You’ve been involved in practice management, either on the clinical or administrative side, for most of your career. You’re ready to make a change. You want better hours, less stress, more money, and more freedom. You routinely see younger people in your field, and adjacent fields, making big mistakes.
It’s time to strike out on your own, tell people what they’re doing wrong, and help them do better. You’re ready to become a Practice Management Consultant! (Cue heroic theme music.) After all, in your years at work you’ve sat through hundreds of less than amazing professional luncheons, conference talks, and staff in-service days. Surely you can do just as well.
Not so fast. Before you start traveling the country valiantly telling people how to make their practices better, you’ll need to get clients. And to get clients you’re going to need to set yourself apart in a crowded field, where everyone is giving variations on the same advice.
Sure, after years in the field, you can see exactly what new practitioners are doing wrong, why they’re struggling to break even, and why they can’t attract and retain patients. The problem is everyone else with your experience can too.
Being a successful practice management consultant isn’t just about being able to spot problems and give advice. To differentiate your brand, you’re going to need to do some foundational work first.
The Importance of Your Credentials Lies in How You State Them
Consulting is a field where credentials matter, especially if you’re targeting dental practices. Practitioners in these fields are proud of their credentials and certifications. They worked hard for their initial professional degree, and they see real rewards from being board certified. They regularly attend continuing education courses to add new skills, and they have the certificates to show it.
To reach potential clients who are this credential conscious, you need to take the time to get appropriate credentials and to show them off. Just saying “I have lots of experience in the field and some nifty ideas” is not enough.
If you’re just starting out, there are a few tacks you can take to improve your credentials:
- State specific accomplishments in the field, not just years in a position. “Worked as a practice manager for 15 years” is not interesting. “Transformed a $1 million practice into a $5 million practice in three years” has potential.
- Consider getting an MBA, MHA, or MPA if you don’t already have one. Yes, you probably already know much of what the program will teach you. But the degree is an objective measure of the fact that you can think analytically, solve problems, and communicate solutions. You’re trying to attract clients who only know you from a website or a trade journal advertisement. Give them objective proof that you have basic consulting abilities.
- Get certifications. What are you most interested in? Is there a certification to match? Look for opportunities to take exams to earn certifications in software packages, hardware and networking, human resources areas, and even things like “lean production.” Exams and certifications show that you’ve taken the time to research the field and gain specialized knowledge. Without the certifications, you might just be some random person on the internet, as far as potential clients are concerned.
Find Your Voice
Many consultants start out by trying to appeal to everybody:
“I am friendly and authoritative, a real team player.”
“I can get your team excited about medical billing!”
“Let me teach you the secrets of answering the phone!”
This is a terrible tactic. When you appeal to everybody, you appeal to nobody. Who wants to sit through yet another talk by a generic practice management consultant? I certainly don’t, and I bet you don’t either.
Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, start by trying to appeal to people like you. Are you into pop culture or science fiction? Make that your hook. Are you excited about sports? Go that route. Is your persona warm and welcoming? Maybe being the “mom voice” for practices is where you’ll excel.
Look at what you’re most excited about both in your professional life and your personal life, and start building your public persona around those things. A unique voice helps you stand out. “Oh, that’s the ‘Dental Practice Hero’ guy” will get you a lot further than “It’s another person who wants to teach us how to hire new team members.”
If you can’t find a voice on your own, enlist help! A good marketing team or freelance writer can help you hone in on your angle.
Take a Hard Look at Your Advice
I know. Ideas are exciting, especially when they’re yours. You’re sure you have something new and different to say, something no one has heard before. You might. But, then again, you might be saying the same thing as everyone else, just with a different flavor. How good is your advice?
Google can help you get a dose of humility. Are you going to make your mark on the world by telling people to “Hire slow, fire fast”? There are over 18 million google hits for the phrase. You’re not alone. How about “Put patients first”? As of this writing, there are 483 million hits for that phrase. By the time you read this post? It will probably be a cool 500 million. Your advice is not unique. No one’s advice is. So how do you make your mark?
One way to set your advice apart is to enrich it with your own experience. “Hire slow and fire fast” doesn’t help potential clients. “Here’s a time I had to fire fast, and what I learned from the experience” does. Your advice may not be unique, but your experiences are. And if you can learn to convey those experiences and the lessons you learned vividly to an audience, you’re on your way to success as a consultant and speaker.
The other key to great consulting is to adjust your advice to your audience. At a conference, generic advice and a few good stories may win the day. When you’re doing staff in-service for a specific practice, on the other hand, you need to do your homework.
Don’t rely on canned speeches. Talk to people at the practice before you come, do a full intake, and target your presentation and solutions to what that specific team really needs. Anyone can give advice to a generic practice. It takes real humility, attention, skill, and hard work to give advice to the specific practice gathered in front of you.
Read Broadly, In Depth, and Across Fields
If you only read studies and news related to your own field, you’re doing potential clients a grave disservice. Your clients are reading the same studies and news. Everybody knows, for instance, that a study done on a group of dental practices applies to dentistry, and maybe even cosmetic surgeons or primary care physicians.
Real advances and insights into practice management, marketing, and patient experience come when you can learn from other fields and disciplines and apply what you’ve learned to your clients and your practices.
For instance, industrial engineers have created some amazing techniques for managing supply chains to cut waste and speed processes. Can you use some of these ideas in your practice? You bet! Disney leads the world in customer experience. Can you learn from the mouse? Of course you can, and you should. A lot of interesting business innovations are happening in India. Can you learn about them and apply some of the information in a way that improves a dental practice? Yes you can.
Your clients don’t have time to read broadly and do in depth research. They’re too busy treating patients and dealing with insurance. As a consultant, it is your job to bring ideas from other fields into practice management. To set yourself apart, you need to be a reader, a thinker, and a synthesizer of ideas.
If you truly don’t have time to regularly scan trade publications and newsletters from other fields in search of interesting advances and ideas, consider hiring a research assistant to do it for you and to send you regular link lists of articles and ideas that might interest you. It’s not enough to simply give your clients warmed over advice that has worked a thousand times before. Be a thought leader. Make yourself think, and then turn around and make your clients think.
Give Potential Clients a Free Sample
It’s expensive to bring in a consultant to analyze the practice or train the team. It’s also risky. Unless practitioners have encountered you at a practice or been referred to you by a friend, they have no idea if you’ll click with their team, have new and interesting advice, or be able to understand the situations and environment that make their practice unique. (Yes, their practice probably isn’t as unique as they think it is, but you still have to earn their trust.) Give your clients a sneak peak into your style, your thought processes, and your troubleshooting abilities.
Ideally, your marketing portfolio should include:
- Short videos and podcasts to give potential clients an idea of your style and focus.
- An active blog, giving snippets of advice or pointing readers to interesting articles around the web. This lets potential clients see that you’re up to date on the latest trends and topics.
- White papers for potential clients to download and share with their teams. A good whitepaper will give concrete advice while leaving readers ready to hear more.
- Trade journal articles to reach out to new clients and to show that experts in the field value what you have to say.
- An e-book. People who aren’t sure if they want to book you can buy and read the e-book and get more information on your philosophy for a very small investment.
It takes time to develop a good portfolio. In general, successful consultants combine two different approaches. They set aside some time every week to plan and produce new material on their own, and they work with a copywriting firm to help spread their footprint and market their ideas. Outsourcing some of the content production gives them a wider reach while leaving them time to research, prepare talks, and serve their clients.
Practice management consulting can be a wonderful capstone to a successful career. It gives you the chance to see the country, meet new people, and feel the satisfaction that comes from turning a struggling practice into a thriving one. There’s a reason why so many people dream of becoming consultants. Differentiating yourself from the competition takes time and attention, but it’s worth it. Your future clients deserve to see you at your best.
Ms. Mundy has worked with clients in the medical and dental industries for the past decade to improve their patient experience, office management, and marketing outcomes. A prolific writer who enjoys bringing research and best practices from the engineering and management fields into healthcare, she holds a master’s in business administration. She also is the author of Tools of Authority Marketing for Your Consulting Business: Help Independent Practices Find You and Your Expertise. At WellPut Custom Content, she works with dental and medical consultants to bring their unique insights to larger audiences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.