How one New York City practice grows by keeping referrals in-house: An interview with Dr. Paul Williams | DentistryIQ

Interview with Paul Williams, DDS

SMITH: Dr. Williams, give us a little bit of your background.

DR. WILLIAMS: I grew up in the Bronx. I did my undergraduate studies at New York University, where I majored in anthropology and minored in chemistry and biology. I went to dental school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and after graduating I did my residency at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Since finishing dental school and my residency, I have focused a lot of my additional education on dental sleep medicine and TMD.

SMITH: Now you are running Dental Smiles Unlimited, which has experienced amazing growth over the last few years. Can you give us an idea of some things that have been working for you?

DR. WILLIAMS: Sure! We have used a lot of different marketing strategies over the last few years. We track them very specifically, so I will give them to you in order of effectiveness for our office.

Our highest number of new patients comes from internal referrals. We have a great system that keeps that ball rolling pretty smoothly. We send a nice hand-written thank you card anytime someone refers a friend as well as sending a welcome card to the new patient. They seem to really appreciate the effort of the dentist writing a hand-written note to them, and it pays back in a big way with additional referrals. We average nearly 30 new patients per month from patient referrals.

Our next highest referral source is postcards. We do a lot of mailers, and they do cost quite a bit of money to send out, but they are also bringing in a lot of new patients. The success of our mailing campaigns is highly dependent on the offer on the card. Depending on the offer and the time of year, we get anywhere from 10 to 30 new patients per month from postcards.

Our last consistent marketing strategy is SEO and Adwords. We typically average around 15 new patients per month from each of these.

SMITH: So I am just doing the math really quickly, because I am nerdy like that. That totals about 55 to 75 new patients per month. How have you managed to grow to five doctors and multiple millions of dollars in revenue per year with that kind of new-patient flow? I’m not trying to say that those aren’t impressive numbers, just that I typically see more new patients needed for a practice of your size.

DR. WILLIAMS: Sure, I get where you are coming from. Our practice is pretty unique because we have several dentists who like to work in specific areas of dentistry. For example, I like to do sleep dentistry and also help patients with TMD. We have another dentist who likes to do a lot of root canals, and we even have an oral surgeon in our office. This means that we can keep almost all of the treatment our patients need in-house. I definitely think this is one of the things that has allowed our office to grow to the size it is without needing hundreds of new patients per month.

SMITH: That makes sense. I find a lot of dentists are leaning toward that strategy, though it is sometimes in a slightly different way. They try to learn as many procedures as they can so that a single dentist can keep as many procedures as possible in-house.

DR. WILLIAMS: Yes, I’ve seen a lot of my colleagues do that too. That is one area where we are a little bit different from many other practices.

SMITH: I’d love to ask one final question that I think provides a lot of value to the dentists reading these interviews. If you had to start from scratch today, how would you go about building a practice?

DR. WILLIAMS: That is a great question. If I had to start from nothing today, I would start by figuring out exactly what I wanted the patient experience to look like from A to Z. I’m talking about a patient experience that will really wow the patient. I think many dentists think patients are really happy, when in reality, the patients are only “not unhappy.” There is a difference!

Once I had that dialed in, I would decide who I needed on my team to accomplish that and hire an awesome team. From there, it would be getting the things in place that we needed to set up this amazing experience and putting the plan in action. Once the patient referrals were flowing in, we would start adding more marketing pieces to the puzzle.

SMITH: That is some great advice! It sounds like you have thought about that before.

DR. WILLIAMS: Of course. I think about that scenario a lot because it helps me keep my priorities where they need to be.

SMITH: Dr. Williams, thank you so much for your time today!

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.