Since this is my first post, allow me to introduce myself and share what brought me to this moment. I’m Christine Bahu, founder of SmileMore Marketing, and creator of the SmileMore Dental Savings Plan.
I left my career in the telecom industry in 2002.
I left my career in the telecom industry in 2002 after giving birth to twin boys, and 4 months later I started working in my husband’s dental practice. I thought that being my own boss could give me the flexibility to be there for my kids and my past business experience could play a vital role in helping his new practice grow…which it did…until 2008 when we were hit with the Great Recession.
In 2006 we took on a major construction project for the dental practice.
Two years earlier in 2006, we took on a major construction project, going from 3 operatories to 6, and expanding the office size 3 fold. We had taken out an enormous loan. Then the reality of the economic turndown was a 30% drop in the practice’s collection, and 30% was the amount of money we used to have to bring home, leaving the rest to cover all of our overhead. So we were able to keep the practice running, pay the exorbitant rent, pay the big practice loan we took out 2 years earlier, and keep up with the staff payroll – but there was nothing left for us. So we took out another loan. This time it was a home equity loan – and that’s what we lived off for a few years.
Financial Strain = Stressful Marriage
As you might imagine this financial situation was a huge strain on my marriage and I felt like I couldn’t give my children the childhood I wanted for them. We stopped funding retirement accounts and stopped saving for the boys’ college tuition. We stopped vacationing and cut down on dinners out. We limited our entertainment expenses and restructured our lives. But I’ll never forget the day in 2010 when I called my husband and told him we only had a little over $2,000 between our personal account and his business account combined and I gave him a choice. I said, “We can either pay your practice management consultant this month or we can pay the home mortgage. What’s it going to be?”
I knew something had to change.
We needed a way to increase top-line revenue and put us back on track. But what could we do differently? Fortunately, we still had our financial planner, Steve, who is a partner at an accounting and financial planning firm that catered to the dental industry. During a conversation with Steve, he told me about this new concept where a dental practice could create their own dental plan to offer their uninsured patients instead of dealing with insurance companies.
I was like, “WOW, what a great idea!”
With an in-house plan like this, dentists could start from scratch and create something for their patients that was SO MUCH BETTER than dealing with PPOs! They could set a plan enrollment fee for whatever they wanted and include discounts on anything they wanted and they could exclude anything from the plan! They didn’t have any obstacle like a missing tooth clause, waiting period, plan maximums, and even anything to send to an insurance company and then wait to get paid. And even better, uninsured patients could have a vehicle for them to still get quality dentistry at a high-end practice, without the dentist having to massively discount fees that are dictated by a PPO.
And then it hit me.
Wait a minute. What could this really mean to practice if they signed up 10 patients a month, month over month, and then the plan would not only renew the next year for the patients already enrolled, but then more new patients sign up each month, month after month, and the next thing you know, you have this snowballing asset in addition to in-chair production in your office?
This a-ha moment was happening at just around the same time that Blockbuster Video declared bankruptcy and Nexflix was ramping-up its subscription-service business model.
If you were a Blockbuster Video customer, you had to get in your car, go to the video store, physical walk through the aisles, pick a movie and pay for it, then drive home to watch it, and make sure you got it back in time to avoid a late fee. This is a pay-as-you-go model. But if you were a Netflix customer, you were excited because they were just rolling out their subscription model. For a monthly fee, a Netflix streaming customer had access to everything Netflix had available, and you could watch as much as you want, whenever you want, just for being signed up. And look at what was happening to their stock prices…
So, I put my faith in the subscription model.
I set out to develop a dental savings plan for my husbands’ office. I knew that over time, the enrollments and re-enrollments would snowball, and eventually, we would have predictable revenue coming in that was in addition to the in-chair production each month.
I started to put together a plan.
So, I started to put together a plan for our practice but I had no idea where to start or how to make it successful. – I knew the plan had to be attractive enough for a patient to see its value and also had to make financial sense to the practice. It had to have staying power so the patients want to renew year after year. I spent hours running calculations to figure out the enrollment fee and discounts, I hired a graphic designer to make a brochure to advertise it, and I hired a web developer to make an e-commerce website for secure credit card enrollments. I even had to hire an attorney to be sure we weren’t violating any rules, and also to create a Terms and Conditions for the patient to agree to that protected the office. It was really exciting, and it was really expensive…
And it took me a very long time to pull this all together – almost a year. The day-to-day operations of the practice and the needs of the patients always were a higher priority…filling the schedule, following up on outstanding insurance claims, sending out statements, treatment plan presentations, Quickbooks – the list goes on and on.
But, when we rolled it out we were met with gratitude from our uninsured patients, an increase in treatment plan acceptance, and a fuller hygiene schedule, and more uninsured patients selecting our office over practices that didn’t offer a plan.
A few months after launching our plan I showed Steve, our financial planner, what I had created and he simply asked, “Will you do this for all of my clients?”
I was floored and honored, and that’s when my passion for helping other dentists create recurring revenue for their practices began. Steve started referring and I started building.
Since then, thousands of patients across the country are receiving quality dentistry at affordable pricing set by each dentist with the plan. My clients have grown a snowball of recurring revenue which carried them through the forced COVID-19 shutdown and are prepared to face a recession the next time one happens.
Now, 10 years after creating my first SmileMore Dental Savings plan for my husband, our family is finally financially secure. Our home equity loan is repaid, we no longer have personal or business debt aside from our mortgage, and I just sent my twins off to college with the peace of mind that they don’t have to take out student loans.
So, I’m starting this blog today to share with you everything that I have learned over the years so you can easily and successfully create a dental savings plan for your own office. And since I’ve worked in the dental industry for almost 20 years, I also plan to share some practice management ideas and skills I’ve learned along the way.
I hope you’ll enjoy this journey with me.