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From the beaches of Hawaii to CE Cruises in the Caribbean, a dental entrepreneur’s story
Reese’s guest on this episode of Dentist Money™ is Elijah Desmond. Well-known for his Smiles at Sea CE Cruise conferences, Elijah talks about his entrepreneurial pursuits and offers a unique viewpoint on the many opportunities in dentistry. Having started eleven businesses and counting, he’s not only good at implementing strategy, but his hands-on career has made him an expert on how to make any practice click.
Reese Harper: Welcome to The Dentist Money Show. I’m your host, Reese Harper. And I’m excited to introduce you to a new guest, Elijah Desmond. I really enjoyed this interview with Elijah as we walked through a lot of his entrepreneurial ventures, his experiences going through the ups and downs of both starting a company, running it, and selling it.
Reese Harper: Elijah has a very successful business where he takes dentists and industry leaders on a cruise. It’s called Smiles At Sea. A lot of you have probably heard about it. Elijah also has a popular Facebook group called trapped in an OP.
Reese Harper: Elijah’s a very influential person in dentistry and he’s got a lot of perspectives that I found was really helpful. It was a really fun interview for me to do, being able to see how Elijah was able to be creative throughout his career, trying to take advantage of the opportunities he was given.
Reese Harper: I feel like a lot of dentists can learn from this. And I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. Make sure and visit us at DentistAdvisors.com and check out our education library. You’ll find a lot of videos, podcasts, and new articles that we’re releasing every week.
Reese Harper: Also, when you go to the website, don’t forget to book a free consultation, clicking the book free consultation button where you’ll be paired with one of our dental specific financial advisors on a day that works for you. We book appointments on off days, lunches, even on some Saturdays. Just check out the calendar and find a time that’s convenient.
Reese Harper: Call us any time at 833-DDSPLAN. You can also text us at the same number. Don’t forget to submit your financial questions on our free Facebook at DentistAdvisors.com/group. We take the questions from the Facebook group and use them on the podcast. Thanks again for listening and enjoy the show.
Announcer: Consult an advisor or conduct your own due diligence when making financial decisions. General principles discussed during this program do not constitute personal advice. This program is furnished by Dentist Advisors, a registered investment advisor. This is Dentist Money. Now, here’s your host, Reese Harper.
Reese Harper: Welcome to The Dentist Money Show where we help dentists make smart financial decisions. I’m your host, Reese Harper. And every excited today after a long awaited interview with someone who I’ve met outside of the podcast, before I’ve ever met him in the podcast, Mr. Elijah Desmond. The legend himself.
How you doing, Elijah?
Elijah Desmond: I’m doing great. How are you, Reese? Thanks for having me.
Reese Harper: Yeah, man. I’m really excited about this. I appreciate you carving out time out of your schedule and I’ve got a lot of things planned to cover. We’re going to do it fast and really unwrap Elijah, who is Elijah Desmond for those of you who don’t know him.
Reese Harper: There may be a handful of people who haven’t heard your story. And then for those who have, it’ll be really cool I think to dive into some of the lessons you’ve learned in entrepreneurship and team building, coaching, consulting, implantology.
Reese Harper: And even we’ll talk a little bit about kids and I think be able to relate on a lot of different levels around some of the passions that are your why right now for what really drives you. And maybe people learn a little bit about finding a seaworthy craft and heading out on a cruise to change their life. Which is a big part of what you love to do as well. So let’s start first, Elijah, for just giving people a little bit of background about you and how you got into dentistry. Maybe a little bit about your background and then we’ll go on to the interview that I’ve planned.
Elijah Desmond: Absolutely. So originally I was born and raised in Ohio, on a big, huge dairy farm. We had a whole bunch of chickens as well and pigs. That was hard work life growing up and I was a hard worker. And I was determined to not have to use my hands to pick up heavy things.
Reese Harper: So what part of a dairy farm were you working in? Because I have a little bit more knowledge about this topic than some might that interview you. So tell me a little bit where you … what part of … were you guys … I’m just curious what kind of a dairy farm it was and what … and how big was the herd and what job did you do?
Elijah Desmond: Absolutely. First off, the dairy farm was a part. So my mom remarried into a nice situation, where my stepdad and step-family, they owned a dairy called Superior Dairy. And so dairy was one element of the big picture. It was a massive farm. I want to say between 500 and 600 acres, so pretty big. And I would do simple, cool things. I don’t know if this is a PG show or not, so I’ll just say I shoveled crap.
Elijah Desmond: I shoveled crap and fed all the animals and did all the hard work. [crosstalk]
Reese Harper: So the dairy was a small part of the farm operation.
Elijah Desmond: Yes. A small part. But I’ll never forget opening up these huge almost like steel crates and looking inside at all the milk. Stuff like that I’ll never forget, as a kid.
Elijah Desmond: But I didn’t want to do that forever, though. I didn’t like that type of work. I hated [crosstalk].
Reese Harper: That’s pretty hard work, isn’t it? People who haven’t done that before and lived in that, it’s a dirty job and it’s hard.
Elijah Desmond: It’s really dirty. Really really really really dirty.
Reese Harper: You never really feel clean, no matter how much you shower and no matter how many baths you take and soaks you take. You’re never really clean. Your eyes feel like they’re stained for life. It’s like the fumes and I don’t know. It’s intense.
Elijah Desmond: Yes, exactly. And if you ever tried to blow your nose, you’ve never seen anything so disgusting.
Reese Harper: It’s a rough life. So you decided that wasn’t for you and you pivoted into … where’d that lead you?
Elijah Desmond: Well, I knew that I wanted to do something in air conditioning. My uncle is a dentist, my aunt is a hygienist, my mom is an office manager. And I knew that I wanted to do something in the air conditioning and make decent money, but I knew I wasn’t going to stay doing that. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And 15 years old I tested into college and at that age I began my career as a motivational speaker for kids.
Reese Harper: What was your first gig?
Elijah Desmond: My first gig.
Reese Harper: You remember?
Elijah Desmond: Yes, I do remember. There’s a leadership camp called the Hugh O’Brian Leadership Camp. There’s one-
Reese Harper: Wasn’t Hugh O’Brian like a … isn’t that a football guy? I forget. Who’s he?
Elijah Desmond: I don’t know who the heck he was, but I just know they had one person from every single school, typically they were seniors. And I was asked to represent my school as a sophomore because I’d just found out I got accepted to college.
Elijah Desmond: And I heard a motivational speaker from the front of the room for the first time. And there was an exercise at the event where they asked if anybody could get up and tell a story. And I put my hand in the air and in front of my first crowd, and I just loved it. I loved everything about it. And that’s really where I got my first opportunity at speaking. And then it went from there.
Reese Harper: That’s cool. Tell everyone about your journey, your foray, into college and hygiene and your career path into dentistry.
Elijah Desmond: Yeah, absolutely. I went to Ohio State University, big football school, had the time of my life, Go Bucks. And I ended up graduating as a dental hygienist and I went from living in Ohio to hearing that there was a shortage of dental professionals in general. This is dentists, hygienists, assistants, in the state of Hawaii.
Elijah Desmond: And so I said well you know what? I love the ocean and I love the city, because Ohio State is located in a city, I loved it so much better than the farm. I want to move to Honolulu, Hawaii. And so I moved. And within two months of practicing, I just couldn’t justify making $2000 to $3000 a day for my boss, essentially, the dentist, and me making $400. It just didn’t make any sense at all to me. So I’m like I have to go and be an entrepreneur because I can’t handle this. And so anyway, I started [crosstalk].
Reese Harper: How long did you work as a hygienist in your first practice?
Elijah Desmond: My first practice, I worked full time for about a year. I started that business in about two months after graduating.
Reese Harper: Oh, okay. So you stayed and worked and continued to make those $400 to fund the business development. You didn’t bail and just go into it right away.
Elijah Desmond: No.
Reese Harper: Kind of phased in. Smart guy.
Elijah Desmond: Yeah, I phased in. I knew I needed to get experience. And so what I did was I started a temp agency. I sold it back in 2012, but Hawaii Smiles Dental Temp Agency. I created that and what I did was I temped myself out to all of the really good jobs.
Elijah Desmond: So if there was a listing or there was a dentist that called and said practice here in Kauai, it’s a bike ride to work, we need a temp fill in for a week, beach house provided and bike to ride to work, I would take it. So I would take all the good jobs and then before you know it, I had grown from working with four dental hygienists to working with 80 dentists, hygienists, assistants, and front office. And about 300 offices throughout the islands.
Reese Harper: Cool.
Elijah Desmond: And so I learned so much stuff. Just from seeing every kind of different system and process and product, and seeing what worked and seeing all the consulting companies. So what I did was I took all the knowledge that I had after practicing at all of these offices, and I combined them with motivational speaking that I was doing to the kids. For the kids.
Elijah Desmond: And what I noticed was is whenever I’d seen a lot of consultants going to practices, oftentimes the consultants would find everything wrong. That’s what they’re supposed to do kind of, right? They found everything wrong. And it kind of felt bad. It didn’t feel good and I like to feel good. And so I’m like you know what? I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’m going to go in and I’m going to find everything that they do right. I’m going to find what that dental professional loves and make sure that they’re best equipped with the best of the best so they can do their job even better. And naturally everything will grow.
Elijah Desmond: Sure enough, I took that approach and it went well. I went from three offices to 23 offices around the entire country that I was coaching. And then I had this bright idea to move to Vegas. And I got out of that business. But that was [crosstalk].
Reese Harper: So back to hygiene. You’re as a dental hygienist, you’re like I’m going to start a temp agency, and eventually you pivoted to focusing on that temp agency. And leaving the dental practice. Right?
Elijah Desmond: Yes.
Reese Harper: And this whole time you’d been still doing kids speaking consulting along the way? Here and there you just continued to do that? Or did it pick up again?
Elijah Desmond: You know, my speaking started at 15 and it slowed down around 21, 22 years old when I started getting into entrepreneurship. To date, I’m 11 businesses deep. I’ve created 11 businesses since I graduated in 2009.
Elijah Desmond: And essentially what I had done was is I had focused so much on the business aspect of things, and then I said you know what? It’s time to get back to my roots.
Elijah Desmond: So I went from speaking in 10 cities every single month for three years, up to 2017, to bringing it back last year speaking in just three cities a month. And now all 2019 is focused on bringing it back to our youth. And stopping … getting out of or slowing down speaking and dentistry and getting back really to my why. Which is changing these kids’ lives.
Reese Harper: Yeah. Did that feel just like the place where you wanted to be? What made you get to the point where you were like okay, I want to sell. Because the temp agency, you could’ve kept grinding at that right? Why … I guess what made you pivot away from that or decide to sell it?
Reese Harper: Was it just the financial reward wasn’t there? Was it more like I just don’t have a drive to do this? I don’t have an interest in it? I’m bored. When you start 11 businesses and you’re probably like 22 years old right now, so you haven’t … not very old. When someone is kind of your book that you wrote that’s on Amazon and doing well right now, I think it’s called Serial Entrepreneurship, remind me the name of it?
Elijah Desmond: Serial Entrepreneur From Startup to Success.
Reese Harper: Yeah, Serial Entrepreneur. I would say that’s how you strike me, as that a thousand ideas kind of a guy. You know?
Elijah Desmond: Yeah.
Reese Harper: Sometimes there’s different moments where you’re … something might make sense to do, but you just don’t want to do it if you’re that type of a personality. Or you’re just not engaged in it, or it doesn’t scratch the itch you have for your real personal meaning or your why like you keep calling it.
Reese Harper: Your sense of why you’re even … why you’re getting up every day. When did you know the hygiene temp agency wasn’t going to be your thing, and what do you think made you realize that?
Elijah Desmond: When I found that the temp agency that I had was valued at a quarter of a million dollars at age 22. That is enough to make you feel like you’re [crosstalk].
Reese Harper: You’re just like boom, I’m out, yeah.
Elijah Desmond: And I knew that if I wanted to grow my consulting business I had at the time, which I no longer do the consulting, but I knew if I wanted to grow that business I needed to move. I needed to relocate. So I went from three offices that I was coaching to 23 offices across the country in a year’s time after I moved to Vegas.
Reese Harper: Oh wow. Okay, cool. So you’re in Vegas, you’re doing dental consulting. Let’s talk about some of the lessons of this stage of your … But before we jump there, what did you learn from temp agency that really taught you a lesson that you could take away? I mean it was several years of your life in that business. What did you learn from that?
Elijah Desmond: Well, from the actual … in the clinical side of things, in the offices, is that there’s a lot of different kinds of dental practices. And it was like one of those things where if I were to own one of these practices, what type of practice would I want to have. Right? So there’s family practice, there’s pedo practice, there’s practices that are focused on ortho that aren’t ortho practice, that are GP practices. There’s implant practices, there’s perio practices.
Elijah Desmond: So I’d seen the different types of practices that I personally enjoyed and there’s two that stuck out specifically to me, for different reasons. And one of them was a pedo practice, because I just loved kids naturally.
Reese Harper: Love kids. I was going to say yeah, a pedo probably really resonated with you.
Elijah Desmond: Yeah. One of them was a pedo practice and then the other one was the implant practices. Just because of the lifestyle, right? You’re closing huge cases all the time. And the lifestyle is amazing that these dentists are living.
Elijah Desmond: But more than anything, the impact that they made. They were making people bawl crying on a regular basis, tears of happiness. Not tears of pain. And so it taught me … my takeaway was find the niche. That could be applied in life or in dentistry, but find something in whatever your career is, if it’s dentistry find a niche and get really really good at it. Because you can only be great at so many things.
Reese Harper: Yeah, yeah. Man, there’s a lot of room for people to grow their career in dentistry as they become more specialized and hone in their skills even deeper. And I think that’s a really important takeaway.
Elijah Desmond: Absolutely. And I want to say the next thing that I had learned, the biggest thing, is that it’s really all in the team. Like the team is so … the team is the most important thing in the dental practice. It’s not the [inaudible], it’s not how many CEs you went to in your area of true expertise. It’s not how fancy your building is. It’s your team. Your team is literally setting the tone for the entire practice.
Elijah Desmond: You could have the most beautiful practice in the entire country, but if you have a team that isn’t just as beautiful, to put it in nice terms, as your practice then it’s not going to be successful like if it was. Because I’ve seen horrible looking practices with zero technology have amazing teams and thrive.
Reese Harper: Yeah. No, I’ve seen that too. And really small spaces and offices that they’re clean but they’re not over the top, they’re not big. I’ve seen people do millions and millions of dollars in production out of 600 square feet. You know?
Reese Harper: It just … team drives a lot of it. I think that’s a really good takeaway, man. I think team is an essential component that it’s interesting to see you observe that.
Reese Harper: And then specialization and differentiation. Getting a niche and figuring out what it is. And it doesn’t have to be implants only. There’s a lot of ways to develop a differentiation. There’s customer focused differentiation, where you can pick a type of customer you’re focused on. There’s specialty focused specialization, the type of procedure, the tone, the location, the geography. There’s so many ways to really narrow that in.
Reese Harper: But I just feel like too many people don’t try to really differentiate themselves. Sometimes people I think pick the … they pick a niche based on the wrong reasons. I think you really do have to have it be an authentic desire too right?
Elijah Desmond: Yes. I agree. You can be passionate about a number of things and it’s totally okay. I found my really early.
Reese Harper: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about where we’re at in Vegas. We’re driving, we’re flying a lot, we’re doing consulting. You learned these two big takeaways we talked about of specialization and team building. Where did we go next? From that point of consulting, going in office, and trying to improve teams and hygiene departments and interacting with doctors, where’d you go next?
Elijah Desmond: Well, I ended up having a hangover story in Las Vegas.
Reese Harper: It’s a good story. That the one they based the movie off of?
Elijah Desmond: Yeah, and they kind of based it off me. It ended up with me moving to south Florida. I went on my very first cruise in 2013. It was a New Year’s cruise. My friend Kevin said, he’s like, “Elijah, let’s go on this cruise, seven day cruise New Year’s. It’ll be so much fun.”
Elijah Desmond: I’m like, “Heck no. I’m not going on a cruise with you. That sounds no fun. We are both single men, we are not a couple. That’s for couples, I’m not going.” So he talked me into it. He’s like, “You’ll have the time of your life, trust me.” I went and I was just blown away. There was something to do all the time.
Elijah Desmond: I remember getting to the lido deck, the pool deck, for the first time, and the DJ coming on the microphone and saying, “Who’s ready to have a good time?” And of course my hand goes up in the air. And the energy just didn’t stop. Before [crosstalk].
Reese Harper: That was your first cruise right?
Elijah Desmond: Yeah, it was the first cruise I ever went on, was just me and my friend Kevin.
Reese Harper: Yeah.
Elijah Desmond: And I’m like how do I … I want to be that emcee.
Reese Harper: Be that guy.
Elijah Desmond: Yeah, I want to be that guy. I already know, I’m already on the microphone speaking, but I’m not an emcee. But I would be that emcee any day. But at the time I had like six businesses, so I’m like how in the world could I come on a cruise for six months at a time? I can’t do it. So a year passed, my daughter was born, we were up for 48 hours. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m like I’m speaking all over the country for Strawmen right now. And I’m also speaking to kids.
Elijah Desmond: So I’m wondering well man, wouldn’t it make sense to have a speaking event or a conference on a cruise ship? And I’m like holy crap. And I’m like I totally need to put two and two together and I’ll hire speakers that are better than me and we’ll put them on a ship. So I did it. And but it was because of that delirious mindset with me being up 48 hours that that idea hit me. When a kid is born, they really will change your life. She changed my life, that idea came in my head.
Reese Harper: Yeah, it’s awesome. And for those of you who don’t know about Smiles at Sea, let’s just give a quick background into what that became and what it is today.
Elijah Desmond: It’s been pretty easy. It’s a dental conference on a cruise ship. And it’s based on building … it’s a team event. So a dentist bring their team, they incentivize them to hit their production, hit their goals. And essentially put them on a ship.
Elijah Desmond: So in March we have … the ship is like seven rooms from being sold out. But we have over 600 attendees, which is crazy, dental professionals. And they get their CE and they get to have the time of their life, until 3:00 in the morning if they want. And that’s basically it in a nutshell. It was perfect for me, I like to have fun and I like to just be myself and wear what the heck what I want. Whether it’s a tank top or it’s a suit. When we’re at Jumpstart, we … I think I was in a t-shirt and shorts the first day [crosstalk].
Reese Harper: I remember that, yeah. You were comfortable.
Elijah Desmond: Yes, I was comfortable. And that event took off and what I realized is that I had over 200 speakers reaching out to me to speak at every one of these events. And I can only take like 10. So that’s when I created Dentistry’s [inaudible], basically.
Reese Harper: So some people would look at … I mean all that’s going on in your life, they’d be like okay, we’ve got speaking for kids, we’ve got hygiene, coaching, consulting. Then we have being a speaker for Strawmen. We’ve got being a speaker for Invisalign. And then we have cruise ship CE event.
Reese Harper: Holy cow, this guy’s done so much stuff. He’s all over the place with different businesses. I think that’s an important thing to look at, because I think there are a lot of people who can relate to that. Feeling like their wheels are turning, going 100 miles an hour trying to figure out what’s that next thing that’s going to bring me a sense of joy, a sense of accomplishment, sense of movement in life. I think you would’ve had a really hard time staying in that first dental office making $400 a day for 30 years. That would’ve been a really hard thing for you.
Elijah Desmond: Pretty good assumption.
Reese Harper: And yet, I think on the flip side there is an extreme point where you’re like dude, I have way too much going on. Like I’ve got so much going on I can’t possibly even remember the name of Chloe, but you might be Carleigh. I’m sure that you get overwhelmed too. How have you been able to find the balance, and what is the balance for you? I’m not saying that you should have it figured out even, man. You’re not under any obligation to have it figured out, but.
Elijah Desmond: I do. I do. I wrote about this in my book actually.
Reese Harper: Cool. Then this is a good question that I think you’d be really … it’s be insightful to hear your perspective on.
Elijah Desmond: Yes, absolutely. We’ll condense this to say I created 11 businesses but I failed miserably on three of them. And I cut my losses and moved froward. And then I sold two more businesses. Okay? So I’m focusing, focusing, focusing more. And then, I don’t know if you’ve met Anissa Holmes or not.
Reese Harper: We’ve met very … we’ve met a few times but we haven’t had a chance to do a podcast together yet. But I’m looking forward to it.
Elijah Desmond: Okay. So basically she asked me, she said, “Elijah, what is the business that you make the most impact with that allows you to stay at home with your little girl? Right? Because you’ve got too much going on.”
Elijah Desmond: And she said, “I know that you do pretty well, but I want you to redefine success and tell me what that looks like.” And I said, “Well, I can give my daughter the life that she wants and my wife the life that she wants, and I make enough money to essentially stay at home most of the time and only be in like three cities a month.” She said, “Well, what allows you to do that?” And I said, “Driven dental implant marketing.”
Reese Harper: Yeah.
Elijah Desmond: And she said, “Okay, well you need to get really really good at that and get rid of … trim the fat, essentially.” And so 2017 was the year for driven dental implant marketing that allowed me to make a massive impact in our industry. And also stay home and give my family the life that they deserve. And so [crosstalk].
Reese Harper: You had to make a choice, a little bit of a crossroads there. Saying I’ve got to focus and go deeper into one channel. Was that a hard thing for you to do, emotionally? Like was that a hard thing for you to do, go I’m going to focus and this is what I’m going to do?
Reese Harper: Because I think a lot of dentists that I bump into, dentistry’s just one of their businesses. Right? They’ve got a dental practice, but they are doing a lot of things. It’s not the majority of dentists, you’re definitely in a unique camp of people who we’ll call them serial entrepreneurial minds. Right?
Reese Harper: But everyone at some point hits … they hit a crossroads where they have to make a decision on where to focus. Did you feel like you got to that point because of … was family a driver in that? Was health a driver in that? Was money a driver? What was … if you had to rank them in order of what was actually driving it, how would you rank it?
Elijah Desmond: That’s so funny. So you just … that’s in the same chapter. Yes. Family drove it.
Reese Harper: First?
Elijah Desmond: Family … no, health. I didn’t have health problems but I used to be in shape, I’m not in shape anymore. But health really, prevention. I’m 31 years old. I don’t know have any business walking around at 280 pounds. I need to be 220 and fit. So basically health number one. Number two, family. And finance is pretty much it was good by then. So I define success in three different ways. Everybody has a different definition of success.
Elijah Desmond: And to me success is defined in those three buckets. Family, health, finance. And so for me, because I have multiple businesses and income streams, financially I’m good. Okay? And so that had two things to focus on, which was last year. And that was my family and my health. And so what I did was is I had to trim all the fat. So you’d asked me how was that emotion whenever you had to get rid of the stuff that wasn’t working as good and you had to make a decision.
Elijah Desmond: It actually wasn’t that hard at all. Because I knew my daughter was turning four year sold soon, and children stop childhood amnesia around three and a half, four years old. That’s when they start remembering. I didn’t want to be the dad that was remembered never being home.
Elijah Desmond: I didn’t want to be the dad that missed their little daughter’s dance recital and their first dance, and they had to go with Mommy because Daddy wasn’t there. I didn’t want that. And so was that decision hard? No. It wasn’t hard. It was easy. I had prepared and I felt like I had trained for this moment to where I had to stay at home and I had to figure it out. So 2017, it was about balance. And so what I did to create a balance essentially was I worked all day on Monday. On Tuesday I worked from early as I want until 2:00. On Wednesday I did the same thing. On Thursday I worked from 2:00 to as late as I want. Friday early as I wanted till 2:00, Saturday till 12:00, and Sunday I was completely off.
Elijah Desmond: When I was not working I did not have my phone. People would be able to blow up my phone at any time of the day, call me for whatever business reason it was, and I would answer it.
Elijah Desmond: And so I was not present with my family. And so I made a very specific structured schedule to where I have boundaries. And so it wasn’t hard to make that cut. And it was easy for me to have a work-life balance. Now, what I failed at was is that I got the family part situated. Right? But I didn’t fix my get to the gym and start eating healthy. So that’s what 2019 is about.
Reese Harper: I think dentists, honestly, sacrifice their personal health a lot. I think it comes at the expense of a lot of things.
Elijah Desmond: The personal thing, what clicked for me, to be honest with you looking in the mirror. Looking in the mirror like oh my god, looking at old pictures, and knowing, being very aware that I need to get my health together before … I’m young enough to where … if I stayed like this for 10 or 15 years it’s going to be a massive impact. Right?
Elijah Desmond: My life would be cut short. And I want to be around for my kids, right? And so I would say that the having Chloe and knowing that I want to be the dad that’s chasing her around the yard and doing things that involve being in shape and all that, that to me is the big changer. And if you don’t have your health, it don’t even matter if you have enough time or enough money. You can have all the money in the world.
Reese Harper: Well, that’s brave of you to talk about that, man. A lot of people, dude, some people have amazing genetics and they don’t have to work at it at all. And some people have different genetics.
Reese Harper: Like I came with a set of genetics that’s something I’ve got that’s been something I’ve had to really work on. So I don’t know. I just think kudos to you for being brave enough to look at that part of … for anyone who’s willing to look at that part of their life and try to own it a little bit. Because it’s a challenge. And food and exercise and wellness kind of becomes that area of our lives that is hard to … for me it’s always been something that can … it’s kind of like an emotional crutch that if I’m traveling like crazy or if I’m stressed out and working too hard, it’s just the place I go to find relief.
Reese Harper: And it’s not … anyway. Good for you for at least voicing that, because it’s not an easy thing to talk about. So we’ve got this wellness, family, and finance side. Talk to me about the financial side of this experience that you’ve had. Because I’m kind of curious the financial lessons that you’ve learned that could be applicable to our audience as well.
Reese Harper: I mean you’ve had a liquidity event in the past, you’ve had some businesses that have failed that you’ve probably dumped a lot of money into that didn’t go as planned. You’ve had businesses that create a nice, stable income on a monthly basis. You’ve had high hourly rate kind of jobs, and then you’ve had … you’ve had a lot of financial … a lot of ways to make money and a lot of ways that you’ve earned a living. And done a lot of things with your financial picture. So tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned about finance that you think is applicable.
Elijah Desmond: Yeah. Well, investing is everything. You can build the best product in the world, but if you don’t have enough money to invest in letting everybody know about it it’s all for nothing.
Reese Harper: So let’s stop on that. What do you mean? You mean like investing is everything, meaning people need to understand that you’ve got to promote? You have to be able willing to spend money in promotion? Is that what you’re articulating?
Elijah Desmond: Yes. We can take that two different levels. A lot of people that go to college to get a degree, and when they get a degree they think that they’re going to be able to just skyrocket within their career. But there is investing in your career more. Right? So investing in specific training, hands-on training, clinical training, specific skill sets. And after college, that’s not it.
Elijah Desmond: And then investing on promoting, on marketing. There are so many palaces that I have seen go under, especially in Vegas. Vegas is like crazy for … the offices pop up and go down quicker than you can even blink an eye. Like it’s fast. Because they’ve built their amazing masterpiece and they took all their clinical CE and got the education. And they didn’t even have enough money to market it to tell everybody it existed.
Elijah Desmond: So a couple of reasons for some of my failures is that I built this perfect product and I didn’t put back the money to invest to tell everybody about it. Essentially.
Reese Harper: Yeah. Awareness is a huge issue. And I think dentists can apply that in their practices all the time. I think there’s very little money spent on marketing and promotion for the average dental practice. I feel like it’s an under-invested area. That’s just an assumption that I get patients through referrals only, or 90%, and I will survive and it’ll be fine. But I mean it really is a cost that you’re bearing.
Reese Harper: You’ve got a $500,000 or $600,000, in today’s market, $5-600,000 worth of student debt and opportunity cost. Then you’ve got a million plus in TI and billed out and real estate cost and interest expense drag. And then you just can’t only depend on referral based marketing if you’re wanting to maximize the investment that you’ve made.
Elijah Desmond: Exactly. Yes. Exactly. And so that’s a couple of ways that I failed. And I think you learn from your failures better than you do your successes. The second thing that I learned, that I think is very valuable, is investing your team. And that is so important to me, to invest in your team. Grow your people.
Reese Harper: Yeah.
Elijah Desmond: I have right now I’m standing on three very successful businesses that I do not work in. My team runs them. I don’t. And I’m able to work on the business and not in the business. And so I think it’s important to pay your people right. Right? Pay your people right, treat them right, make sure that they feel appreciated. And if you do that, your businesses blossom naturally.
Elijah Desmond: And when I say invest, invest in the right training too. If you have a team that has great clinical skills, that’s all good. But how’s their customer service skills? I think that investing in Disney Institute makes all the sense in the world. I went through Disney Institute and I was obsessed. The customer service is everything.
Elijah Desmond: But some people can’t get around with thinking like okay, I invested in this machine and that machine, now there’s not money to invest in sending my team to Disney.
Reese Harper: Yeah, yeah.
Elijah Desmond: Or sending my team to a team building event. Or marketing.
Reese Harper: Yep. That’s critical. Let’s pivot to this … Well, any other financial lessons that come to mind? So investing in team’s critical. Talked about the lost opportunity of marketing and promotion, really getting your word out. What other financial lessons come to mind?
Elijah Desmond: Financial lessons for a dental practice, I think-
Reese Harper: Or for you. Just things you learned in your journey. Financial things that you’ve learned that have become organic. Like I live by this.
Elijah Desmond: Have a budget. Have a budget.
Reese Harper: You talking about for a business?
Elijah Desmond: Know your numbers.
Reese Harper: For a business and personal? Or which one was in your mind when you said that first?
Elijah Desmond: Oh, right now for sure business. Have a budget and know your numbers. Down to the penny.
Reese Harper: How did you get to that point? Because I imagine when you first started that hygiene temp agency, that wasn’t a strength of yours, day one.
Elijah Desmond: Yeah. Well-
Reese Harper: You’re 14 years old or whatever when you started it.
Elijah Desmond: I would say the way that I got to that point is over the years I made more money and more money. And eventually I looked at how much money I had made for the year and I’m like where did it all go? Where did it all go? [crosstalk]
Reese Harper: It’s like if I made that much money, where is it?
Elijah Desmond: Yes. Where is it at? And when you don’t have a budget and when you don’t know your numbers, when you don’t have somebody that’s advising you on your numbers, then you’re just going to spend it all away. And that’s what I found myself doing until I got a checkmate and got the lovely tax bill that was like you owe this much after this year. And I’m like how in the world do I owe that much? I don’t even have that amount in savings. Like what?
Elijah Desmond: And so I mean I would say that that’s good financial advice. Right? Know your numbers. Get to know where your money is going and you can plan accordingly if you have a good financial plan.
Reese Harper: I think you hit something. When I first started this business, I was … one of the first messaging points that I ever wrote down that I felt like was an organic one, was I just … if I made this much money where did it all go. You know?
Reese Harper: Because I think that’s a common feeling that a lot of dentists have, is like they think they make a certain amount in their head because that’s what they spend or that’s what they pull out to live on. Then when they go do their taxes their CPA says you made this much.
Reese Harper: And they’re like what? I didn’t make that much. There’s no way I made that much. And then he’s like, or she’s like, but you got to owe this much too still that you didn’t pay. And then you’re left going but where am I supposed to pull that from? Because I’ve been doing all this and I thought I had this covered and I was okay here. And that’s been a big part of … I just think for people I would say like you, you’re a lot like a dentist in that you came into a business ownership without having a real strong financial background. You didn’t go to get an MBA, you did your undergrad in … what was your actual … remind me what your undergrad? What was Ohio State’s undergrad?
Elijah Desmond: Hygiene, bachelor’s of science in dental hygiene.
Reese Harper: Okay. So I would’ve thought maybe … I thought for a chance I might be eating crow there and that you had a business undergrad. But you’re making my point, which is good. I feel like that most people don’t have a budgeting background or any kind of a business background. And so you’re thrown into entrepreneurship, you’re just kind of like thrown to the wolves when it comes to the numbers. And that’s a big challenge.
Elijah Desmond: Yes, yes. Yep, absolutely.
Reese Harper: Okay. So now that we’re … I want to touch on some lessons from implant, from the dental implants business that became your biggest focus and boon. Tell me some of the top takeaways for … let’s say we’ve got a dentist that … everyone wants to improve their revenue and get into doing larger cases. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned to see people go from maybe an average place to a very successful place?
Elijah Desmond: Absolutely. Documentation, capturing all of your before and after cases, through video and through pictures. Pictures are everything, right? If you can capture somebody bawling down crying, breaking down crying and smiling and give you a hug, people resonate with that. And so that’s advice. Another big advice is invest in the right type of marketing, that’s specific to your practice. Find a niche and focus on that.
Elijah Desmond: I see a lot of dentists that they do marketing for everything, just like general marketing. And I mean it works. Most marketing companies all work. But it’s really really really easy when you focus on something. So if you focus on orthodontics, or you focus on sleep medicine, or you focus on implants, it’s easy to essentially take a budget and get a massive return on investment when you are marketing for the right thing.
Elijah Desmond: So what I’ve learned is, and this is where my company has evolved to, is focus on what yields the highest return on investment. So if you spend $5, what’s going to bring you back the biggest return and give you the biggest life satisfaction? And so that’s why we’ve focused on implants and big cases.
Reese Harper: Yeah. Well, I appreciate it, man. I look forward to many more years of good vibes from you and your influence on a lot of our shared clients. Thanks so much for taking the time today and really look forward to hearing this edit and being able to share this with our listeners. Anything you’d like to leave as a last note before we go?
Elijah Desmond: Just follow through and be kind. Follow through on everything you say you’re going to do. And just be kind. Be kind to people. That’s it.
Reese Harper: That’s a great lesson, man. Thanks, Elijah. I really appreciate it, man. We’ll let you get back to a peaceful evening there. Are you in Florida tonight then or not?
Elijah Desmond: Yes, I’m in Florida.
Reese Harper: All right, yeah. Well, have a great evening and we’ll look forward to catching up again with you soon.
Elijah Desmond: All right. Thanks, Reese.
Reese Harper: Thanks. Bye bye.
Reese Harper: Thanks again to Elijah for coming on the show and being such a candid guest. I always enjoy interviewing someone who’s got an entrepreneurial knack for getting small businesses up and started.
Reese Harper: As a dental hygienist to the dental office staffing to coaching dental teams to speaking, and now running the Smiles at Sea program, Elijah has really packed a lot of experience into his life thus far. And I’m excited to see what he does moving forward. Thanks again to Elijah for the lively interview.Practice Management