Reflecting on 2023: Dental Start Up Success Depends on Mindset more than Marketing

Author: Grace Rizza, CEO Identity Dental Marketing

In the realm of dental practice growth, the year 2023 proved to be an invaluable learning experience for me. Our rapid ascent in the startup space was primarily driven by word-of-mouth referrals, a testament to the stellar reputation that Identity Dental Marketing has cultivated over the years.

Historically, our clientele primarily consisted of well-established dental practices spanning various specialties and niches. With a track record dating back to 2009, our extensive experience has exposed us to a myriad of dental practice scenarios, solidifying our well-deserved reputation.

However, the landscape for startup practices presents unique challenges. As a (once) startup business owner myself, I intimately understand the difficulties associated with gaining momentum during those crucial initial years. New practice owners require patients promptly, often on a shoestring budget, with limited time to invest. Many are juggling associate positions while pursuing their family and business dreams in tandem.

For many of them, business education has been limited, and the concept of effective branding may seem elusive. The learning curve is steep, and the stakes are high. I have dedicated countless hours to educate potential clients, elucidating the nuances of the industry, cautioning against potential pitfalls, and setting realistic expectations.

However, the harsh reality is that nothing can fully prepare you for the challenges of business ownership except living through it. On countless occasions, I have attempted to infuse my 14 years of experience into the business plans and marketing proposals I developed for each ambitious dentist. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to prepare them for this journey, setbacks exist.

Even well-intentioned practice owners often expressed dissatisfaction just a month or two into their marketing initiatives. Despite referencing comprehensive notes, reminding them of the time required for results, and illustrating budget compromises I did not approve or agree upon, emotions often overshadowed logic. In truth, their operational limitations, such as limited operating hours, absence of enticing special offers, and a modest budget, compounded the issue. Some mistakenly believed that success was guaranteed as long as they hired the best marketing company, without investing the time and money necessary for growth. The biggest, most painful culprit for delayed growth was often a combination of unrealistic expectations, and a total lack of a meaningful differentiator in the branding process. Most of these doctors did not want our opinion when it came to brand positioning and simply believed that their brand should simply represent their personal design taste, which is the most superficial way to go about branding, and often the least effective.

A successful business is positioned at the intersection of:

  1. The doctor’s skill level
  2. The demand/need of the community
  3. The doctor’s desire to provide the services he/she is skilled in

When I say “demand”, I’m referencing to an underserved demand. This means you have to say more than, “We care about our patients.” Patients are not seeking that. It’s not bold enough to turn heads and build a brand. You need to differentiate. You should be able to say, “We are the only _____ dentist that _____.” At least be able to say, “We are one of the only _______ dentists in the area that provides ______.”

Allow me to provide an example, “Identity Dental Marketing is one of the only marketing agencies that doesn’t mandate long-term contracts, allowing dentists to choose to stay with us because of our excellent service, honesty, expertise, and results.”

Marketing, however, transcends websites, photography, and ad spend. It hinges more on likability, the willingness to be vulnerable, and the dedication of time to the business. A glaring gap often exists in articulating their unique value proposition (differentiator mentioned above) over competitors. These fundamentals of marketing are often overlooked or disregarded by dentists starting up practices.

In reality, those who can attend dental school and secure loans to open practices hold a position of privilege, yet they frequently underestimate the demands of not only surviving but thriving in this competitive field. Business ownership is far from easy, let alone simple.

My journey to success is credited to three pivotal elements: faith (God-given opportunity), resilience cultivated through a background with limited resources (DESIRE), and an unceasing commitment to learning (PASSION). Sales, distinct from marketing, emerged as a critical aspect of my career during my initial position selling high-end gym memberships in downtown Chicago. This experience laid the foundation for my entire career, highlighting the importance of developing sales skills for aspiring business owners.

As an early-stage business owner, answering the phone is imperative, as there is no luxury to disengage after 3 PM. Business ownership means dedicating oneself entirely to the endeavor, yet entitlement often misguides individuals into unrealistic expectations, such as a refusal to work nights and weekends or to provide discounts for new patients. Success does not manifest merely from an impressive degree, experience, or state-of-the-art equipment; entitlement is a deceiving force.

Colleagues on social media may boast about their success, concealing the factors contributing to their achievements, such as personal investments or advantageous market conditions. Salespeople, too, often exaggerate their role in clients’ success stories. Marketing undoubtedly plays a substantial role, but mindset ultimately determines success.

While marketing is undeniably important in the long term, shortcuts and scams abound, particularly in the dental marketing sphere. A plethora of self-proclaimed experts lack the necessary competence or commitment to represent clients effectively.

My most significant misjudgment was assuming that startup practice owners would readily appreciate my accumulated knowledge—15 years into my career and 14 years into ownership. In reality, startup practices require more than realistic expectations; they demand firsthand experiences and a relentless commitment to learning from every experience, especially the painful ones. Have you seen a dentist post about the completely unfair contract that they signed? I have, and on a weekly basis! Have you seen a dentist post about their wildly successful start up, without talking about the marketing time and financial investment? I see this almost daily!

This would be like a patient posting “I go to Dr. Smith’s dental office since I was a child and I’ve never had a cavity in my life!” Now, imagine every other patient in the practice expecting to never have an oral health issue, without paying any regard to at-home care, genetic predisposition, diet, gut health, and health conditions.

Impeccable processes and systems are crucial for sustainable growth.

My new position going into 2024 is this: Unless you have a very wealthy spouse or parent, you’ve started a business before and this isn’t your first rodeo.

As a start up practice, your paid marketing, while vital, should be introduced gradually as the practice builds sufficient cash flow. Investing in marketing before being financially and emotionally prepared can lead to disillusionment and hinder long-term growth.

In my early days as an entrepreneur, I relied on networking, phone calls, and 12-hour workdays to build my brand and reputation, emphasizing personal investment of time over monetary expenditure. Over time, my confidence in the value of branding and brand recognition strategies grew. This journey underscored that while marketing is essential, it does not encompass everything; one’s mindset is paramount.

Believing in one’s worthiness of success leads to innovative approaches that stand out and provide value to the target audience. The path to success often involves stepping outside the norm, extensive networking, and an unwavering commitment to personal and professional growth.

Business ownership is not for the entitled; it is a humbling experience that can transform lives. To succeed, one must acknowledge that there is no shortcut to hard work and that marketing is just one piece of the puzzle.

For these reasons, Identity Dental Marketing is now highly selective in working with startup practices, ensuring a measured approach to marketing investments. We understand the panic that can accompany initial marketing efforts, and we’re amending our approach to meet the emotional and psychological needs of 95% of start up business owners. In short, we’re doing more to meet you where you are. When you’re ready to dial it up, we’ll be ready too!

We now advocate a minimalistic yet professional approach to startup paid marketing, prioritizing the establishment of a solid foundation, professional branding, and online presence. Only when cash flow or the bank loan permits, should practices consider larger marketing budgets.

In conclusion, marketing a startup is not a chicken-and-egg dilemma; it requires a balanced and measured approach. Identity Dental Marketing stands as your strategic partner, committed to helping dental practices thrive through a well-calibrated marketing strategy and a focus on the long-term journey toward success. We understand the challenges, and we are here to empower you to overcome them. Business ownership may be challenging, but it is also an opportunity for growth and transformation, and with the right mindset and support, success is within reach.

Learn more by setting up your complimentary marketing planning session.

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