Like most dental consultants, I fell into dental and never left. My story started as a young lady from Iowa with a dream of seeing outside of her little world in the Midwest. So, when presented with an opportunity to nanny for a dentist in the San Francisco Bay Area, she thought, “Hey, why not? Dentists are ok, right?”
Now that you are laughing at my naiveté, let me say it wasn’t all bad. The kids were cool, and the opportunity to see and live in a coastal area made it bearable. What I couldn’t stand was to see the female dentist stressed, desperate and burned out. Sadly, my former boss wouldn’t be the last person I saw super stressed.
Then came the day a geeky IT guy showed up with a thumb drive with the doctor’s PracticeWorks database on it. Now, it should be mentioned that this was 2004 and that method of transferring a database to be worked on at home was considered cutting-edge technology. Now, I’m horrified that all that patient information was on a teeny tiny little device that could easily be lost or stolen. I’m especially horrified that all that data was unencrypted. Fortunately, that was not an issue at the time.
Back to the geek. It turned into a beautiful love story. One that kept me in California. A story that slowly evolved into me helping run his fledgling IT consulting business for dental practices in Northern California. Just like me, he fell into dental and never left.
What started as him helping fix broken computers and me doing billing and bookkeeping, morphed into a respected boutique IT firm that ultimately pushed dentists to do more to secure their patient information. We had a lot of uncomfortable conversations with dental professionals along the way and were met with a lot of “no thanks” and “that’s too expensive” when it came to IT spending. But we persisted and continued to add services and support to our proactive program so that we no longer fixed preventable things. Instead, we proactively prevented things from being broken into.
Then came the day I got a letter in the mail from a local hospital telling me they acquired the imaging center across the street and that my panos were involved in a data breach. A few years prior, I chose corrective orgnathic surgery to address a Class III bite. Unfortunately for me, those panos had my name, date of birth, social security number and medical insurance number in plain text on the image and when the front desk admin made an unauthorized copy onto a thumb drive (trust me, the irony of this being a thumb drive story is not lost on me given how I met my husband), all that information ended up “lost” and ultimately showed up for sale on the dark web.
More than a decade later, I managed to take that horrible experience and take a break/fix IT shop with just my husband and transform it into a holistic proactive IT security program for dental practices. I was also able to create a successful speaking and consulting career that spun off into a separate business.
But we still had that IT business we built and were both responsible for…..
We started noticing cracks in our communication, motivation, and goals for the IT company 6 years ago. As most tech and IT guys are, my husband is a people pleaser and can easily be swayed by the tiniest complaint from a client. Often this results in giving the client exactly what they ask for. On the other hand, I stopped apologizing years ago. My job is to know all the information and coach or consult the client as the expert, not capitulate to what they feel is an appropriate price. Those fractures ended up becoming giant fissures and then enormous chasms. Our personal relationship was strained. We fundamentally couldn’t agree on anything, and I feared we wouldn’t make it.
In mid-2019, in the midst of Windows 7 replacements on his end and a handful of complex data breaches on my end, the stress level was at an all-time high and yielded a fight of epic proportions in our kitchen. One of our kids got between us and said, “Stop it. All you do is fight about clients. Are any of them really worth it?”
Whoa. Talk about a wake-up call. When an 11-year-old is more aware than 40-somethings, you know you’ve lost control and need to reevaluate.
We faced some uncomfortable conversations and faced some hard truths. As many women understand, I came to my decision a lot faster than he did. I was done. Not with him. He’s my ride-or-die. I was done with the clients. While those clients are amazing, and we should go above and beyond for them, because we are simply those types of people, we should never, ever put them above ourselves. And most definitely above our marriage. While those clients are loyal right back, if given a chance or a need, they would leave.
Another kick to the gut emotionally.
Once I chose my husband, my marriage and my family first – like I should have in the first place – it was easier to compartmentalize and take action. I knew the business had to go, or at least we couldn’t be in control of it. We had been operating for 16 years at that point and I imagined it was a 16 year old kid, which it kind of was. Your business is your baby. Sleepless nights, worrying, fretting, fussing and stressing over that baby until it’s time for it to take flight and be on its own, just like a teenager.
The plan started with valuation, which is one of the most torturous things I’ve even endured. It’s brutal and frustrating and confusing, and I discovered quickly that my brain doesn’t work that way, but I persevered. When that initial valuation and EBDITA number came back – I was crushed. 18 years of blood, sweat, and tears weren’t worth much. All of that sacrifice, for what?
So I looked at it from an industry risk management standpoint. I restructured our programs, included more, upped fees and locked people in for longer terms. That second valuation was still less than I wanted, but more palatable. I contacted everyone I knew in the industry and ended up with 15 offers. Did I love the one we ultimately chose? Not really, but it was what was best for our clients, our employees, our family and our love.
In the end, I chose my marriage over my clients. And I will never regret that decision.
Working with my husband was magical – until it wasn’t. We were a rock star team – until we didn’t click. We made amazing changes in the industry and inspired other national dental-specific IT providers to emulate us, but it broke us. It caused me to delay improvements in my other business, and I wasn’t doing justice for my clients. Basically, everything was terrible, and it had to change.
I don’t regret the decision to stop working together. It was what was best for both of us to grow and thrive professionally and be able to support each other again – as spouses instead of business owners.