I bought my practice 18 years before I came to Sterling. I hadn’t planned to buy it. I was all set to be a missionary. I’d already taken trips to South and Central America when another dentist, who’d become physically disabled, asked for my help until he could sell his practice.
I’d bought a “turn-key” operation, or so I thought. My plan was to do my work every day, hand everything else over to my office manager, then go home and be a mom. It seemed simple enough. I didn’t realize how much was going on behind the scenes until I discovered that my “professional” office manager hadn’t been billing or collecting properly, and her errors had cost me $292,000 in accounts receivable that I would never collect. It shouldn’t have been a shock. I’d been running my practice by the seat of my pants and expecting everything to function, somehow.
My staff may have respected me as a dentist, but I don’t think my staff ever respected me as an executive. I’d always been a good time-manager but I didn’t know how to write an office policy, or how to find, hire, and retain good staff. Half the time I felt as if I was working for them more than they were working for me. I’d just expected that when I’d hire a seasoned veteran, they would know how to do their jobs and do them without me having to set the tone of the office. It wasn’t true. They never teach you how to be an executive or run a business in dental school.
It was time to do something major. I decided to make a three-year plan to upgrade my infrastructure. Since I had another fifteen to twenty years before retirement, I might as well enjoy them. Then reality reared its head. My thirty-plus-year-old building was in radical need of improvement. But city Hall was throwing roadblocks in the way of my plans to expand and modernize. Given the circumstances, it would never give a decent return on investment if I fixed it. Besides, the practice was miles from home, husband, and children. It was time for a change. I had to move.
I’ve always been a hard worker and enjoy being busy. My husband, an emergency physician, and I have a joke: “All the stars and constellations have to be in perfect alignment for me to keep a hair appointment.” But being busy would never be enough if I wanted to get anywhere. I needed to do something proactive to get my ducks in a row as a business person before I could move from my ‘Flintstones’ office to a new high-tech office.
I’d read about Sterling Management Systems over the years. I decided to send for the free DVD and free three-hour practice management consultation with a senior consultant. We talked a couple of times, with my husband in on a teleconference. It sounded good, and that started the ball rolling.
I started with Sterling on December 28, 2005. By January 31, 2006, my uncooperative office manager of nineteen years had retired; she’d gotten nervous when I decided I needed to upgrade my technology—my old computers couldn’t handle the digital x-ray I wanted—even new software and computers made her uncomfortable. My equally uncooperative hygienist decided to leave. A third employee decided to start a business with her husband. These departures helped office morale because those that remained were wide open to learning a new and much better way to run the office. I think the three that left got wind that we were going to get organized and worried that their misdeeds and inefficiencies would get found out.
Now I have a much more tranquil atmosphere. My collections are coming up. We’re at $70,000 a month now and growing. We’re setting monthly goals and accomplishing them. We’re doing a lot more promotion, including an open house for our new building. We’re holding staff meetings and beginning to function as a group. Every time we implement another part of Sterling’s technology, the practice runs better. A perfectly smooth-running organization is in sight.
Dentistry is and always will be my day job: I have four children and a husband at home to take care of. My new office is close to home. My three oldest kids, 14, 11 and 8, come here after school and do their homework. By the time they get their homework done, I’ve finished and we get to go home and be a family. This to me is real progress.
I was pleasantly surprised this week. I got a call from Congressman Tom Cole inviting me to accept a Businesswoman of the Year award at a White House dinner in Washington DC. I was to be part of a Business Summit to give my opinion on running a small business in today’s economy. I’ll have to thank Sterling for helping me to become an effective executive instead of an over-worked “Tooth Fairy” and mother of four.
Belkis Musalen-Jones, DMD