This month’s interview is with Fred Joyal, a seasoned entrepreneur who co-founded 1-800-DENTIST/ Futuredontics.
Fred began his career as a distinguished copywriter with a top advertising agency in Los Angeles. He and his partner, Gary Saint-Denis, started 1-800-DENTIST in 1986. His advertising background was a great asset to the company’s fast-climb to the top of dental practice marketing services and its appeal to thousands of member dentists throughout the nation.
Today, 1-800-DENTIST matches approximately 250,000 customers each month to one of their pre-screened dentists that meets the customer’s needs. In January 2002, 1-800-DENTIST expanded to include a telephone directory and an Internet-driven dental marketing company.
Q: Fred, congratulations on receiving the 2005 Conrad Hilton Distinguished Entrepreneur Award from Loyola Marymount University. What attracted you to entrepreneurship and how did the focus become dental practice marketing?
A: I reached a point where I didn’t want to work for anyone else, and I wanted to see if my advertising skills, such as they were at the time, could be turned into a business that built on itself. My partner and I knew someone with the 1-800-DENTIST phone number, so the dental path was mostly random. Worked out well though, ey?.
Q: What is the best advice that you can give our customers, most being entrepreneurs or small business owners, on advertising and marketing their businesses?
A: Be consistent. Don’t be all over the place with your message. Be clear and simple in how you present yourself and your product. But be careful where you throw money. Big spending is seldom the right answer. Most of the time the constraint of limited funds will force you to be more creative and in the end come up with better solutions.
Q: What are some of the reasons you think entrepreneurs fail at marketing their businesses?
A: They think they have the skill to do it themselves, when in fact they may have invented something or come up with a business model that is in their realm of experience or expertise, and they think that advertising and marketing is easy and anyone can do it. It’s not. It’s a profession, just like law or accounting, which you shouldn’t try to do yourself (though most entrepreneurs fall down on that point too early on, and pay the price later.) Conversely, there will always be people selling you marketing schemes. Most of the time, the traditional methods work best, and if it feels too cheap, there's a reason. Or if it’s not sustainable, don’t do it. Creating impressions takes time. Something really relevant to your market where you can be a sponsor can be a home run, but it’s got to hit your target audience. One of the big drawbacks for our business is virtually no sponsorship in sports works for us, which is too bad because I’d like free Laker tickets. But women are our target audience, so we’re stuck advertising on Oprah.
Q: Final question: What was your biggest challenge in transforming from working in corporate America to starting your own business and how did you overcome it?
A: The biggest challenge is having employees. Suddenly everyone looks at you as their support system. They want health care, consistent raises and a net to catch them when they screw up. Employees will always be a challenge, and they don't always appreciate the amount of risk you take and shock you absorb. Our answer was to treat people well, pay them well and demand excellence, otherwise we would release them back into the marketplace where they could do mediocre work for someone else.