This is the ninth installment in the blog series 12 Mistakes I Made When Starting in Dentistry written by Dr. Agatha Bis. In each article, Dr. Bis shares a mistake she made and the lessons that she learned from it that helped her improve and grow her dental practice. In this article, Dr. Bis discusses valuing your expertise and the importance of keeping an eye on your profit.    

“If you are good at something, never do it for free” – Jonathan Nolan

Mistake #9 – Ignoring That Profit is a Must

I was a dentist for about 20 years when I met someone who said something like that to me and it pierced through me like nothing ever did before.  If you are good at something, never do it for free. As in, never give anything away for free that you spent years learning and building. Yet, up until then, I was doing that all the time. Sometimes, it was innocuous. Like, a long-time patient broke a tooth, so they call the office, they come in for a quick check and I look at them and they need a crown or a root canal and crown. And maybe the teeth next to the broken tooth are overdue for crowns so we discuss this and we end up scheduling four crowns next week or next month. So it’s no charge for today. Like I don’t charge them for the exam, X-ray, my time, my expertise, my knowledge, and my diagnosis, and my ability to see that it would be much easier for them to do these four teeth at once and knowing how to present that so they don’t freak out over the cost. All that IS my expertise, my training, my talent, my unique ability. But then, they did schedule the four crowns. 

So, No Charge For the Exam

And then another patient comes in for a cleaning, but they want to talk to me about veneers today, now I have discussed these before, in a consult, but now they want to know about them again, even though they weren’t scheduled for a consult or an exam, but here I am spending 20 minutes I didn’t account for, discussing options regarding a smile makeover? So what do you do? Do you bill for your 20 minutes and the chair time or do you let it go at no charge hoping they schedule the ten veneers we just talked about?

If You Do Not Value Your Own Time, Who Will?

I will admit, for the first 20 years of my career, I did this stuff for free. And then I met this woman, who just blatantly said to me, “If you are truly good at this, why would you do it for free? You take away your expertise and your mastery when you do that. You take away what makes you most unique, most specialized. Anyone who is an expert, or anyone who is known to be the best in their field, would never do anything for free!  Because they know how valuable their knowledge is”. OMG that stuck with me like crazy. The reality was that if I wanted my patients to respect my time, and respect my expertise, I had to stop giving my advice away for free. After all, I spent 8 years of university, then endless hours in continuing education and then 20 years in practice, then doing tons and tons of these types of cases, before I could be truly proficient, truly an expert in the kind of dentistry I was doing and claimed to be great at.

No More! 

So that day, I went back to the office and said, “No more!”. Anytime someone came in to “talk to me about” something, or was scheduled for a cleaning, but then wanted to have a conversation about “something”, we billed for that time. We billed for my expertise, we billed for my ability to maneuver treatment to give the patient the outcome they wanted, and we billed for my knowledge of how to communicate properly so this patient would be motivated to do the best treatment, and not the cheapest one. Because that is what a true professional is, after all. It’s not in the client’s interest to do something cheap now, only to have it fall apart later and be stuck to do the more expensive one later. What if they have the money now but won’t later on. What if they could figure out how to spend an additional 5 or 10 thousand now but in 5 years, a recession will hit, or they might lose their job or their income might come down or be used for sending their kids to university, and that would truly put them in a bind. So why not do it now and enjoy the benefits of this now rather than wait for the future when none of us know what it holds. So a true professional can communicate that gently, elegantly so that this client can do the best treatment, the one that would truly give them the results they want, rather than do something half-assed and regret it later on.

Value Your Time and Expertise

So bill for everything! Bill for your time, bill for your knowledge, bill for your expertise, and you will be much more respected than when you give something away for free. Nobody has ever truly appreciated ‘free’. They may want it—free whitening with every new patient exam!  They want it but they don’t respect you. Free cleaning with every new patient exam!  Truly, how good is that cleaning going to be if you are shoving it out the door for free? And where is the respect for you and your hygienist when you do that? So stop doing free. The way to become an expert, to become respected, become significant, is to act like you already are.  

It comes down to the reality that you can’t do what you do without profit. You can’t sustain a business, you can’t keep showing up to work if you are not making money. PROFIT MUST COME FIRST.  I know some of you shudder when I say this. But you can’t be a good dentist, a good clinician, a good person if you are bleeding money.

Your Practice is Your Business  

What is profit? What is money? What is the purpose of money? Why does everybody want more of it and when is it enough? How do you know?  It may be different for you than for me, and it’s different for different people. But there is one thing that’s fundamentally true for everyone, for anyone reading this, and for anyone who is not. Without money, you experience all the negative emotions that we are all trying to get away from. Stress, fear, anger, jealousy, sadness, overwhelm, anxiety, despair, disappointment, and frustration. Now of course, even if you have an abundance of money, you can still experience all those feelings. But without money, they are guaranteed. So it becomes important, no… crucial to any person, to any business owner, to ensure that money is respected, money is protected, and money is used intelligently. 

Stop Looking Back

What many of us do is look in the rearview mirror. Many dentists look to their accountant and their Profit & Loss Statement. That’s looking at the past. That doesn’t tell you squat about what’s coming at you this year. You have no idea unless you turn around and stick your head out the FRONT window, to see what’s coming at you now and in the next few months. So I want to help you change that.  I want to help you look into the future, and recognize trends, and understand your current situation easily and clearly so that you make the right decisions for your business AND you have a way to manage unexpected issues or emergencies that cost money and stress. If you really want to fast track to the PROFIT portion, get our free program Getting Your Money Right to learn a simple and incredibly effective system for managing your money, your business so that you ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a profit. 

Dr. Agatha Bis is the founder of UPB Dental Academy and a practicing dentist. Dr. Bis uses her experience along with extensive research to develop UPB Dental Academy Courses. These courses help dentists grow to achieve their ultimate practice.