What does it take to be a dental entrepreneur?

Chris Barrow considers the three categories of business owner, how they relate to dentists – and why everybody wants to be in a different category

In his celebrated work, The E-Myth Revisited, author and business coach Michael Gerber (inspiring me by still going strong at age 80) describes three categories of business owner:

The ‘technician’ – whose unique ability is their technical proficiency in a chosen field (specialist dentist/coach)

The ‘manager’ – whose unique ability is to manage and lead a team (of dentists/coaches) and

The ‘entrepreneur’ – whose unique ability is to leverage time, money and people to create a scalable business (the micro-corporate).

In The E-Myth Dentist I had the honour to collaborate with Michael on identifying how these three types manifest themselves in dentistry (I don’t get royalties from sale of either book so this isn’t an advert).

Gerber points out that these three categories can manifest themselves to differing degrees in one individual – imagine, if you will, an experienced implant dentist who also owns a seven-chair multi-disciplinary practice and has plans to buy/open satellites.


However, those business polymaths are few and far between and although working with them is a blast, there aren’t enough of them in the UK and Ireland to call them a genre – they are, perhaps, the X-men and women of dentistry, possessing special powers to survive and prosper.

The three types exist in rapidly descending proportions:

Most owners are Gerber’s ‘managers’, with three to six chairs offering general or specialist dentistry. They complain about the frustrations of managing people and dream of becoming entrepreneurs (their people managed by somebody else) or technicians (no people to manage)

A much smaller group are Gerber’s ‘technicians’, career associates who specialise and can often be found travelling around their region in the inevitable Range Rover Sport. They complain that their principals are building goodwill based partly on their own efforts and dream of owning their own practice someday and becoming managers (they think that managing people will be tolerable – because they have never done it)

Then Gerber’s ‘entrepreneurs’, a sparsely populated and disparate tribe of those who have, in some cases, stopped clinical dentistry to focus on their empire building. They complain about goodwill values and about the trials and tribulations of practice acquisition, valuation, due diligence and integration of new teams. They dream of selling up and becoming technicians again so that they no longer must manage time, people and money


Recognising the emergence of this last category, I recently attended the inaugural meeting of FIDES, The Forum for Independent Dental Entrepreneurs (www.fides.dental) co-created by former Dean of the FGDP, Trevor Ferguson and his accountant and MD son Aaron to establish a forum for those who either are or aspire to be dental entrepreneurs.

A total of 16 were attendance, representing over a dozen micro corporates and one owner who joined via Facetime from overseas.

After an introduction from Trevor and an agreement that the meeting would be run under Chatham House rules, I was then invited to facilitate a ‘state of the nation’ conversation in which we took a look at the current conditions in the UK dental sector and shared opinions as to how this would affect the future landscape. Reference was made to:

goodwill values

associate recruitment, retention
and remuneration

digital dentistry

the effect of institutional investment on the market

the future for the independent micro corporate.

Our initial conversation took as its focus how best to plan the next 10 years as an owner.

In the second part of this section we then looked at the micro corporate from the perspective of the patient and asked ourselves what would have to happen to positively differentiate from the competition (primarily defined as larger corporates, retailers, health insurers and others entering the market from the top end).

Such differentiation was defined as arising from:

building hub and spoke businesses ‘the right way’

the correct relationship with the public via branding and marketing

the correct relationship with patients through the experience delivered to them

the approach to building winning teams

innovation in digital dental systems, both clinical and non clinical.

The second section of the meeting was equally fascinating as each attending business shared with the room their own business model, ranging from carefully selected acquisitions to opening cold squat satellites (sometimes with innovative and surprising parameters).

Even from a dozen businesses, the variety of ideas and approaches engaged us all and certainly taught me a thing or two.

This initial meeting was a concise three hours but agreement was reached to invest more time in (probably) arranging a couple of full-day meetings each year and creating an online community for the exchange of questions and ideas.

It will likely be a slow burn and, given the nature of the Forum, there will be no membership drive, it is expected that membership will grow slowly and organically.

What was clear from the meeting is that there is plenty to discuss and a wealth of knowledge amongst those who are taking these first steps from clinicians and owner-managers to becoming dental entrepreneurs.

Aims and objectives

In the meantime, my work goes on, day to day, in conversation will all three categories of dentist.

Last night I enjoyed a conversation with a very well established ‘technician’ (in this case an implant dentist) whose opening question was, ’Should I buy a practice?’

Today I’ll be meeting, for the first time, the owner (‘manager’) of a small independent practice who has a much bigger future and wants some assistance in building financial and marketing systems.

This afternoon, I’ll meet with an 11-location micro-corporate to continue training a new marketing team.

Sometimes my advice to people is to accept their destiny and make the best of it.

Did you notice earlier that all three categories invest time in dreaming about what it would be like to move into a different category?

A classic case of seeing apparently greener grass when, as a sage once said, the only reason that grass on the other side of a fence seems greener is because someone is dealing with more fertiliser daily.

There is no right category – I’ve learned over the years that we are destined to be one of the three and, at great personal expense, I’ve also learned that trying to chase the greener grass of another category leads to frustration, stress, exhaustion, unhappiness and, sometimes costs a lot of money that you will never see again. Personally, through repeated pain and suffering (I’m a slow learner) that’s how I’ve come to realise that I’m destined to be a technician – and I’ve now learned to love with it (no typo there).

Loving what you do is better than trying to live somebody else’s destiny.

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow

Author at Private Dentistry

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry. EMAIL: coachbarrow@me.com WEBSITE: www.coachbarrow.com TWITTER: @CoachBarrow

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