Dr. Jerry Lanier is the grandson of North Carolina tobacco sharecroppers. He grew up in a four-room house with ten siblings. Farm life taught him hard work, responsibility, independence, speed and how to complete a mission on time.
Following high school, he worked a mindless factory job, which left him horrified. Disgruntled with his life, he decided to pursue college where he became determined to create a life that didn’t involve poverty, backbreaking farm labor, or 20 years of monotonous factory work. College led to dental school and then clinical practice. After the Ku Klux Klan marched outside of his Saint Thomas Housing Project dental practice, he decided to change his path and become THE ENTREPRENEUR DENTIST.
Learn how he grew his solo practice to a DSO with 14 offices, 130 employees, 25 associate dentists, and $20 million a year in revenue, which he sold in 2014 to a strategic partner. Now, you too can exit your dental business rich.
Dr. Jerry Lanier and Group Dentistry Now
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Excerpt from Chapter 1 – ‘The Best Profession to Make Money’:
How to Build an Exceptional Business
Building an exceptional dental business is not easy. Being an entrepreneur never is, because there are endless pitfalls standing between you and your goals. I’ve found that one of the keys to overcoming those obstacles is seeing yourself as exceptional—not as just another run-of-the-mill dentist, but as someone who deserves better and has the skills to make it happen. Someone who’s earned his or her GSD (gets sh*t done) degree. Confer one upon yourself after you’re confident you’ve earned it.
A few years ago, I met someone who fit that bill. He was a former classmate of mine, and we were driving in L.A. and talking about business when he said, “I sold my practice, and now I work for one of these larger DSOs. I’m doing their implants, extractions, and dentures. I generate $1.8 million a year for them and I get thirty-five percent. This is the happiest I’ve ever been. I get paid all this money, and I go golfing almost every day.”
That dentist is a success story—in part because he valued himself highly enough to create an exit path that makes him happy. He’s phenomenally skilled and great with patients, so he can work when he wants and write his own ticket. But nobody gave him that. He demanded it and got it.
Too many dentists are passive about their futures. Here’s a portrait of the typical dentist that I see. He (or she) looks tired all the time. He works six days a week, so he doesn’t see his family. He feels stretched thin, but there never seems to be enough money. He’s in debt. He’s frustrated because he’s trying to do everything himself, because he doesn’t want to pay a lawyer, accountant, or IT professional. He has a vague idea of wanting to grow but never takes the time to figure out how that can happen, so year after year comes and goes, and he’s still on the treadmill . . . with no end in sight. He looks at dentists who own prosperous multi-location dental businesses with jealousy, because they’re living in Beverly Hills and buying boats, while he’s doing just okay. He’s exhausted and unhappy.
Do you see anything like that person when you look in the mirror? Now is the time to change things and make different choices. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been practicing for ten years; it’s never too late to get on the entrepreneurial path and start planning for a multimillion-dollar exit. But you have to start doing a few critical things differently:
» Focus or limit your practice.
Focusing on pediatric dentistry was the best decision I ever made. Too many dentists try to do everything because they’re afraid of losing business. But when you do that, the public will perceive you as just another general dentist who’s an expert in nothing. Do what you enjoy and are good at. If you like doing implants, you can make a lot of money at that, so be the dentist in your area who specializes in implants. Refer out non-implant work to dentists who will refer implant patients to you. I’m not implying that you should do everything on a quid pro quo basis, but that it’s smart to limit your work to what you do well, and to walk away from everything else. I know it’s hard to turn away business, but owning a niche takes discipline.
Focusing on your particular niche will increase your value and status in the eyes of your patients. When I walked into the room to work with a child, I introduced myself: “I’m Dr. Lanier.” If I noticed any kind of nervousness or trepidation in the child or the parent, I’d say, “Listen, you can relax. This is the only thing I do. I don’t cut my grass, I don’t do anything else. I only work on kids, and I’m really good at it. You can trust me on that.” The effect on people was amazing.
The world doesn’t need more jack-of-all-trades general dentists. They’re the ones who will be pulled under as the industry consolidates. As you limit your brand, you can run a boutique business that serves markets the DSOs can’t or won’t, and you’ll get referrals. But as you grow these practices, you want to become the target of an acquisition.
» Brand yourself.
I cringe every time I drive by a dental practice in a strip mall with a sign that just says “Dentist.” That’s the equivalent of generic medication. It’s a huge missed opportunity. That dentist isn’t connecting with patients, pulling in walk-ins, or anything else. He or she is just another dentist.
My Kids Dental Kare locations—well, let’s start with the name: Kids Dental Kare. I had a name that was memorable and instantly told everybody my specialty. I also had colorful, well-decorated offices, did lots of marketing, and had a strong community presence. I didn’t just build a business, I built a brand. Kids Dental Kare stood out and told a story that people could relate to. You must do the same.
» Listen to the experts.
I’m a well-trained, skilled dentist. I’m not an attorney, a CPA, a network engineer, or a marketer. So I hire those people to lend me their expertise and I do what they say, provided it makes sense. While you do need to know enough to evaluate whether someone is leading you the right way, you have to have a great team of experts.
You will never build a successful dental business if you DIY everything, especially when it comes to legal counsel and accounting. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish; hire a lawyer and an accountant who both really know the dental business and then listen.
Don’t hire just anyone, either. Like dentists, financial professionals and lawyers have many subspecialties. In the financial world alone, you have tax accountants and controllers, CFOs and bookkeepers, and they all have their roles—you don’t want to pay them to learn on the job. Hire competent, experienced people who can instantly help you get to your next steps.
» Don’t trust the people you hire right away.
You want to believe that you can trust everybody you hire, but I’ve gotten burned too many times, and watched colleagues get burned, to think that’s true. For example, in 2017, the lady who had been my controller stole all of my data. She always kept her office door closed, and every time I walked in, she had a jump drive plugged into her computer. I never said anything, but I should have known something was up. I terminated her later that year, but she took the jump drive, stole my data, and then erased my database. I had to bring in an IT expert at $500 a day to recover as much of the data as possible. That hurt.
The moral: It doesn’t hurt to be a little bit paranoid. By that I mean hire good people but vet them and watch them. Don’t put them in a position to steal from you or abuse their power, and don’t trust them blindly until they’ve earned that trust. Most of all, if something seems fishy about their results, investigate and then fire them if you don’t like what you find. One bad apple can sabotage an entire company; I’ve seen it happen. Most of you have some embezzlement going on unless you’ve taken drastic steps to prevent it. Trust me, I know this from building twenty-five offices over the years. If it can happen, it will. It may be your cousin, but she will steal if you tempt her with poor money policies.
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