Turning frustration into freedom

I used to get frustrated
Dentist Stuart Bright shares how he built and sold a successful business to achieve his dream life

In a nutshell...

My business : Eckington Dental Practice - now sold!
What we do : Family dental practice

 

CV: Take us back to 2009, what was life like for you?

SB:I ran my dental business with my partner who wanted to retire in a couple of years. By contrast, I wasn't quite at that point. I wanted to carry on and push the business forward. So we found ourselves at different points in our lives. 

My partner had less of an appetite to push the business on and I used to get frustrated. That was the big thing and it affected my ability to take the business to where I wanted to.

It did hold me back. Definitely.

CV: What did you do to overcome that frustration?

SB: Rob from Clear Vision recommended we hold a Vision Day to look at where we were and what we wanted from the business. 

It was about forming a plan to allow me to get to where I wanted to be and my partner to get to where he wanted to be.

My partner was more reluctant about having the day but we really got a lot of benefit from it. We had thought we were a long way apart but the Vision Day showed us that really we wanted the same things.

So we formed our plan for him to retire and me to take over the business. Then we had a meeting with the team afterwards, to explain to them where we wanted to get to and what our goals were.

We shared how my partner wanted to retire in a few years’ time, how we wanted to keep moving the business forward in the meantime. We wanted to involve them in the process so they knew what was happening and make sure we had them on side.

The team were generally positive. You do get a few negative people but these were the ones we didn’t really want in our team and they were the ones who gradually left anyway. 

That’s one of the things I’ve learnt over the years – the most important thing for a business is doing what’s right for you. I used to make the mistake of trying to keep everybody happy and pacify people. And then those people left anyway!

I’ve found over the years and that if you go forward the way you want to go, the people who share your values and want to go that way with you stay and help you, and the people who don’t like your ideas usually disappear and you replace them with someone better. 

CV:Tell us about your partner’s departure – how did you get to that point?

SB: He wanted to retire on his 60th birthday and we just worked towards this date. We came to an agreement on the valuation of the practice, got all the lawyers and everyone in place beforehand. 

CV: How did it feel when you eventually assumed sole ownership of the practice?

SB: It was really exciting. Over the next few years, once I was totally in charge myself, I moved ahead much more quickly. 

My priorities were to go down the private dentistry route because that was what I wanted to do and I was now in a position to set the practice up in this way. We refurbished the practice reception to make it look a lot more welcoming and that made a massive difference. 

We invested in the private experience for our patients, did a new website and did a lot of marketing to grow the private side.

This went well, some of the patients thought they’d gone into the wrong place when they saw the new reception at first but the feedback was all very positive from them.

CV: What support did you benefit from at this time?

SB: I was meeting with Rob every three months or so at our board meetings. He was also spending time with my Practice Manager and getting her to do more business-orientated tasks such as gathering more information on our Key Performance Indicators.

CV: What did your board meetings give you?

SB: They were always good because you were working ahead three months so you were looking to move forward all the time.  

It was nice to have someone to discuss your challenges with and get their views on it.  Rob looks at things from a business and personal goals point of view, whereas I tended to look at things just from a dental point of view.

I was always pushed out of my comfort zone. It was very motivational and whenever I had a problem, it allowed me to find a solution.

CV: How did you make sure you developed your business in a way which served you personally?

SB: We identified ways to be more efficient with time and generate more money.

It allowed me to have more free time.  I played more golf, went to the gym more and started to do other things which I enjoy. I found I was beginning to achieve my personal goals. 

I got to the point where the mortgage on my home was about to be paid off and I had always wanted to have a house abroad. I discussed with Rob whether to put more money into my pension to be able to retire earlier or go for the house. 

The quarterly management accounts I received from Ben and Sara showed me that I could support the purchase, so we decided to use the situation to achieve a personal goal and go for the house in Spain. They are really useful reports. I always had a clear picture of how much tax I had to pay, so I could readily budget for things. 

When you have quality management accounts you know how you are going along all the time, whereas if you just get your annual accounts once a year, by the time you’ve got them, it’s too late to do anything about any problems. 

So my management accounts helped me be proactive and resolve any potential problems. I monitored my actual results against the financial forecast I wanted to achieve so, for instance, if it showed we were spending a lot on materials, it tended to be because someone was ordering stock we didn’t need and we could put this right to remain more profitable. 

Those quarterly reports really made my financial situation a lot smoother and more positive.

Now I have a home in Spain which is within walking distance of a golf course so it really represents the achievement of a dream for me. 

You’ve got to have the money there to achieve your personal goals.

CV: When did you decide to sell your practice?

SB: Rob was working in Leeds so we just went out for a meal one night and we were having a chat about my future goals. 

I explained that I wanted to retire in three years’ time and I would sell the business then.

He explained that most buyers, including corporate buyers, want to tie the previous owner into the business for a period of time and I should therefore start looking into selling it now. 

I hadn’t realised this. I assumed whoever bought the practice wouldn’t want me there. Due to the size of the practice, it did prove that most potential buyers wanted me to remain in the practice at first for patient continuity’s sake. They want you there to maintain the goodwill. 

So it was a very important and enlightening conversation for me. I would have waited until six months before I wanted to retire, so it was a good job we did decide to do it sooner.

You don’t realise how long it takes to go through the due diligence stage and how much the buyers are going to want to know from you. It takes a long time. 

CV: How did you find your buyer?

SB: I spoke to a practice valuer and had a chat with my wife and we decided to go ahead and put it on the market and see what happened. In fact, it didn’t even go on the open market. Through the valuer’s contacts, we got three offers for the practice within four weeks. 

Once I’d selected the buyer I wanted to go with, the process was made a lot easier by the up to date financial information I have from Ben. Any information they wanted, we always had it to hand and could provide it to the buyer, pretty much the same day.

Having that kind of support made a stressful process a lot easier. I was recommended lawyers and everyone else I needed to support me.

I moved ahead much faster than I would have done as a result.

If I was just working on my own I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now. 

CV: How well do you feel you have done in achieving the goals you set seven years ago?

SB: I’ve achieved all of them and more quickly than I ever imagined I would. 

Now I’ve sold the business, the most important thing for me is having the extra free time I have to myself. When you’re an owner, you’re constantly thinking about the business. You live it. You sleep it.

Now I go to work, do my work and come home and that’s the end of it. It is a massive relief. I didn’t realise how much pressure was there and now it’s gone it’s like a weight has been lifted off me.

CV: So what’s next for you?

SB: I will be retiring before long and my wife and I will go to live in our house in Spain. Can’t wait…

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