Learning to become a leader: making my dreams reality

by Business growth, Leadership, Recruitment, Treatment coordinator

Dr Jonny Cochrane has achieved a lot since he took over The Bristol Dental Practice in March, aged 30, after working there as an associate for four years. He’s hired 31 staff, built a sixth surgery and driven new patients up from 30 to 80 per month in his first four months of ownership. He’s on track to double or perhaps triple revenue in his first year. When he gets back from his honeymoon in October he will continue assembling his comprehensive specialist team with which to develop Bristol’s first private dental hospital, including a post-graduate dental teaching and dental nursing apprentice academy. He is also conceptualising plans for a national franchise. I caught up with him to get a snapshot of his life as a young, ambitious, new practice owner in a hurry to make it big.

Jonny, what’s been the biggest challenge?

Integration of staff. We’ve grown our team from 14 to 45 in four months, and by the end of 2019 we’ll be a team of over 50. Understandably, not every hire has worked out. However, we now have a much younger team and our culture has changed from ‘busy’ clinical diaries to an emphasis on open diaries which are more conducive to accommodating longer, complex and high value treatments. We’ve doubled our opening hours and therefore increased our production capacity opportunities by over 100%, plus we are training three treatment coordinators to improve the conversion rates of our treatment plans. All our clinicians work one weekend in four, that’s how we provide a seven-day service — the only practice in Bristol to do so.

What’s your objective?

To attract new patients who want the best treatments with the most comprehensive specialist dental team in the South West. The business model has had to change from servicing our loyal existing patient base to new patients, our new patients have so far increased from 30 to 80 per month by month four. This has been achieved by offering a wider variety of treatments covering more specialities and increasing our marketing budget five-fold. We’ve hugely increased our digital presence, which historically the practice had never focused on, and we’ve made a full-time social media hire.

How have you funded the relaunch?

It’s been expensive. My plan is to not make any drawings from the business for the first two years, thereby ploughing everything back into the business to fund our aggressive growth. I live off a minimal income, what I earn via my visiting implant jobs performed one day a week. This year we will have invested over £300,000 in capital expenditures: four chairs, microscope, CT scanner, autoclaves, and a ton of additional kit for our new clinicians. Our builders have also recently finished with the first wave of our building improvements: new bin storage, new frontage to the building, new business hub and an additional, sixth surgery. The business has also had 18 new computers provided by Microminder (we are already their biggest client in the South West). We have built a gorgeous new treatment coordinator’s suite. The plan is to build two more surgeries next year (taking us to eight surgeries) and completely refurbish the interior of our building, all five floors.

Do you have a financial forecast?

Yes, but our spending has been done on feel. I’ve been here for four years as an associate and I know what the business can and can’t take. If I don’t feel comfortable with something I won’t do it. I’ve been staggering our investments. The forecast predicted 20% growth in the first 12 months but by month four our revenue was up 89%. Our growth has been far better than we could have ever hoped or even aimed for, so I’ve been able to step up our investing in line with that. I don’t want to skimp on the small things, I want well looked after and cared for staff and clincians, so the business can continue to flourish.

How hard are you working personally?

I’m working 12 to 16 hours a day, every day. I work in my own practice clinically four days per week, plus one weekend in four. In addition, Tuesdays are my visiting implant days to other practices, both two hours’ drive each way from Bristol. I am reducing my clinical commitments in my own practice by 50% from October so I can spend more time working on the business rather than working in the business. I have quickly learnt that you have to take time out to be a leader.

How are you feeling?

Excited, exhausted and exhilarated. Every day new opportunities for the business emerge, it’s endless. I now know I can’t stop at just one practice. I don’t know where we’ll will stop, but at the moment I’m enjoying the ride, it’s definitely a rollercoaster.

How are finding your new role as a leader?

It’s a completely new skillset. I’m trying to be humble, admitting to our team that I’ve never done this before, that I am trying my best, and communicating my values in the hope that they are respected.

What’s been the hardest thing personally?

Time management. Trusting people to get tasks done on my behalf when I am physically unable to do everything. Finding the right people to join in who share my vision. A recent three-day leadership course I attended with Fine Company helped me greatly with this. It was an incredible way of giving me structure and helping to formalise my leadership role. I was able to articulate my ‘why’ and my values, which I could then use throughout the business to inspire my new team and raw recruits to give myself and our business a sense of direction, a focal point. The other delegates were all over 45; very experienced principals and established business leaders. In comparison, I’m right at the beginning of my leadership journey, so I was able to look at them and respect their leadership struggles and try to leapfrog that learning curve.

Do you have a long term plan?

Working with Fine Company enabled me to develop a three horizons plan. Horizon one is the active projects where success means profitability. Horizon two is projects in the pipeline that aren’t initially profitable, but which you are pulling towards horizon one. Horizon three is a way of tracking the ideas for growth that you think and talk about but that aren’t yet coherent. So I’m currently assembling a comprehensive specialist team with which to develop Bristol’s first private dental hospital, including a post-graduate dental teaching and dental nursing apprentice academy. However, I’m also conceptualising plans for a national franchise. Likely by 2020 I’ll be looking at opening up a second site, and over the next decade I’m planning to have a large practice in each of the five largest population centres across the South West, but who knows, it depends on where the opportunities lie.

Has this changed from your initial plans?

I’ve been strategic in that, four years ago, I said to myself that I was always coming here to buy this particular practice, never to just be an associate. I said to myself, if I’m staying in Bristol, where I trained [Jonny is the youngest dentist to have received a Master’s degree in Dental Implantology from the University of Bristol], I want to be in the best location. For me, this is Queen Square, which is home to two dental practices. As one had already been recently taken over just a couple of years earlier, and the other had a couple of older partners, I knew which one to target. It was already a fully private practice which had been going for 35 years. However, I knew it had the potential for significant growth and that I could easily add a lot of value to it, so I sweet talked the partners into letting me join as an associate with no list and within six months I was bringing in more revenue than either partner, who had both been with the business for 20 years each. After 18 months I said I wanted to buy in or I’d buy something else, fortunately they decided to sell me the whole practice.

Give me some headline numbers

When I first walked in as a raw associate the business was grossing £600k. Within two years I had grown it to £1m. Within four months of ownership we’re now tracking £2m. The revised target is to now reach £3m by summer 2020 (one year in). Then we’ll build two more surgeries to give us the headroom to go up to as high as £5m. However, by then I’ll likely have started the ball rolling on additional sites.

How much have you relied on support and advice?

I’ve been fortunate in assembling the best team of advisors I could find around me— Fine Company for strategy and recruitment, Hive Business for post-purchase financial modelling and Ashley Latter for developing a world class team. Fine Company and Hive Business assessed the practice as my best option to buy and helped me plan a successful acquisition, freeing up capital to invest immediately, delaying the timing of the exchange of contracts by two months so I would be back from holiday and wouldn’t lose my fees and could focus on the relaunch. Hive also found £50k in tax savings through the transaction which I ploughed straight back into the business. A slew of prestigious specialists have also been recruited with their assistance. I have had valuable, multi-disciplinary support through the stressful acquisition phase and will continue these professional relationships for all new future business ventures.

Dr Jonny Cochrane

“The forecast predicted 20% growth in the first 12 months but by month four our revenue was up 89%”

Dr Jonny Cochrane, The Bristol Dental Practice owner

Author: Zac Fine