As a small business owner who has grown her business slowly and intentionally in the past decade, I’ve realized a few things that can be powerful to the first time business owner.
The first is that it’s crucial to never outgrow what you can accommodate. I’ve seen companies come and go in the dental world with one goal alone: to scale and sell as quickly as possible. You’ve seen them too. They’re typically backed by investors with deep pockets.
Early on in my career, I must admit that I related “big” with “bad”. After all, in order to feed dozens of hungry salespeople and affiliates, there must be an insane markup, leaving the customer to pay. I’ve personally suffered the pain of being locked into a contract for a service or product that was no longer needed or producing a positive return on investment. It was upsetting every day and I found myself counting down to freedom, with more excitement than the countdown to my next vacation.
Now, as I look back as a more seasoned (very small) business owner, I realize that I’ve been doing it wrong. My perspective of big business has been jaded by my own personal experiences. I’m embarrassed to admit instead of seeking out the big businesses doing it right and studying those, I categorized them all as bad. I’ve taken pride in slow growth and personalized attention, but expansion and excellent service can happen in tandem.
Before I jump into sharing all of the amazing things I’ve seen being done by big(ger) dental businesses, I want to start by saying this on the record:
Any business, no matter the size, is going to experience growing pains. Some more damaging than others. With higher risk tolerance, comes bigger mistakes. It also seems that those who fail the most and recover the strongest grow the fastest.
You may still share my sentiment that bigger isn’t better, but I want to challenge you to think differently on this for a few reasons. Firstly, I want you to be able to experience the joy that comes with ethical, accelerated growth. It can be very fun. Secondly, I want you to be able to serve more people while leading with integrity. Lastly, you deserve to escape the daily nitty-gritty and operate as a true CEO, which can only happen when you grow to the level of having multiple levels of leadership. If you’re like me and have been doing similar work for 10+ years (or perhaps you just came to this realization sooner than me), that last point is exciting.
Here are a few characteristics of those who scale with integrity:
- They know their brand and make sure their team embraces and shares their message, values, and processes. Have you ever met a team and thought to yourself, ” They’re all so (fill in the blank). I can distinctly remember meeting 3-4 people on a team thinking, “They’re all so complimentary.” It was as if they’d been trained in compliment giving and ego-boosting. I say this and it sounds like I was turned off to it or that it seemed insincere, but it didn’t. It was actually quite the opposite. The small compliments, high energy, and professionalism shared by every single employee on this particular team made me want to do business with them.
- They evolve. The companies that grow quickly and maintain their integrity have to be investing in improvements. I see some marketing agencies still pushing direct mail and the same templated websites they sold 8 years ago and wonder how they’ve managed to stay in business. If you’re going to grow at a pace that can qualify as “scaling”, you’ll have to be critically evaluating your service offerings, methods, and marketing to ensure you’re the best option for your target market.
- They have guts. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They know that part of being in business means they’ll encounter the following: a legal issue, a bad review, two timing employees, unethical competition, and so much more. However, they know each obstacle is just a part of the game. They won’t wallow in the negativity and will focus immediately on how to turn each situation into an opportunity.
- They’re willing to invest. I know many business people operating around the 1m-2m in revenue mark who are unwilling to take a risk and grow. Their marketing is minimal and safe. They’ll always remain very small business owners and that’s ok. It can be challenging to change if you’ve operated in this space for many years. After all, if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. If you’re happy, that’s ok.
- They realize growth and integrity are not mutually exclusive. The theory that bigger is not better may resonate with many of us small business owners. Let’s face it though, that’s something small business owners say because they didn’t like the growing pains listed in number 3. There’s nothing wrong with intentionally staying small if you are happier with a small business. Let’s not chalk it up to big is bad, just because we know of some big, bad entities we’d prefer to avoid.
I fought an internal struggle for a long time about whether or not I’d represent group practices. I knew that 98% of my business is made up of small dental business owners looking to grow, but remain a single doctor, privately owned entity. I also know that many of my amazing clients see DSOs as the enemy. This is because many DSO owned and operated businesses are not integrity focused. When this happens on a large scale, it becomes very obvious to communities and dentists. They see unnecessary dentistry, high-pressure sales tactics, and advertising at a level they feel they could never afford. Unfortunately, what many don’t realize is this:
No matter the size of your organization, you can operate with integrity or without integrity.
Currently, I work with a few doctor-owned group practices and a couple of true DSOs. So far, I do see a very different need from the group practices. Communication, delivery of service, and solutions offered all change when you reach about six locations. It’s pretty obvious if a business is not patient-centric and employee-centric. In these instances, I will choose not to represent a business. This stands for any size organization.
If you’re like me and growth excites and motivates you, you’ll want to consider how you can grow with integrity. Look for the examples of companies that have scaled and maintain an amazing culture, innovative solutions and help many people. Set your goals as you go and don’t be afraid to choose small or choose big. In life, we have to choose what makes us happy. If integrity is at the core of your every move, you’ll build something beautiful that will benefit many deserving people.
If you’re at a point in your career where you’d like to experience growth that would make an impact on your team and family, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to grow slowly and intentionally, I can help you with that too.