Be a student of your industry. Know the trends, resources, best practices, law and who’s who. One way to stay current is to join organized dentistry organizations such as the Chicago Dental Society, Illinois State Dental Society, and the American Dental Association, which all provide continuing education opportunities to keep up with the ever-changing dental profession. Keep your ear to the ground and your eyes on the road. It’ll keep you motivated, focused, excited, and hopefully out of trouble.
Dr. Bill Simon is a 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine. After practicing 18 years in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, he opened City Smiles in Old Irving Park in 2004. He also owns and operates Sonrisa Urbana dental clinic which has served Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood since 1987.
Dr. Simon maintains active memberships and participates regularly in numerous professional organizations, including the Chicago Dental Society, Illinois State Dental Society and the American Dental Association.
Dr. Simon currently serves the CDS North Side Branch as Vice President and Dent-IL-PAC director. He is on the Board of Trustees of the Illinois State Dental Society and is the immediate Past Chair of the ISDS Access to Care Committee. Dr. Simon dedicates his time and skill to charitable organizations such as Dental Lifeline Network’s Donated Dental Services Program, The CDS Foundation Clinic, The Old Irving Park Community Clinic and Illinois State Dental Society Missions of Mercy. Dr. Simon is passionate about mentoring and speaks nationally to Dental Students and Dentists.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell our readers a bit about your ‘backstory”?
Iwas raised in a suburb of Chicago. As I headed off to college, I needed to make a decision about my career path and which major I wanted to pursue. I was torn between accounting and dentistry. While I was very good with numbers, the thought of working closely with people to improve their health, self-esteem, and quality of life “pulled” me in the direction of dentistry. I also felt that dentistry had the potential to provide a more autonomous and lucrative path than accounting. While I am so happy that I chose dentistry, I wasn’t fully prepared for what was ahead. Starting as an associate in a struggling Medicaid practice, my experiences have included a lost lease, an embezzlement scheme, robbery at gun point, and a major fire. After the fire, my team and I worked out of three offices before settling into an abandoned dental office while we rebuilt. Within four months of the fire, our practice had the best production month in practice history. Over time, I grew to become the sole owner of two highly successful, multi-doctor practices. Included in that was six build outs, nine locations, four space-sharing arrangements, one practice acquisition and more than 25 associates. While my story may have had some rough patches along the way, the trials, tribulations and hard work to become a dentist and run my own practice has been the most rewarding and fulfilling thing I have ever done.
What made you want to start your own practice?
I was always interested in a career where I could be independent and autonomous, which was something that set the dental profession apart from others. The idea of having to answer to a “boss” was not very appealing to me. Furthermore, when I made the decision to go in to dentistry, the overwhelming majority of dentists owned their own practices. It was almost a given that I, and most of my contemporaries, would own our own practices. Looking back on 36 “boss-less” years, I certainly have no regrets.
Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage(d) both roles?
I always tell the young doctors who I mentor and speak to that you have to know where to draw the line between providing care and managing your business. Particularly in today’s complex environment of rapidly advancing technology, constantly improving materials and procedures, and increasing regulation. Are you going to be the world’s best dentist or the world’s best business owner? You can’t be both. Where on that line do you want to position yourself?
I have come to learn that I am a jack of many trades and master of only a few. The few that I feel I have mastered, whether it’s a part of providing care or managing my business, are ones that I am most passionate about and enjoy doing the most. Managing all of the others requires me to surround myself with good people, including other care providers, amazing team members and, in some cases, outside professionals.
As a business owner, how do you know when to stop working IN your business (maybe see a full patient load) and shift to working ON your business?
Follow your passion. What is it that you love to do? Spend your time doing that. Just because you are a business owner does not necessarily mean that you have to be the one working on your business. You certainly need to have a leadership role, but that can simply mean lead and then get out of the way.
If you’re passionate about providing dental care, be the dentist and surround yourself with a good management, clinical, and administrative team. If you’re passionate about being a business owner and growing the practice, then surround yourself with skilled, passionate and motivated associate dentists and a good clinical and administrative team.
I often like to make the point that there are dental students now who have no intention of putting their hands in anybody’s mouth. They simply want to get the license that will allow them to own dental practices in states that require a dental license to own a practice. Conversely, there are dental students who have no intention of owning or managing a practice in any way. They simply want to provide care. These are the students who usually go on to work in corporate dentistry, large group practices, DSOs and or public health organizations.
From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures? Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?
As I pointed out in my backstory, my path has been riddled with hurdles. The hurdle that sticks out most is the major office fire. When one finds themselves out on the street with their future in the balance, it motivates you to take action. In this case, every aspect of the business had to be dealt with at once. While I hope that others don’t ever experience an office fire, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me and my practice. I learned that in some cases you have no control over what happens to you, only how you respond to it.
Mistakes are similar to unforeseen hurdles. While you may have some control in avoiding mistakes, it’s how you respond to the mistakes that matters. I have always said that most of what I have learned has come out of the mistakes that I have made. When you come to realize that, your resilience to rebound from mistakes strengthens.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Grow Your Private Practice” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Your team is number one, your patients are number two. Without a cohesive team, you cannot achieve the goals of your mission. In the words of Simon Sinek, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
- Establish your niche and perfect it. You can’t be everything to everyone. We like to attract patients who appreciate quality of care and the personal touch, not those who are simply looking for the cheapest, quickest, most convenient option.
- Surround yourself with experts in your field. Your high school friend Karen the CPA who has no dental clients could end up becoming the most expensive friend you have ever had. When you need to outsource professional services, look to those who know the industry and additionally, even better, share your values.
- Be a student of your industry. Know the trends, resources, best practices, law and who’s who. One way to stay current is to join organized dentistry organizations such as the Chicago Dental Society, Illinois State Dental Society, and the American Dental Association, which all provide continuing education opportunities to keep up with the ever-changing dental profession. Keep your ear to the ground and your eyes on the road. It’ll keep you motivated, focused, excited, and hopefully out of trouble.
- Closely monitor your key practice indicators (KPIs). Some daily, some monthly, some quarterly, and some annually. You always need to know the score. Look for the outliers both good and bad and learn from them. For us, the number of patients seen in the last 12 months is one of the most important. It tells us if we are growing or dying. And believe me, you are doing only one or the other.
Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?
Certainly, as business owners, we have to be smart and understand that if we aren’t profitable, we can’t keep our doors open to do what we love most — serve our patient’s needs. It becomes increasingly difficult in the face of decreased reimbursement resulting from managed care intervention, and competition from corporate and large group practices who enjoy various economies of scale. One of my practices is a Medicaid practice, where, in my state, we have not seen any change in the already strikingly low reimbursement rates for over a decade.
To overcome that mental block, we have to work hard and work smart. We also subscribe to the edict that if you always do what is right for the patient, everything else will take care of itself. Lastly, I channel my nervous energy from the continual effort into impacting change through involvement in organized dentistry and advocacy.
Organizations such as CDS, ISDS and ADA have allowed me the opportunity to form relationships with other dental professionals. I view my membership with these organizations as an investment in my practice that allows me to better serve my patients.
What do you do when you feel unfocused or overwhelmed?
I rarely feel unfocused, although I may at times be focused on the wrong thing. I often feel overwhelmed, particularly by the rapidly advancing technology and magnitude of information being disseminated. I lean on exercise, running, and golf to bring me back to a more centered place, but even then, I have to continually stop to tell myself that certain things just aren’t important and that there are people truly suffering in this world who would trade places with me in a heartbeat.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career — None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
I too am a huge fan of mentorship. I am very grateful for my mentors and I do everything I can to mentor others. I think that when most people think of mentors, they think of someone older than themselves. I am finding that more and more of my mentors are younger than I am and help provide new insight, particularly when it comes to technology. My goal is to not become obsolete in my own lifetime.
For big picture mentorship, I look to those who have passed before me. My biggest and most influential mentors have been the editor of the Illinois State Dental Society News, Dr. Milton Salzer, and the editor of the Chicago Dental Society Review, Dr. Walter Lamacki. They have both taught me that giving back to the profession is important, particularly in the form of mentorship, community service, and protecting our patients and practices through vigilant advocacy.
My participation with the Chicago Dental Society has also allowed me to serve as a mentor for those who are just starting out in their career and as a collaborator for other colleagues in the field.
What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business?
When I first started my business, there were nowhere near the resources nor the access to resources that exist today. Back then, you had to look for resources and information. Now, there is such an abundance of information and ways to access it that it has become more about effectively filtering information than finding it.
For me, without question, the most important resource that I used to jumpstart my business was cassette tape recordings of the lectures offered at the Midwinter Meeting, which is the Chicago Dental Society’s annual scientific meeting held in Chicago. The Midwinter Meeting is a great opportunity for dental professionals to learn and participate in existing and emerging dental trends. Whether it’s recorded lectures or podcasts, I think it is important to vet the reliability, motivation and potential conflict of interests of the source of information to ensure that the information is genuine and individually well serving.
What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that?
When you lean on outside experts or consultants to help you, you can often be given bad advice simply because no one knows your practice or business as well as you do. It may be good advice for someone else, but if it doesn’t match your mission, values, and culture, then it isn’t good advice for you.
There have been many pieces of bad advice that we have received over the years, but the one that sticks out the most in my mind came from a marketing consultant that we partnered with. They advised that we not recommend soft tissue management to our periodontally involved patients because the cost of it would cause the patients, particularly new patients, to leave the practice. Their contention was that most patients are under the impression that their insurance will cover their cleanings at 100% and to hear something different would send them running. In essence, the consulting company was recommending supervised neglect of periodontal disease to improve our bottom line. Besides the fact that this was malpractice, it was a violation of our ethical standards, mission, and values. We ended up parting ways with that consulting company.
Please recommend one book that’s made the biggest impact on you?
One book that has made a huge impact on me is Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.
Where can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow my practices, City Smiles Chicago and Sonrisa Urbana, on the social media platforms listed below.
City Smiles Chicago