Dental practice owners and their teams often dream of growing a successful dental group or a DSO. Then complexity sets in. Today, successful practitioners have to survive the world of business which means marketing, messaging, HR finance compliance and it’s a lot for any team to manage but there are DSOs out there that have already overcome these challenges. DSOs that hold the secrets dental groups need. DSO Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Dental Empire uncovers those secrets, walking you step-by-step through the process of creating the doctor, team, and patient experience you’ve always wanted. 

Whether your goal is to be a top clinician in a single practice or to build your own multi-practice portfolio, this book has the resources you’re looking for. Written by Emmet Scott, co-founder, and CEO of Community Dental Partners, DSO Secrets shares the knowledge he used to build a brand into a $100-million-dollar DSO.

This is The Author Hour, I’m your host Benji Block and on today’s show, we’re joined by Emmet Scott and Emmet has just released a new book titled DSO Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Dental Empire. Emmet, we’re so glad to have you here on the show, and congratulations on the new book.

Emmet Scott: Yeah, thank you so much.

Benji Block: This is a pretty niche book. It hints a bit at what you’re trying to do here with this and who you’re trying to reach but, tell me a little bit about your background and what led to your desire to want to write and release this book right now.

Emmet Scott: Before I was in the dental space, I was helping entrepreneurs learn how to scale to be executives— how do you scale a business?— and what I saw was, there’s a lot of information on going from kind of flat-footed into entrepreneurship but once you got a successful business going, going from entrepreneur to scaling executive, there wasn’t information on. 

My best friend from the age of two is a dentist. He reached out to me and wanted to open up a dental practice and that’s really where this all began. I came into the dental space and realized there was lots of opportunity for a bigger impact for dentists to be having with patients and to scale their impact through business.

Benji Block: You’re doing this in the format of a book, but you also actually have a podcast as well. So, was the podcast kind of the first idea of how to help the industry?

Emmet Scott: Yeah, there were lots of concerns and questions for dentists. You know, dentists are clinicians who want to make sure that their patients are taken care of well, which we all appreciate and so sometimes, the thought of a business and scaling, they get concerned of is that going to make it so that the patient isn’t taken care of.

As dental support organizations often, called DSOs, started to come to fruition and you saw more dentist entrepreneurs starting to build infrastructures behind them. There was lots of concerns of like, “Is this going to be good or bad for the industry?” I think it’s playing out very good, but dentists didn’t know so I started a podcast called DSO Secrets and that was kind of the beginning of what would later be turned into this book, just so dentists and dentist entrepreneurs could come together and start to say, “Okay, how do we impact the industry in a very positive way?”

Benji Block: That’s awesome. Who is your ideal reader for this book? Is it just all dentists? Is it really specific to those trying to scale?

Emmet Scott: Yeah, I would say, dentists for sure who have a vision that’s maybe bigger than their current infrastructure. You know, they really kind of have that entrepreneur itch or seizures, it’s sometimes called, that’s come on them and now they want to have a bigger impact than what they’re having. Maybe they’ve successfully built a dental practice and they say, “This is great, what I can do every day but what if I can do more? What if I could hire associates, what if I could have another location?” And then, all the team that might be around them. 

Sometimes right at the beginning, that might be a spouse or a significant other, maybe it was like my situation, a best friend or a friend. Whoever that might be that says, “Okay, we need a roadmap on how to do this and different ways it’s been done.”

Understanding Your Customers’ Needs and Your Capabilities

Benji Block: Amazing! Well, let’s jump into some of the content and I want to start here, we’ve seen the Internet kind of have a far-reaching impact on every industry, right? I have to admit, I knew very little when it came to dental services. I was shocked to read how your profession— how the dental profession— has shifted over the last 30 years and I wanted to start with, what are some of the main shifts that you’ve seen in the industry and how has it been affected because of the Internet? 

Emmet Scott: Yeah, if we go way back, 80s, 90s, right? All of us were actually pretty good of taking care of our needs— going to the dentist, going to our physicians— and part of it was we didn’t have a lot of distractions. We didn’t have cellphones, et cetera that were taking up so much of our mind share and what has happened is a lot of our wants, a lot of our entertainment, our interest have truly been weaponized with incredible marketing capability to ping us, to get us to do one more swipe here and there.

What we didn’t realize is, the healthcare industry and dentists specifically for this book were getting left behind. They hadn’t really stepped into the new marketing era that was needed in order to make sure that patients were prioritizing their health above the Netflix series.

Benji Block: What do you think are some of those common kinds of new traits that an entrepreneurial dentist absolutely has to have in this now new kind of economy?

Emmet Scott: Yeah, I think as important as dental school is— as much as they pay for it, as much as they learn there— they have to realize that learning that capability is different than reaching the patients and the customers and helping them understand the value.

It really comes down to what I say is the ultimate in marketing, which is empathy. Understanding what the customer is facing and all the challenges they have and how are you going to reach them, how are you going to make dentistry a priority for them and what’s the right team members, what’s the right prioritization and investments you need to make to have that capability and of course, social media and a lot of online capability is one of the first things that everyone should learn and it’s constantly evolving.

Doing this podcast is unique versus other ways that people would have consumed information on 540 AM radio, right? The biggest thing is just having an open mind that your marketing is going to have to change, and the purpose of the marketing is to connect all this value that you have over to where the customer is, where the patient is, and not just assume that they should know how important it is.

Benji Block: You say it’s constructive to think about ACE clinical mastery as part of the foundation in your business development? You’ve spent time here— kind of have to spend time there before you can go into the next leg of an entrepreneurial journey— so ACE being available, capable and engaged. I thought we talk about that just for a minute because I think it can apply in any industry.

I’d love for you to just talk about that acronym and how it maybe helps you stay focused on some key fundamentals in the practice and in dentistry specifically.

Emmet Scott: Yeah, in any path of entrepreneurship you’ll see there’s the technician phase, the entrepreneur phase, and then the executive phase and I guess ultimately, just passive owner phase. That’s out there. In that very beginning phase of technician, I wanted to break it down in that clinical profession to really say, it’s not just about being great but how do you define great.

I broke it up into these three parts. One is availability. One of the things the Internet has also created is, people want to do things when they want to do them, you know? None of us would say, “Hey Walmart’s great, it’s open from 9 to 4,” right? When we want to go shop, we want to go shop and now, they’re feeling the pressure that Amazon’s even easier. Why would I need to get in my car to have groceries delivered? Have something come to me.

That availability really expanding and saying, “What does that mean for me as a clinician and for my dental practice? What do I need to do to have online scheduling? What do I need to do to my office hours to have that?” If we don’t really connect with what the patient needs there, then there’s no purpose in scaling everywhere else.

The number two is that capability side. We just see more and more that patients want the dentist to do as much comprehensive care as possible, which means that the capability of the clinician needs to continue to improve, which I think most dentists are interested in, but it was just a reminder and as they bring on associates, that they want to have a platform in place where capability can continue to expand.

Sometimes, clinicians, doctors can get excited about referring to one another and I think we’re really in a world where people don’t want to have six appointments or go to different places. They really want that one-stop shops even when it comes to their healthcare. 

Then that last part is engagement. We’ve all heard about bedside manners and that’s got to be that culture. Patients aren’t experts in anything clinical, they’re only experts in how they felt, right? That can be a little bit painful when you think about all the schooling and all of the learning and what a beautiful job you did medically for them but remember that when they walk out, the way they’re going to communicate to their friends and family is going to be all-around how they felt during the entire appointment. Those are just three different areas that I say, “Hey, make sure you’re trying these up with your team.”

Moving From Clinician to Entrepreneur

Benji Block: A couple of follow-up questions on that. I guess the first one would be when we talk about being available, how do you be available without burning out? What are some of the systems that you tell people to implore and doing that without just saying, okay, we’re running our team ragged?

Emmet Scott: I think part of it is really understanding who your customer avatar is, who your ideal patient is, right? If you’re focused, let’s say, in the pediatric realm with kids, you have to start thinking about how are we going to make after-school hours available. If you’re looking at certain geriatric markets, those who are retired, maybe that’s a different timeframe for them. 

I think each one really depends on which patient type, which patient avatar that you’re focused on. Then yeah, if you really take this to the extreme, do you get into some kind of shift scheduling and so forth, so that you can balance these two sides. What I don’t think exists anymore is there’s no more world where a dentist works from 10 to 4:00 three days a week. I just think patient demand is way beyond that.

Benji Block: Yup, that’s annoying when you see that. I was going to say, I’ve seen that a few times where I think it’s people still stuck in an old system where like, “My wife’s a teacher and she can’t get an appointment because they close before she’s out of school.” Target market clearly matters and adjusting your schedule accordingly makes you more available. When we talk about being engaged, we talk about the feeling that people walk out with. 

If that is something that a dentist didn’t learn in school, how are you teaching people to better engage? What are maybe some questions we can be asking ourselves in order to better engage with customers as they’re in for an appointment? 

Emmet Scott: Yes, so this is really simple and yet we can easily overlook it. One of the things you can do is take a family member if you want to start there or a friend and literally do what I call a feelings audit, right? As touchy as that might sound but drive up to your practice and stand outside with them and say, “So, how do you feel? What’s your initial impression,” right? Have them walk in the door, “So, how do you feel?” 

Each of these different steps, have them go back and do the x-rays, et cetera. Now, you could just have them go through the whole appointment as well and then at the end say, “Hey, could I just ask you a few questions? When you drove up, how did you feel? How did you feel as you came in? With the lobby, what impressions did you get?” et cetera and I think these are things that we just, especially from a clinical perspective, kind of skip over.

I mean, someone comes in with pain, they have an abscess, they need a tooth extracted; these are very technical healthcare capabilities we got to know how to do, but we can forget that the little things along the way frankly might be the things that they emphasize more when they walk out. You can also look at your team and say, “Is my team giving an impression of connection and feeling that this patient wants, or are we a little bit too clinical?” for lack of a better word. 

Benji Block: That’s good. As you’ve done these interviews and you’ve talked with successful dentist entrepreneurs, there’s this common discussion around the dark tunnel. What is that dark tunnel experience? Kind of explain that and then maybe provide some tips or encourage for those that are in that space. 

Emmet Scott: Yes, so as you move from clinician to entrepreneur, you can start getting some really cool successes but I mean, you’re working your tail off like you’re crazy to learn marketing, to learn accounting— all of those different things but you’ll get to a place of momentum and there is an energy to like learning all these different industries, right? But then what we’ve seen is— let’s say you get two, three, even as high as seven, ten locations, depending on geography, you just can’t manage that big of an enterprise at that point. 

Again, this could happen on three locations and so, the dark tunnel starts to happen as you go, “Wait, I can’t do this alone. I need to hire some more people” and as you hire people from a financial perspective, your profitability starts to go down. From a complexity perspective, it actually goes up a little bit. I mean, you’re excited to have them but now they need training and they need to be brought in the culture and they need to— you know, all of these different things. 

We call this the dark tunnel because then what we’ll see happen is people say, “Man, I just need to add another practice in order to pay for all of this infrastructure that I am having to bring on.” Well, as you add that other practice, guess what? I need more infrastructure, and it just keeps going for a while. It’s like now, I need a CFO, now I need a COO, now I need all these different parts. The reason I wanted to make sure this gets called out in the book is because dentists and entrepreneurs can start to believe that they’re doing something wrong. 

Then they’ll try to pull way back and they’ll say, “Wait, that was the wrong way. Let me try this again.” You know, they might sell off a couple of locations or whatnot and then try again and [just] knowing that’s just a reality of the process. Then, I gave them a couple of ways that you can shortcut the dark tunnel or if it is something that you want to do, how do you grin and bear your way through it knowing that it’s a reality and not something that they’re making a mistake on?

Benji Block: What would maybe be one way to shortcut the tunnel?

Emmet Scott: Well, there’s other organizations now out there— and we own one, Community Dental Partners— where they actually have the infrastructure, allow you to keep your entrepreneur autonomy but all of that executive function, all that back office stuff, that frankly, the patient is never going to see anyway, can be done by someone else and you’re not having to shell out for this whole executive team nor are you having to go through the learning curve with them. 

There you understand the industry, they can then customize it to the pieces you need but let’s be honest, accounting is accounting for a lot of this. IT is IT for a lot of this, so why not just outsource that and then move forward on the parts that you really care about having more impact with the patients. So, that is just one way. Another one I put in there is organizations like Dentist Entrepreneur Organization or DEO, where you can network with other entrepreneur dentists who are growing just so you don’t have these many missteps. I mean, you’re going to have some, that’s part of entrepreneurship, right? 

But if you can learn from others, that’s the cheapest way to learn. “Hey, I went down that route, here is a problem with it”. Make sure that your individual knows these things or has this part of the culture. Those are really helpful to have those kinds of mastermind groups. 

Finding the Balance in Your Vision

Benji Block: Absolutely. People that have done it before you and asking quality questions and not staying siloed off on an island is so important in entrepreneurship. We have to be willing to ask questions, we have to be willing to go find people. That will definitely shortcut the tunnel, so I love that. 

Emmet Scott: One other thing I’ll just add is this whole journey is a series of going from an A-student back to an F-student. From an A-student back to an F, you know, just when you finally get your clinical capability really strong and you’re seeing success there, then you want to expand and grow and become an entrepreneur, you’re going to find yourself not knowing a bunch of things. 

Then as you get successful there and you say, “I got to get to the next level of executive leadership” you’re going to find yourself not knowing. Humility in the process is definitely something we’re all signing up for if you’re going to scale and grow. 

Benji Block: It also makes it so hard to want to sign up for, right? 

Emmet Scott: Yeah, that’s right. Well, that’s why the first chapter is “Do You Really Want To Be a Dentist Entrepreneur”, right? Because I just want to go into this whole thing as transparently as possible and yeah, you got to really get connected to your why and say, “All right, is this a personal develop game that I want to sign up for?” and I think for every entrepreneur, isn’t that the reality? 

Yes, we’re doing business stuff. Yes, we’re excited about bringing values to the customer but there is a personal development side that we are all really signing up for that we, in some maniacal way, enjoy.

Benji Block: For sure. Yep, that is so good to highlight. Okay, so there are those that are willing to trust a DSO, and then there are those that are going to have some level of apprehension or fear. I know you think the fear is unwarranted but what maybe leads to that perception of this DSO, Dental Service Organization, versus this DCO that you talk about (Dental Control Organization), what’s that divide in thought? 

Emmet Scott: Yeah, I think there’s got to be this perfect balance between the dental vision always being bigger than the business vision, so to speak, in a DSO, and what the fear is, is that the business guys will take over, they’ll start dictating treatment that the clinicians have to do, et cetera. So, I just called out a chapter called, “Don’t Build an Evil DSO” and it’s fairly easy not to, right? 

Just make sure that the clinical vision is what’s driving everything and frankly, the dentist can always fire the DSO. That’s why I say it’s somewhat unwarranted is that at the end of the day, you as the clinician, you as the leader, you’re the owner, you’re the one that’s going to drive the outcome here and if you don’t like where things are going then you change them and it’s really not that hard. 

Benji Block: Yep, just remembering you’re in control. The second half of the book really is nuts and bolts. It’s so good because it is practical and it’s action steps. Highlight for listeners what they can expect for the back half of the book and some of what you cover there.

Emmet Scott: Well, in having the podcast and having the Facebook group and being involved with Dentist Entrepreneur Organization, we, of course, have a series of questions constantly thrown at us. If you want to think about the last half of the book as almost an extensive FAQ that everybody wants to know.

How do you truly build like that amazing customer experience? Should I build a new location, should I buy a location? How does all the financing work from senior lending to mezded to private equity firms? How do I get my org chart, this executive team? What are these positions? You know, I have never hired a CFO before, what should I be looking for? Just knowing the jargon overall, I just thought it would be really helpful to have maybe a more in-depth piece to some of those frequently asked questions, so you just felt more armed to take on building and scaling your business.

Benji Block: Yeah, it sounds like it’s another way to shortcut the tunnel honestly.

Emmet Scott: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, there is so much to learn as you scale and grow, and ultimately, healthcare is so difficult compared to some of the other entrepreneur industries I’ve been in because it is so people-intensive. There’s all these people leadership and org chart and jargon that you have to learn in order to scale in healthcare and so as much as I can lay that out, you’re right, create a little bit of a subway train through the dark tunnel here. 

Benji Block: Amazing. Well, Emmet, for those that want to stay connected with you maybe tell us where we can get the podcast and where can people reach out? 

Emmet Scott: Yeah, by far the easiest is to come over on to DSO Secrets on the Facebook page. I’m very responsive to any messages through Facebook. Listen to the podcast, DSO Secrets, we’ll have a lot of answers. I hear a lot of dentists will come to the DSO Secrets Facebook page and just search questions that they have, and they’ll see that a lot of them have been talked through. 

That would be a great place, or you could come all the way over to the DEO, the DEO Dental Group, and come join while the mastermind is there with us. 

Benji Block: Well, the book is DSO Secrets: The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Dental Empire. It’s available on Amazon now. Emmet, thanks so much for being on Author Hour today and best of luck with this book as it gets out into the world. 

Emmet Scott: Thank you so much.