10 Common mistakes when opening a dental practice

Written by: Simon Hocken

Don’t be in a rush to open a dental practice, it is far too easy to get it wrong.

Over the last 15 years I’ve had a trickle of calls and voicemails every month coming from folk who say they want to open a new practice. Recently the trickle has become a flood and every day I get a call from someone who wants to do this.

However, amongst the spoofers and the deluded are just a few who realise that creating a successful practice may not be quite as simple as it first appears and that a bit of help might save them some (expensive) mistakes further down the track.

So with these folk in mind, here are my top 10 mistakes to avoid when considering starting a new practice:

Thinking it’s easy

Understand that opening a practice is a complex and extremely time-consuming project. It’s difficult, there will be many problems to overcome, it’s expensive and it will take all of your time for at least two years of your life.

Not standing out

It’s not enough to have found some suitable premises and chosen some nice kit at the BDTA exhibition. The UK really doesn’t need any new dental practices right now and so if you are planning a new one it has to offer a solution that your competitors are not offering (or not offering well). Your practice proposition has to distinguish your practice from everybody else in your area and be easily understood and preferably compelling! Here are some propositions that can create a successful practice: painless dentistry, on-time dentistry, trustworthy dentistry, one-stop dentistry, dentistry with transparent pricing, affordable dentistry, easy access dentistry (including parking and seven day opening hours), dentistry with special help for fearful patients (needle and drill free and with sedation), kids and family friendly dentistry.

Not enough cash

Make sure you have enough money or access to enough money. There are two stages to creating a successful practice: Creating the facility and building the business. Most folk underestimate the business establishment costs and underfund their: working capital, staffing, marketing, systems building, sales training, professional support etc. Some entrepreneurs forget that they need to fund their lifestyle while establishing their practice and they may need to do this for a considerable period of time, certainly 18 months and sometimes for as long as three years.

Cutting corners

If you have to save money, save it on the dental equipment, not on the public areas. Your patients don’t know the difference between Siemens and Belmont but your bank manager does. However, your patients will sense the difference between cheap plastic chairs, internet art and instant coffee compared to quality leather seating, carefully chosen decor and good espresso! You can add to and upgrade your dental kit once you are profitable and remember that the more you spend at the outset the longer, it will take you to get past your overhead and make a profit.

Not thinking big

Don’t plan to build a small practice, they are simply unprofitable, plan a three or four chair practice from the start. Have the right amount of space for three or four surgeries from day one, a big enough reception, waiting area, decontamination room staff room etc.

Not doing the sums

Don’t neglect to build a business model so that you understand how your practice will make a profit and how much profit this will be. Create a cashflow forecast for the first 36 months; which includes new patient numbers, new patient acquisition costs, new patient values and the practice’s average daily gross. Then add your direct costs (clinician pay, laboratory fees and materials) and your overhead to your forecast and then the forecast will predict when the practice will reach profitability and what your practice gross must be to do this.

Plan your time

Don’t underestimate how much of your time it will take to get the practice ready to open. It will take lots of your time to get it open, at least one working day a week during the planning and build. Once open it is likely to consume at least six working days a week of your time during the growth stage.

Targeting the wrong people

Don’t make it the sort of practice you’d want to visit. Just because you like purple doesn’t make it the right colour for your practice. Instead, make it the sort of practice that your target groups want to visit. If you are targeting families, make the practice family friendly, have a space for the buggies and child-friendly waiting areas. If you are targeting the over 50s Saga set, then choose appropriate height seating (not low sofas) don’t play hip hop, serve good coffee and make the parking easy.

Guessing at fees

Don’t set your fees by taking a guess at them or by charging the same as your competitive set. If you are competing with a group of practices who are all charging similar fees consider positioning your practice either as more affordable than this group or more expensive. It will help your prospective patients differentiate your new practice from your competition and gives your practice stand-out.

Get feedback early

on’t ignore early feedback from the patients. Sometimes the practice you start is not the practice you end up with as patient feedback helps you evolve your practice into a business that is better suited to your target market. For example, if you open in a commuter area and your patients want out of office-hours appointments, then making this part of your proposition will speed your growth.


I’ve opened three successful private practices of my own and helped dozens of dentists open their own successful squat practices and I know that it’s a very exciting and rewarding thing to do! However, you do need to have an appetite for risk and for hard work. Having said that, not many new practices fail but many, many new practices grow very slowly and the principal(s) becomes disillusioned with having insufficient patients and insufficient profits. In these cases, the problems are often insufficient money, ideas and energy to develop the practice and especially a lack of qualities to stand out from the competition. I’ve even written a book about opening your own practice, Moonwalking For Dentists if you’d like to know more advice about how to do this successfully.

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