What My Cosmetic Dentist Taught Me About Freelance Marketing

A few years ago, I fell on my face and cracked a tooth. A front tooth. I was living temporarily in a city far away from my beloved dentist of 20 years.

Of the friends I asked for referrals, none had recommendations for a cosmetic specialist — and a few had warnings. The two dental offices in my neighborhood did not offer emergency appointments and neither was a specialty practice. Leery though I was, I called 1-800-DENTIST to find a specialist or a general practitioner who could book an immediate appointment and give me a referral.

I checked out the Yelp reviews for each of the dentists whose names I was given, and called the highest rated one. I explained that I’d broken a tooth, and the receptionist said there were appointments open the following day. He asked a few intake questions, and I revealed it was a front tooth.

“Oh!” the receptionist, “Don’t come here. Go to my former boss. He’s the best for something like that!”

Back on Yelp, I found the following review of dentist number two:

“When I broke my tooth, I called a few general practice dentists and asked, ‘If George Clooney was in town and needed a cosmetic guy, who would you send him to?’

“Every one gave me this guy’s name. He was expensive, but he did not disappoint.”

I booked the appointment. Indeed he was expensive, but he did not disappoint!

His staff gave empathetic customer service. The technician, as she set me up in the chair on every visit, said, “I am very sorry you have to have this experience.” The dentist had a true artisanal passion for his work. He commented on miniscule imperfections in the way my bite had developed, and offered to correct them for better aesthetics. He had a lab in his home where he “played” with crafting perfect veneers, and he’d worked with the same fabrication lab for twenty years.

The results? Friends who did not know I’d broken a tooth told me my face looked thinner!

While I’d rather still have my imperfect, intact teeth, and the money I spent on the procedures, I am thankful for the dental outcome — and the business lessons.

  • Treat people well! The receptionist who referred me to his employer’s competitor was loyal to his former employer and brazenly disloyal to his current employer. Either he liked his ex-employer personally, or he truly believed that doctor gave better service, or both. A paycheck won’t buy loyalty, and it’s a copout to label it a matter of character.
  • Think twice about paying money for a directory listing, and focus on quality service. My dentist evidently has a strong enough brand that he did not need a listing — even his rival’s listing led to him.
  • When you ask for a referral, ask for something specific and compelling. The “George Clooney” line was good, worthy of a professional copywriter.

Have you learned any marketing lessons from an unexpected source?