Drilling Down on the Dental Niche

Nov 13th 2012
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By Liz Gold

Naden/Lean LLC has the dental market covered. The Hunt Valley, Maryland, firm has been paving the niche since 1956. With more than 96,000 dentists in the United States and Canada, there are about seventy accounting firms that are dental specialists, according to Andrew Rose, Naden/Lean's director of Marketing and Business Development.

"It's a vast market and a there are a small amount of folks who can really do a good job", Rose said. "I would venture to guess that if you took all the firms that specialize in dental accounting and added all their clients together, it would be about 10 percent of the market. It's a huge untapped market for us."

Dentists are highly educated and high earners, yet despite all their training, many have never taken a business class, Rose said. It's for this reason Naden/Lean takes to visiting colleges and universities to talk with graduating dental students about how to manage their future practices. Not surprisingly, many of them become clients.

"We'll tell them almost everything they need to know to run their office, but at the end of the day, they want to drill and fill, they don't want to be doing accounting and taxes", Rose said. "But they know if we're willing enough to give it away, we must be good enough to do it for them."

With four senior level members, six managers, and fifteen bookkeepers on staff in the dental department, Rose knows his team is strong and isn't shy about saying so. Aside from being well versed in dental lingo, the group focuses on showing dentists what they want to see - management reports that reveal reasons as to why their supply costs are high or why their hygienist isn't turning enough patients. 

"We get a ton of prospects every day", Rose said. "They call me and say 'I have an accountant, I'm his only dental client, and I really don't think he understands what's going on in my practice.' If there wasn't a division here I wasn't proud of, I wouldn't be pushing as hard, but I think our guys are the best in the country. I set high standards for myself and I set high standards for these guys. They're really, really good."

Rose talks about some specifics to managing a dental practice, his firm's sweet spot, and how social media has changed the game.

How did the firm decide to get into the dental niche in the 50s? How has the practice grown, and to what do you attribute that growth?

I'm not sure what the initial decision was, whether it was a factor of the folks Paul Naden (the firm's founder) knew from college. We started in the health care realm, and dental was only a small part of that. Twenty-five plus years ago, physicians were making a lot of money and had complex tax and accounting needs. That landscape changed in the late 80s and early 90s. Then, with the reimbursement issues and roll-ups to the hospitals, we found that our physician clients were making substantially less and working harder. Many dentists limit the types of insurance they accept, preferring to work fee-for-service instead. This has shielded them to a large degree from some of the headwinds that have buffeted the medical profession. 

When I came on board, I was fortunate enough to have a stellar team of health care CPAs with a deep understanding of the health care community's needs and a wonderful reputation. They were focused on clients within a reasonable drive of our Baltimore office. I looked around at the Internet landscape and grabbed several domains related to dental CPAs. I then created an integrated lead generation machine utilizing my knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). This results in multiple dental prospects, per day, for our firm.

What are some specific needs of those managing a dental practice? How do they differ from other health care professionals?

Dentists have specific needs in terms of how their office is run and how they manage expenses. We understand how participation in insurance plans affects the percentage of adjustments to gross productions, what portion of a practice should be dentist production versus hygiene production, how much hygiene production should be relevant to compensation, and so on. Because of this vast historical knowledge and internal benchmarking statistics, we're able to quickly get dentists up to standards on any aspect of their practice.

What are among your most common services for dental practices?

The most common services include tax planning and preparation (generally two to four meetings per year), management reports outlining overhead costs and flagging those outside of the norms, accounting and bookkeeping services, and dental practice purchase assistance.

Do you have a sweet spot of clients among the dental community? Why do they come to you?

We work with dentists throughout the arc of the careers. Many of our clients are recently graduated associates who need a minimal amount of tax guidance; others are seasoned dentists looking to bring on a partner or looking to transition out of their practice. They come to us for a variety of reasons, typically because they have done their research, read our articles, watched our videos, used our checklists (all free), and then realize we're the best resource for them.

What steps did the firm take to pave the dental niche?

The same as establishing any other niche, you need to have good to excellent people performing the work, continually learn about the profession, give back by speaking at society meetings and schools, work with other trusted vendors who have a similar ethical fiber, and be consistent in your messaging and deliverable.

How has social media impacted your marketing in this area? How do you manage all the channels? Is there a particular one your dental clients gravitate toward? 

Social media has been a wonderful boon for us. By understanding the algorithms the search engines utilize, we're able to gather up many of the social media assets and use them as a means to drive more dentists to the appropriate website. If I had to say which one was best, it would probably be our blog, followed by our Twitter account (in terms of engagement with the dental community).

What percentage of your clients are dental practices?

Overall, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of our clients are in the dental community, but in terms of new business, it's currently more than 70 percent. This is the fastest growing section of our firm. We also provide services to the nonprofit community, the equine community, and subcontractors, and we have an outsourced technology division.

How will ObamaCare affect the dental profession - and your clients?

That's a good question. We'll be sitting in on several briefings over the next few weeks to get a better understanding of the impacts. Once we get a good sense of what changes there will be, we'll prepare a series of articles to share with our clients and the dental societies.

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About the author:

Liz Gold owns Rhino Girl Media, offering writing and editing services to companies of all sizes. A published journalist for sixteen years, Liz writes about business and culture. She can be reached at [email protected].

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