Most dentists look forward to retirement, even if they’ve had an interesting and rewarding career. However, in the rush to achieve their retirement goal, practitioners often fail to anticipate the changes that come with selling their practice and riding of into the sunset. Selling a dental practice is an emotional as well as financial step, and practitioners are often unprepared for the emotional component of the sale.
Though selling a practice eliminates almost all of the headaches associated with practice ownership, it also gives rise to a number of new concerns. Just as practice buyers often experience buyer’s remorse when the first piece of equipment breaks, practice sellers often get the blues when they realize the practice they spent a career building now belongs to someone else.
Almost any practice owner can list the benefits of retiring. Among them are reduced stress, abundant free time, no conflicts with staff or patients, and no office-related expenses. However, along with all the benefits of retirement come a few unanticipated drawbacks that can contribute to a sense of malaise. The two most unanticipated problems are a lack of control over their previous practice, and unfilled free time.
The biggest obstacle for a practice seller is usually the lack of control over their sold practice. Though it may seem obvious that a seller cannot control an asset after the sale, sellers are often unprepared for changes made to the practice by the buyer. As a business owner, the seller is accustomed to calling the shots. Consequently, sellers are often offended when the buyer makes a decision with which the seller does not agree. It is important to remember that the seller may only offer advice to the new owner, and that the purchaser is free to either use or ignore that advice.
A seller’s lack of control over the practice can also cause anxiety when the seller interacts with former patients and staff. When former patients tell the seller, “It’s just not the same,” or staff members tell the seller they’re disgruntled with the new owner, the urge is to try to fix the problem. However, almost all practice sale contracts require the seller to support the buyer, and the best way to get sued after a sale is to disparage the buyer to other dentists, patients, or staff.
Consequently, the seller has little alternative but to reassure patients and staff that the buyer is well qualified. The key point to remember is that the patients are no longer “your” patients and the staff is no longer “your” staff.
A seller must mentally accept that fact, even if he or she remains as an employee in the practice and the practice is no longer theirs.
The other obstacle sellers face is not having a plan on how to occupy themselves after retirement. Often, sellers find themselves bored and unable to fill their 36 to 40 hours of additional free time each week. This problem is compounded if a spouse is still employed, as they are not available to “entertain” the retiree. Sellers often look to fill this time by seeking part-time work, only to find themselves restricted by a non-compete agreement. Consequently, it may be a good idea to ask for an exception to the non-compete, which will allow the seller to teach at a dental school, work for a government entity, or substitute a few days per month for dentists who are ill. This will provide a way to ease out of the dental mode and into retirement activities.
In order to cope with the seller’s blues, a transitioning dentist must accept that the blues are part of the change, and then prepare for the change. Be prepared to let go of making decisions in the practice. Start developing activities and hobbies before actually retiring. Reactivate your social life by finding other retirees who share similar interests. Remember, it’s more important to retire “to” an active life than “from” a busy life.
Gretchen O. Lovelace, MS, CFP, CPM
8202 Kelwood Avenue
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
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