In our latest in our series of blogs about why people who have had a long association with Practice Plan are happy to stay with us, Area Manager, Suki Singh talks to long-time collaborator and dental business coach, Chris Barrow, to get his story.
SS: You are probably one of the longest-serving Practice Plan consultants and presenters, Chris. Can you remember how this relationship began?
CB: I certainly can! My history with Practice Plan goes back to the 1990s, about two years before Practice Plan was actually formed. I was an independent financial advisor based in Manchester and on the desk facing me was another independent financial advisor by the name of John. I can remember John returning to the office one day having been to see one of his clients, a married couple who ran a dental business, saying, “I’ve just had a meeting with my clients and they’ve decided to go with a company called Denplan,” which had been formed in 1992. And I remember John sitting opposite me and saying, “You know what? I think I could do a better job.” And I said, “Don’t be daft, you’re a financial advisor. You should focus on what you’ve got now.” Thankfully, John completely ignored my advice and he and his wife Jan set up Practice Plan by, I think, 1995. And then of course the rest, as they say, is history.
So, I was aware of Practice Plan literally from day one and it wasn’t long before I was doing my first lecture for Practice Plan. I think it might have been as long ago as about 1997or 1998 when John was just beginning to build the business. So, my history goes way back. Right to the beginning.
You could say I was an early supporter of, and early friend of the founders and it’s been a relationship that has carried on right up to the current day. I’ve always spoken for Practice Plan at trade shows, I’ve done regional workshops and have had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker for their Workshop Tour twice over the years.
SS: That’s a long time to be associated with one company. What is it about Practice Plan that keeps you involved as much as you are?
CB: It’s the people. There is absolutely no doubt about that. And the fact that, in spite of two or three changes of ownership of the business over those 25/26 years, somehow, it’s always magically managed to retain the atmosphere of a family-owned business. That’s easy for me to recognise because family-owned businesses are my clients and I also run a family-owned business. And somehow, even as part of Wesleyan, which obviously is a large financial services group, they just keep that family feel on all they do.
I feel blessed to have made many friends in dentistry, real friends. Anytime I’m talking to Practice Plan about business, I always feel I’m amongst friends. What I love is that you can be transparent. There’s no politics, no ego, no hidden agendas. Black is black and white is white. You know exactly where you stand.
And I have to say, as an independent freelancer, it’s nice that Practice Plan recognises the value of what people like me do. Practice Plan has always been a big supporter of freelance consultants. And we all feel the same way: that it’s a great company to deal with. They come to you with a project, you explain what it is you can do, you explain the benefit of what you can do, you explain the financial investment and then they go, right, let’s do it. And there’s no messing.
SS: If a client asks you about plan providers, what do you say to them about Practice Plan? What do you think Practice Plan does for dental practices?
CB: A conversation I have with clients on a regular basis is, which plan provider should I go with? The answer to that question depends upon whether you are looking for a relationship with a group of people who are going to help you to develop and grow your business. If you’re looking for a relationship with other like-minded customers, then Practice Plan is a fantastic place to be. The level of support that comes out from the RSMs (Regional Support Managers) and from head office is absolutely first class all the time. So, you know that you’ve got an army of people at Practice Plan who have got your best interests at heart. And to repeat what I said earlier, they are people who you can get along with like a house on fire, and I can’t think of an exception to that rule in all the years I’ve known Practice Plan.
Another reason is the community of clients that you become a member of. If I can use a Star Trek analogy, it’s almost like you’re part of a dental Hive Mind. People like you. People that have got their own family run, independent small dental businesses; people who are facing the same challenges as you on a day-to-day basis. And as well as what I’m going to describe as the kind of ‘top-down dialogue’ from Practice Plan, there’s the sideways dialogue between you and the rest of the clients which is invaluable.
When it comes to plan providers, I’m not going to start arguing the toss about terms and conditions and admin fees because frankly, I don’t believe it’s important. What’s important is support and community. And time and time again, people like me and people like Practice Plan have shown up to support the community. Covid being a classic example of that. Running your own business is very hard and very lonely. So why would you choose to make it any harder than it needs to be? And why would you choose to make it any lonelier than it has to be?
Finally, Chris, if you had to sum up Practice Plan in five words, what would they be?
CB: I can only use four words and they are, ‘always on your side’.
SS: Thanks for that, Chris. We absolutely love working with you and hope to be doing so for a few more years yet.
Chris Barrow has been a trainer, consultant, coach and mentor to the UK dental profession for over 23 years. He combines a wealth of knowledge with the originality and independence needed to resolve the thorniest of problems.
Straight talking and determined, he can reach conclusions quickly, and has the reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries.