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I was very lucky to be able to be in a position to buy a mixed NHS dental practice two years ago (you can read more about my career journey here) – but the process was much more complicated, stressful and frustrating than I ever could have imagined.
Here are some of the things I wish I'd known before I took the plunge…
|It takes a really long time to negotiate the sale and purchase of a dental practice. Arranging a valuation, the business loan etc., and none of that runs to plan as you rely on accountants and solicitors on both sides – your levels of zen need to be up to the patience and tenacity required to make it to the end. |
Use a specialist dental solicitor/accountant, don't be tempted to use a mainstream one for this, it's not a simple sale and purchase agreement. The due diligence in these agreements needs someone who understands the complexity of a dental business to understand, especially if buying an NHS practice.
|What's left after paying wages and bills is yours, if there is anything left! If your main motivation for buying a practice is purely for making a profit, then I'd suggest you consider it very carefully. Keeping your practice viable is a fine balancing act, and to be honest you could potentially earn much more as an associate, with a lot less responsibility and sleepless nights! Also note that there are now fewer opportunities to buy into an NHS dental practice, as corporates take up a bigger share of the market and practice prices increase.|
|You immediately become responsible for your staff and their family's financial security. It is a massive responsibility if you want to do it right. |
|You must set your fees appropriately to ensure the continued viability of your practice, or there will be no practice left to treat your patients. |
|It's weird when you have associates now working for you, and your perspective is suddenly very different. Your staff are not tied to the practice, human nature says that people will almost always do what is best for their own situation. Even the most loyal and friendly staff may leave if their situation changes, or changes you need to make to the business become unworkable for their lives. It's hard to be a friend and the boss – you sometimes have to toughen up and do what's best for the business. Staff will come and go, and it will take a while to build a stable team that is right for you.|
|You do not "leave work behind" at the end of the day or when you go on holiday – it's something on your mind continuously. |
|Your partner/spouse and family will need to be very understanding and expect to expect some interruptions to personal time.|
|Do not overextend yourself financially; in your personal life, or within the business. It causes unnecessary risk and stress and means that you often have fewer options in future decisions.|
|Everything costs more than you could ever imagine!|
You must be very organised from day one, use books/lists, a good filing system, and spreadsheets to help you. A practice manager is definitely indispensable if you are taking on a larger practice.
|The BDA has a range of tools to support you in the transition to buying a practice, and once you are a practice owner, are indispensable in supporting you with a range of practical and legal advice and support – I'm a BDA expert member and it's been invaluable. |
So, I hope this hasn't put you off if your heart is set on becoming a dental practice owner, but that it will help you be better prepared for what is in store!
My final word is that I have to say that I wouldn't change a thing and running my own practice has been one of the proudest achievements of my life.
Lauren Harrhy, practice owner and principal dentist
Vice-Chair of the Welsh General Dental Practice Committee, member of the General Dental Practice Committee and BDA Young Dentist Committee member.
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