Ten things no one tells you before buying or starting a veterinary practice - Veterinary Practice
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Ten things no one tells you before buying or starting a veterinary practice

Helen Skinner of FTA Finance runs through a number of pieces of advice that first-time buyers should really know at the outset, helping them on their way during a stressful time.

THE ONES WHO ARE CRAZY ENOUGH to think they can own or run a veterinary practice are the ones who do.

The transition from being a salaried assistant to business owner is hard to prepare for; the reason being it is a unique experience, and so it should be, as your own personality will flavour how the process works for you.

We have worked with many veterinary surgeons aspiring to own their own practice – from outright ownership to a partnership share – and have the benefit and valuable insight from those who have gone before and bought or started up a practice. So just what are these things that no one tells you before you start on this journey?

1. New start or established practice

This is one of the most important early days decisions you need to make. A start-up of course has the benefit of being much lower cost (compared with purchasing an established practice) but with the downside of finding a suitable location, change of use and most importantly the time it will take to become established to generate a steady income stream to cover outgoings – it can take years…

With an established practice you do have the benefit of the established name, client base and income stream, which should ensure most costs are covered from day one. A downside though: with so few practices coming to market, the goodwill values are very high and will often involve an equally sizeable bank loan.

2. You won’t get what you want

You should have your ideal practice in your mind and you may even have written down the key characteristics: location, number of surgeries, income type, any specialisms, number of staff, parking and so no.

If your list runs to 10 things you want, brace yourself – you won’t get them all. It is even possible that this practice doesn’t exist. So re-visit the list and decide what is non-negotiable (perhaps two or three things) and be flexible on the others. Don’t let your own requirements stand between you and practice ownership.

3. Write off evenings and weekends

Viewings typically take place at these times, but this is also the time you need to spend on building your business knowledge and preparing for ownership. Once you find the right practice or the right location/property it will feel like the planet is turning a little faster, so take advantage of some available time now.

4. You’ll need to write a business plan

Most people assume the business plan is only for the bank. In reality the plan is for you – you are more heavily invested in this project than anyone else and it is vital that you understand how the practice will be managed and developed for your success.

5. It’s good business to keep a good personal relationship with the seller

Through the buying process there will be uncomfortable moments where some tough negotiations will need to take place. These are best managed through a third party (usually the sales agent) so the emotion and heat can be taken out of the situation, but also so you can remain on good personal terms with the seller. This is particularly important where the seller is staying on post-sale in an assistant capacity.

6. Use a broker to arrange your bank loan

When arranging finance, it is prudent to approach at least three banks to improve your chances of getting a loan approved and ensure there is competition among the banks. This is where the services of a broker, such as FTA Finance, come into their own.

It will save you time (upwards of 20 hours), money (the terms secured by a broker will in most cases be better than you can secure directly) and stress (finding the right manager in the right bank is not easy).

7. Get adequate personal insurance from day one – you now own a business

As a business owner you should make sure you have sufficient insurance in case you are unable to work and need a locum, suffer with a critical illness and need to protect your personal income and in the worst case scenario an untimely death. It’s easy to say “I will sort that out someday”, but “someday” is not a day of the week!

8. Invest in some business training

The time available at veterinary “school” to introduce some business skills training is limited at best. This can often lead to essential skills like managing staff, marketing, setting the strategic direction and operational governance being learnt from the principal of the practice you work at.

For the most part this is inadequate and often means you learn outdated methods. Investing some time, particularly on CPD accredited courses, should form part of your ongoing development.

9. Everyone will have advice for you

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of use to oneself.” It is good to listen to advice, but the source is critical – you really want to be listening to those who have done it, not those who are going to do it or think they know how it should be done.

10. Enjoy the ride

It is highly likely this will be the most fulfilling, exciting and challenging thing you will do this decade, so enjoy it. Savour the good times as there will be tough days too, but they all blend together and shape you as a practice principal.

I wish you all the very best on your journey and one day soon I’d love to hear your own transition experience from assistant to principal.

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