients and 2) decision makers? What is our model? What image do we portray? How are we perceived? Who are our referral sources? (specialists, moms, school teachers, other businesses…). This list is not all inclusive but we must all, in our own way, have clarity about what we do well, who recognizes what we do well, who is willing to send patients our way and why this is the case. We must have a clear self-image, know why we get the results we get, know what we do well and stick to our strengths. This is not to say that one cannot or should not change. We certainly can and sometimes should alter even the core of who we and our businesses are, but this MUST be a conscious decision and not one that occurs due to neglect, arrogance or “creep” over time.
In practical terms, if what we are doing is working, great. We should be very careful about altering anything out of boredom or venturing into unexplored areas because of overconfidence derived from our success in our core business. Better to grow what we have and repeat our proven business model, modifying and purifying it only to enhance what we do to adapt to changes in the landscape or technology. It’s tempting to apply one’s success to other ventures outside our areas of expertise, but the odds are stacked against us. We have all heard the stories about successful practitioners who start other business ventures and we know what the usual result is. Stick to what you know!
If you want to expand then expand your capacity. You are a problem solver and solving more problems for more people means you will be paid more. First, maximize what you already have and thereby reduce the percentage your fixed overhead costs consume. Increasing efficiency during current office hours, maximizing production, expanding office hours, increasing the number of days worked in an office, increasing marketing to produce more new patients to feed the enhanced capacity, additional staffing within reason, new technology, incorporating other specialties and expanding services offered, increased speed through continuing education and practice. Only after all of these avenues to more production are maxed out should one expand one’s footprint and add to the fixed overhead. New offices and multiple locations are glamorous and can be effective but unless you have unlimited funding, maximizing the potential of current facilities is a must before expanding. You can work less and keep more if you take care of first things first!
Of course, for many of us either a lack of capacity or the desire to expand eventually wins out and we have multiple locations. That’s what Efficiency in Group Practice is all about so I’m not saying you shouldn’t expand! I have just learned the hard way that it is much more pleasant to expand once you’re on firm financial ground and by self-financing if possible.
We also need our systems to be well honed before we try to replicate them. If we are not getting the results we want, then we do not have the luxury of resting on our laurels while making minor course corrections. In-depth self-examination is necessary. In fact, we may not be capable of having the objective view we need to elicit real change ourselves; the situation may call for the assistance of a third party. Once you decide that it’s time to figure out where you are, what you’re doing and why it is not producing the results you want or need, it will take strength, courage and force of will to recognize what must be done to achieve your desired outcome. And be prepared that it may take massive effort. If we have an objective assessment of our condition, rarely will we find that the “competition” in and of itself is responsible for our shortcomings. It is almost always our level of care and service RELATIVE to the competition. We cannot change the other guy so that narrows down our options considerably! On the rare occasion that “too much competition” is the culprit and cannot be overcome, then we must decide to either live with things the way they are or move. Neither is very appealing so I encourage you to decide that competition is not the reason for your woe! Realize that you have the power to change you and DECIDE that changing, along with all that pain and fear, is preferable to underperforming. You can do it and will be amazed by what you can accomplish once you set your mind to it! There is a plethora of consultants, advisors and especially successful peers who are happy to help you succeed. All you have to do is ASK, LISTEN and IMPLEMENT.
Competition is good. Competition drives innovation. Competition improves access to care and efficiency. Competing effectively is what you did to get into and through school. We all have the ability and it is simply whether or not we have the desire and will to make the tough choices or stay the course as appropriate. Of course, we need enlightened self-awareness to know what to do before we act! Competition is what you make of it because ultimately, it is all about you. YOU choose where to go to school. YOU choose how much money to borrow during school. YOU choose where to practice. YOU choose how to run your practice, interact with your team and the community, how hard you work, how smart you work. You choose how large your practice will become and how many locations you have. All of the titans of corporate dentistry started out small at one point or another and then leveraged what they did well to grow to what they are now. You can do it too – should you choose to.
I love to rationalize, but I know deep down that all my failures are my fault. The good news is that by adopting this mindset I get to take credit for all my successes, too, and I NEVER HAVE TO BE A VICTIM. It’s all my fault. I got myself where I find myself today and therefore I have the power to change the situation should I deem it necessary. It may sound strange but we must accept all the blame — for every aspect of our lives — to attain true freedom!
You cannot affect your competition by focusing your energy on him or her. You can, however, change by doing what you do extremely well in a clearly defined space and with a crystal-clear mission. Competition is good. Change is good. We welcome it and hope you do as well. If you don’t it may be time to examine your model, your location, your motivations or all of the above.