Iowa City
September 16, 2016
Garrett Gunderson

Entrepreneurs often get caught in traps that keep their businesses small. Many times it’s because the business owner learned an in-demand trade or specialty or profession, but was never taught how to run a business. It can happen to any type of entrepreneur — app-creators, plumbers, soap-makers, salon owners and more — and the result is a small business that always remains small.

Eric Nuss and the Henry Schein Dental Business Institute deliver an innovative, interactive learning experience for dental practioners

Eric Nuss is helping to solve this problem in the dental industry. Nuss is the Director of Henry Schein HSIC +0.45% Business Solutions and the Henry Schein Dental Business Institute. As a former sixth-grade science teacher who loved to start each day with an experiment, Nuss believes in interactive learning. So he designed the Dental Business Institute to help participants learn, and actually experience, the business side of growing a successful practice.

This is crucial for solo dental practitioners right now as larger corporate dentist shops gobble up their business. It’s similar to when big box retailers put the mom-and-pop shops out of business. I recently had a chance to talk with Eric Nuss about how he’s teaching small businesses to grow and compete with giants in their industry. He gave me 3 mistakes you may be making to keep your small business small:

Mistake #1: You’re Missing Vision And Values

“A common ailment is that the business owner — the CEO on the front line — has an innate skill, talent or service that they’ve created, but they lack vision and values to inspire others in their business so that they’re not the only person producing,” Nuss said. “I can’t emphasize vision and values enough. But sometimes business owners struggle because no one has ever asked them ‘What is the purpose of this business?’”

Nuss explained that a dentist will often say the purpose of their business is dentistry. A factory owner will say the purpose of their business is to create widgets. But there’s always a deeper reason under the surface, and you must discover and articulate it to grow a successful business:

“You have to think about the employees in the business. People want to be a part of something. Inevitably, when there’s a defined purpose and vision for your business, others are inspired to be a part of it. Of course they want a paycheck to pay the bills and have some quantifiable, measurable feedback. But at the end of the day, they really want to be a part of something bigger. Vision declares what that something bigger is.”

Mistake #2: You’re Limiting Your Own Capacity

“Common ailment number two for business owners is wearing too many hats. When the CEO can’t get off the front lines to do the other things to run the business, or is resistant to hiring someone to run the business, their capacity is inevitably challenged,” Nuss said.

Too often businesses limit their growth by only considering what they alone are capable of producing. For example, dentists tend to make decisions based on how many hours they want to work, rather than how many potential new patients are out there in the community. Other businesses can fall into the same trap. A business owner may only consider his own capacity when building a small widget factory capable of producing 10,000 widgets per year. But if the market has demand for 50,000 widgets, the business’s growth has been limited by building a smaller factory with less capacity.

“When you’re the CEO on the front line, you often only think of your own capacity and not what other people in your business can do to help generate revenues and profits to increase capacity and meet the demands of the market.”

Of course, if employees are going to step up and proactively create more revenue and profits, they have to buy into your vision and values first. And that’s why it’s so important to get those written down early. Nuss says when participants realize the importance of vision and values in these later steps, he feels like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. Miyagi first taught Daniel-san to “Wax the floor,” and only later was it revealed that he would need the skill to win a karate match.

“At first there’s resistance to creating vision and values,” Nuss said, “and then later on participants will reflect on that point and say, ‘I sure am glad that we took the time to create vision and values — because without that, none of this other stuff would have come to fruition.’”

Mistake #3: You Were Told How To Ride A Bike

As a sixth-grade science teacher, Nuss found it critical to perform experiments in class to test hypotheses and help kids learn. And he brought that “hands-on” learning approach to the Dental Business Institute: 

“What’s missing from so many dental practices, and I would argue missing from other businesses too, is the concept of forecasting. Business owners have no idea how to accurately predict or forecast their output so they know where to make their investments for expansion, refining or streamlining their business — they just don’t know how to do that. So I hired a simulation programmer to work with me and fabricate real-world examples in a game.”

During the simulation, participants are able to test their business skills while building a pretend dental practice under several scenarios. For example, at one point they’re presented with 10 dental practices that are for sale. Participants must decide which to buy, at what price, how to finance the deal, which employees to keep, if they should build another practice nearby and many other real-life decisions. At the end, a set of algorithms will determine their score to see how they compared to other participants in the class. Nuss believes it’s a great way to show, not tell:

“Because the reality is if I’m telling you how to ride a bike and I’m teaching you the history of bicycles, you will still crash when you get on the seat and try to pedal. So we try to give participants experience right there in the classroom so that when they get back to the real world, they’ve actually done it — even though it was funny money and a computer environment, not a real environment.”

Before the Henry Schein Dental Business Institute, this type of interactive training didn’t exist. Nuss says even the education that did exist was very static and non-experiential: “My background as a sixth-grade science teacher was to come out of the gates running in every class that I ever taught. We’re going to do experiments. We’re going to test a hypothesis. And we’re going to challenge common thinking about how something might be done. So I took that element of a science teacher and brought it to a new space, let it vacillate for a little bit and we started writing a 4-part curriculum on planning, building, leading and lean management for dental practitioners.”

Dental Practitioners can currently enroll in courses at the Henry Schein Dental Business Institute for Winter, Spring and Fall sessions.

Garrett Gunderson is the founder and Chief Wealth Architect of WealthFactory.com, and a financial advocate for entrepreneurs.

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