$380k Debt to $0 in 21 Months & the Dental Marketing Takeaways

“76.3% of all internet quotes and statistics are fake.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Seriously though.

There’s a lot of junk out there.

That’s why, as we’ll touch on in a second, people are trusting internet “authorities” less than ever.

That’s also why I enjoy verifiable success stories, like Dr. Blake Hillstead’s. This guy paid off $380,000 of student debt in less than two years.

We’ll cover the highlights below, and then dive deep into some dental marketing trends and lessons that we can take from this success story.

Alright. Let’s get to it.


It’s not a secret. School costs money. Medical school costs lots of money. Blake dug himself a shoddy little debt hole because again, we’re talking medical school. Who doesn’t?

Here’s what he has to say about it:

I tried to make interest payments whenever we could save up some extra money—just a few thousand here and there to minimize the compounding nature of interest. But when I graduated, I was shocked to see that my loans had reached a staggering figure of $380,000. The weighted average interest rate on my loans was 7.1%.

I felt overloaded and stressed by having to now repay this debt and interest, and at the same time, trying to support a family and raise young children.

The Plan

Thankfully, Blake didn’t just crawl into the fetal position at the bottom of that debt hole. He started climbing out. It began with a game plan:

My wife and I had many conversations about how we would pay off our student loans. We discussed whether we should pay them down aggressively or opt for the slow and steady approach so that we could immediately upgrade our lifestyle and spending habits.

We decided that we’d save a lot of money and stress if we could just pay my student loans off quickly, even if it meant making some short-term lifestyle sacrifices.

He ended up refinancing to reduce his interest by 70%:

► He started a graduate loan refinancing program.

► He took out a home equity line on the house

► He refinanced through a private student loan lender

Next came the hard work. He didn’t just buy a practice and work hard to build it.

He brought in a good chunk of extra bacon working part-time as an associate.

Instead of living in a nice house and driving a nice new car, he rented a small apartment with his wife, and they drove the same cars they drove as students. In his words, “sacrifice.”

And After (The Results)

Well, you know. He paid it off. FAST:

As I started paying down my loans, it was like a snowball gaining size and momentum—once I got a taste of that feeling of satisfaction, it got easier and easier to commit more money to get them paid off.

$380k. 21 months. Not too shabby.

His advice? Be efficient. Work hard. Sorry – REALLY hard:

Figure out how to pay off student loans as efficiently as possible. In my case, refinancing my loans helped me save a ton of money, which I could then put toward the loan principal instead.

Work REALLY hard. Earn as much as possible and pay it toward your student loans. Although I worked incredibly hard, I knew I only had to do it for a short time until my student loans were paid off. In my opinion, making sacrifices early in your career to pay off student loans is a smart decision.

(You can read the rest of his story here.)

The Marketing Takeaways

Now here are the key marketing takeaways.

1. Fight Flight
Flight is waaaay overrated. Think about it. You’re an apex predator  – the apex predator of planet earth, right? There’s absolutely no need to run from hard work or a bunch of debt. The mountain in Blake’s case was debt. What’s your marketing mountain? Is it fine-tuning your referral system? Reaching more new patients online? Knuckling down to shovel some cash or hard work at a marketing campaign?

Think of those problems as your enemy. And you know. Win.

According to this white paper from ProSites, dentists are currently experiencing some major shifts in the industry, most of them caused by the changes in marketing through social media, mobile devices, and the spike in the number of people who have constant internet access.

Thanks to those major game-changers, 3 new enemies have evolved:

More marketing competition. Less money spent by consumers and an anemic attention span is forcing people to flood the market with noise, thinking that whoever screams the loudest and most often gets the most. Standing out in this saturation is becoming increasingly difficult.

More information providers. Because of low barriers to entry, there are more content providers than ever. Have you ever noticed how you can google something and prove yourself right, and then google the exact opposite and prove yourself wrong? There’s an opinion and “proof” for everything. The result? People don’t trust online authorities as much.

More information consumers. “There is an archived conversation about every topic under the sun, including your practice.” Censoring bad reviews and similar information is virtually impossible, so it’s up to you to keep patients as happy as you can.

2. Make a plan. (And write it out!)

Have you heard about the goal-setting study on Harvard graduates? They asked them:

“Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”

Their answers: 

► 84% had no specific plans at all.

► 13% made plans but didn’t write them out.

► 3% had specific goals and plans, and guess what? Oh yes. They wrote them down.

A decade later, they interviewed them again.

Their answers 10 years later:

► The 13% who had a gameplan were making double the income of the 84% who had no goals at all.

► The 3% who had clear, written goals and plans? They were raking in 10 times as much as the other 97 percent put together. *

3. Work smarter, not harder. And then work harder. It doesn’t just take efficiency and writing out your goals. It takes loads of good old fashioned work. Smart work. You know, perfect practice makes perfect and delegating as much as possible. In our experience, some of our best results come from really good ideas and a decent amount of work, but most of the time, the best results come from some really good ideas and a LOT of work.

And when I say a lot of work, I mean, you’re doing literally 5 times as much as other dentists because you delegate wisely. (This is a great article on delegation, over at Dentistry IQ.)

One of the smarter trends in dentistry (according to this Prosites study) is the increase in group practices:

If you are a younger dentist or a recent graduate who would like to start a practice but cannot afford the risk, don’t shy away from the trend. Find trustworthy partners among your schoolmates or the local dental community with whom to establish a group practice.

Bring your delegation skills to the table so your partners can boost their efforts too.

Smarter AND harder.

And there you have it.

I’ll leave you with a real quote from Honest Abe:

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” – Abraham Lincoln

Think about it. Partnering with dentists who would’ve become your competitors…

That’s all I’ve got for you today, I’ll see you in the next one!