2024 will make 20 years that Bridget and I have owned and operated an orthodontic practice(s). Don’t know that we are any wiser but we damn sure are more experienced! In our recent discussions Bridget and I have pondered the difficulties of practice ownership and why so few owner/operators find the success and joy that is very attainable as an orthodontist. We believe it comes down to the two entirely different modes of ownership that we feel must be employed while running an office.

The first and most difficult mode of ownership is Total Commitment.

This level of involvement is required while the business is forming, growing, becoming and achieving profitability. It is also necessary when taking over a new business in a purchase scenario. The owner/operator(s) must oversee every detail, answer every question, set every guideline, deal with every dispute, review every bill, manage every customer and basically be everything to everyone all the time. This is when you establish your systems, culture, way of doing things and train up the leads/managers who will oversee things when you’re not present (you can’t leave until you have these folks in place). This means that free time is non-existent, kids’ programs are missed, weekends are filled and often even planned vacations end up being cancelled last minute because of something that comes up at work. It sucks. And very few people are willing to make this kind of commitment. In our opinion this is why so many orthodontist owner/operators struggle to reach the next phase of business ownership and likely never will.

The second and much preferable mode of practice ownership we call Lifestyle First.

This is the nirvana we chased for years but never found until we built Smiley Face. It’s basically autopilot where the practice is run and managed by highly capable team members who work together to get what they want by helping patients get what they need. Bridget and I will tell you that we have no idea how to do this for a mega-office with multiple locations or for a group practice with a corporate structure but we certainly know how to do it in a single location, owner-operated orthodontic office. We will also share that it is AWESOME, incredibly rewarding to everyone involved and often more profitable than the mega, multi, mighty offices (we know this because we’ve had those). By creating a framework, training the team, setting up clear systems, having the scripting, empowering the team members, enabling the leads/managers and backing our team when they look out for patients and the practice, we have created a work environment where everyone looks forward to coming to work (most days anyway), does their best for the customers, looks after fellow team members and does what it takes to protect our little work haven where all team members are paid well, shown respect and allotted plenty of free time to spend with families.

There are a ton of details that go into creating a Lifestyle First work environment and there will be times when the owner/operator(s) may have to jump back into Total Commitment mode should things get out of whack, but those are huge topics that take a great deal of time to discuss and explore. We love spending time with our friends talking about such things but they are far beyond the scope of a silly little article like this.

So why write this article you may ask?

Simple. We want you to know it is possible to get to the point where you don’t have to be all things to all people all the time but the only way to get there is to standardize and lock down your systems, create a model where your team is rewarded more than they would be anywhere else and totally commit to achieving your goals… until you get to the point where you can let it run on autopilot and monitor the office’s progress while standing back a bit.

Why is that knowledge useful without a roadmap to get there?

Because if someone else has already done it, it’s probably possible! So use that knowledge to go out and make it happen for yourself. Visit some offices, talk to friends/colleagues who have success and emulate them, figure it out! You got this.