1. It is Hard

There’s a reason most new small businesses don’t make it to celebrate 5 years. It’s bloody hard. And I mean HARD hard. 

When I took the leap from my cushy safe-as-houses full-time little teeth-cleaning job, I thought I was prepared. 

I’m a prepared kind of girl. I’d researched. I’d considered. I’d worked out the numbers. I’d made the decision. I was doing it. 

Everyone told me how hard it was, and I thought, HOW hard can it be? I was bloody good at my job, had lots of contacts, and a great reputation. 

Even so, as a dental clinician of over 20 years, I had no formal business knowledge whatsoever, so decided to get some start up advice. 

I went to a local Liverpool charity (The Women’s Organisation) who support women in business, and they helped me secure investment from the NatWest Bank and held my hand as I took my first wobbly tentative steps. I let their hand go and I was doing it, I was REALLY doing it! 

2. Expect the Unexpected

 Everyone had warned me that the first year in business was hard. But I loved the challenge, and I thought I was prepared. 

Nothing in my carefully-crafted business plan said anything about being open for the first 4 months, and then having to forcibly close through no fault of my own for the next SIX months. It was a mental, financial, and emotional rollercoaster that I hadn’t seen coming. 

I had just embarked on the biggest challenge of my career and a global pandemic hit. 

Now I know ‘everyone was in the same boat’ and ‘yawn, not the Covid excuse’ but coming so soon after we opened sent my mental health into a downward spiral. 

We were a fledgling business that had started only a few short weeks before with ZERO PATIENTS. We had bought a derelict building and spent the previous 6 months doing building work (mostly just me and the long-suffering husband) to transform it into a beautiful dental setting. I had borrowed an eye-watering amount of money to get this thing off the ground and now nothing. Literally closed. Me sat in an empty building feeling increasingly isolated and frightened each day that passed. 

BUT! Fast forward to 5 years later and as a practice we’ve: 

     -Grown from 0 patients to over 3.5k patients.  

     -We have created 6 new local jobs for women. 

     -We are setting up the next generations for a healthier life, free from oral problems and all sorts of chronic illnesses. 

     -We are influencing our industry by inspiring and supporting other Dental Hygienist/Therapists to set up their own businesses too. 

3. Don’t expect people to treat you with the same respect you would treat them

  

 As a healthcare professional, I am passionate about people. I love the impact of treating people with kindness, dignity, and respect.

But do not expect people to treat you that way back. 

As one of only a handful of practices in the UK that are ‘a dentist without a dentist,’ we are pioneering a new way to access dental services. Patients no longer need to see a dentist before accessing our care. Trailblazing is great when it has been a success, but people will not always understand what you are trying to do in those early days. 

One of the biggest hurdles we face daily (even now) is the fact that now patients have access to an easier way to have a dental hygienist appointment without the hassle of booking a separate dentist check-up first, dentists do not want to make it easy for them. Why? Because if their patients are coming to us for that care, they’re not paying for treatment with them.  

‘Direct Access’ was a legal ruling in 2013 which removed the need for patients to see a dentist first before accessing Dental Hygienist appointments. This paved the way for Hygienists to open up their own practices, and improve access to dental care.

This infuriated many Dentists who saw Dental Hygienists new practices as a threat to their own businesses, and many are still very defensive and uninformed about what we offer. 

I thought having to work under the guidance of the General Dental Council and the Care Quality Commission meant as an industry, we were to put the best interest of the patient first. 

But every single patient who contacts us to tell us that they’ve been informed by their dentist ‘they have to see the hygienist at their practice’ or ‘Our hygienist here is more qualified’ or ‘it’s practice policy you need to see our hygienist’ or ‘we need your care to be in house with us for GDPR reasons’ tells us a different story. 

Our business offends most other dental practices out there. Almost all of our patients who are registered with another practice must justify why they choose to have their treatment with us. Most stand their ground, are aware that we are very qualified, competent and professional, but some are worried that they will be denied care or worse still, be de-registered simply by choosing to visit our practice for their dental hygiene care. The fact that its so difficult to register with a dentist in the first place is a real threat to some. 

We would never badmouth another dental professional, but unfortunately, its a fact that we can’t expect the same.

4. Passion is everything

  

Running your own business is also bloody brilliant! 

I am a bit of a control freak and love the devil in the detail. I love the impact our care has on the lives of the patients we treat. 

When I worked in my comfortable job before deciding to take the plunge, patients used to come to me under the new direct access arrangements because my long standing patients would recommend my care. 

I was on a flat rate of pay and had no incentive to work this way, as it was the practice I worked for who reaped the financial reward. But as with all things, quality of care is what people talk about, and so my patient list grew and grew.  

When I could see that the standard of care had slipped too, it was then that I finally decided to start my own practice. 

As a dental professional in the UK, you aren’t allowed to let patients know that the next time they come for an appointment, you won’t be there anymore. So, I quietly left, and thankfully for me, lots of patients did detective work to locate where I was after realising I was no longer working at that practice.

Running my own practice is so liberating!

I am able to decide my appointment lengths, and what level of care I offer, and now we strive to deliver delight to every patient at EVERY visit. 

When patients grow in confidence and tell you how much of a positive impact we have had on them, knowing that’s because of decisions I made, that really makes me happy. 

5. May your success annoy the shit out of those who can’t stand to see you win

  

We can’t control what other professionals say about us. We also can’t control what our competitors do, say, or behave. We CAN be the best at what we do, treat people with kindness and compassion, and respect and dignity. 

Focus on ourselves and how we do business with those who DO choose to run the dental gauntlet and come back repeatedly. 

Integrity and trust are essential elements of my business. 

I set really exacting standards not only for the level of care we provide but also for my staff and myself most of all. 

The buck stops with me. It is my business, my vision, and my job to inspire, motivate, and make a positive impact on every single patient at every single visit. 

Starting with zero registered patients on that first day was no mean feat but celebrating how far we have come and now have over 3.5K patients registered with us after just 5 years also speaks volumes. 

And I love it.