To really understand the emotional trauma of selling one’s practice — especially after a lifetime of dedication — I believe one needs to have lived through the experience.
It’s analogous to parenthood, until you’ve experienced the birth of your first child, you simply can’t know the emotional impact of being a parent.
In some degree of logical order, permit me to review some of the doubts, the concerns, and the questions of selling one’s practice.
Am I saying that everyone goes through this trauma? No, but certainly the vast majority will experience most, if not all, of what I’m about to describe.
It finally dawns upon you, “Either I sell — or they carry me out feet first. I can’t practice forever. My back hurts, my shoulders hurt, my eyesight is failing.” Whatever, you discuss it with your significant other. Can we stand each other 24 hours a day? Doing what? Should we move? Where? When?
If you’re smart, you’ll meet with a certified financial planner and check on your financial status.
What will your lifestyle be like? Can you afford to retire and embrace a new lifestyle? Can you both agree to it? Will it be OK? For how long? Is your estate plan in order?
Who to trust?
So many dentists have been taken advantage of by many so-called “experts” that they are, as a breed, suspicious. And rightly so. They call friends, accountants, attorneys — and ask, who can I call for help? They get conflicting advice. More confused. They have to lay bare their entire financial status. How successful — or unsuccessful — were they? Who will know? Can we keep it secret?
Hopefully, they will have interviewed a few practice brokers and chose one they feel a relationship with … one they can trust! But, they’ll never really feel secure.
Now that the decision to sell has been made, let’s sell tomorrow! But, don’t tell anyone; don’t tell my staff; don’t tell my colleagues; don’t advertise the town — someone might find out! You mean you’ll tell Dr. X down the street that he can buy my practice? And he’ll know how much I made … how much I charged? What do you mean it might take six-12 months? No, I don’t want an exclusive listing — just work for nothing. You get how much of a percentage? Joe Shomp does it for free! Why do I need an appraisal? I know what it’s worth! How much is a proper appraisal?
Prospective buyers need to be seen. Shall I tell my staff? What will these buyers want to see? My records? My appointment book? Computer print outs? Marketing plans? Contracts with third-parties? Everything?
Some buyers look — and don’t like. They don’t like what you’ve created over 30-40 years! What’s wrong with them? Maybe nobody will like it. What did I do wrong? How can I correct it?
You need a trusted confidant here — that’s what you pay the commission for — to help you through these trying times.
It’s sold. You’re leaving. It’s no longer yours. All you’ve sweated over, worried over, agonized over for 30-40 years; it’s gone. You feel empty. Useless. Oh, you’ll play some golf and do some fishing and clear up your den/basement — but then what? Be prepared for this let down. As difficult and demanding as the practice was — you were king. It was yours to guide, to grow, to prosper. It gave you a sense of worth, a sense of accomplishment.
Be prepared to be Mr. Jones, and not Dr. Jones, and all that means and signifies to you. The new doctor — will he/she treat my patients like I did? Will he/she be fair? Honest? Capable? Lastly, be assured that you’re not the first — nor will you be the last — to sell a practice. With proper preparation and expert, empathetic advisers, it can have a successful conclusion.
Robert J. Mallin, DDS, CFP is both a dentist and a Certified Financial Planner. He has authored many articles and lectured extensively on financial and practice-transition matters. He owns PPC of NJ, Inc., a dental practice-broker/financialplanning firm. Dr. Mallin is a member of American Dental Sales (ADS). See the ADS Classified ads for names and phone numbers of ADS members in your area.