Turning burn-out into personal success

We were simply in survival mode
Dentist Olivia Mitchell shares how she avoided burn-out to achieve her vision for her business and her life

In a nutshell...

My business : Wylye Valley Dentistry
What we do : Family dental practice


CV: What were you experiencing back in 2003?
OM: I was running a fairly new dental practice. I had two young children. I was doing everything in my business. And I felt exhausted.
I kept going from one accountant to another trying to get some advice on how to help me run my business and all they wanted to do was complete my accounts at the end of the year.  I kept getting shocked about how much tax I had to pay, I couldn’t prepare for this, so it was all horrible actually.

I felt out of control and hugely stressed.

CV: How did this affect your business?
OM: I couldn’t plan for the future of my business, I was just working from day-to-day. I didn’t have a moment to even think about where my business was going or how I was going to change it or improve it. It didn’t even cross my mind because I was so busy trying to keep up with my patients, paying my invoices and everything.

So I was really on a treadmill at work. It was just chaotic.

CV: How did this affect your personal life?
OM: I didn’t have much time with my family and when I was with them I was completely stressed, couldn’t sleep, I was horrible.
I couldn’t even think about what I wanted to achieve for my family. It was that bad.

We were simply in survival mode.

CV: How did you go about changing things?
OM: Finally I was referred to Clear Vision.
Rob came to the practice, sat in my waiting room and watched what was going on. We had a chat and he said he could help me.

CV: What was the first move you took?
OM: I had a Vision Day. I met with Rob and Dee and when we sat down in that room and they were talking to me about what I wanted from my life, I was just astounded because it never occurred to me that I should be able to think about what I wanted.

It was remarkable. It gave me the hope that there might be a better way of doing things.

CV: How did you feel after the Vision Day?
OM: Such relief. Such relief to finally get the help I’d been looking for for years. And that someone was actually going to help me make it all work better, for me, for my business and for my family.

CV:What actions did you plan first?
OM:We worked out what I had already to build on. Where my strengths and weaknesses were. How I could fill the weaknesses with other people and play to my strengths.

And we started to systemise the business after that so I could delegate the tasks I didn’t need to get involved with. We started with basic things like opening and setting up the surgeries, the daily-set up and clean down, ordering the stock, so I didn’t have to get involved in any of that.  These were quick wins which gained me some time and space.

Also charging properly because I wasn’t charging enough. I was working really hard without generating the income that I needed. So raising my costs meant I was working ‘smarter’. I could work less for the same income.

We also discussed how we could make the existing building look better, smell better, sound better. All sorts of simple things we hadn’t thought about before. Just to improve the whole feeling of the business. That made quite a difference because it engaged the team and encouraged them to work with me to lift the patient experience.

Part of the plan we set was to look for bigger premises I could buy so I could actually take on more people to help me. To enable me to stop doing all the work and focus on the higher end work I enjoyed more. The existing building was simply too small to take on more people.

CV:How did you find your new premises?
OM:I was approached by a dentist up the road to see if I wanted to buy his practice. It seemed to be perfect.

Through the monthly meetings we were having, I developed the confidence to believe I could take on the new business.

Talking through the opportunity with people who knew me and understood the financial and personal issues involved gave me the confidence to make the decisions I had to make.

The support I got helped me minimise the tax I paid on purchase of the business, helped me discuss it with the banks and get the money in place.

CV: How did it feel to purchase the practice?
OM:I had my team from my old practice, including an associate and VT. Plus I took on the team that was there already.

Things proved really difficult at first. The frustrations the team I inherited had about the sale taking place were directed at me.

Suddenly I had to deal with a great deal of backlash. As well as a much larger financial debt from enlarging and modernising the practice. It was awful but I continued to have my strategy meetings which, again, gave me the confidence to manage the situation. And we got through it and actually built a stronger team.

CV: How did you achieve this?
OM: One thing we did to achieve this was have a team day with the new combined team. I was encouraged to share my vision and goals for the business. This was really useful because we needed to pull together as one and everyone needed to be engaged with where we were trying to take the business.

The team day really did help with this and, as time passed, the people who didn’t want to engage with the vision left and the people who liked the vision they heard about at the team day and understood where we were trying to go, stayed. So the team became really strong.

CV: How did you start to work together to achieve your vision?
OM: We’d started to talk about the patient experience during the team day and afterwards Dee visited us to help us walk through the different stages of the journey, from the patient’s telephone call, seeing the website, arriving in reception, being greeted and then into surgery and so on. This was really helpful because everyone worked on this together.

I want the business to be really high quality and everyone here knows that’s what we are all trying to achieve together. People who want to be slapdash are not attracted to our team.

I want us to be the best we can be. That’s the most important thing. The money is just a consequence of that.

In the strategy meetings I had with Rob we looked at when many of our surgeries were being used and what we could do to fill the remaining surgery time. We slotted part time clinicians into surgeries more effectively. Having identified what a big opportunity hygiene growth was, we got more hygienists in so the hygiene surgery was filled all the time. So we worked more efficiently as rooms weren’t sitting idle. We cut down the waiting time to see a hygienist and effectively brought forward the income.

We replaced a part time dentist who was leaving with a full timer.

CV: What did you see change in yourself during this period?
OM: The support I continued to get from Clear Vision helped my confidence grow in leading my team.

I had taken on loans and debt to purchase the larger business. Through the continuing strategy meetings, which were on a quarterly basis at this stage, I could see that the situation was ok and that everything was working, so the loans were being paid off. This gave me peace of mind to get on and lead my team.

CV: How did your financial reporting help you pay off your debt and achieve your goals?
OM: It meant I knew what was coming down the line, what tax I was going to incur. I’ve always found the tax projections Diane prepares to be so valuable. Having a chance to put aside enough to make sure that I don’t have to worry about covering my tax bills gives me immense peace of mind. I also incorporated my business following an assessment, as it proved advantageous from a tax-saving point of view.

Measuring my actual results against my financial forecast every year meant I always knew how I was doing and could monitor the totals to make sure I was making the money to pay back my loan. It made me aware of the income which was coming in.

It also helped me focus on my Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – my patient recalls, referrals to hygiene, patient testimonial rates, new patients, lost patients and so on – which I probably wouldn’t have focused on without knowing that I would be held accountable for doing so. We set up and still complete a monthly ‘One Page Plan’ to report on all these activities.

In our practice meeting, we don’t look at the money side. Instead we focus on improving our KPI results as we know that by doing so, the money will come through.

I’m not a great one for all the figures but actually I like having a financial target because I am competitive with myself as I want to beat it. We set an ambitious turnover target last year and I’m pleased to say we exceeded it.

If you’re not managing and strengthening your cashflow you can’t pay off your debt, you can’t be confident in having that money towards paying off the mortgage or paying the business loan.

Just knowing that I’m meeting the targets, I’m going to have enough money to pay my tax and can pay the loans and my mortgage, just means I can sleep at night. I don’t have to worry at all, whereas I used to worry all the time.

Plus on a personal basis, taking the worry out of the financial side of things has allowed me to go on more courses. I love learning and doing new things for my patients. I’ve been able to do that and develop my dentistry because I haven’t had to spend time worrying, and I’ve been able to delegate a lot of the management side of the business, paying the invoices and so on, to my team.

I have been able to free myself up to look after my patients which is the bit I enjoy.

CV: Looking back, how do you rate your business now compared to 2003?
OM: I don’t even want to think about where I was in my business and in my life back then. I really could not have carried on for long with that level of stress. I would have been ill. It would have affected my marriage. It just wouldn’t have been compatible with life.  

Now, I’ve got confidence in what I am trying to achieve and that we are achieving it.

I am proud of the business that I’ve built with my team. It now resembles the vision I had back in 2003. We’ve done it.

It’s really worth paying for the help that you need to achieve your vision and goals because it makes such a huge difference. It more than pays for itself. 

CV: How has life changed for you away from the business?
OM: I’ve now wiped out both my business and personal debt. Paid off my mortgage.

We’ve been able to extend our home which has made it a much more gorgeous place to live.

Put the kids through private school. Helped them both into University.

CV: What are you looking forward to now?
OM: With my children leaving home I’m entering a new phase of life. 

The next stage is going to be able to retire. Clear Vision have helped me to talk this through, and work out what time will be a good time to do this. So we’re planning towards that eventually and it’s just thinking about that next stage and getting it all in place.

CV: What's the biggest different to your life now compared to 2003?
OM: I’m happy.

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