Dr Sonia came to Australia with almost nothing. Now she owns 3 highly successful dental practices and she has a total focus on making truly nervous patients feel less anxious.
This is her major point of difference in the dental world.
Dr Sonia is a well-known personality in women dental forums in Australia and NZ.
Her Mantra in life is “Do it”. You can always do it better and faster so do not wait, take the risk, take the plunge.
“Be scared, be nervous, be excited, be positive”
Her first taste of business was co owing a dental practice at the age of 24. Just 3.5 years ago she bought a nearly closed business and has built it up to a 7 figure business.
Dr Sonia now owns three dental practices in south east Queensland.
Kallangur Dental surgery
Buderim Park dental
Wellington Point dental
Dr Sonia is here to change the way dentistry is perceived by people because she believes it does not have to be a nervous or scary experience. She has built her niche in helping people who are nervous or scared about visiting the dentist. Her clients like that she has the ability to connect with them where everyone else has failed. They say she makes them comfortable.
She says the secret is :
When you feel comfortable with someone and trust them, you create a long-term relationship.
She is here to create fans not clients. (in an industry that continues to refer to the people who visit the practice as patents!)
Clients even travel from remote area of Western Australia just to see her. She has built her business on strong patient relationship and trust.
She believes when you are authentic, honest and knowledgeable then money and fame will follow you.
Charity & Volunteer work
Dr. Sonia is actively involved in charity programmes such as National dental foundation and Rebuilding Smiles.
These programmes provide no cost dental treatment to homeless and domestic violence victims.
To listen in to our conversation:
You can listen right here Healthy Numbers website:
The full transcript of Dr Sonia’s interview is below.
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Now here is the transcript of the podcast.
Ingrid: Hello and here we are today with Dr Sonia Sonia. Hello Sonia!
Dr Sonia: Hello Ingrid. How are you?
Ingrid: Lovely. Nice to have you here.
Dr Sonia: Thank you very much for having me.
Ingrid: Dr Sonia, tell us what business are you in? What is your business?
Dr Sonia: I am a dental practitioner and I have dental surgeries so I work as a dentist.
Ingrid: You work as a dentist and you have a number of practices, don’t you?
Dr Sonia: Yes I have three practices.
Ingrid: You have three?
Dr Sonia: Yes I do.
Ingrid: When did you start your first business?
Dr Sonia: I started in December 2013. That was my first practice. I started then.
Ingrid: Why did you start your own business?
Dr Sonia: I used to work in a corporate and it was good. I was making heaps of money, so that was not the issue but they way I wanted to treat patients and they way I wanted patients or clients to feel or the quality or the service I wanted to provide, it was a little bit impossible in the corporate world because I wasn’t the owner, so I wasn’t the decision maker, so that’s why. I was pregnant, I took maternity leave and those three months gave me a chance to think, and then when my daughter was three and a half months old, I decided to buy a practice.
Ingrid: As you do!
Dr Sonia: Yeah, as you do.
Ingrid: What did you actually want that business to give you from the start? Part of it was being able to make your own decisions about how patients were treated. Was there anything else you wanted the business to give you?
Dr Sonia: One was as you said, the freedom to make the decision the way we provide the services. The second thing was to change dentistry. To change the way people feel about the dentist or dentistry. It doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t have to be painful. It doesn’t have to be painful on the hip pocket either. I wanted to change that part of dentistry, and I am on the way and I’m determined that I’ll change it one day.
Ingrid: Yeah, I think you are indeed.
Dr Sonia: Thank you.
Ingrid: When did you realise that the business was real? When did it feel like, man, this is a business.
Dr Sonia: Well, that was before I actually got the keys for the business, because as you know, to buy a dental practice you have to have the accountants, lawyers and everything and I had no idea. I probably didn’t do my homework so I had no idea. As soon as I said yes, I’ll buy the practice, they said bang, bang, bang, you need these things, and I had to pay the accountant. I had to pay lawyers, it’s coming up with that money straight up, because yes, banks help you and that’s one good part about being a health practitioner is that the bank support you, but they won’t support you until the deal is done. You have to come up with this $20 – 30 grand, somehow within 10 days, and I was on maternity leave.
I had a little bit of saving but my husband supported me as well. He’s always being a rock next to me, so he supported me as well. Yes, the day I said yes to the business, that’s when I felt oh, I’m in business – yes.
Ingrid: Oh- you’re in business!
Dr Sonia: Yes.
Ingrid: I normally ask a question here about how do you know customers wanted what your business was offering. How did you know that there was the need for a different type of dental practice? That this is what the customers wanted. That people do want to come to a dental practice?
Dr Sonia: As I said, I was working in corporate so patients were coming. I will say that my room was my room. I was providing quality service and everything and people were coming in, so the business is viable, you know that a dental practice is viable but there was this gap. There was this gap in connection between the dentist and between the service and between that patient and I thought if I could fill that gap I could sit anywhere. If you know where I practice, on the same road I have 5-6 other dental practices, but that is not competition. You are in a competition until you think you’re in a competition. The day you decide you’re different, you’re providing a different kind of service, you have a different kind of clientele. You are in a different business altogether.
Ingrid: What led you to believe that somebody was looking, that there were patients looking for that difference?
Dr Sonia: Just by listening to them. I just sat there, when I bought my practice Ingrid, it was only open half a day a month and trust me, every single person in the world said ‘don’t buy it’. I don’t know what came over me – probably maternity leave (laughs) – but I bought that practice, so I had pretty much six patients a month. I would spend three hours with one patient just sitting there listening to what they want, what they need, why they left the previous dentist. What’s missing, and from there I started listening, educating them. Changing my own way of practicing as well, it just changed everything for me and that’s what I think was missing in that part of the area in dentistry.
Ingrid: Having the time to really listen to what everybody was looking for and so then being able to provide that to the rest of them when you had more than six people….
Dr Sonia: Yes. Be open to your team as well. Sometime when my team will come to me they will say “Hey, this patient said that” or sometimes my assistant in the room will say “I don’t think that worked well” you know, and you have to be open to that if you really want to bring a change in the world. Listen to every single person. You don’t have to accept every opinion, but listen to it and maybe it will change something.
Ingrid: Thank you. Now, a money question and you’ve already mentioned that as soon as you signed the paper work that everybody put their hand out and wanted something of the money but you’ve bought other practices, so how do you fund? You don’t need to tell us the nitty-gritty detail but what principle do you use to fund your growth?
Dr Sonia: Whatever profit comes into my practice, goes back into my practice. Plus my husband, I have taken a loan from him.
Ingrid: That’s kind of handy.
Dr Sonia: Yeah, but yes he is there. Whenever I look at a business and I think yes we can work with that and we can sort of grow it. I go to him and I ask for his suggestions and when he says yes I think that should be fine, I just go for it. So, my earnings, my profit from the business and if I need more than his help, that’s what goes into the business. That’s how I fund it. So, ask for help? Ask for money if you need it.
Ingrid: But the principle is that the money being made in the business is being returned to the business.
Dr Sonia: Yes, you have to make money. I love dentistry, that’s my passion, serving people, helping people, but you need to make money. You can’t help anyone sitting on the side of the road.
Ingrid: That’s right. Sonia, how do you find new customers? How do you know who they are and where they are? How do you find them?
Dr Sonia: Out of 10 people who walk through the door, 10 will say to us “I hate dentists.” So they are everywhere. No one loves coming to the dentist. Maybe two in my whole professional career get excited about coming to the dentist. Our niche is people who are anxious, people who haven’t been to the dentist so they are too scared. We market to them. I have a fantastic marketing manager who pretty much took my practice to where it is now at the moment, and he looks after the digital details of it but I think that people are everywhere, I’ll repeat again. You just need to listen to your customers. They are everywhere.
Ingrid: Thank you. You said that there is five or six other dental practices around you, so it will be very easy for people to go to anybody. How do you decide on a pricing strategy? Because, price is often something that people make decisions on. Isn’t it?
Dr Sonia: Yes it is. And we are in a time zone or in circumstances where money is important and I think there is a little bit of insecurity job wise and money wise everywhere, so we are quite sensitive to price as well. I have done it in the start, where I competed on the price, but not so anymore. If you’re compromising on price, you’re compromising on quality somewhere.
So now we don’t compete on price. If a customer is coming to you because you are providing a deal, they’ll go next door when the other person is providing a deal. I would rather spend my money somewhere else, or just see five customers a day, quality customers, than seeing 10 people with a deal. Yes we do research the market a little bit, check what other practices are offering, but that’s not our main point. We don’t compete on price at all.
Ingrid: Thank you. Exit strategy, it’s not even five years since you bought your first practice, you’ve already got two others. Have you thought about an exit? You don’t have to tell us what it is but have you given that some thought?
Dr Sonia: Yes I have. I didn’t in the start, I was all gung ho in the start and I was thinking no, this is what it is, and I might have retired as a dentist but I will always be the part of the business and have it as a passive income and that’s still my plan – but in the recent times, the other practices I have bought, the dentist retired early because of the health issues. You always have to have that strategy in mind. You never know what’s going to happen to you, right? So you have to have that plan that if you have to come out, then your business is ready to sell and I usually walk into my surgery and sit in the waiting room and then sometime observe and look and then see that if I have to buy this surgery today, what price will I give? And I am a little bit more business savvy now I think, so I will also make bullet points thinking what will I be looking as a buyer if I have to buy this practice?
That’s what is changing the way I design my practice. That is changing the way I market my practice. That is changing the way I hire my team or the system and the processes, I’m not good at it. I’m not good at systems and processes but I’m working really hard on making sure that everything is like, laid right on the table, yes.
Ingrid: So, your exit strategy is something you’re thinking about?
Dr Sonia: Yes.
Ingrid: You’re aware of?
Dr Sonia: Yes. I will probably have maybe more businesses, maybe more dental practices, but I’m forever changing and that’s one thing with me, that I change my plans like every year or every two years, so the plan is yes to own more practices, to own more businesses. It doesn’t have to be the dental practice, but I will probably always be a passive income earner. I’m still not sure that selling everything is in my exit strategy but yes I will be a passive income earner.
Ingrid: Okay. That sounds good, yes. What’s the one thing, if you think back to 2013, what’s the one thing you wish you’d done differently at the beginning?
Dr Sonia: Hiring. Hiring staff, I probably would have either gone to someone who was more experienced or probably would have listened to people’s ideas or their suggestions a little bit more openly. I handpicked someone and I thought that they were the best one for my business and because that was the only thing I knew, I should have gone to more people and asked about their experience and taken more things into account.
Numbers, I was too much into business and do this and put everything in there and then I realised six months or a year later I’m not making any money, but because I was putting everything back into the business as well, so probably the numbers as well, I should have gone to someone who knew the numbers from the start rather than six months or nine months later.
Ingrid: As numbers are important. Very right.
Dr Sonia: Yes, very important.
Ingrid: This is a slightly different question. What do you wish you’d known from the start? If somebody could have taught you something or somebody had given you a piece of guidance, when you said you would have liked to have gone and spoken to some other people, what might you have learned from them that you had to find out for yourself?
Dr Sonia: As a business owner, again I’ll go back to financials – you need to have the basic knowledge of profit and loss and numbers, and what numbers to look at. Like, every month, what numbers to look at. As a business owner and as a person who is working in the business, you get too busy, you get too caught up with things so you should have like a very simplified structure or a day where you go “I need to know these three numbers, tell me these three numbers.” That would be one thing I would have learned and taken into account from the start even if I had to do like a little bit of coaching or a course or whatever, I don’t like numbers. I’m very good at math, but this profit and loss doesn’t sit well with me. My husband is very good at it, but I should have made the effort to go and learn about it, because I am a business owner and I think that’s the most important thing in the business if you’re running a business, not a hobby.
Ingrid: Yes, I remember some years ago hearing Steve Baxter talking to a group of young people at River Labs starting Tech businesses and he said if you don’t understand it, go and buy yourself ‘Accounting 101’ and find out.
Dr Sonia: Yes. That’s important.
Ingrid: It is. So you’ve mentioned your husband and you have mentioned a terrific marketing person, but who is of greatest assistance to you and your business? Who are the people and you can either name names or just in general. Who has been of assistance along the ride?
Dr Sonia: With every business, you have to have I think two kinds of support. One is a psychological support team, all right? And the second you have to have is the person who is technically very good in the business, skill wise, knowledge wise and everything. My psychological support has always been my husband and I’ll mention you as well Ingrid.
Sometimes you just need to get it out and I think you were also the person at those times where you just pick up the phone and just listen to what I have to say. It’s like I’m just offloading it, that’s it. The technical and the skill wise, my whole team.
Marketing wise my marketing manager Raj, he’s fantastic. I have seeing him working day and night behind this business. My business is partly because of him as well where it is on the digital world and that’s how I find customers. Like my new patient rate is four times the normal and it’s just because of his effort.
Then my lovely little sister Simone she is an engineer by background and she had no knowledge of dentistry, but the day 21st December 2013, I opened my practice, she was there with mop and broom and she is still there. Doesn’t matter, six o’clock in the morning I can knock on her door and say “Hey, get ready I know it’s your day off but my Dental Assistant is sick and you’re working with me.” And I have never had no as an answer. Not in the last three and a half years. Then my team manager came, my dental assistant Kayla, and people who are not with us today, they have made the practice better in some ways as well. Either it’s positive but they left and gave me their feedback that this is the reason we’re leaving, and if it’s because we are not getting that we worked on it and we made sure that it’s a good environment and culture for the team.
People who were not so good would talk to me about HR, favour hiring and firing and lot of other things as well. Every single person who has touched me during those times, has made a difference for me and I’m thankful to every single person who is still there or who was there at some stage in the journey.
Ingrid: Thank you Sonia.
Dr Sonia: Thank you Ingrid.
Ingrid: Who can give you good feedback? And you’ve kind of answered that now. You really need to take feedback from everybody that’s around you and I think that’s a really good point to make. Someone comes along to you and says, “So Dr Sonia, I’m thinking about starting my own business.” What would you say to them?
Dr Sonia: Do it. Go take the risk, do it. I am a risk taker, even if you say to me today, this is the idea of the business and if I have the gut feeling and I think this will work, I’ll just drop everything and will go behind it. Take the risk, do it but do your homework as well and sheer hard work. Nothing will replace it, you have to work really hard day and night 24/7. If you’re not ready for it, then go and choose something else, work for someone, your own business might not be the thing for you.
Ingrid: Thank you that’s terrific. Do it – but …
Dr Sonia: Be ready. Be ready for failures, be ready for hard work, touch the sky as well, who knows, you might leave a legacy behind. All right, a small idea might ignite minds around the world. Who knows?
Ingrid: Who knows indeed. When you think of yourself? What are the three characteristics about you, that make you successful Sonia?
Dr Sonia: I’ll say the first one is risk taking. I can take risks and sometimes I don’t even think twice. If it’s the gut feeling and I know it’s going to work, sometime even if 10 people say it’s not going to work I’m like no, I’ll do it. The second one is learning. The constant learning and that learning is business, about the team. Personal growth, about health, about the world. Anything. Learning, I have that hunger for learning that people sometimes have…… Like as a dentist, we only need to do 60 CPD point in three years, I am well over 1000. It’s just dentistry, I do communication, business, and other seminars as well. That hunger never satisfies, so learning will be the second thing, and third thing I’ll say is stubbornness. I’m very stubborn. My dad used to say that you’re a bull. Once you dig your heels in, good luck to the other people.
This could be a bad thing as well – that sometimes I don’t give up, but I have achieved great things when I was on the edge of breaking down but the only thing which helped me, was that I didn’t give up and it’s like I hang in there. When everyone says oh my God that’s the end, just hang in there one more minute and you will get it. You will achieve it – so yeah.
Ingrid: I think it’s hard to know where that hanging in minute is, isn’t it?
Dr Sonia: Yes and your mind, your body, everything and I think when the mind gives up, the body gives up, so your mind, body, probably people around you will say ‘well just give up’ -but you know that there is just that one minute there and that’s where you find success.
Ingrid: Your three is learning, risk taker and stubbornness? Lovely. If a person starting a business has those characteristics, is there anything else that they would need as well? Do you think for our listeners, people listening are thinking ‘well, I’m not a huge risk taker and I do like to learn’, is there another characteristic?
Dr Sonia: Work, do your homework. That will be another thing. Hard work. There are no short cuts in business. If you take short cuts your business is going to suffer. People nowadays there are so many programmes you’ll be this in 30 days, you’ll make millions in 30 days. It doesn’t work.
Ingrid: Say that again please Sonia.
Dr Sonia: It doesn’t work and I think one of the things John Lee Dumas said on your podcast is like that overnight success, how long it takes? 10 years and he’s absolutely right! It takes 10 years. It takes minimum 10 years for that overnight success to become that overnight star. Calculate your 10 years.
Ingrid: Sonia thank you so much. I think you and I could chat for quite longer but is there anything else you’d like to say to our listeners who are thinking about starting a business before we say goodbye?
Dr Sonia: I’ll repeat the same thing. One is do it, don’t wait for it. I wish I’d started when I was 25. I actually did start my first clinic when I was 24 and a half. Take the risk, go after it, go for it. Second is find your support system. You need to have a support system. You can’t do it alone. Family – especially women in business. You need to have a support system. Find your support system who can support you, it can be anyone it doesn’t have to be your family member or your husband. Get them on board tell them that, that’s what you want to achieve and that’s what you want to do. Share your dreams and believe in yourself. You’re going to fall all right, that’s destiny, but believe in yourself, believe in magic and you’ll make it happen.
Ingrid: That’s lovely. Sonia, would you mind just sharing a little bit, and this is completely not one of my questions. How can someone who is maybe listening and they know you’re a dentist and they’re thinking, maybe I need to go to the dentist, but they have that fear. What do you say to people who feel fearful of the dentist? How do you help them?
Dr Sonia: Just find someone who will listen to you, all right? Just ring up, go there, feel it and you will feel it. I’ll say when someone is nervous or anxious, your senses are heightened. Even like a pin drop, is a huge noise, all right? So go there, sit there, talk to them, let them know that you’re nervous. What I usually do is whenever someone rings one of our practices, the girls will check it on the phone as well, and you will know it on the phone as well. The minute you ring, you’ll know if that is the practice for you or not, all right? If they are taking the time to listen to your concern just tell them that you are really nervous. All right? You don’t like going into the surgeries and things like that. We will meet you outside. We’ll meet you on a coffee shop.
Sometime I have gone to the coffee shop next door and just sat there with the patient and talked to them. You need to trust that person. The only thing which has made a difference for my patients, one I saw three years ago wouldn’t even enter the surgery and now they’re coming to me regularly, is just because they trust me. All right? Build that trust with that person and then you’ll be fine.
Ingrid: Thanks. Sonia there is another question that I’d like to ask you for everybody listening, is that you’re a woman. You’re a business owner, you have multiple practices. You’re a wife to a gorgeous man, you’re a mother of two small children, you’ve got family commitments, you’re involved with dentistry associations and dentistry groups. How do you do everything?
Dr Sonia: Very nice and that is a very complicated question Ingrid. People do ask me all the time that where is your work and life balance? And I usually ask a question back again – is there any balance? Or is it all a myth because balance means you’re not moving ahead. Balance means you’re still. Probably maybe the balance is not a good thing, and trust me I see they haven’t figured it out yet.
Initially in the business, yes doing all those was a little bit crazy but as I had said it before, is the support system. You need to have a support system. I have a mentor, I have family support, I have friend support, I have an incredible team, so I have a very good support system which works with me and I think after three and a half years now I am getting the hang of it. Now since the last probably six months I’m enjoying business, I’m enjoying my life as well.
People think that as a mother you need to spend maximum time with your children. I don’t think so. I think even if you’re there for half an hour, just leave your phone, your laptop your work aside and be there for that half an hour. I would rather play on a rag with my kids than clean the kitchen. Delegate the task as well, all right? Spend time with your family. Ask a cleaner to come in to clean your house. I love cooking. If you don’t like cooking, just get a cook who can cook for you. You need to set your priorities right. My priority for me is my family and my business. Everything else works around it. Don’t chase after the balance. Don’t go after the perfection. My life is chaotic. Having so many things in my hand it’s chaotic, but my life I think is perfect in its own imperfect way. I spend time on weekend with my kids and I spend most of my week in business.
Some weeks I work around 50 hours a week or 60 or 70 hours a week, but I’m still content. I go to the gym, I run, I exercise, I look after my health, I look after my kids and family. I cook every night – I go home after work and I cook. You have to be happy with what you do, and I think that way you find that peace. Peace is not in balance, peace is be happy in your own chaotic life. Be happy what you want to do and that’s my passion. My passion is my work. My passion is my family. My passion is cooking. People ask me how can you cook? You reach nine o’clock in the night and how can you cook? That’s my therapy, I do. My kids will be waiting. They want to eat cup-cakes I can’t say no to them, but then you see them happy, yeah.
Don’t chase after perfection, don’t chase after balance and trust me, I have days where I am out there and working and talking to people on Facebook, in the community group and conquering the world and there will be a day where I can’t even conquer a grocery list. I have to go to Coles or Woollies three times because I forgot something, and it’s normal. I think every person has that capability and I was … An ordinary person does extra ordinary things. I used to be a very much normal kind of person, but those little extraordinary things, which pushes you and you come out of your box, that’s what makes you special. That’s what people ask me, where do get this energy from? And it’s like, I love myself. Literally I’m in love with myself. I like to be on the go all the time, and just be with the kids. I dance with my kids at 10 o’clock in the night, who cares? That’s the time I get with them.
Ingrid: There are children who are happy to be awake at that time and I think Sonia what you’re talking about there, is the fact that it’s different for everybody as well. What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for somebody else and …
Dr Sonia: Wouldn’t work for someone else.
Dr Sonia: And it’s fine, and that’s what I’m saying. Find your own balance. Don’t think that one person if they can do 10 things, you have to do 10 things as well.
Ingrid: Maybe they’re different things. You love cooking, maybe someone else loves gardening or singing, you know, what is that thing? There has to be joy and passion.
Dr Sonia: Yes. I absolutely hate cleaning. I have a wonderful good week and then if someone will ask me to do the dishes, it will just ruin the whole week for me. I can’t do it. The deal between me and my sister is that I’ll cook and she’ll clean. That’s like delegating, if you don’t like something, just don’t do it.
Ingrid: Have someone else do it. Just don’t do it.
Dr Sonia: Absolutely don’t do it. Yeah, do something else, which you love and you’ll contribute to your life and everyone else’s life as well. I don’t think so, don’t chase any balance or any perfection. Just be happy in the moment.
Ingrid: I think that’s such an important point you say about if you are spending half an hour with someone, whether that’s children or your husband, or a patient or a client. You’re fully, fully, cognizant in that you are absolutely focused. Yes, that you’re not doing six things at the same time. That it’s absolutely, because it’s the quality of that, the intensity, that then allows for maybe less time. It doesn’t have to be half an hour, it could be whatever it is that they feel that they have your focus of attention rather than just filling in for something else.
Dr Sonia: I think for you as well, once you finish a task properly even if it’s like playing with the kids, you know that you’ll finish that part of your role. So then you’re more focused on another thing, and you’re more happy. You’re not just thinking that oh, that half an hour I should have spent with kids properly rather than just looking at my phone. It doesn’t work.
Ingrid: The thing is that children want their own time anyway. They’re happy to go off and do other things as well. They’ve got their lives certainly.
Dr Sonia: Oh yes. They tell me, my girls tell me Barbie is not for me because I’m a grown up, so I can’t play Barbie with them.
Ingrid: On that happy note – Barbie is not for you cause you’re grown up, and she’s how old?
Dr Sonia: She’s four years old.
Ingrid: She’s four year old. A four year old grown up. Here you go! Sonia thank you so much again for your time today, your wisdom, for sharing your story, for answering the questions, and thank you.
Dr Sonia: Thank you very much Ingrid.