A New Game Plan
How to strengthen your weaknesses and improve your bottom line.
By Chuck Yenkner
Imagine that one of your biggest clients just passed away unexpectedly at age 34. Shortly after, you discover a dentist from another large account has to undergo major back surgery that will put him out of commission for 5 months. Does your laboratory have a plan to deal with such unforeseen situations? The small laboratory owner who faced these tragedies did not, but it quickly forced him out of his comfort zone and into sales and marketing mode.
This is an extreme example, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. Most laboratory owners and managers are confident, competent, and comfortable dealing with the technical side of running a laboratory, whether it is consulting with clients on cases or giving direction to a technician about a technical issue. These aspects of running a business lie within their comfort zone; it is the actual business of running the laboratory that frequently makes them uneasy. Sales, marketing, and financials tend to be some of the weakest links for many businesses.
When work is flowing into your laboratory, you can concentrate on fabricating the best crown or denture and let word-of-mouth and referrals bring in new business. But when your laboratory faces factors beyond your control that could significantly impact business, it is time to come up with a new game plan.
If you want your laboratory to grow or even just emerge unscathed from these trying economic times, you must move outside of your “business as usual” comfort zone. While some laboratories batten down the hatches to ride out tough times, your laboratory could break away from the bench and build business up. Take proactive steps to improve on areas of weakness and get a hold on financial resources so that your business will be prepared to weather any storm and perhaps end up even stronger.
First, conduct a self-analysis of your business. Identify the areas that make you feel the most uncomfortable because these make your business the most vulnerable. You may never be as proficient in these areas as you are in the technical facets of dental technology, but even slight improvements can have a substantial impact. Price your work properly, get more involved in sales and marketing, and improve the profitability of your business.
Start building up your comfort level before you really need to. The key is to acquire skills before you are in a crisis. It is much less intimidating to learn new skills or develop an understanding of unfamiliar areas without the pressure of financial issues hanging over your head.
Take an accounting course at your local community college or sign up for the business management program provided by the National Association of Dental Laboratories University next year. Start working on improving your sales and marketing techniques on a small scale even when you do not need new accounts. This way, you will have some idea of what works for your business when you do need to find new clients.
Consult professionals in those areas where you need more guidance. Just as golfer Phil Mickelson has a swing coach and Michael Jordan had a free-throw coach, even the most savvy laboratory owners can use some professional expertise to bolster business. Ask your accountant to help you understand your financials, hire someone to help with marketing, or learn how to make sales calls from a trained sales associate. Develop a network of trusted experts you can rely on to help you take your business to the next level.
Just because your comfort zone has not been tested today does not mean it could not happen tomorrow. Moving beyond the familiar will help you and your business grow stronger and more profitable.
Chuck Yenkner is president and founder of Business Development Associates in Glastonbury, Connecticut.