A comprehensive guide to setting up a dental practice

3 years ago

Setting up your own dental practice in the UK means navigating the same potential minefield awaiting all new business owners, while still maintaining outstanding clinical standards.

A 2012 report from the British Dental Association (BDA) identified differences in the problems faced by prospective practice owners before 2006, compared to those starting up more recently.

It’s a mixed bag in terms of good and bad news. On the one hand, the industry itself seems to be becoming more streamlined, with fewer new practices identifying planning and legal barriers to setting up. On the other hand, negotiating with the NHS in general is seen as a greater stumbling block for newer practices.

Problems common to both newer and more established dental practices when first setting up included:

  • Accessing capital to start operating
  • Over-regulation, administration and red tape
  • Employment and staffing issues.


Making a business plan to start your dental practice

While the legislative environment surrounding your business is, generally speaking, out of your control, there are definitely steps you can take to help navigate it more easily.

An airtight business plan will help you build trust with any lenders who might potentially help fund your practice. These plans are essential for any business, but where the health of patients is concerned, you have an extra level of compliance to contend with.

Facilities should be of primary importance when outlining your business plan, as it’s here where you can most clearly demonstrate your understanding of the daily demands you face.

Break down each area of your practice, room by room. What equipment and related expertise will be required for each room to function and contribute to the business as a whole? Also consider how many patients you are capable of treating at one time, and your planned hours of operation.

Patients are the core of your practice. You need to show how intimately familiar you are with just who is coming to you for assistance. Establish your catchment area and outline the demographic you expect to work with in terms of age and income.

If you’ll be opening in the same area as you’ve been previously practicing, use this knowledge to predict what services you might be most commonly providing.

Finances are another important but sometimes troublesome consideration. Leading on from outlining your facilities, break down the cost of providing care on an individual patient basis.

From there you can project initial revenue based on the number and type of patients you expect to be working for.

Staff, both administrative and medical, should also be factored into your business plan. Use a sample contract of employment to outline what you expect to pay staff, the duties expected of them and how each staff member will fit into your overall mission.

The latter factor is something many prospective employers miss out. Simply knowing what tasks you need performed is fine in the short term, but knowing where your business will be in 12 months, or even three years, will help you define a more thorough, sustainable specification for staff.


Drill through the red tape

While delays incurred through dealing with bureaucracy are inevitable, fully preparing your own paperwork will prevent any further delays on your part.

Foolproof record-keeping and administration begins on day one. It might be tempting to just get as much done as quickly as possible, keeping financial records and other details as you go, this is not the optimal way to do things.

Time spent investing in a unified, cohesive administration system before you even apply to start your business is always a good move. It brings several benefits, most notably in terms of scale. As your practice grows, it’s always better to have your records in one place.

It goes without saying that, in this day and age, a cloud-based admin solution is best in terms of accessibility, flexibility and security. When countering delays from other sources, being able to instantly email any required details will also count great in your favour and keep things moving.

Online accounting software like Sage One is perfect for tracking the accounts for a dental practice. Being accessible from any compatible device, it means you can perform tasks without having to set time aside to sit at the office computer.

It also scales to any size and lets you track all your financial details as you grow, using the same easy interface. You can also rest assured you’re compliant with HMRC regulations as the software updates as laws change and automates many of the more fiddly accounting tasks.

It also helps to have a good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in place, especially in the earliest days of your practice. The right package will let you track not only customer details, but also suppliers who you rely on for equipment and those you’re negotiating contracts with.


Finding staff and keeping them

If you’ve been following this guide, you’ll have a detailed person specification for each role in your new practice. What qualities your staff need in order to complement your preferred method of working will be specific to your practice, but in general there are certain aspects to look out for.

Technical and medical expertise is a huge part of what makes an effective team member in this setting. However, don’t neglect staff’s ability to meet the human needs of your patients. Communication skills, outlook on life and their individual long-term goals should all factor into their suitability for any given role.

In the realest terms, a big part of what keeps staff around is your capacity to pay them the right amount at the right time.    It’s possible that you may play a large role in processing payroll in the early days of your practice. Alternatively, you might just sign off the process at the end.

Either way, the exact same principles apply to payroll as for general admin and financial record-keeping. Sage One Payroll works with the Accounting package and a host of other add-ons to help you keep all your most important financial details in one secure place.


To see how Sage One software helps make accounts for dentists easier, sign up now or activate a free trial.