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Dentists Who Invest

Podcast Episode

Full Transcript

Dr James: 

Hey team, welcome back to the Dennis Moonverse podcast. I am joined today by Dr Shabnam Zay for an interesting perspective on practice ownership. Shabnam, how are you today?

Dr Zai: 

Hi James, I’m really well. Thank you so much for inviting me today.

Dr James: 

It’s cool, my absolute pleasure. Looking forward to this one. So, shabnam, the reason I say interesting perspective on practice ownership is because you have a dental practice in London which is doing extremely well and, as I say, there’s a little bit more detail to that in terms of how you pulled it off and how successful you’ve been over the years, which I’m looking forward to get into in just a moment. For those people who are listening to the podcast, you have yet to meet you, shabnam. Maybe it might be nice if you did a little bit of an explainer as to who you are.

Dr Zai: 

Yeah, so my name is Shabnam Zay and, as James said, I’m based in Northwest London. I actually graduated from dental school in Newcastle 20 years ago, can you believe it? I was really fortunate to have worked in a really ethical practice from day one. I love clinical dentistry and I still do. I’ve worked in the West End for nearly a decade. I worked in hospital and over the years I kind of always had this desire to own my own practice, and when it wasn’t happening for me in the practice I was in, I decided to set up my own squat five years ago.

Dr James: 

Boom. Well done you. And you know what this is so cool? Because so many people who are listening to the podcast, I’m sure, are in the boat with the thinking themselves okay, I’m going to open a practice at some point. I don’t know how that journey looks, I don’t know when that point is. What was the thing that tipped you over the edge that you thought to yourself right now is the time. Let’s do this.

Dr Zai: 

To be honest, when I first applied to my VT role when I graduated, which is DF one year, my principal actually mentioned that in five years time he was going to sell and that piqued my interest in taking that role. I thought I’d love to own this practice. However, 10 years later, when he hadn’t actually sold it and had no intention to, I’d asked can I become a partner, can I take over? And it wasn’t really any. I couldn’t see it happening in the near future. That’s when I started to kind of decide to look for my own and I looked at buying a practice. At the time I was working in Wimpole Street and the principal in that practice actually did offer me partnership. But working in the West End dealing with Howard DeWalden the estate agents over there, it’s just a very different game. It’s a much bigger scale, something that I didn’t really want to take on. So I have a business partner, nikita Netta, and we looked for five years and I think the thing that really triggered it for me was motherhood. Having a child is quite a life changing experience and when I had my daughter I really wanted the world for her. I wanted her to live her dreams and at that time I kind of realized I wasn’t really living mine. I kind of had this dream, but I was just accepting the fact that it wasn’t happening and that kind of really was the rocket that kind of got the journey started.

Dr James: 

I see, and then at that point you took the leap. You said to yourself right, let’s go, let’s do this, let’s get this thing up and running.

Dr Zai: 

Yeah. So how it all started. Nikita and I actually sat over a cup of tea in Morrison’s and this is the power of the written word. We sat in Morrison’s and we had a bit of paper and we wrote down what we wanted from our dream practice. We wanted it to be three surgeries. We wanted to have a patient base of private patients. That kind of suited our style of dentistry. I really believe in prevention. I don’t like treating the problems, I really like treating the cause. We wanted something within half an hour from home. We had a whole list of what we wanted from our dream practice and we also even delegated the roles. So I knew I was going to do compliance and all the root canals and she was going to do all the veneers and all the accounts. And we wrote it down and we looked for a practice and for five years we were looking and the amount of offers we put in for practices the prices in London were crazy. A lot of them went through sealed bids, sealed envelope bids and, for whatever reason, we never actually got the practices. Although one thing we noticed was that all the principles wanted to sell to us. So there was something about Nikita and I that the principles liked in terms of how they wanted their patients to be looked after when they sold their practices. And then it was actually Nikita’s husband that said, why don’t you set up your own? And at that point we hadn’t really considered it. And then we found our dream location. And what do you do when you find your dream location and you’ve got two kids under five? Actually, nikita was nine months pregnant when we saw it and and yeah, we actually found a location. It had D1 planning permission. It was in a park in London, so my practice actually is in a beautiful park. It had a fountain outside in the lake. It’s over a thriving cafe next to a museum. It had D1 planning permission and it was a seven minute drive from our home. So what did we do? We just jumped on it. We jumped on it, but at that moment I remember the fear kick in because I didn’t want to lose it, but I had absolutely no idea where to start. I had setting up a squat. All I’d been looking at up until this point was to buy a practice, and setting up a squat is a very, very different, very, very different journey.

Dr James: 

I see Okay, so first lesson in there Crystalize that practice avatar. Have a real, written, recorded vision of how that practice is going to look, so that you basically set yourself a goal, you set yourself an objective and you have something to aim for. And the subconscious mind is an interesting one, because whenever you write that down, whenever you visualize it, then all of a sudden all of your senses are now directed towards finding that thing, without you even realizing it, which means you’re way more likely to be able to get it.

Dr Zai: 

Yeah, and actually we found that paper years later We’d forgotten about it and when we went through that list. It’s astounding how accurate that list was.

Dr James: 

That’s really, really, really super difficult. The power of writing things down Okay, cool, so practice. You bought the building. Presumably that was the next step. You bought the building and then what were your next moves at that point? How did the journey look from that point forwards?

Dr Zai: 

So we got the lease. The lease was complicated because it was in a historic building that didn’t actually belong to anyone. It was. It belongs to the community of Pina, so it had a very complicated lease. We started getting the finance in place. My business partner’s husband is actually a finance director, so he helped us with our business plan, which was really helpful. We started the process, but we didn’t actually have the finance while we were doing the lease. We were just kind of going with it and we got the deal with the bank the day before we signed the lease. It was all very tight, but it happens.

Dr James: 

Very cool. That’s the main thing. And now, a few years on, five years on, everything’s going absolutely swimmingly. So it was all worth the effort.

Dr Zai: 

Yeah it’s. Everyone says is it worth it? How do you manage? You’ve got kids and actually I won’t lie owning a practice is an incredible amount of work. There’s times where I’m constantly working. However, the longer I’ve had the practice, the more I’ve grown and the more I’ve learned to kind of manage my life, and now I’m able to allocate time towards my health, to my family, to my business and feel that I’m being fair to all areas One thing that you can’t. There’s no course in the world that could have taught me the skills I’ve learned being a business owner and the person I am today is completely different to the person that set that practice up, and I really like that person. I’m just. I just feel more, so much more powerful, because I’m just much more wise about finances, about HR, about running a business and yet also having the ability to create a space where I can treat my own patients the way I like. From Nikita and I, job security was really important and nowadays, unfortunately, most practices are being bought by corporates and while some corporates are great, sometimes they can limit your clinical abilities or your time with your patients, and one thing we really wanted was to have that complete clinical freedom to work the way we wanted to work and also be a great boss. I’m brilliant to my associates. I’ve been an associate and I really look after my associates and my nurses because I really, really respect them and I really value them. So it’s been really nice to create that environment.

Dr James: 

That’s cool. Just going back to the thing that you were saying earlier about how you evolved as a person, I’m a huge believer in that if you actively seek out things that you know are gonna grow you as a person in terms of mentally, in terms of the threshold as to how much I suppose punishment or how many things that you can take on If you grow yourself to become that person who can deal with all of that stuff, then actually when you reach that level where you can cope, then somehow life becomes way easier, right? Because it’s almost like you’re brain the threshold for the amount it can deal with is now recalibrated and increased, so everything else looks easy. Now that you’ve excelled, now that you’ve enhanced your ability to do that, and one of the surefire ways in which you can really, really, really boost your capability for handling and absolutely a ton of stuff let’s say that your capacity to deal with a lot of things being thrown at you is to have a business. In my experience and I look back at myself and how I’ve changed, and I look back on myself three years ago, pre-Deniseanfest and 1,000% that was a different person. That was an unbelievably different person, right. And then when you do all the tough crap and you come out the other end. There’s this amazing sense of bliss that you have, that you’re like, oh, things actually are pretty darn good, yeah. But that never happens unless you put yourself in that position in the first place. Most people are trying to avoid that stretch zone, and I’m preaching the merits of the stretch zone, which is something that you are as well.

Dr Zai: 

Yeah, and something I want to just tell everyone else as well is that some people are quite naturally risk averse or don’t like taking financial risks or, lacking a bit of self-belief, they wouldn’t even try to set up a practice or just think, oh, it’s just too much for me, there’s not knowing where to start. But that was me, that was me and I’m here proof that it’s possible. So if, honestly, if I did it, anybody can do it, and that’s one of the things I really want to share is that possibility, and I love helping other people realize that. Another tip I would give to all associates wanting to become practice owners is you’re in a gem of a position. You are in a running practice. Learn as much as you can. There’s so much opportunity where you are. When I was an associate, I did everything. I used to sit at reception, I used to see the patient journey. I used to sit on every interview they had with a nurse. I used to sit in disciplinary meetings. I figured out how they did stock, even when the chair broke down. In my lunch break I’d be sitting there with the engineer, having a chat with him, making him a cup of tea, watching how he fixed the chair, and often to the point where I could fix my own chair. That’s that curious nature of me. But honestly, the stuff I learned as an associate it’s there how to fill my diary, it’s gold dust, because when you’re a practice owner, there’s no one really there to teach you that stuff or tell you how to do it.

Dr James: 

It’s why having a so yes, what you said is very true right, it’s like taking a real interest in everything beyond the density or the other moving parts, because that’s essential information. And then the other thing. What was the thing that I was going to say on top of that as well? Oh yeah, the other thing was it’s why it’s so important to have a support network around you of other, of other principles, or a mentor or something along those lines, because there’s a name for that knowledge. It’s called specific knowledge and it’s knowledge that you can only get from human beings because it’s so niche, not recorded anywhere else. That knowledge is huge value. The more specific knowledge you can arm yourself with, the more valuable you are, the more cool things you can do, the more scope that you have to start a dental practice. If you have tons of specific knowledge about the backend of a dental practice, how that works, suppliers, how to manage a team, et cetera, et cetera, those are incredibly valuable skills and the only way to get them is to see your surroundings that you’re immediately in as an associate, as the opportunity to be able to learn that stuff right on that, on those things that we were just talking about just then. If you could look back on yourself five years ago, just about to voyage into practice ownership yeah, just on the precipice, and we had the opportunity to speak to that version of yourself, shabnam, right here, right now, on this podcast. What would be the biggest piece of wisdom you would share?

Dr Zai: 

I would probably say, not to care so much what other people think and also just trust in myself a bit more. I think at the beginning I was a little bit hesitant to do social media. For example, I didn’t really want my photo out there, didn’t take videos and actually now that’s probably one of my biggest regrets I should have just been out there from day one, yeah, and just just go for it. Just don’t care what people think, just go for it. You’re all going to do nothing but win. Either you’re learning or you’re winning is what I believe in.

Dr James: 

I actually love that. I’m going to use that 100%. So those things, incredibly valuable insight and advice. On the mindset side of stuff, how about if we were to have some technical things as well as in don’t do this, or hire someone to do this, or delegate this, or blah, blah, blah, anything along those lines?

Dr Zai: 

In terms of technical things. A lot of it at the beginning with a squat practice is tracking and reporting. It was really important early on knowing where my patients were coming from, how they heard about us and then using that information to kind of grow our marketing plan With a team. Really understand what you need from your team members. I got nurses and receptionists. Maybe what I really needed was someone to help me with the admin for compliance. Compliance takes a lot of time, so you need someone that’s quite detail orientated that can help you with that. If you can get that big weight off your shoulder someone helping you with the policies and procedures it will free up so much more of your time that you’ll be able to work more on the business rather than in the business.

Dr James: 

Boom. Words of wisdom right there. What would you say? The biggest revelation for you has been in terms of transitioning for an associate to practice owner. What was the biggest thing that you realized after you made that leap? That you look back and you thought, hmm, this is really cool, or this is much better.

Dr Zai: 

I think it was a realization that I had it all already. I had all the skills, I had all the knowledge, I had everything. I just didn’t know it. Oh.

Dr James: 

Oh, and what areas were you concerned that you might have enough knowledge?

Dr Zai: 

Like I said, maybe I just didn’t believe in myself a little bit, so, clinically, I thought is this enough? Actually it is. It’s never. You’re never too early to try something. I feel that if there is something that you’re lacking, there’s a way of working around it. Take example you don’t like doing root canals? You can hire an associate that can do the root canals for you. If you’re not very good with admin, you can get a PA to help you with it. So don’t let things that you are not good at hold you back. You can still go for it. You just need a different support network around you.

Dr James: 

So I’m going to say the fastest way to learn those skills is to put yourself in a position where you have to learn them imminently. You know, there is that school of thought.

Dr Zai: 

I do believe that you do need to know how to do something before you delegate a task, so then you can, for accountability, check it’s been done properly. I do agree with that. But if it’s not your strength we’ve spoken about this before if it’s not your strength, sometimes pushing yourself to do something you’re not naturally good at isn’t the best for the wisest way to use your time.

Dr James: 

Got you. Now that the practice is up and running and it’s going really well, what would you say the biggest success stories in terms of things you implemented into the practice when it opened its doors from the dead, open its doors. What were the coolest things that you implemented? That you thought yourself wow, I wish I would have known about this sooner. Or this is really taking my practice to the next level.

Dr Zai: 

I think it’s the community we’ve created. Our patients really love the practice, so we’ve designed it a little bit different. We didn’t want it to feel like a dental practice, so it’s almost like a New York loft apartment, and our patient journey also was super important to us. So the way that our patients are greeted and they’re treated it’s. It was a little bit of a unique experience for them from what was normal in the area. What’s been the biggest takeaway? The biggest thing? I think it’s utilizing the patients you have. Sometimes people can always be looking for more and more new patients, when I truly believe, actually you just need to look after the ones you currently have really, really well and success will just follow that, because they will become your super fans and they will recommend you. And then also you get the right kind of patients. So sometimes with marketing, you get lots of new inquiries but they’re not the right kind of patients for the practice and they actually take a lot of time managing those patients. When you get the right kind of patient coming in your door that suits your style, it’s just win-win.

Dr James: 

It’s all about having the right patients that are the right fit. It’s all about that because then you get the best market in of all, which is Word of mouth. Yeah, yeah, there we go. It is because it’s the only one that’s quadratic, and what I mean by that is it grows exponentially on its own, with no effort.

Dr Zai: 

The other thing actually associates could do from now is get in the habit of asking for Google reviews. Honestly, I hesitated so much for that at the beginning. I don’t know why now, because now I just ask all the time. It makes such a big difference, such a big difference to your SEO online and your web presence. So just get in the habit of asking now. Make the practice you’re in successful. It will make you as an associate more successful and it will be a great skill for the future.

Dr James: 

You know what I used to have the biggest hang up about that of all time. It’s almost. And let’s just address specifically why I think people are hesitant to do that. And it’s because they feel a little disingenuous asking for one after they’ve done a good job, because then, from the patient’s perspective or not even necessarily from the patient’s perspective, from their own perspective they think that how that comes across to the patient is that the only reason they treated them nice was that they could get the Google review at the end. Are you with me? Yeah, that was my limiting belief whenever it came to that stuff. How did you deal with that? Or maybe it was a different limiting belief for you?

Dr Zai: 

I was just embarrassed to ask. I guess it’s a bit icky at the end, but at the same time I believe the more people that know about me, the more people I can help. And that’s how I changed my mindset. I was like the more people that know I’m here, the more people I can serve and the more people I can look after. It’s win-win and actually there’s no harm in asking. I’m a business and I really understand businesses. Put my friends and family that own their own businesses. I understand them from a different way and really, if your friends or anyone has a business really support them. You know it’s hard. It’s hard running a business and that initial momentum you get from your friends and family is so important. And when anyone asked me for a Google review, I always wanted to be successful. I always say yes and I said why am I not asking that for myself?

Dr James: 

Boom, right there. Absolutely, it’s all about the reframe. Like it is for most things in life, you can reframe the hell out of absolutely anything, and that’s what that basically is. You see it as your duty your duty to the people that you’ve yet to meet, you’ve yet to serve in your business to ask for those ripping Google reviews, and if you don’t make that mental connection, you never will. Yeah, and then all of a sudden, not only can we ask for the Google reviews, but we actually must ask for the Google reviews. Right, I know we’re focusing on Google reviews right now. Sometimes it’s kind of silly that sentence, but actually it’s very important, very, very, very, very, very important.

Dr Zai: 

Really important, especially now things are getting more digital. I’m old school, I’m a paper and pen girl. I’m very modest with my social media posts, but before and after it’s just not my style. I’ve just thought patient confidentiality is just not my style, but I’m having to reframe it to serve my patients better.

Dr James: 

There you go, right, and then you can also see how busting out of your comfort zone and doing social media posts is actually another thing that will allow you to do what you’ve just said as well. Right? Yeah, because for most people that’s a psychological barrier. Most people are slaves to their own subconsciousness, and what I mean by that is if they feel a little unpleasant about doing something, they won’t do it right? We thought it actually really questioned why. Because your subconscious is very often not correct. It’s just there, sometimes holding you back, in fact, oftentimes holding you back. There we go. Okay, shabnam, interested to know. You mentioned being a mother earlier and balancing all of your duties in the dental practice. What’s your biggest piece of advice to the mothers that are listening, who are either on the practice journey, they’ve bought their practice or they’re thinking about it?

Dr Zai: 

So it’s totally possible. It’s number one. It requires a bit of organization. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Like at the beginning, I wouldn’t ask my husband to pick the kids up and be like oh he’s busy. I didn’t actually ask him. And when I did ask him he’s like sure I’ll do that. And the biggest thing actually is what I call inclusive parenting. So I don’t think of my business as something that takes me away from my children. I think of it as part of my life and whenever I’m doing something at work I include my children. So a few weeks ago we celebrated our fifth birthday party and my son was there helping me blow up the balloons, my daughter helps at the table. They were walking around giving everyone drinks and saying hi to everyone. So they don’t think of the practices being a burden. In fact, they go to the park and they look at the building. They go. That’s my building. They believe that they own my business with me. So even at the very beginning, before they could really read, I’d be sitting there writing my treatment plan letters to patients and I’d be like, why don’t you write a letter to your friend? Or draw a picture to your friend? And we’d be writing together and I’d send my emails and they’d do their letters. So it was kind of something that we did together it wasn’t something that took me away from them and also earning my own practice. I’ve now been going to sports day and going to the Christmas plays. When before, when I was associate, I worked so far, I could never make it back in time. When now my practice is seven minutes down the road, I block my diary. I go to the Christmas play, I come back to work. I kind of work on my terms. I’m very disciplined and very professional with my patients, but I also kind of want to get the benefits of being a practice owner and being able to enjoy my children while they’re young.

Dr James: 

Well, people often perceive it as one or the other I’m either going to have the family or have the business Right. Actually, there can be a synergy there If you understand the things, if you understand and implement the things that you’re talking about, which is to make them work cohesively in the ways that you just mentioned. There’s a million billion other ways and you can see it. I mean, just like what you said, you’ve hit the nail on the head. When you’re a business owner, you have a level of flexibility that you don’t have as an associate. Obviously, you have to think about all their stuff, like where the money’s going to come from, and blah, blah, blah and all these other things. But I think, on balance, really, the benefits outweigh any potential negatives. Whenever you make that leap, whenever you get yourself out there, there’s so many reasons I believe in it really strongly. I actually believe in that. It’ll help a lot of people and I believe as well as that that not everybody recognizes that because they haven’t been through the process. I can only really appreciate that in the rear view mirror, and maybe you see that as well, shabnam, you know, but the problem is you only get that perspective until you’ve done it.

Dr Zai: 

I found a little bit, a little bit of bias when we were trying to set up practice. People like, are you sure you’ve got kids, will you have enough time? And someone that’s already a bit risk averse. I didn’t need those comments. I found a bit negative and it can. It could have dampened my desire to have the practice, but I just I was lucky. I had Nikita, my business partner, and she is amazing. She kind of. Together we did this. And with having kids, yes, it’s like anything. When we saw the practice, nikita was nine months pregnant we were negotiating at the least and she just gave birth. I remember before we were going to visit practice and we were both pregnant at the same time and Principal’s kind of looking at us going are you sure you wanna do this now? And I was like, just because you’re growing a human being and having a child doesn’t mean the rest of our lives, stop. And yeah, when you really want something, I think once you’ve decided you want something and you’re clear on your goal, it doesn’t matter about everything else. You just find a way to make it happen.

Dr James: 

Love that, Shabnam. Thank you so much for your wisdom today on the Dennis Huynh inverted podcast. Is there any way that listeners can connect with you based on the stuff that you said today? How are they best going about doing that?

Dr Zai: 

Yeah, so they can contact me on Instagram. My handle is Dr Shabnam Zay, or they can email me at Shabnam at WesthouseDentalcom. I’d love to speak to anyone that’s interested in my journey or if I can help anyone, I’d very much love to do that Wonderful.

Dr James: 

An important mention as well, that Shabnam actually helps Dennis get the paxus off the grind with your area of expertise. Being women, dennis, of course as well, would you say that’s apt, shabnam.

Dr Zai: 

Yeah, I help everybody. I’ve always mentored young dentists and professionals in their career and when they’re setting up their own dental practices. Yeah, but with females obviously. I’ve been there, done that, so I kind of understand it.

Dr James: 

There is yeah, there’s a whole level of expertise there that you can give, because you’ve literally walked in those shoes, which is really cool. And it comes back to that thing that I was saying earlier about specific knowledge you can only get it from human beings. The more you arm yourself with that, the more powerful you are, the more value you can create in this world and, ultimately, the more value you create is the more remuneration that you receive. Shabnam, we’re gonna round up just now Anything that you’d like to say, just to draw a line on your proceedings today.

Dr Zai: 

No thanks for my. I love the community you’ve created. James, as I said, I was financially risk averse and my lack of knowledge around finance is really what fueled that, and I wish there was something like this 20 years ago. I’m enjoying it now.

Dr James: 

That is so cool and you know how that journey looked from me. At the very start I thought all those thoughts that you thought, or you think or you previously did think about finance in that I thought it was risky, I thought I didn’t need it, I thought it wasn’t important and, yeah, that how that journey looked for me was just reading random books on finance. And then I made the community and, yeah, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head there as to what the mission is. So, thank you so much, pleasure to have you on board and thank you so much for an amazing podcast that I Shabnam. I’m sure we’ll speak very soon.

Dr Zai: 

Thank you, Jay and Spine.