FEATURE ARTICLE: Dental Careers Are Not a Straight Line

In Building a Practice, Inspiration, She's an Entrepreneur, She's Enjoying the Journey by Rachel Wall

I was in the third row sitting in a room full of friends and close colleagues. I was excited to be there, to be with these people. And at the same time, I was scared. Really scared. 

My consulting business, Inspired Hygiene, had gained some serious traction, and now there were people for whose livelihood I felt responsible. Employees and contractors who believed in me and what I had created. 

Up to this point, IH had been a bootstrap business. There were no angel investors (maybe there should have been) and no money from family or other sources. It was literally a month-to-month process of making some money and putting it right back into the business and our household. And things were going well. It was a slow build, but there was no debt, and it felt like a safe way to build a business… until it didn’t. We hit a rough patch. I had relied much too heavily on the advice of a distracted bookkeeper and a business coach whose immediate response to my situation was to fire everyone and break my office lease. We were in a financial tough spot. 

At the same time. . .

As all this was happening, I was attending a breakout with the brilliant Chuck Blakeman at the Speaking Consulting Network annual conference. When he showed an image similar to this, it was as if I was seeing my business with new eyes. In my mind, owning a business was supposed to be a straight line of growth ending in fireworks and big money. I was wrong. Chuck explained that businesses go through so many stages and some ups and downs. While every business may not experience this, my husband, Matt, encouraged me and told me this is very common. It didn’t mean my business was failing or that I was doing everything wrong. I just needed to take a closer look at things and figure out how to turn it around. 

Fortunately for me, a few months earlier, Matt pushed me to accept the offer our bank have given me to open a business line of credit. I believe God prepared me with this resource, as I was about to learn a major lesson. We tapped into the credit line, and it got us through the rough patch. I then hired a fractional CFO and paid off the line of credit over time. The CFO helped me plan for future growth, expenses and profits. I’m happy to report there’s a fund now to provide for taxes and weathering the ups and downs, which, of course, have come since then. 

Where I Came From

While I had loving parents, they divorced when I was 4, and I grew up with a lot of uncertainty. In addition, both my parents regularly talked of hard financial times and the period in which my family “lost everything” because of a bad investment. I was a toddler and don’t remember it first-hand, but it was often relived with a regular drive-by of the big, fancy house we lived in before the loss. I’m pretty sure this has something to do with my need to feel secure, however, as an entrepreneur, playing it safe is often not compatible with the strategies for running a thriving, growing business. Working on my mindset has been a HUGE part of keeping the business moving in a positive direction and staying focused. 

Even through the rough times, I am so grateful for the opportunity to own my own business. I’m immensely grateful every day for those with whom I get to work: the incredible men and women who believe in Inspired Hygiene and our vision to engage and inspire hygienists and dental teams to care for their patients at a very high level while having a satisfying career. 

Tips & Insights

On this 15-year journey, I’ve learned a lot. Here are a few things that have helped me feel more confident and prepared for the next phase. I hope you can gain some insight for your life/business: 

  • It is never a straight line. In business (and life) there are going to be ups and downs. 
  • Be prepared for the rainy days because they will come. That doesn’t mean I want to manifest a problem or I’m being a pessimist. It’s just reality. Get a business line of credit – even if you never plan to use it. Every month, put away money for taxes and save at least three months operating expenses. 
  • Choose advisors (mentors, coaches, bookkeepers, virtual assistants) who you feel are a bit out of your league. You’ll have to pay more for their services, and in my experience, it’s well worth it 90 percent of the time. You get what you pay for. 
  • Watch your self-talk and give yourself some credit. I used to say, “I’m a hygienist with no business training.” I had a realization last year that this self-image and mindset were holding me and my business back. With 15 years of hands-on business training. I still have A LOT to learn, and I’ve built a solid, respected business that gets results for our clients and operates with integrity. 
  • There will ALWAYS be something to work on. As an entrepreneur, your to-do list is never finished, and you’ve got to come to terms with that. You must allow yourself to take time off to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor… even if the to-do list still has some incomplete items. 
  • Know your numbers. Looking at revenue rolling in is fun. Reading a P&L and looking at all the expenses going out is not so fun. Tough! If you’re a business owner, it is your responsibility to keep your company financially sound. Find someone who will patiently explain the numbers, help you understand how to create profit in the business and hold you accountable. 

Life isn’t a straight line, so why should we expect our business to be? Surround yourself with supportive people. Your team, family, friends and mentors are your biggest assets and your best partners during the zigs and zags of business and in life. With their support, you’ll always be successful.