Setting up a practice is akin to leaving home. Dentistry.co.uk speaks to Charlie Attariani about how support can make a big difference to stress levels during the transition

That first step towards independence away from the family nest is a coming-of-age milestone – long remembered for the life-changing implications as we stand on the cusp of true adulthood.

With the prospect of financial freedom a welcome one, it can also prove daunting.

Becoming accountable for our decisions and actions are what makes this transition exciting – but we probably drew on the experience of those we trusted to ensure we reaped the benefits and avoided the pitfalls.

In fact, the move from associate to practice owner is akin to this personal milestone, with a strong support network an integral part of making the process a less stressful one.

So, when dentist Charlie Attariani finally decided he was ready to take on a practice of his own, this ‘family’ ideal was a theme that factored strongly in his decision-making and the path he took.

Charlie now owns a central London practice in the heart of Westminster, which will shortly be celebrating its first birthday.

Finding freedom

A few years ago, having worked for various large corporates, within the private sector and the NHS as an associate, Charlie began his long search for the ideal business opportunity.

Beside him and offering family support were his wife, Golnar Hassirian, and brothers, Martin Attariani and Sean Attariani – all dentists with the experience on which he knew he could draw – as well as older brother Kevin, who helped with the whole project.

He explains: ‘My initial motivation was to find freedom – clinical freedom to develop the skills in the areas that interest me as well as benefit my patients, business freedom to be able to work with the labs and other dental companies of my choosing, financial freedom to invest in the latest materials and tools as well as educational freedom to expand my knowledge in terms of both business and clinical delivery. If I want do more implant work and endodontic treatment, for example, I can. I felt I had got to a level where I wanted my own practice – but it was an ideal that demanded a lot of planning.’

He began by signing up with various practice sales companies and started to look at the market to get a feel for what was available.

He says: ‘I also needed to look at the finances – and some of these companies offered help. But, it was only when I encountered Frank Taylor & Associates that I found one with the experience I needed, as well as the services I required – and all under one roof.

‘I decided to attend one of their seminars. All aspects of the purchasing process were covered by the team. They understood it well and could offer an overview. I wanted marketing advice and needed help with funding the project as well as insight into the market.

‘The introduction seminar offered good guidance, was useful and worth the investment. The information was up to date, with current data on numbers and practices. I got a lot out of it.’

Clinical commitments can often prevent dentists looking to purchase a practice from doing their own homework so it made sense to contract the ‘leg-work’ out to somebody else!

He says: ‘I came very close to bidding on businesses a few times and, in some cases, put in offers, but I found everything had to fall into place at the same time in order to make it work. On occasions, I was short of time to make a decision – but found that if I took too long the opportunity was gone.’

Squat options

For many dentists like Charlie, earning a salary as an associate is simply not enough. And, although not easy, the alternative of starting and running a squat practice began to appeal – even though many people told him it would be a difficult option.

‘With a squat, you have to be there every day and work around your clients. You have to be patient – and it’s a long haul. It is also important to have a good specialist dental accountant.’

Charlie, a firm believer in paying for specialist knowledge and services, reaped the benefits in the long term.

Of his venture, he is evidently proud of the lengths he and his siblings have gone to create a practice best suited to its location in St James Westminster. He says: ‘As a new dental business, I had to look at the locality and tailor its services. Every practice is unique – it is not a franchise like Mcdonald’s – and different clientele require a different approach. People in London often have high expectations and are time poor, which is why I have invested in the latest technology to ensure my practice can deliver first-class treatments quickly, safely and effectively.’

With minimally invasive dentistry at its heart, Charlie is proud of a practice that is paperless and that utilises the best in digital impression taking, treatment planning and an iPad endodontic system. This, he believes, will take the business to the next level.

‘Aesthetic dentistry is where the profession is going – everyone wants white and healthy smiles – but we do need to look at the long term and re-educate our patients if they are to sustain the cosmetic procedures they seek. We need to get them dentally fit first, before any aesthetic work is planned – and, for me, prevention is everything’.

School days

As a new practice owner, Charlie views every day as a ‘school day’ and is on a continuous learning curve.

He says: ‘I need the best systems in place and will strive to improve upon them as well as meet and go beyond our KPIs. Our practice is paperless; we only do digital impressions, we use iPads and have invested in the latest technology. We utilise new tech and bring it into dentistry. Essentially, the treatments do not change but the way they are delivered does and I try hard to remain up to date.

‘In the beginning, you have to do everything yourself but, once you create a solid system, practice managers and the team can take over. I love clinical dentistry – it is my passion – and I am now slowly moving away from handling the administrative side to free up time to expand my skills. It’s a slow process but the on-going support from my family makes the difference.’

Charlie’s advice to others would be to contract out services, unless you have the skills and time to do them yourself.

He explains: ‘FTA made time to visit me and the whole team were very good. Even when I was calling them every day, they were very patient.’

So with 12 months’ experience already under his belt, what advice does he have for an associate considering a similar move into practice ownership?

‘Buying a practice takes time and running it is as a profitable business is hard work. But, if you want something, you need to make sacrifices, dedicate time to finding the right practice for you and invest in people who can provide support. Essentially, you also need a great team all working to their strengths in order to succeed.’