Ten tips for a healthier business - Veterinary Practice
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Ten tips for a healthier business

Ignacio Merida Isla looks at what practices can do in order to not just survive but prosper in the current economic climate.

Everybody talks about the economic crisis and how it is affecting their business. The veterinary profession is no stranger to it. It is important to admit that there is a problem and help is needed: this is always the first step to overcome any crisis.

On the following lines I will try to give some ideas, from the many that can be thought, to face this crisis with the best tools.

Let´s start by understanding what are the goals of any business. These goals can be summarised as the following:

  • produce benefits;
  • client satisfaction;
  • keep employees happy.

These three goals are as important as each other and, especially in these times of crisis, every single tool at hand must be applied so they are fulfilled at 110%.

In a time when clients do think twice before spending any money, it is fundamental that client satisfaction is maximum, they must see the added value that we offer with our services. They should notice that when buying a bag of food in our shop, it is not just some biscuits, but it has professional nutritional advice associated.

Communication is key and the whole team has to be involved. Investing information in the team so they also understand the need for communication will always bring benefits, and even more nowadays.

It is clear that companies do need to produce benefits to ensure their survival. It is necessary to remember that because of inflation, we need to increase revenue yearly just to keep even, so we need to plan ahead at the beginning of the year how we are going to achieve this increase, use assessment mechanisms and communicate the plan to the whole team.

Lastly, employees must have empathy and identify with their businesses. Huge companies have closed despite everybody doing their job right. Circumstances do change and what at some point was acceptable (to work 37 hours and get paid for 40), may not be acceptable under the current climate. The whole team needs to know the situation and give that extra bit.

The key to giving your best is motivation and this requires a decent salary, information, time off… We need to know what really motivates our employees to help them to be fulfilled as people. This will ensure they continue working for us for longer, and the longer they stay, the more they identify themselves with our business.

The more they identify, the harder they will work to prevent it from failing, as the failure will not only be of their company but of themselves.

We have to remember that everybody was doing the right thing during the initial (and only) trip of the Titanic, the band was playing music, the waiters serving drinks, engineers checking the machines … and despite all that, the ship sank.

In this case there was a leadership problem – whoever took the decision about the speed. This can also be applied to our clinic: we need to meditate well on the decisions we make. We cannot change strategy each month because the results are not the expected ones, but choose wisely in the first place.

Once the goals for the clinic are understood, let’s see how can we make them come true.

1. Be proactive

Our clients are out there (I hope nobody has met a client who walked in the clinic saying that he or she could not feed their pet and they put it down); and they are delaying their visits and consuming less.

We need to get out there and find them, we need to stop hiding in our clinics, waiting for the pets to get sick, and focus more on prevention. Prevention is more than vaccination and parasitic treatment, it is also preventive neutering, regular blood tests in chronic or elderly patients… We need, then, to educate the owners and this cannot be done without our next point – communication.

2. Communicate information

Vets, as with any other service providers, have the moral duty to educate our clients. Communication is our best ally on this mission. This
communication must not only be during the consult. We must remember that owners do receive a huge amount of information in the short period of time that a consult usually lasts.

Besides, they do have loads of distraction, starting with their pets. That is why we must have tools ready for the most common things (for example: if we want the owners to use parasitic treatment regularly, we should provide them with an information sheet that talks about the flea cycle or diseases carried by ticks…).

Another useful tool is the regular informative campaigns which give a dynamic and modern image to the clinic, as well as making our clients more faithful to us and educating them. They can contribute, too, the formation and motivation of our team.

Besides, as a secondary effect, more educated clients will spend more money as they will be more likely to use more services. Campaigns can be combined with discounts or promotions that help with the motivation.

3. Use of new technologies

In the era of communication, with internet, mobile phones, etc., we cannot look the other way. We need to use all the resources to communicate with our clients. Using e-mails is cheap and allows us a regular contact. It can be used to forward those informative campaigns, as well as vaccine or worming reminders.

Setting up the system will cost money, but it is a small investment if we compare it with how much a traditional mailing costs.

Using a technology that most of us have in our phones, like “bluetooth”, proximity marketing can be achieved in our waiting rooms, or share our wi-fi with the clients to make waiting times less boring.

4. Re-visit your relationship with suppliers

During this period of a drop in consumption, we must limit the expenses, and an important part of the expenses in a veterinary clinic are those products we buy from our suppliers, from the vaccines and drugs to food and accessories. For that, the best thing to do is a retrospective study of what we spent in the past, and use this data to negotiate future orders.

There are shopping groups or distribution companies that will allow you to avoid some middle men, hence they can offer you a better price.

Remember that lab companies do not offer the same price to someone who buys 100 vaccines as the one who buys 10,000.

5. Design an annual plan

It is clear that if you are travelling abroad, the normal thing is not only to decide the destination, but also how to get there, where to stay, local currency… A plan is elaborated.

Our clinic is like a continuous trip, which means that we need to do a periodic plan, based on our business plan. In this way, we will use the appropriate tools, for example to increase the number of clients opting for preventive surgeries, or increase the revenue by increasing the percentage of sales of food.

This plan needs to be agreed and it must take account of the current situation, the goal and the tools to achieve it. We need to review that our goals are being achieved and if it is not the case, find out how to get back to the right path.

6. Review your finances

We need to start by checking our finances and where we spend the money. If we do not know where the money is spent, how are we going to know where to save it? Use the tools in your hand (from a computer to a simple pen and paper – both are equally useful) and check on every penny you have spent. Once you know, you will know if you can save some money (change your electricity provider, your phone company…).

The same can be done for the revenue. Check where the money is coming from so you learn which areas of your business need to be improved. Working to the plan will allow us to decide where to invest the marketing money, for example.

7. Listen to the team

You never know where the next good idea may be coming from. On the regular meetings with our team, it is important that everybody gives their points of view and ideas to improve the current situation.

At the end of the day, everybody working in the clinic is in the same crisis together. It is important to listen actively, it is another requirement of a
good leader as it helps to motivate the team.

8. Be a leader

As a leader, it is important to be an example. You need to be the first to accept changes and be flexible. A good leader not only listens to the team, but also communicates with it.

It is better if the employees know that the reason to work harder is not so that you can go on holidays to a far away country, but in these crisis times the revenue has decreased and they need to work harder so everybody gets paid and there are no personnel reductions.

9. Seek for synergies

Everybody is facing the same economic situation so perhaps it is about time to think about that collaboration that so far did not seem to be working. One of the best options to increase revenue is the possibility of offering more services. It is very expensive for a single practice to hire a cardiologist to improve the revenue, but one can be hired among several clinics, working one day in each. The same can be said about an ultrasound machine, which can be very small and portable, allowing practices to share the expenses. Every collaboration (or even association) will help to reduce costs.

10. Ask for help

Every change involves an effort, and a rare commodity in the veterinary profession, time, even with a low economic cost. Besides, a pair of fresh eyes can always help to bring a new point of view.

There are companies and people which can help you to make those decisions and to elaborate that plan that is going to benefit your business so much, or develop those information campaigns or give you the tools to check your finances…

To summarise, there is no magic formula to face the crisis, but we can use the various tools at our disposal to deal with it. It is difficult to win the lottery, but if you do not buy a ticket it is almost impossible.

As Albert Einstein said: “It is crazy to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome.”

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