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Authors :Dr. Howard Farran

Writing my book, “Uncomplicate Business: All It Takes Is People, Time and Money,” got me thinking even more than usual about how dental entrepreneurs can make the best financial decisions. Some financial wisdom I’d like to share is this: buy what you can afford when you can afford it, and only if you really need it. This is especially true when it comes to big technology purchases. As a practice owner, you want to find that balance between having modern technology and having a stable financial situation.

The latest and greatest can be cool, but I know many dentists who spend way too much on technology they don’t need. Those purchases seem fun at first, but often come with a built-in migraine. You have to research before you buy, you may need to reconfigure your office, your operatory or your wiring, and you have to train on the machine/technology and teach people how to use it. That doesn’t sound like a day at the beach.

When you hear that “everyone” has a certain piece of technology, it’s tempting to think that you need it too. However, even though a certain piece of technology is good for another practice, it might not be right for you. Don’t feel pressured to buy it all, or all at once. Space out your big purchases and talk to everyone and their brother before you make your choice. The Dentaltown message boards are an amazing resource for this. Product reps often know a lot about a product, but you definitely want to talk to dentists who have used that product, and who own it. Ask many questions.

  • Do they use it as often as they thought they would?
  • Is it saving them money?
  • How long did it take before they turned a profit on that investment?
  • When it comes to technology, keep up with your needs and what your accountant tells you, instead of keeping up with the (Dr.) Jones’s.

Do you need it?

If you’re established in your career and you have a strong financial situation, taking a chance on a technology purchase won’t destroy you. But if you’re young and you have $250,000 in student loans, why do you need to spend a boatload of money on technology when you don’t have a dime and only have debt?

If you’re going to use other people’s money to buy this technology you think you need, you’ll likely pay interest, so factor that into the technology price. If I said to all of you, “How about you buy that technology in cash?” it would be a whole different game.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love technology. Technology has brought dentistry a long way. You need access to CBCT, but maybe you don’t need to own it. Let’s say you want CBCT but you don’t want to spend $150,000. Well, I never met a specialist who doesn’t want to form a relationship with a general dentist. Every oral surgeon and periodontist I know has a CBCT, and you can just call one of them up and say, “Hey, if I have a patient who needs CBCT can I send him over to you, and I’ll pay you to use your machine?” Form a relationship! We can all learn from each other in this profession.

Teach a man to fish

When I wanted to learn endo back in 1987, I just called a nearby endodontist and said, “Hey, I don’t have any patients on Friday until noon—can I come and watch you?” Every single time he says, “Hell yes.” People like to share what they know and they like to talk about things that excite them and that they’re good at. Most people like to teach.

Now some endodontists will say, “I don’t want to teach you because then who will you refer to me?” But in my case, I wasn’t referring to this person in the first place. I met him and became his friend, and since I knew there would be all kinds of endo that I am not going to want to do or will be too busy for, I told this endodontist that I’ll start referring to him. We went from a situation where he wasn’t getting referrals from me, and now he will be, all because he had the generosity to teach me something and I had the guts to ask. See, we can share more than technology.

Smart specialists, smart orthodontists, smart oral surgeons, want the relationship. In many cases you can get the best hands-on lectures in the world in your own county! Conferences can be great, but don’t fall into this validation deal where you think that just to continue your education you have to pay $5,000 for a course, or you think you have to fly halfway across the country and stay in some five-star resort and take fancy day trips. Sometimes you come back, look at the bill and say, “OK, the class was five grand, the expenses were five grand, but what did I actually learn?”

I’m a big fan of conferences, but they should be balanced with other types of learning. I could learn elements of dentistry for free on YouTube for the rest of my life. It’s amazing how dentists in the entire poor world who barely have anything and can’t go to these courses or hire consultants can get a great education online. If they want to know something, they type it into YouTube. Now, we all know some of the videos there are garbage, but there are excellent videos too. Some can be very practical. I was reminded of this with my car the other day. I had a flat. To get the spare out of the back you have to be a mechanical engineer. This guy walks by and I say, “I can’t figure out how to get this thing off.” He can’t figure it out either. He takes out his cell phone, goes on YouTube, types in, “How to get the car jack out of a Lexus 450 SLs,” and boom. There was a video on it. We watched the video and then I changed the tire. Be street smart”—learn from the guy across the street.

There’s a big difference between street-smart dentistry and book-smart dentistry. Too many damn dentists are book smart. I know you’re book smart—you got A’s in calculus, physics, geometry. But book smart has nothing to do with street smart. There are a hell of a lot of street-smart people who never went to college, don’t have a degree, and they are millionaires, billionaires. They are just street smart and they get rich by learning from other people, and by not spending too much on stuff (ahem, technology) that they may not even need.

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