By Merv Saultry
“What else can I do? Dentistry is undergoing so many important changes I’m not sure just what I should focus on to adjust. It appears that my comfort zone is about to be blown away through the combined effect of increasing numbers of corporate entities entering the market, health funds re directing my patients and the introduction of industry accreditation. Where do I go for help?”
Many independent practice owners are in the above situation of looking for understanding and good advice. A very good option is to actively focus on networking and break out of the isolation of running a small business.
Small business is all about networking, building relationships and taking action.
Networking is the art of forming and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with others who are linked to your career, sector, market, region or specific interest.
Operating a dental clinic over a period of years takes a lot of time and drive, so it’s good to have a network of friends and associates to draw energy from and keep you going. By surrounding yourself with people who exhibit sustained drive and ambition, you are more likely to move forward with them. But that’s not the only benefit of networking. In fact that’s only the beginning. Networking is all about sharing ideas and knowledge. Whether it’s asking for feedback or listening to their point of view, it will help you expand your knowledge and allow you to see things from another perspective. Networking really opens the door to talk to highly influential people that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily talk to or find. It’s not just about who you are networking with directly either. Ask the right questions to find out if the person you are networking with knows who you want to know!
Discussing other points of view really expands your knowledge base, and allows you to see things from a broader perspective. Learning from other’s “best practices” saves time, energy and resources.
A good network can be an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas to help you in your role. Exchanging information on challenges, experiences and goals is a key benefit of networking because it allows you to gain new insights that you may not have otherwise thought of. Similarly, offering helpful ideas to a contact is an excellent way to build your reputation as an innovative thinker. Networking is a great opportunity to exchange best practice knowledge, learn about the business techniques of your peers and stay abreast of the latest industry developments.
A wide network of informed, interconnected contacts means broader access to new and valuable information and you’ll be amongst a group of people who aren’t afraid to offer praise where they think it’s due and constructive criticism if you ask for it. It is also likely that within a network group there will be those who have already been where you are today. This provides you with an opportunity to learn and avoid some of the common pitfalls they experienced. It’s a given that networking will result in opportunities to learn. The thing you will not know is when or how they will materialise. Whether it’s a clinical tip, marketing initiative or staff management issue it is important to be ready to be open to new and different ideas and to learn from the experience of others.
Successful networking is not a one way street. You have to give to get so be willing to be open and truthful it will only strengthen your relationships. This can help you to build your reputation as a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive person by offering useful information or tips to people who need it. It is very important that you talk to people you don’t previously know so you avoid the pitfall of being trapped in a close circle of like people and so limit access to new knowledge and experiences.
You can also extend the value of networking by educating your staff so that they’re all networkers. It’s not just about the people at the front end of the business. Everyone in a dental practice should be networking because you never know where they might be and who they might meet. It is very important that you make sure you apply critical analysis to new ideas and recommendations others put forward and select the right ideas and initiatives to apply in your business. Don’t go jumping at every new concept or opportunity that comes your way. Just make sure you are getting solid advice from the right person – someone that actually knows about what you need to know and is not just giving you their opinion on something that they have no or very little experience in. The new activities that you may consider getting involved in should align with your business goals/vision, otherwise you might find that you are spinning your wheels chasing after opportunity after opportunity and getting nowhere.
To maximise the benefits of networking you need to be active in sharing your experience, knowledge and contacts with other network members. In the same way you gain from your relationship with them. The information you give about your business should also be delivered in a friendly, clear and concise fashion. It should contain important and interesting facts, and give others the chance to interject. To make the other person feel comfortable, begin with small talk, perhaps about the event or venue. Move the conversation towards you and your business, remembering to answer any questions that might crop up. Never talk over another person. Show an interest in them, their business needs and aims. Pick up on any interesting points they raise. Record details of conversations you had.
Do this shortly after a networking episode while information is still fresh in your memory. It is important to note down all valuable information you have gained as it can easily be lost in the mass of other issues involved in operating your business. Enter contact details and profiles into a database or contact-management system. Try to maintain regular contact with your new contacts and update them about changes to your business. Keep up to speed with their business developments, too. ‘LinkedIn’ is also great medium for maintaining and building you professional network. It is also an unobtrusive way to reapproach a new contact and to keep up to date with their professional development. Simply ask a new contact if they are on LinkedIn and they would mind if you joined their network and then send them an invite, through this medium you can email them directly and you will be able to see who is in their contacts and possibly ask for an introduction to professionals you would like to get to know. Time is precious and you have to rationalise your networking time. Nothing is as good as face to face networking but use of quality online chat lines is a good second option. Care is needed to sort out the grandstanders and pretenders and the value from the chaff so you must be selective in your choice of industry chat line and be careful and truthful in any posts that you make.