Agents of Change: Clearing the hurdles of selling your dental practice


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Published: 24/7/2020
By Simplyhealth & Abi Greenhough, Lily Head Dental Practice Sales

Navigating our way through a pandemic is a challenge in itself. But when dental practice owners are faced with whether to sell-up and retire or continue in a PPE-clad world, it can be tough to predict the best route for them. Lily Head Dental Practice Sales are experts in helping dentists make the best decision for them and their business. As ‘agents of change’, they’re helping dentists all over the UK to change the course of their personal and professional lives.


Entering change on this scale takes courage and resilience – two important qualities that can help us battle through stress. With this in mind, Abi Greenhough, a Director at Lily Head Dental Practice Sales, shares some valuable insights to help guide dentists who are stuck at these difficult crossroads. 

What direction to take when selling a dental practice?
First hurdle. Challenging the status quo.

Abi tells us, “The main barrier for most people to taking action is the ‘status quo’.  By ‘status quo’ I mean when dentists know something will have to change in the future but who struggle to come to terms with the disruption and therefore procrastinate or do nothing.”


Abi continues, “Early decisions are often the ones you have more time to make, are often the best ones and therefore the least stressful…Delayed decisions can often be rushed, stressful, not fully considered and sometimes very expensive.”


“One of our core values is to ‘handle our clients with sensitivity and care’”, says Abi.  “This is because we recognise that dentists who decide to sell their dental practice are willing to change the status quo and accept that with that will come disruption and some challenges.  We want to recognise and reward that commitment and the trust they have placed in me and my team.”

How to decide on your goal
Second hurdle. Deciding on your goal.

“We are always talking to dentists about strategies to become practice owners or strategies to exit a dental practice”, says Abi.  “These are big decisions with significant consequences for our clients, their families and colleagues.  The discussions always start with what they want to achieve and what the journey would look like to achieve a great outcome for them.”


A dentist’s financial outcome is pretty high up the list, but not the only point to think about. It’s only human for dentists to be fondly attached to their practice which they’ve put time, money and effort into. So it’s not easy to just quit and sell-up. Thoughts may cross their minds like, ‘what type of buyer will be interested in my practice?’ ‘When will they pay me?’ ‘What will the handover look like?’

Preparing for your next step
Third hurdle. Making time to prepare.

Abi recommends preparing five to 10 years ahead of selling a dental practice to ensure as smooth a process as possible and to secure the maximum ROI. She says, “We do know that some principals find themselves in distressed circumstances and cannot plan this far out. Theirs or a partner’s ill health, divorce or bereavement can shorten the preparation period. Our advice is not to shorten the preparation period simply because you did not get around to doing something.”


“You may have been sitting in the Principal seat for 35 years and you know you cannot do this forever. But despite that, ‘letting go’ is something you would rather continue to put off or ignore altogether.  It’s a bit like ‘cold calling’ in sales. Everyone knows they should do it, but not everyone does it.”

Making time to prepare
Your goal is crucial.

Building a picture in your mind of how you want your future to look and what you’d like to do after selling your practice is a great way to decide what you want, Abi tells us. Maybe you’d like to do some consulting or teaching in your profession, or join a professional body? Or maybe retirement is your plan – so think about what your retirement could look like.


Abi comments, “The Dentists who say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do next. All I know is dentistry’, are the ones I encourage to spend some proper time figuring out what they want their future to look like.”


Her discussions with Dentists often reveal insecurities.  Dentists often worry about not feeling relevant, losing their reputation, or even their position in society. They may feel that owning a dental practice defines them to many people. It’s an identity, a rhythm in their life which gives them their purpose of being a carer of patients and being respected by others in the practice or industry as the go-to person. No wonder it’s a difficult decision to make. Challenging the status quo is a risk. Having a goal can help them stabilise and make the best decision possible.

Does this sound like you?

If so, Abi recommends that you share your thoughts with your close friends and family. They’re unlikely to tell you that your change in status will make you irrelevant! “One thing I can tell you is that the new owners of your business will be heavily reliant on your counsel”, Abi reassures.


Once you’ve sold your practice, a change of role is inevitable. But, you can negotiate with your buyer to make sure you get a deal you’re happy with. You might stay on to do clinical work and reassure the patient list that there’ll be no disruption to service for the next three to five years. You might choose to leave the business immediately. Whatever your arrangement is, Abi advises, “embrace the change and agree in detail exactly what your scope of responsibilities are with the new buyers.”


Remember: just because you’ve sold your practice and liquidated your asset doesn’t mean you have to give up dentistry. If dentistry, is your passion, you’ll find a way to keep that passion alive.


In the words of Lao Tzu, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.


Or in the words of Nicholas Sparks, ‘It’s never too late to start doing the right thing’.


Either way, both these sentiments apply to the process of abandoning the status quo and taking control of what your future looks like.  For many dentists selling their dental practice is the key to unlocking their future.

Quotes relevant to those selling their practice
What does retirement look like to you?

Here are some points that Abi recommends you start to get your head around with your family:


  • Visualise with your family what you want your retirement to look like.
  • Consider how you’ll spend your time outside the practice - what you like, enjoy, find interesting, what gives you a buzz and purpose, what are your talents? Where do you want to live?
  • Consider what you’ve always been curious about but perhaps not had the time to pursue. Visualize with no boundaries. What do you love about your role and how else can you meet your needs? Start other meaningful and purposeful activities before you exit. For instance, coaching, mentoring, BDA roles, or completely unrelated activities like secretary of the golf club.
  • Knowing when to exit is a very personal choice. It’s something you must really want to do.  You must embrace the process to make sure you and your chosen dental broker remain in control of the process.
Get the reassurance you need.

You don’t have to make a decision alone. Abi recommends starting a discussion with your trusted advisors well in advance of making any concrete decisions:


  • Check you’re on track to finance that lifestyle. You either are or aren’t. If you’re not, the further out you are with your planning the more chance you have to make the necessary adjustments to your financial planning. If you’re on track or even ahead of the curve, then you may have options to retire earlier than your first thought.
  • Exiting your business is a process which you can prepare yourself for, as well as your team.  Going from 45 hours per week to nothing doesn’t suit everyone. Consider a gradual wind-down, decreasing hours, sliding work over to an associate. The market sees less dependence on the principal as a positive feature.


Finally, when you do come to sell, pick a dental broker who you trust, and that has access to the entire market.  This way you’ll get the most choice.

Be ready to land on your feet

Clearing the hurdles of selling your dental practice takes resilience, a topic we’ve explored with bestselling author, Liggy Webb. In her blog, Building resilience and adapting to change, she discusses the value of breaking projects into manageable chunks, which is a great place for you to head next. Check it out, find the reassurance you need, and good luck in your dental practice decisions. 


Watch the webinar from Lily Head on this topic:

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About Abi Greenhough


Abi Greenhough is a Director at Lily Head Dental Practice Sales and leads the operations team.  Abi leads the sales and valuation team.  Abi has overall responsibility for ensuring our valuations reflect the current market and the unique characteristics of each dental practice we represent.


Abi has a deep understanding of the dental business market; the steps principals should take to maximise the value of their business and how to get the outcome they want.


Abi is a regular speaker at BDA events and hosts several events each year about retirement planning for principal dentists.