The Most Dangerous Associateship: The TOO Comfortable One

Brian Hanks General

Let me speak (write, I guess) directly to the dental associates out there. Current or future associates.

I’m going to make an assumption: You want to own a practice. Sure, the reasonable hedge in many articles is that “ownership isn’t for everyone.” And that’s true! But you’re here reading this, so I think my assumption is a safe one.

I’ve had lots of conversations with lots of dental associates over the years. One in particular comes to mind. David had graduated dental school about 5 years prior, worked for a corporate chain for a while, but hated the breakneck, sales-focused pace and sought out an associateship. He found one with an independent dentist a decade older, and had been happy there for several years. Yeah, he wanted his own practice one day, and figured he’d know when it was the right time. The right time always seemed to be “later.”

There’s no single path to practice ownership, but David was on a common one, which goes something like this: graduate dental school; get a corporate job for a while; work as an associate; buy a practice. But for many dentists I talk to, they stall out on the “associate” step.

And there’s a good reason for that! Associateships are great. You’re usually in a smaller practice that’s quieter and less hectic than a corporate office; you can practice dentistry with a lower level of sales pressure; and most importantly, you’re cultivating a mentoring relationship with another dentist who can teach you skills that will last the rest of your career.

Yeah, associateships are wonderful.

Right up until they’re not.

What I mean is, associateships are such a good idea that sometimes dentists fall into the trap of sticking with them for too long. If you have your sights set on owning your own practice, don’t let the comfort of an associateship distract you from that goal.

Now is not the perfect time to buy

I was tempted to try to find “the number one thing” that keeps dentists I talk to from pulling the trigger and buying a practice. But there are too many “things,” and each of them tends to be perfectly valid. I’ve called these “sensible hiding places” elsewhere. “I want to increase my hand speed.” “I’m thinking of having another kid.” “I love the team I work with.” “I’m not sure about the market right now.” And the list goes on.

Like I said, these are all valid reasons, and I’m sure you could add to the list. There is never going to be a perfect time to buy a practice because there will always be another reason to stick with your associateship.

But it’s time to get past that. There is no perfect time to buy. So instead of “perfect,” how about finding a “good” time to buy? Does that sound less daunting? Good, it should. Because a good time to buy is right now.

Now is a good time to buy

As long as you meet a few basic criteria, you can own your own practice. All it takes is a little experience, a little money in the bank, a good credit score, and a lot of determination. (I go into more detail about what it takes to own in my book.)

So don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t let your doubts interrupt your dreams. The market seems low? Buy a practice at a lower price than normal, then watch the numbers rise as the market improves. The market seems high? Purchase now and use the better-than-average numbers to build up a resistance to future dips. Thinking of having a kid? As a father of four, I can assure you that it won’t get easier as they get older.

…I can do this all day. The truth is, now is as good a time as any I’ve seen to buy a practice.

In fact, owning your own practice is the best path I know of to paying off your student loans, building wealth, and controlling your own career. An associateship is a wonderful time, when you’re building relationships and experiences that will help you throughout your career. And if you’re not careful, it can start to feel a bit too comfortable.

If you feel like you’re ready to buy and you aren’t sure where to start, try signing up for my online course, or just give me a call and we can chat it out.


I go into more detail on this  and every other aspect of purchasing a practice  in my online course. Come check out the first module for free.