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Volume 90: When is the Right Time to Sell your Practice and Why?

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Your dental practice may be your most important financial asset to provide for your lifestyle and retirement needs. Not only is it an asset that can be sold, it also provides a significant income stream that generates savings and supports living expenses. This income streams includes your “sweat” (40% of your production), and the net income (profit after paying your overhead), typically 15%-20% of the practice’s total revenue. The analysis of these factors, combined with time considerations, is essential to maximizing your total return, both during ownership and when selling. 

We are all aware that the dental practice sales market is strong for good practices. This trend is influenced by economics (supply and demand), favorable banking and insurance, as well as the influx of more and different types of buyers. The latter includes more buyers coming to Canada, and the recent phenomenon of “corporate” ownership.

In the past, there was a natural process about the timing of a sale. The older dentist would typically work until he/she was close to retiring, sell the practice, associate with the purchaser to help with the transition, and after a little time, retire completely.

Market conditions have changed. Now, some dentists are selling their practices earlier in their career than in the past. These changing conditions, may include additional stresses of ownership (staff, IPAC, patient demands, etc.), and/or, the opportunity of immediate or future financial returns.

In this new reality, purchasers have recognized that a dentist willing to continue to work in the practice long term is very valuable, and as such, have put together creative and/or attractive offers to address the objectives of a vendor.

In addition, many purchasers have significantly ramped up marketing efforts to acquire practices that were traditionally not ready for sale. In many cases, rather than the owner dentist making the decision to sell, the purchasing dentist is now convincing the owner to sell. 

Is this new opportunity a good thing? Perhaps, but it may not be optimal. The issue is that the selling dentist typically makes this decision without first establishing his/her personal plan. This decision should NOT be a kneejerk reaction, driven by the fear of missing out, or as one dentist told me, “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. In many cases, the dentist only works with one purchaser and doesn’t obtain a proper valuation, hire an agent, create a long term financial plan or assess alternatives like keeping and improving the practice (make it better, hire a manager to reduce stress, hire an associate, etc.). Without properly evaluating the practice and dentist’s own value, the owner may end up selling too early, leaving money on the table, undervaluing the practice or worst of all, agreeing to a deal that doesn’t suit his/her future plans.

Consider the benefits of advance and appropriate planning. Recently, a dentist in his mid 50’s called us to review his practice as he was approached to sell. The offer seemed amazing, well above market value, equity ownership in the company, lots of cash, and freedom in all operations. The caveat was there was a very long term commitment and an earnings guarantee. When we analyzed the practice, we discovered that there was considerable upside potential in the current hygiene program, and with some tweaks cash flow could be improved by over 30%. Despite the offer being exceptional, the dentist decided to keep the practice, make the necessary changes to enhance the practice, and keep the income. He will now consider a sale closer to retirement. 

A few years ago, I spoke to another dentist who had just sold his practice. A strong purchaser approached the dentist with an offer with a quick close, and they didn’t need a valuation. Based on the net results, we estimated that the practice was sold for 1 million dollars less than its true value, and the associateship compensation was also below market value. When asked why the dentist seek a broker’s advice, he replied that he was told there would be a 10% commission rate. This myth is propagated by some purchasers who don’t want you to call a broker. The reason for this is that brokers will generate broad exposure and ensure you achieve fair market value in this efficient market, which is disadvantageous for these types of buyers.

Remember that when you sell, you are giving up the net income or approximately 15-20% return per year based on the value of your practice. You are not likely to get that rate of return on the cash you have to invest. As a result, you must assess the benefits of what you are giving up (15-20% return on investment) versus gaining freedom from owner/management responsibilities. While the upfront money is alluring, you must consider the long term commitment you must make to receive it. It is not inconceivable that you may have to commit to working for the next 5-8 years, and you will be required to guarantee the practice’s income. While seemingly insignificant, there are huge risks with guarantees, as you are really not giving up equity responsibility or management responsibility and the financial risk is significant.

There are other stories where dentists have sold early, reaped financial rewards, continued to work, and are happy as they do not have any further management responsibilities. Either way, prior to making a decision to sell, dentists should proactively create a personal plan with the help of their trusted advisors. The plan should include these details:

1. How long do you want to work?

2. How would you like to improve your work life? (i.e. reduce management stress, focus on better dentistry, etc.)

3. Under what conditions do you want to work? (Employee, partner, associate, owners, part- time)

4. What is the current market value of your practice?

5. What is the future of your practice? (opportunities to improve, risks of decline, competition, etc.)

6. What are your financial goals? (Income today versus later, retirement needs, taxation, investment strategy.)

If the outcome of your plan is that it makes sense to sell, do yourself a favor and don’t go it alone! It’s usually a once-in-a-lifetime event and you don’t want to make a mistake. Use a good team of professionals to guide you.

Dental practices are an excellent investment and the owner is a very important asset of the practice. Whether you sell or decide to remain the owner, ultimately you have earned the right to transition your way, and the right to maximize your ultimate financial return.

Colin Ross is a Partner in Professional Practice Sales Ltd. (www.ppsales.com), which specializes in the valuation and sale of dental practices.  He can be reached at (905) 472-6000 or 1-888-777-8825 or e-mail at: colin.ross@ppsales.com

 

The Professional Advisory

  1. One Year Later

  2. Dealing with Unsolicited Offers

  3. Covid-19 Practice Sales Update

  4. When is the Right Time to Sell Your Practice and Why?

  5. Partnership Pitfalls

  6. The Real Cost of a Dental Practice Set-up

  7. Smaller Practice Realities

  8. Dental Market Update - 2019

  9. Creating Your Own Most Valuable Practice (MVP)

  10. Small Practice Economics

  11. The Market is Very Efficient

  12. How Can Dental Practice Values be Rising and Declining?

  13. Hygiene as a Value Driver

  14. The Value of a Good Team

  15. Is it Time to Move?

  16. Staging A Dental Practice

  17. The High Cost of Dying

  18. Deal-Busters

  19. Patients - Attract and Retain

  20. Should I Stay or Should I Go?

  21. Is There a Buyer for Every Practice?

  22. Good, Better, Best - The Market has Spoken

  23. Smooth-Sale-ing

  24. Buying Time

  25. Patients, Patience, Patients

  26. A Real Patient

  27. Why Do a Practice Valuation? I'm not Selling

  28. Irrational Exuberance or The New Normal?

  29. Do dental equipment and dental technology affect a practice value?

  30. Finding and Being a Mentor

  31. Bigger is Better

  32. Dave's Top Ten List for Buyers (Vendors should read this too!)

  33. How Well Do You Know Your Practice?

  34. Dave's Top Ten List for Vendors

  35. What will happen to dental practice Values in the next 10 years?

  36. Your Premises Lease is an Important Asset

  37. What are Associates Thinking?

  38. There is Life Outside the GTA

  39. When Is the Right Time to Sell My Dental Practice?

  40. Mergers are a Viable Option

  41. Is Your Associate an Asset or a Liability?

  42. Has your Practice Facility Kept Up With Your Billings?

  43. The 100 per cent of Gross Myth

  44. The Past, The Present and The Future

  45. Caveat Emptor

  46. Overpaid Long Term Staff

  47. Selling your Practice in Stages

  48. A Potential Pitfall of Selling Shares

  49. Value in Your Practice Through Balance

  50. Only Trusted Staff Can Defraud You

  51. To Own or Not to Own Practice Real Estate? That is the Question.

  52. Coping With A Large Patient Base

  53. Successful Dental Practice Transitions

  54. Taking Care of Business

  55. The Investing Dentist Phenomenon

  56. Two areas to focus upon that could negatively impact the value of your practice

  57. Organize your Debt in Order to Sell your Practice

  58. Having a Better Team

  59. How Do I Prepare My Practice For Sale

  60. How Do I Prepare My Practice For Sale? Part 3

  61. How Do I Prepare My Practice For Sale? Part 2

  62. How Do I Prepare My Practice For Sale? Part 1

  63. Advice to My Son or Daughter Graduating from Dental School

  64. Transition - What to Expect

  65. Discussion on Digital X-Rays

  66. Partnerships and Shotguns

  67. Strategic Planning - How to Get Started

  68. Calling All Vendors - Practices have Gone Up in Value

  69. Purchasers: Expect to Pay More for a Practice because of Lower Professional Corporation Tax Rates

  70. Matrimonial Practice Valuations

  71. Purchaser's Guide to Affording a Practice

  72. Location Improvements Throughout Your Career

  73. Small Practice Valuations

  74. Partnerships – The Best and The Worst

  75. Changing Location When the Opportunity Comes Along

  76. Visual Presentation of Your Practice

  77. Presentation of Charts

  78. Your Premises Lease Can Be Your Worst Enemy

  79. How to Select an Appraiser for Your Practice

  80. How Are Your Billing Ratios?

  81. It Pays to Invest in Your Tangible Assets

  82. The Importance of Separate Financial Statements

  83. Five Time Frame Levels to Sell a Practice

  84. 12 Suggestions to Safeguard Computer Data

  85. How to Buy a Visible Practice

  86. Why is there a shortage of good practices today?

  87. The Importance of Equipment in the Purchase of a Practice

  88. The Balanced Practice

  89. Will My Practice Be Saleable in The Future?

  90. Buyer Be Aware

  91. Excess Profit - The Second Key

  92. Patients and Profits are the Keys

  93. Plan Ahead

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