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Front Desk

by Stephanie Sisk

CDS dentists have many roles in their dental offices. You are doctors, first and foremost, but you are also business managers, new business development leaders and team-builders. This online column will help you stay on top of the latest dental trends and resources as you juggle all of your roles.

  • September 14, 2016

Numbers matter


No matter the business or organization, numbers – statistics, reports, data, survey results, profits, losses – figure into the planning and success of the operation.

Busy dental practices have much to juggle each day, but to thrive and grow, dentists can benefit from an easy system to clarify goals and guide decision-making.

One useful tool is an internal analysis called SWOT, for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Loosely attributed to work of a Stanford Research Institute team led by Albert Humphrey, SWOT was a methodology that broke down data from Fortune 500 companies in the 1960s and 1970s.

The idea is to identify strengths and map out a plan to use them to maximize opportunities. Those same strengths can also be used to develop strategies to minimize weaknesses or threats to the practice. 

“By taking the time to write down your observations in each of these areas, you can consider each of the issues facing the dental field in general and your office, specifically, to think about how you will handle them,” advises Jill Nesbitt, a dental consultant from Nashville, TN. 

Tim Green, founder of Palo Alto Software, brings a business mentality to SWOT, but he breaks down each element and encourages a thoughtful perspective to the exercise.  

“Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the company (think: reputation, patents, location),” Mr. Green said. “You can change them over time but not without some work. Opportunities and threats are external (think: suppliers, competitors, prices)—they are out there in the market, happening whether you like it or not. You can’t change them.”

Mr. Green describes strengths as “positive attributes, tangible and intangible” to the practice and “within your control.” The checklist includes:
  • What do you do well?
  • What are your resources, including the positive attributes of your employees (knowledge, background, credentials, reputation, skills) and the tangible assets of the practice (capital, credit, existing patients, technology)?
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
Weaknesses are just that, parts of the practice that “detract from the value you offer or place you at a competitive disadvantage,” Mr. Green says. Be realistic and use an objective eye to identify weaknesses such as:

  • What does the practice lack?
  • Do you accept fewer insurance companies?
  • Are you in a poor location?
  • Are your competitors using social media in a more robust way than your office

Weaknesses must be enhanced for the practice to grow.

Opportunities present a chance to explore positive changes that could bolster your practice. Interesting trends –technology or market changes, government policy, lifestyle changes – could all impact your practice if you’re positioned to take advantage of them. 

Business threats seem daunting because you have no control over them, but Mr. Green says it is best to identify them and create a contingency plan should they occur. Potential threats include:

  • What are your competitors doing?
  • Is technology threatening your position?
  • Do you have bad debt or cash-flow problems?
  • Are there changes in the conduct of your patients and/or employees that could affect your practice?
  • Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?

The best results will come through a team meeting so all can contribute their views. With a SWOT analysis in hand, you can begin to identify strengths, explore new solutions, identify barriers to your goals, reveal both possibilities and limitations for change, and decide on a successful direction. Crunching those numbers will yield beneficial information for long-term success.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.
© 2016, Chicago Dental Society
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