Who's in Your Corner? by Dr. Derek S. Williams

Dentaltown Magazine

Successful practice owner and Townie shares how Dentaltown helped him get to where he is today

by Dr. Derek Williams

Boxing is one of the most grueling and demanding sports. Boxers deal with jabs, crosses, ducking, weaving and high-impact hits, all while trying to keep a clear head and persevere. In each contender’s corner is their coach and staff. The coach has a perfect view of the fight, and is able to provide valuable feedback and insight. The boxer’s point of view is often skewed, but if he trusts his coach, he has a much greater chance of winning.

Is boxing that much different from dentistry? Dentistry can also be grueling and demanding. Oftentimes we deal with patients in pain, blood in our prep, complaints from staff, and the list goes on. It is often difficult to see the big picture. But, by getting the right people in our corner, we can win too.

Let me share a little about my experience, whom I’ve put in my corner and the huge role Dentaltown has played in that process. It honestly changed my life and helped me evolve from a naive dental student to an owner of a thriving practice who consults other dentists.

The beginning
I joined Dentaltown just after my first year of dental school. It was as if I had discovered a whole new world and was a little overwhelming at first. There were so many smart and experienced dentists who shared a lot of wisdom—a lot was over my head. But I was intrigued and kept coming back to learn more. Each day my perspective of dentistry changed and grew. I really enjoyed learning about clinical dentistry, even before I’d had a chance to start doing it myself. I read posts and watched the free CE that you have access to as a student, a great resource.

One of my favorite message board threads was “I would like to extract WISDOM teeth?” by Jeromy Thornton. I enjoyed reading about different incision types, different ways to section, and how to communicate effectively with the patient. In dental school I was able to take on a few cases of impacted wisdom teeth. Before each case I would study the panoramic film and review other similar cases. Often, I’d post the pano in the message board thread to get pointers beforehand. I would enter the appointment with a game plan, and explain it to the instructor. At times, the instructor could see the effort and preparation I took and let me take the reins a little more. Then, after completing, I’d post again, talk about what went well and what I struggled with. The feedback I received from others was great. At times, the feedback was critical and hard to hear, but ultimately, it helped me grow.

When dentists say it’s all about repetition, they’re right. In dental school you can’t exactly do 100 crowns, root canals or implants, so the next best thing is learning as much as possible from each individual case. Going through procedures in this manner allowed me to get so much more out of the experience, rather than simply showing up for clinic.

Joining groups and building relationships
The more I learned about real-world dentistry, the more I realized the huge void in my education when it came to the business side of dentistry. I didn’t blame my school. There’s so much material to cover and their main priority is just getting students to a level of competency as a practitioner.

But I had this hunger to know more. I had questions that had to be answered! How will I manage staff? How can I grow a practice? How do I decide whether to go in network with insurance companies? At this point, I knew there had to be other dental students like me. But most of my classmates didn’t seem as interested in learning about the business side of dentistry. So, I created “Ambitious Dental Students,” a private group on Dentaltown (something that many don’t even know you can do). I invited everyone I could think of, including students and dentists I admired. The group caught on quickly and led to some incredible learning experiences. Currently there are almost 600 members.

It was through this group that I met George Hariri, a fellow dental student at Midwestern University. I discovered that he was just as passionate as I was about learning the business side of dentistry. I felt like I had found a kindred spirit. George had an incredible ability to process huge amounts of information. We created study groups in which we found some great threads on forums and dissected them, talked about why the person made certain decisions and why it brought great success. Since meeting, George has become co-host of the Shared Practices podcast. He has also created an incredible online course, “The Ownership Accelerator,” helping people learn more about entering ownership.

As I spent time on Dentaltown, I found certain figures who stood out from the rest. I often messaged them, asking for insight and feedback. Sometimes I didn’t get a response, but that didn’t discourage me from continuing to expand my reach to find others to put in my proverbial corner. I often received very encouraging and thoughtful responses that were fuel to my fire.

One of those great mentor figures was Hunter Smith. He was a dentist and mentor that made a great impact on our group. I had seen his posts on the public forums and asked him if he would join our group and impart some of his wisdom. He was a young dentist that had embarked on multiple practice ownership very early in his career. We started a thread called “Ask Hunter” and away it went. The thread mainly focused on how to decide on the type of practice to buy. Many of us chimed in to ask questions like: How big of a practice should I buy? How much should I pay? What makes a practice valuable to a particular buyer?

I had been looking at practices and thought that it might be a smart move to purchase the cheapest practice possible to keep my debt low. I explained this to Hunter and he taught me an important lesson. I still remember when he asked me, “Would you rather purchase a practice making $200,000 a year and work hard to double it to $400,000 or purchase a practice making $600,000 a year and work hard to double it to $1.2 million?” That was a powerful question that really broadened my view. Of course, I ended up choosing the latter.

Several dentists that I considered to be highly successful talked about hiring consultants and coaches early in ownership as they were catalysts in taking their practice to the next level. I knew this was something I wanted to do. I had been following Justin Short, of The Lifestyle Practice, on the site and invited him to join our private group. He shared some incredible experiences. He practiced three days a week, took 10 weeks of vacation per year, and had a practice grossing close to $2 million with low overhead. His mindset and mentality were contagious. So, when it was time to find a coach, I was ready to take the leap with Justin.

In my first year owning a practice, I more than doubled collections and paid off my entire amount of student loans, approximately $300,000. I had a goal to get my staff and systems in place so that I could get to my desired income and also have the time to spend with my family. You might say that I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.

The final round
It took a ton of hours and hard work, but I’ve reached the point where I work three days a week, have plenty of time with my family and my practice is on track to reach $1.6 million in collections this year. The sky is the limit, if you’re willing to use extraordinary amounts of effort.

I have since partnered with Justin at The Lifestyle Practice. Now, I am working one-on-one with dentists to help them reach their practice and life goals. It is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my life at this point and has given me the opportunity to be a coach in other dentists’ corners.

So, who will you put in your corner? Think big! Whom do you look up to? Who are your role models? Reach out! What’s the worst that can happen? Get moving and get on Dentaltown, today.

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Author Bio
Author Dr. Derek Williams graduated from Creighton University College of Dentistry. He maintains a private, solo doctor practice in East Texas. He is co-owner of The Lifestyle Practice, where he works with other dentists to take their practice to the next level, increasing production while taking more time off. He can be reached by email at derek@thelifestylepractice.com.
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