About a year ago I began hearing more and more stories from students and young colleagues about some of the miserable ways they were treated at school, and in their first jobs. Meanwhile, for the longest time I have been disappointed by the way veterinary professionals treat each other on veterinary Listservs, and even at CE meetings; there is an obvious undertone of snarkiness, and sometimes disdain when colleagues share experiences about how they diagnose, and treat cases. This is not a new thing in the profession, because when I started thinking about it I realized that this tone has been present all through by vet school years and my veterinary career. I just finally recognized it!
Cue a meeting I attended this past summer where Dr. Betsy Charles, was a guest speaker. She is the executive Director of the Veterinary Leadership Institute, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of veterinary leaders. During one of her presentations she discussed an undercurrent of bullying, and shaming within the profession. The light bulb went on and I knew I needed to have Dr. Charles on this podcast to discuss this subject.
This is a fascinating podcast with Dr. Charles because this is a complex topic. I must admit that by the end of our chat Dr. Charles brought up a concept that gave me a profound sense of optimism about our profession. It was almost the missing link that joins the challenges we have as a profession, and a solution to help steer us past these challenges. I won’t say anything more about it, you will have to listen to the end to find out.
This is a discussion we need to start and the profession needs to address.
Some of our conversation may be very controversial to some people so please leave a comment here, or on our Facebook Page. The more we discuss this the better we will be able to find a solution.
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This podcast is brought to you by Oculus Insights offering personal and approachable business education and training to the veterinary profession worldwide. Find out if Oculus Insights has a program for you by checking out their numerous programs on their website.
As business owners we typically only use a handful of metrics, or Key Performance Indicators, (KPI) to assess how well our business is doing. Most of us will look at our financial statements, which include our income, or profit and loss statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. KPIs taken from financial statements are excellent because they are quantitative. There are no grey areas when it comes to numbers, they are what they are.
Quantitative metrics are also ideal because they can be used to compare between different time periods, and they can be used for goal setting and tracking performance as it relates to these goals. It is incredibly satisfying to compare projected to actual numbers, because even if you don’t hit your targets you have objective metrics that can be used to figure out why something worked, or not. It’s a lot like comparing blood panels and using them to track therapy on a patient.
Unfortunately, once we get past our financial statements there is very little in the way of concrete, non-subjective KPIs for our business. Marketing is a great example where measuring the results against the costs involved can be very difficult. A discussion at our recent Oculus Insights Veterinary Business Management Summit in Jerez, Spain shed some light on this.
“Is Facebook worth the time and money ?”
During one of the presentations we began discussing the importance of Facebook and other social media platforms. Everyone agreed that they needed Facebook, so I thought I would ask the group several questions to challenge this apparent necessity. Why do you need it? How do you know it works? Is the expense worth the return?
I asked these questions not to be a jerk, rather because they highlight a challenge that marketers across all industries face, and that is tracking the return on investment for marketing efforts. There is truth in the classic advertising adage that we know that 50% of our advertising works, we just don’t know which 50%!!!
The purpose of my questions was to encourage people to think about their goals in their use of social media and other advertising efforts, and the costs that go into achieving these goals.
When it comes to the use of Facebook in a veterinary practice there is the cost of time writing posts, taking photos, editing videos, and managing feedback and questions from visitors. All of these costs add up over a year, and unless there is a tangible return we need to ask if the expense is worth it.
Many businesses and metrics use two metrics to assess marketing efforts: Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC), and Lifetime Value of a Customer (LVC). Both are easy to figure out and will give any business objective KPIs.
Determining the CAC is as simple as dividing the total costs associated with anything a business does to promote their business in the hopes of gaining new clients by the number of new clients you have gained during a period of time. Costs can include staffing, advertising, sponsorships, swag, etc. For example, if total client acquisition costs for a business over a year was $4000 and they gained 50 new clients in a year the CAC would be $80.
This CAC could seem like a lot, but when you consider the Lifetime Value of a Client it might be a very reasonable price to pay to get a new client. Any practice management software should be able to tell you what clients spend each year on average. The harder part then is to figure out how long a client stays with your business. If your average client spends $400 every year and they remain clients for 5 years then your LVC is $2000.
By knowing the CAC and LVC you can use a simple ratio dividing the CAC by the LVC to determine the effectiveness of your client acquisition costs. In our example it would be 4% ($80/$2000). The lower the ratio the better because you’re clients are either staying with your business longer or you are using less money to acquire new clients.
In the veterinary profession it may be more accurate to figure out Patient Acquisition Costs (PAC) and the Lifetime Value of a Patient (LVP), since so many of our clients have multiple pets. If our original 50 new clients had a total of 70 pets then the PAC would be $57. Then if the average patient is billed $300 annually over 5 years the LVP would be $1500.
The question each veterinary business has to consider is if it is worth spending $57 to get $1500 of business. This is different for each business depending on their profitability. If your business has a thin profit margin then $57 might be too much to spend.
Using these metrics allows any business to dig into the efficacy of their marketing efforts. Is the PAC decreasing each year because you’re doing a better job of targeting potential clients? Is the LVP decreasing because clients are spending less on their pets, or clients aren’t remaining with your business as long.
Too often we get caught up in doing something in our business because we don’t want to feel left behind. As a result, we end up buying equipment, or engaging in marketing initiatives that don’t make sense for our business. Developing a mindset of determining and measuring goals is invaluable for any business owner or manager. Once we have a baseline metrics it is easy to compare the performance of our business over time and make adjustments if necessary to maximize our return on efforts and cost.
What do you use to measure the success of your marketing efforts. Share in the comment section or on our Facebook Page. Thanks
I was fortunate to attend a workshop that Wynnie Zuchowski led to a group of veterinarians and practice managers on creating buyer personas. I had never heard anyone in our profession discuss this subject so well. It is a fundamental part of a marketing strategy and we never seem to do this as veterinarians.
Wynnie is an outstanding presenter and I chatting with her would give listeners to our podcast a comprehensive overview to the subject.
This podcast is brought to you by Oculus Insights – Business Education and Training for the Veterinary Profession. To learn more about the educational programs offered by Oculus Insights visit there website at www.OculusInsights.net
The other night my wife, and business partner, and I went out for dinner. We like to be in the mix of the action so we sat at the bar ready for a great dinner. When you sit at the bar you never know who might sit next to you. We have struck up conversations with incredible people and those experiences made for memorable nights. Other times everyone is in their own little world so much so that they forget that other people can hear their conversation. That was what happened the other night.
What made this particular evening memorable enough to write about it was the couple beside us that appeared to be partners in life, as well as business. They were also not shy about discussing the problems facing their restaurant business. I am not a creepy eavesdropping type of person, but I could not help hearing everything about the problems in the business.
Here is a sample of the statements the husband/boyfriend was saying to the wife/girlfriend along with my inside voice in response.
Why do we want to open two new locations when our only restaurant is suffering?
Good point. Fix what is wrong before you venture forth with new locations. Whatever challenges you are facing in your current business will likely exist in the new ones.
What the *$(& is wrong with our staff? They are so &#(&)# unappreciative.
Whoa. Where is this going?
They are a bunch of uneducated, stupid, unappreciative &*#(&#>@ bastards
Hmm. Starting to understand why there may be some problems in the business.
We should cancel the Christmas party and just use the money on a vacation for ourselves.
I bet that would be a delightful time.
Why do we bother training them if all they are going to do is quit in 4 months? In fact, we shouldn’t train them at all. Training is overrated. Any moron could make a pizza?
I hope this jerk goes to the bathroom so I can tell his partner to RUUUUNNN. This person isn’t good for you. Your business isn’t going to work out. We won’t tell him where you went. GOOOOOO!
Meanwhile we are sitting in a restaurant that we have been going to for about a year, and for the most part the host, servers and cooks are all the same. Why can this restaurant keep staff and this couple has a revolving door of staff coming and going?
There are many reasons of course, but the main one based upon this conversation is that if you don’t care about your staff, they aren’t going to care about you. It is that simple. I remember as a student working for a company that only wanted a body to fill a role. They couldn’t care less about training, motivating or developing me. As a result, I had no loyalty to the company. As soon as I found a better job I was out of there.
With that experience I have always been sensitive to the needs of our employees. Beyond paying our employees a fair wage, our company has been focused on having an engaged work force that feels personally and professional fulfilled and appreciated. Our thought was that if we did that right in turn they would give their all to the company and each other. Ultimately, just like we want loyal clients we want loyal employees that don’t have one foot out the door all the time.
If I was foolish enough to interject into the conversation of the frustrated partners I would have suggested that they take a step back and ask a few simple questions. Why doesn’t their staff appreciate them. What are they doing as business owners that leads to such high employee turnover? Instead of blaming the employees for all of their problems I would ask them to shine a light on themselves, and ask what role do they play in employee discontent.
Have they asked their staff how they feel in their job and what do they need to feel more engaged and loyal to the company? I would suggest that they consider their staff as a type of customer, an internal customer if you will. If you have surveys for clients that come to your business, why not survey your staff to find out how they feel about their job, the business, and the owners.
Running a business is really, really hard. When things get tough it is very easy to blame others for these problems, rather than look in the mirror and confront the ugly truth about our role in our declining business. The first step to putting the business on the path to success again is looking at what we are doing as business owners to cause the business troubles. Everything stems from us, and if we aren’t doing a good job leading a business then the only results we can expect are troubles. The answers are within us, we just need to ask the right questions.
This blog was brought to you by Oculus Insights – Bring Business Education and Training to the Veterinary Profession. Check out www.OculusInsights.net to see the various programs that Oculus Insights offers to help you run your business better. They will give you the skills to make changes right away to your business.
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Picture Credit – https://shannonfinn.wordpress.com/2015/09/12/back-to-school-differences-between-starting-phase-1-and-starting-phase-2/
When I tell other veterinarians that 98% of the people I work with are female, and 75% of our employees are Millennials I am faced with shaking heads and disbelief. “How can you work with all those women and young people” they ask. Surprisingly, many of those asking about working with “all those women” are female vets. In turn, I end up shaking my head as I tell them it isn’t a big deal, and that age or gender has rarely been an issue in our organization. When they ask why I tell them that there are 3 key factors we consider at all times to ensure workplace harmony: culture, expectations, and training
Before I discuss these 3 areas it is important to understand the mindsight we developed when my wife and business partner, Dr. Melissa McKee, and I first started our business. We knew that we were going to need other vets and support staff as we grew.
Looking at the source of future employees we knew that the supply of new vets and support staff was going to be predominantly female. We also knew that these employees were likely going to be in their twenties. With this in mind we had to create a workplace culture that would be welcoming to this younger generation, rather than force them to accept what we thought was appropriate. For example, knowing that quality of life is important to the newer vets we planned to grow in size so we had enough vets to share on call so we weren’t working 24/7. At the same time, we put ourselves in the shoes of younger employees who may never had a structured job before so we knew we had to offer training and mentorship to help these new employees understand the expectations of a job.
This brings us to where we are now and how we are able to have harmonious workforce that is predominantly female and young.
The culture of a business is the DNA of the business. It is how people interact with each other and their clients. It reflects the values and purpose of a business. It is either something that develops on its own if left unchecked, or it can be nurtured and kept in a desired state if managed correctly.
When we hire new employees it is critical that they fit into our culture. They have to share our values and outlook. This doesn’t mean that we look for clones, rather we want unique individuals that fit into our group. When everyone shares similar values it is easier for everyone to get along regardless of their gender, age, background, political views, etc.
We hire for the smile and train the skills. We don’t care how qualified a veterinary prospect is, or how capable someone is working in the office if they cannot get along with their co-workers and engage well with our clients they won’t work well with us. Skills can be trained, but attitude is set. We hire for shared values and how they fit into our culture, and then expect to train the skills that may be lacking.
When we hire people we are very clear with our expectations of appropriate workplace behavior. In the past few years we have noticed that we are the first job for many of our new hires. This means they are not aware of how a workplace works. This can range from little things like showing up on time to critical areas like how co-workers treat each other in the workplace. We are very clear on workplace expectations, and to ensure that these expectations are met we maintain a system of training and coaching to help our new hires succeed in their job. When someone does not meet our expectations for workplace behavior we coach them in the desired interactions.
If the person is resistant to our training and unwilling to adapt we get rid of them. It is as simple as that. We take a long time hiring the right person for a job, but if they are not a match for us and don’t want to be part of our team we get rid of them quickly. This prevents someone from muddying our culture and it signals to our employees that we are serious about maintaining a great work environment.
We have never understood all of the angst about Millennials in the workplace. In our minds they are young people who are trying to figure out their expanding world. I was no different when I was in my twenties. I am sure older people thought I was lazy and self-absorbed, just like older people did to them decades ago. We don’t label and differentiate Millennials, rather we consider them from the perspective of their stage in life. We do the same for employees who are middle aged. We all want different things at different times in our lives and as employers we need to realize this and create an accommodating workplace where shared values and purpose predominate.
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Thanks for reading
Dr. Colleen Best has been a past participant of the Veterinary Business Matters podcast because of her research on communication in veterinary medicine. Colleen was the person that taught me in our conversation that communication skills should be a core competency for veterinarians.
I had reached out to Colleen to see if she can join the podcast again to talk about her latest findings in this field when I heard she was involved in an interesting initiative going on at the Ontario Veterinary College. A student group started a group called Thrive, which stands for Teaching Healthy Resilience in the Veterinary Environment. Basically, this group is working to find a way for veterinary students to develop the skills and personal resiliency to thrive as veterinarians.
Resiliency is the key word here and once again Dr. Best has helped introduce a new phrase to veterinary vocabulary. Check out the podcast to learn more about this initiative and how Colleen is involved.
For more information about THRIVE check out their Facebook page.
Here is the a link to our previous podcast with Colleen LISTEN NOW
A couple of years ago I was hired by a veterinary practice to help them with their social media efforts. At the time I was trying hard to break into the veterinary market as a digital marketing advisor, so I was all ready to jump in and help this business out. This was a decent sized practice in a large market, and I hoped that if I did a good job for them that it would lead to other work.
During my initial visits with a business that wants to hire me I ask several questions to determine what their goals are. Typically, they want to increase their online exposure and grow their business, but I try to dig deeper and find out why they think social media is going to do a better job than word of mouth, or referrals from current clients. A sign of a healthy business is strong business growth from the recommendations from happy satisfied clients, we all know that.
It didn’t take too long to figure out that the reason why this practice wanted to use social media to grow their business was because they were losing so many clients. When I pointed out to them that maybe it would be a good idea to figure out why clients weren’t coming back their response was that they were working on it, but in the meantime they needed to keep their business growing. Ok, I’ll buy that and besides, I thought with just a hint of arrogance, that if I could help this struggling business I could help anyone. Not so quick. As we put a digital marketing plan together I realized that this business suffered from some significant issues, including a toxic work environment and inconsistent patient and client care. I soon realized that I was caught up in a losing situation. There was nothing that social media was going to do to help them. My arrogance was quickly humbled as I told them that I quit. My parting words were “The last thing you need is social media. You need to fix your business first.”
I realized that unless they fixed the significant challenges facing them that all social media would do is increase the amount of clients who would be pissed off from their visit. Many of them would go online and complain about the poor patient care and miserable environment. Why would this business want to promote that they are a bad veterinary clinic? Once these new clients left they would never come back.
As I left the hospital I realized I had learned a huge lesson: Social media, or any other type of marketing, is only effective if the business is based upon a solid and strong business foundation. What does this mean to the average veterinary small business? There is not a quick answer to this question – that is why there are business courses and degrees, but there are a few simple things to consider before hoping for a simple fix from social media.
Are the staff happy?
Clients can tell when there is tension in the air at a business. I remember once being in a dentist chair getting a cavity filled when the dentist and his assistant had a minor domestic. It made for a very uncomfortable experience. I never went back to that dentist.
Are clients treated like they are wanted?
The most misused phrase in most businesses is along the lines that “We are for the customer”, or “Customer Service is our bread and butter”. We have all seen those meaningless signs in stores as we wait for someone to serve us as they scurry by with their heads down. Mean it, or don’t promise it.
Is someone leading the business?
In my experience the biggest reason that social media efforts fail in any type of business is that there is no leadership to drive change in the business. Social media is so new to most businesses that having a champion to drive this change is essential. If there isn’t a leader pushing and encouraging for its success staff will lose interest. They rightfully think that if the leader of the business doesn’t care about this, why should I.
I could go on and on about the key pillars of a strong business but the three I mentioned are indicative that something isn’t right. It doesn’t matter if you are a Wal-Mart or a 4 employee vet business staff have to get along, the client has to feel valued and their needs to be a leader. Sounds simple, but getting there and being consistent is hard, but incredibly satisfying for any business. Who doesn’t want to enjoy their co-workers, their clients, and feel motivated and respected by their boss. Until these three key things are in place hold off on promoting your business with social media. There are other more important things to deal with first.
If you identify one or more of these warning signs you might be interested in improving your business skills. Oculus Insights has several business education programs geared towards working veterinarians, practice managers and other support staff. Check out www.OculusInsights.net for more information.
I’m always interested in your comments. Please drop me a line below.
Do you ever feel that you are doing things with your business that sometimes don’t make sense, but you keep on doing them because that is just the way it is done in our industry?
Why do we take patients to a back room away from their owners? Would the owner prefer to be part of the exam?
Why do horse vets rarely use technicians? Couldn’t they get more done if they had help?
Why do we cringe at advertising? Is it really unprofessional for a vet to advertise for their services?
As competition increases more and more veterinary businesses are following the lead of neighboring practices because they think they are losing a competitive edge. A great example of this in my area are companion animal practices opening up 24/7. When I talk to the practice owners they feel they need to do this because customers demand it, and if they don’t do it they will lose business. They typically end the conversation lamenting how much they hate having to do this; they detest the long hours, staffing issues and the sense that extended hours actually leads to a decrease in profits.
I was thinking of this when I read this article about Tesco, the largest grocery chain in the United Kingdom, and how they were reducing the amount of stores open for 24 hours. This quote by Tony Hoggett, Tesco retail director, resonated with me.
“What we found is that moving from night-time to twilight hours has a positive impact on customer service, whereas when these stores are opening for 24 hours it can mean that you are not at your best when you are at your busiest. At the trial stores, we have seen that service has improved noticeably on all measures.
It is absolutely not about saving money. That’s way down the list versus increasing morale and looking to improve service, which is my main job and something we have done very well over the past two years.”
The reasons they give for reducing store hours is likely more involved than they are stating. I’m sure that there are significant cost savings to go with the increase in employee satisfaction and customer service. What is important is that Tesco considered a business model that the industry favors and thought, “wait a minute, this isn’t giving us the benefits it was supposed to. Is there a better way”?
We found ourselves in a similar situation recently. We have an equine practice and the expectation in that industry is that veterinarians work 5-6 days a week. This means they work about 60-70 hours a week, if not more, during the busy season, and 40 hours at least during the slower time of the year. If you are a small animal vet or tech reading this, you must be thinking this is crazy. We began to think so too. Regardless of how a vet is compensated these extra hours end up leading to burn out, and decreased customer and patient care. There is no wonder that 50% of equine vets change their professional focus within the first 5 years of graduation. Why would someone work that long and hard when they see colleagues who treat other species work half the hours for often the same amount of money. As equine vets we like to say it is because it is a lifestyle, but is that not just an excuse to justify our long weeks? Or do we justify it because we spend most of our time driving around and we need to work the long hours in order to see enough horses to make our businesses economically viable? There is likely something to that last statement. Many equine vets spend half their day just driving, while our companion animal colleagues have their patients come to them, or food animal vets deal with herds. In both cases there are efficiencies in that they can see a large amount of animals in a day, while the horse vet drives, and drives, and drives some more.
In any case we decided to buck the status quo and introduce a 4 day 40-hour work weeks for our equine vets. How can we afford to do this? First of all, we are tired of developing amazing young vets and then have them flirt with burning out after a few years. Ethically, we were disgusted to see bright and enthusiastic young vets begin to hate their jobs. Not all of them of course, but enough that it worried us. Most of our vets have been with us for many years, but there have been some that explored other options. We don’t want to be a business that does that to people so we need to adjust our working hours’ expectations.
There is also the cost of replacing vets that leave for greener pastures. One survey states that the cost to replace a highly trained person could be as high as 213% of their annual salary. For every vet we lose we could take 2 years of their pay to replace them. That is a huge amount of money that we are throwing away if we don’t make a better work environment.
Finally, we can do a better job of scheduling our vets on the road. Our goal is to see a steady reduction of travel time over the next couple of years. We are analyzing our scheduling processes at this time so this is still a work in progress.
We may find that the business model of mobile equine vets is not appropriate for 4-day work weeks, but we have to challenge the model before accepting the business norm. If we can have happier vets, that treat their clients better, and provide better patient care because they aren’t tired, or burnt out that in itself will benefit our business. If we can then add up the cost savings of replacing vets, we may even be further ahead. Finally, if we can service the same amount of horses we do now in less time then we have an unqualified success.
Business as usual should be questioned. The world has changed so much in recent years with technology and demographic changes that what we once assumed was the way to run a business may have changed. The first step in questioning your business is simple – look at what causes the most pain to you and your staff. Determine the source of the pain and simply ask, is there a better way to do what we are doing. Take comfort that a huge grocery chain in a highly competitive industry where they make 1 or 2 cents
on a dollar has stopped and decided to turn back on an industry norm. If a big cumbersome corporation like Tesco can do it, why can’t a small nimble business like yours do the same?
Do you have anything to say about this? Please leave a comment.
For business education programs that might suit you check out the offerings from Oculus Insights at www.OculusInsights.net
Networking has a stigma associated with It. When I hear that I should go to an event so I can “network” I imagine myself making painful small talk with strangers, or feeling worthless as the person talking to me keeps glancing around the room looking for someone more interesting to talk to than me. In fact, I remember events where I was the one desperately surveying the room looking for someone more interesting to talk with. People that know each other seem to gather together making it harder for a stranger to get involved; all together it reminds of the first day at a new school.
When networking is done well well the school analogy is very appropriate since good networking opportunities have an educational component to them. I have found my favorite networking meetings to have been educational programs that I have attended. It didn’t matter if they were one afternoon, a conference, or a multi-year curriculum, like the MBA I recently completed. I don’t have to stand nervously, furtively looking for a reason to belong in a crowd of strangers. I am there for the education and the networking is a benefit of attending the event.
Good networking features 5 key attributes that are hard to find elsewhere.
Opportunities through education
Knowledge opens up our worlds to opportunity. The more we know the more choices we have to try new things and explore ideas. Without education we don’t know what we are missing in the world, and what we are capable of doing.
Alternate point of views
A good education features ideas that challenge what we know. It gives us different points of views than the ones we have that frame our view of the world. Life is not black and white and ideas help us grapple with what is unknown and confusing to each of us. Opposing ideas gives us the tools and support to view the world differently and not fear that which is unknown.
Opportunities and ideas lead to inspiration. We know new things and want them. We see what we are capable of doing because of our ignorance is lessened and our world view is expanded.
The oldest friends I have are from school. Whenever I am with them, or think of them, our time together in school is nearby in my memories. It reminds me of the person I was before school and the person I became because of it.
Good friends are the people I can go to for advice. They know me, my values, my goals and will give me the unfiltered guidance I need. My friendships are immeasurable and valuable.
Education is powerful and transformative. It has features that are valuable on their own, and priceless together. The more we learn the more we appreciate what we don’t know. These attributes should be the goal of networking. Instead of fearing the social awkwardness of the event, consider networking an opportunity to grow as a person, and become a better veterinarian, or business owner.
Do you have a tip to help survive a networking event. Let us know if the comment section.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Olcott, DVM, MBA of VitusVet, a creator of technology to help vets communicate better with their clients. It is a great product, but I’ll let Mark explain what his company offers.
Mark also has great insight on the current veterinary industry and shares my enthusiasm for a great future for the profession. He balances his roles as a practicing vet with that of an entrepreneur so he looks at our profession with a different view. I would consider Mark a Thought Leader for our industry so listen in and find out why everything isn’t doom and gloom.
You can contact Mark and VitaVet at http://vitusvet.com/our-story/
Mark can also be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/markolcott
Listen in to the podcast below:
Investing the time and money in business education can be a hard pill to swallow for veterinarians and practice managers that are already too busy to do the jobs they have to do. Add to that the challenges of finding the time for one’s family, or even the time to recharge our own batteries. Thinking of spending time on business education leads to a short conversation when the subject comes up because nobody thinks they need it bad enough to go through the perceived pain of spending time on one more thing. I want to be a great spouse, an engaged parent, give back to my community, and then afterwards I just want to chill out so I can prepare for the next day. Sound familiar?
Reality versus perception is something we all face as vets. How many of our clients come to see us with their pets with the totally wrong impression about what we charge, or what the the problem is with their pet, or the need for fecal or heartworm testing. We often think that if our clients understood the health needs of their pets better than they could prevent so many diseases that bring them to us. Think of business knowledge in the same way. If we knew more about business we would be able to manage our businesses better and prevent, or minimize the difficult issues that inevitably come to haunt small business owners. To that end here is my list of the Top 5 Reasons to Pursue Business Education for Veterinarians.
Increased Professional Satisfaction
Business education must offer a payoff to a veterinarian business owner by allowing them the chance to be a better veterinarian, as well as having their business offer improved medical care. The smart business owner can manage the business so that they can afford the best medical equipment, as well as vets and staff that are highly trained in the latest veterinary care standards. That has to be the minimum outcome of a business education. We came into the profession because we wanted to be excellent veterinarians and one of our goals should always have this front and center. As a veterinary business owner having a business education will reduce the everyday stresses that distract us from our patients and clients. We can focus on delivering the best care that we can from a solid foundation of a strong business.
Better Personal Life
If we are going to spend time and money on improving our business skills we should expect that we will have the time, energy and focus for our families. With our knowledge we have less business distractions because we aren’t putting out fires everyday relating to our business. We have less stress because we aren’t worrying about finances, or HR issues (more below). We have a plan in place that our business is part of our retirement strategy. Finally, we have learned time management and we apply that to our professional and personal lives.
Harmonious Work Environment
Every person I have met that owns and operates their own business puts Human Resources in their top 2 things they hate to do with their business. Business training will give you the skills and ability to hire and manage staff better. It will help you review the job performance of your employees and pay them appropriately. Gone are the days of coughing up an annual raise for everyone while you wonder if it is enough, or too much. Finally, everyone at work is engaged and aligned with the vision of the business. They enjoy their jobs and the people they work for. Going to work can be fun.
You have a Business with a Plan
One of the outcomes of any formal business education is the ability and desire to develop a long term plan for your business. With this come the skills to assess the competitive environment, as well as the national and global economic forecasts. You won’t necessarily be an economist but you will be able to read, or view the news and be able to understand how the the changes in your country, or overseas markets will affect your business now, or in a few years. Along with this long term view will be the ability to make your business part of your retirement plans. You will have something to sell that has value and will give you a return for the hard work, sleepless nights, and depleted bank accounts that can come with any struggling business.
One of the best things from the Executive MBA I completed were the friendships I gained with fellow students. I quickly realized that I don’t have all the answers or skills required for every situation, so it’s better to have colleagues that I can use as sounding boards for ideas, or challenges. These people have complimentary styles of thinking, or perceiving a situation that can only benefit you. On the flip side you offer the same value to your classmates, now friends, because not everyone has the analytical thinking that is part of our training. A business education does not have to be at a MBA level; It can be going to conferences, or workshops. You will still be exposed to different people that can become colleagues and advisors.
The type of business education we want is very personal. It depends on the time, support and finances available, as well as availability and learning styles. There are so many options out there that can accommodate all styles of needs that picking what is best for you becomes the biggest challenge, and not should I pursue some type of business education. We know that the outcome can lead us to professional and personal health, makes work more fun, increases our wealth, and gives us a network of confidantes that we can rely on for years to come. If you should get a business education has been answered, the question is what kind is best for you. With the numerous options out there a little research will solve that question.
Oculus Insights offers a wide variety of business education for veterinary professionals. Check our website for more information – www.oculusinsights.net
The Veterinary Business School is a multi year MBA level program for veterinarians and practice managers. New classes are starting this fall in the USA, Europe and Canada. Visit www.VeterinaryBusinessSchool.com to see if this program is right for you.
I would like to introduce the author of this blog, Dr. Joop Loomans, my friend and one of my partners in Oculus Insights. Joop has led the international expansion of Oculus Insights into Europe, Australia and China so he has a unique perspective on the global veterinary profession. Here is his analysis of the profession in the European Union. You can find out more about Joop here.
The European Union is often criticized for its bureaucracy and slow responses to things happening in “the real world”. However, it does often also result in good cooperation between professions in different member states and produces useful reports. FVE, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, produced a very interesting survey in April 2015 on recent demographics, labor market and financial indicators between European Countries. In Europe 243.000 Veterinarians take care of 157 million companion animals and 342 million farm animals. The survey response involved 13.000 veterinarians from 24 participating countries representing 8 percent of all veterinarians.
Some interesting outcomes:
- Veterinary medicine in Europe is a young profession since 44% of the veterinarians are under 40. There is a near balance of male and female veterinarians changing rapidly to a female dominated profession given the high percentages of female students at the vet schools.
- 17% are working part-time and 21% have at least two different jobs, usually both within the Veterinary profession.
- Reported unemployment on average is 3% but can be as high as 31% in some countries/regions.
- In general vets are satisfied with their choice of career but only just satisfied with their earnings.
- Female veterinarians earn 28% less compared to their male colleagues.
- It is estimated that the total revenue of all the veterinary practices in these 24 countries is 11,000,000,000.
- 50% of these revenues come from clinical work, 20% from surgery, 13% from sales of medication and 6% from sales of food.
- 25% of the veterinary practices are one vet practices, 20% two vet practices.
- The average revenue for a practice with between 3 – 5 staff is € 312.000 and for 6 – 10 staff practices € 800.00.
- Veterinarians feel confident about their prospects and 34% expect their practice to grow in the next 3 years, while 61% say they had an increase in their practice growth the last 3 years.
- It is believed that more veterinarians will be needed in the future in areas of welfare, disease control, and environment and to meet the growing demand from companion animal owners.
- To meet future challenges veterinarians think they need to be able to specialize more and they need more business training.
- Veterinarians are not prepared for retirement.
There is a wealth of knowledge available through this great research. Food for thought, not only for our leaders but also for us as veterinary students, interns, associates, partners, practice owners etc. Personally, it is a wakeup call and proof that there is a big demand for business education in the wider sense for our veterinary profession. Young and old vets have to find each other in a business model that takes care of the retirement plan of the practice owner (and have this plan in place the moment you enter a practice as a partner) but that is also affordable for the incoming new partner. Currently, Corporate Equity funds in Europe are buying numerous practices to take advantage of the tide change that’s going on and the lack of business skills of close to retirement practice owners and young veterinary professionals. It is a blessing (in disguise) when you have no retirement plan, young vets do not want to buy into your practice and a company wants to buy you out. One could wonder if this is the perfect solution for our profession. What is the engagement level of owners who have sold their part in the practice, but have to stay in their practice for a few more years to keep the practice running but mentally already retired? How do you get young and bright veterinarians engaged in a practice that’s not their own, and how does a veterinary practice thrive when they are owned by a company that only wants return on their investment. How would this look if we would invest in our own business skills and stay in charge ourselves, combining our excellent practical skills as veterinarians with business insights? Oculus-Insights is ready to help!
Most veterinarians want to do an excellent job, regardless of what we are doing. We see this in our attention to detail, the pride in a surgery well done, or the research we do when we have a challenging case. Loose ends and wrong diagnoses lead to restless nights, but there are new patients the next day to redeem ourselves. If we just had veterinary medicine to deal with we can generally handle our professional life just fine.
But what happens when we are business owners, or have managerial responsibility? What do we do when we are responsible for the health of our business, as well as the health of our patients? Where is the training to take care of office drama between staff, or cash shortfalls during a slow period of the year? It sure doesn’t help us keep our focus on diagnosing and treating our patients. Do we sleep well? Are we focused on our families and personal lives? Not likely.
That was my life a few years ago during the height of the Great Recession. We have a busy veterinary practice and at the time I was one of the busiest vets, while being the managing partner. I was responsible for business development, marketing and dealing with our bankers. We had a great staff, but we would lose technicians, or receptionists for various reasons. We had a growing business in spite of the economic climate at the time, but we would have the occasional disgruntled client. Our equipment was starting to age and I had to go to our banker to discuss loans and other financing options so we could maintain our high standard of veterinary care. It was debilitating. I couldn’t focus on business and my veterinary responsibilities at the same time. I tried taking a day off from practice to just work in the office but I found that when I was seeing patients I was thinking of business issues, and during my management day I felt like I was neglecting my clients and patients. I couldn’t shut my mind off when I got home. I was constantly distracted and never felt like I was in the moment with my family. I felt like a dog chasing its tail. There had to be a solution. I had to become a better business person.
Since I hit that wall I have dedicated time to learning about business. I started out with sessions at conferences, to reading magazines and business books. Ultimately, I ended up doing an Executive MBA, but that isn’t for everyone. There is a significant time and financial commitment to that type of program.
Even before the MBA the result of this education has led to a transformation of our business, and the professional and personal lives for me, and my co-workers. Let’s discuss the business part first. Our business has continued to grow through some challenging economic times. This has allowed us to hire more vets and offer an excellent work life balance for them. We have a stable and engaged work force and we are financially stable. I feel we offer an even higher quality of patient care because we can afford excellent CE for our vets and staff. Which leads to an improvement in our professional lives. Our business has indicators in place to identify and prevent veterinary burn out, and we have programs to enhance the careers for our support staff. Overall our vets and staff are happy working for our business.
Finally, being a better business person has had a very positive impact on my personal and family life. First of all, I don’t spend as much time fretting over the business. I have good people that work with us and they help me run the company; it’s not all on my shoulders. I’m less worried about money because we are financially stable. We all know that money concerns are the cause of so much personal stress, so removing that worry is a huge relief. Finally, I have more time to devote to my family and myself. For the longest time my wife and I took the least amount of vacation in the business. Not anymore. Now we take vacations just like everyone else. I have free time in the evenings and weekends, I exercise regularly and I sleep and eat a lot better than I did before. Over all life is pretty good.
Learning to manage my business, instead of the business managing me has been one of the most positive things I have done for myself, my family and my co-workers. Like veterinary CE the learning never stops. Whether it is workshops or courses, or learning about new technologies and business tools the desire to keep learning must persist if we want the benefits to continue. Why waste time hitting your head against the wall when a little knowledge can lead to such positive changes.
If you are interested in business education options please visit our sponsor Oculus Insights at their website
I am very excited to be one of the presenters at the Equine Business Management Strategies (EBMS) program in Sydney, Australia, May 1-5 2016. In advance of the EBMS I wanted to have a chat with Dr. Joop Loomans, the founder of the program in Australia. It is the only time this year that equine veterinarians from Australia and New Zealand will have access to a program dedicated to veterinary business management.
Whether is is Pricing, Employee Engagement, increasing Practice Value, Digital Media, or Developing a Culture of Customer Service there is something for any veterinarian or practice manager. For more information check out the Equine Business Management website – http://www.equinebusinessmanagement.com/programs/australia/
I’ve been a fan of Daniel Lambert and her Snout School for training veterinarians and their staff about social media for while. She is one person who I think uses social media extremely well in her own veterinary business she manages, as well as her numerous clients. I also think she has a critical eye on how some vets are not using social media well, and in fact may be turning possible clients away.
During this podcast we discuss the good, the bad and the ugly about social media and how veterinary businesses can effectively use social media.
For more information about her 4 Week Veterinary Social Media Essential Course go to http://www.snoutschool.com/essentials.
She also has a free guide called 5 Must-Have Social Media Tools for Veterinary Hospitals at http://www.snoutschool.com/tools.
This podcast is sponsored by Oculus Insight at the Veterinary Business School – Business Education for Veterinarians and Practice Managers. For more information go to www.Veteinary
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with one of our veterinarians, Dr. Jenna Donaldson, about some of the challenges facing our profession. What started at as a casual discussion turned into a lengthy conversation on the reasons so many new equine veterinarians leave the profession within a few years after graduation. I challenged Dr. Donaldson to start a discussion on the problem with the goal of starting a conversation between new and senior vets on how we can resolve the problem. I have posted a blog from her on the subject. We are planing on following up with a podcast with her and some of her graduating peers and other vets who have been in the profession for a while. There is a solution out there and we won’t get to it unless we start talking about it collectively.
During veterinary school and my internship years, I had the privilege of meeting many new equine practitioners. Luckily for me, they were always happy to talk to an overly-chatty student, maybe in part because they remembered being in my shoes! By and large, these individuals were intelligent and hard-working. I was amazed at the vast amount of experience and ambition these individuals possessed. They were personable, respectful, and good with horses. I felt certain that the majority of them would surely be successful in equine practice. However, a number of them have chosen to move on to different areas of veterinary medicine within three to give years of graduation. This is becoming increasingly common in this industry and it is unfortunate given the amount of time and money that these individuals dedicate to their education. Many of them could also have gone on to be leaders or successful business owners in the profession. Why is this happening?
The reasons cited by practitioners who have chosen to move on from equine practice are varied and complex. Some graduates started out in a practice where mentorship and/or support was limited. This causes significant tension while climbing the steep learning curve post-internship. Most of us have extremely high expectations for ourselves, and we take failure personally. It is impossible to be perfect all the time, and new veterinarians WILL make mistakes. Having strong backup available can help prevent major errors and provide emotional support for the inevitable issues that arise. When this is lacking, the stress that develops can be overwhelming. For individuals in this situation, the tension they face can affect their view of equine practice as a whole, prompting a switch to a different area of veterinary medicine or even a new industry. This aspect is what I find most concerning, and this is where I think the profession could improve the most.
It must be acknowledged that a certain percentage of recent graduates did not fully understand the unique demands of equine practice and decided that the career was not for them. Without a doubt, equine practice demands a commitment over and above what is generally required in other areas of the profession. Some veterinarians have decided to move on to a career with a more predictable, regular schedule which would allow them more time for other life priorities (most commonly family). From a financial perspective, some recent graduates are simply unable to balance their large student loans and other financial obligations with the low starting salaries of equine practice. This group of individuals has decided to pursue another option which would help them to improve their financial situation.
In some ways, this attrition may actually be beneficial and necessary. Anecdotally, not enough jobs exist for all of the graduates who would like work in equine practice. Additionally, for some individuals, negative experiences in equine practice have affected their lives far beyond the limits of their job. Maintaining mental, physical, and emotional health can be exceptionally difficult for all veterinarians and potentially even more so for equine practitioners. Recognizing this in oneself and taking steps to prioritize one’s own health is something that is often stigmatized in this industry. I believe that individuals who have stepped away from equine medicine for this reason should be commended for their courage in making such a difficult decision.
It is worthwhile to acknowledge that this issue is extremely complex and multi-faceted. There are many stakeholders with varying viewpoints and concerns. Considering the perspectives of both recent graduates and more experienced practitioners (many of whom are practice owners) is valuable.
Recent graduates like myself have worked hard to be admitted to veterinary school, competed for internships, and fought for one of the limited positions available in equine practice. In general, they are not afraid to work hard. They acknowledge the commitment that equine practice requires. They want to be appropriately compensated, mentored, and allowed to develop their skills. They also desire sufficient time away from work to develop or maintain strong relationships, friendships, and hobbies. They want to be treated respectfully by their clients, colleagues, mentors, and practice owners.
Seasoned veterinarians have worked hard to get where they are now. They have sacrificed many things such as vacations, time with family, hobbies, etc. To them, these sacrifices are what is required to be successful and are simply part of the career. To many of them, equine practice is far more than just a job. They are often frustrated by the perceived lack of motivation of more recent graduates. They want to be recognized for their experience and their contributions to equine practice. They want to be treated respectfully by their clients, colleagues, and associates.
I would also like to discuss some potential solutions. First and foremost, we must remember that we all share the same goal. We all work to promote the wellbeing of horses of all demographics with the acknowledgement that all veterinarians are also professionals in a highly competitive service industry. A good place to begin would be to initiate an industry-wide dialogue between recent graduates and more experienced practitioners. We need to openly share viewpoints, frustrations, experiences, and expectations. This requires a willingness to treat others with respect, as well as an openness to facilitate discussion without defensiveness or hostility.
Within practices, I feel that it is essential to develop a system whereby new associates can be mentored and supported. Each graduate comes to their first associate position with a different level of experience. No one is going to be entirely prepared for everything they will have to face. It is in the best interests of the practice owner to ensure that their associate has support available so they can provide the best possible client and patient care. I am extremely grateful to know that if I have a question about a horse, I have many people I can call, including the 10 other veterinarians in my practice. Everyone is always more than willing to help me at any time of day or night. I wish that all recent graduates could have the same level of support. On an industry level, collaboration both between and within practices should be encouraged. This may include call-sharing groups, collaboration with nearby referral centres, merging single-vet practices to form a larger business, seeking ways to promote teamwork within a larger practice, etc. No specific idea will fulfill the requirements for every situation, but a willingness to interact professionally with perceived ‘competitors’ is a starting point for everyone. Additionally, practitioners could share ideas that are working well to attract/maintain the best associates, preserve mental/physical/emotional health, encourage teamwork, and promote a positive working environment.
In conclusion, attrition of recent graduates from the equine veterinary profession is a complicated issue without an easy solution. However, if the industry chooses to view this as an opportunity rather than an overwhelming challenge, there is the potential to change the way the profession is viewed in a way that will continue to make it relevant and valued in the changing dynamics of the world. We could once again be considered leaders and be respected for our professional integrity in our interactions. I strongly believe that we could be role models for the trainers, owners, and riders as well.
If you have anything to add on this topic please add a comment.
Are you interested in increasing your business skills or knowledge? The Veterinary Business School could be the solution for you. Click here to find out more about this business education program geared towards veterinarians.
I was presenting on veterinary business and pricing models at the Equine Business Management Strategies EU meeting in Paris in November, 2015. During that meeting I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Shannon Lee, an equine veterinary dentist, from Australia. Actually, I had met Shannon before because he has a very active social media presence so I felt like I already knew him before we met.
Shannon specializes in equine dentistry as a veterinarian, but also as an educator and consultant. He travels the world working with veterinarians and horses spreading the world of excellence in veterinary dentistry.
During the Paris meeting Shannon made so many brilliant comments during my presentation that I thought I need to talk to him on this podcast. We talk a lot about business in general, as well as the efforts he leads in promoting equine veterinary dentistry across the globe. You can read more about Shannon at his website http://advancedequinedentistry.com.au
During the podcast you will here what sounds like insects in the background. After we finished chatting and I was done recording I asked him what the noise was. He told me he recorded the interview while sitting in his backyard watching the sun go down. And yes those were evening insects. It sounded idyllic where he was.
You can find out more about the Equine Business Management Strategies 2016 Programs here.
Enjoy and please drop a line in the comment section.
Here is the second part of our two part podcast series on “Lessons Learned at the EBMS” seminar from September, 2015. In this episode I chat with Dr. Monty McInturff of the Tennesse Equine Hospital about his presentation of the “Power of We”. Dr. McInturff has a dedicated focus on teamwork and it is the basis of everything he does when managing his business. Next we meet Whitney Hischier, of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Whitney, did an excellent presentation of business strategy and how any business can use simple tools to re-imagine the opportunities in the business. Most of the veterinarians came out of this session with a better idea of how they can flip their business upside down and discover growth. Finally, Dr. Jessica Trichel, of Live Oak Bank, spent a morning discussing the role of banks in business development. In this podcast Jessica spends some time explaining how veterinary businesses can work with banks to finance their growth opportunities.
As I listen back to my conversations with the speakers from the EBMS I have struck again about the quality of business education that is now available to veterinarians. I am writing this while I wait for my flight to the EBMS Paris meeting so expect more great discussions on veterinary business education in the very near future.
Thanks for listening and please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.
In September of this year I had the honour of presenting a day long workshop on “Developing a Customer Focused Business for Veterinarians” at the 10th annual Equine Business Management Strategies program. I have attended 7 of these events over the years and it was instrumental in developing my interest in veterinary business management. The lineup of presenters over the years have been stellar, with a mix of business school professors and practitioners with a strong business background. To be asked present by Dr. Bob Magnus, the founder of this program, was a highlight of my public speaking career.
Along with the pleasure of presenting was participating in the engaging and engaging presentations by the other presenters. I thought this information was too good to waste, so I thought I would interview all of the speakers to share the highlights of their presentations. Their are two parts to this series of interviews. Join me in episode one as I chat with Dr. Magnus about the EBMS program and the history of this phenomenal business education event. I also chat with Shana Carroll, of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University as we review her presentation on “Leaders as Communicators”.
If you have a chance check out the EBMS website and see the program they are offering in Paris this fall, China in February 2016, and Australia in May 2016. Its exciting to have been part of a global initiative for educating equine veterinarians.
If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to leave them below. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates on the world of business as it applies to veterinary medicine.
On August 4 I had the pleasure of presenting at the AAEP Summer Focus meeting. The theme of the meeting was equine ambulatory practice. The program chair, Carrie Niederman, developed a great program that mixed clinic material with relevant business subjects. I gave 3 business presentations and one of them was how to use technology to make life easier as a vet. I have uploaded it to Slideshare so follow this link for Technology for Veterinarians have a look at it.
If you have a software or App or piece of hardware that you like to use please mention it in the comment section.
Although we are just days away from the arrival of Dressage horses for the first event of the Pan Am Games we find ourselves looking a week ahead as we begin planning for the most challenging week, the 3 Day Event competition. After a week of the dressage horses under our belts I am sure we will be able to handle the care and needs of an additional 50 horses that will be on site, so I am putting a plan in place to prepare the vet team for the cross country event. The 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games face a similar challenge that many countries that have hosted the Pan Am Games, or World Equestrian Games, and that is the Cross Country phase is at a different location than where the dressage and show jumping events will be contested. Our first challenge then is assembling an offsite vet treating area with all of our equipment and medical supplies. We will also need about 15 vets and the same number of technicians and students to handle veterinary care on course, in the D Box, and after cross country while we wait to go back to main stabling area at the Caledon Equestrian Park.
On the Tuesday before Cross Country we will have an emergency preparedness session where we will gather the veterinary team, the jump judges, the medical team, horse ambulances and numerous other volunteers and run through possible scenarios that we may encounter on course. We can’t cover every potential situation but we can train the teams how to think and respond collectively to whatever we may face.
To help instill a sense of the uncertainties we will face we will use a group of cyclists who will ride around the course with veterinary and medical scenarios on cards. The judges, vets and medical team will then respond to the situation written on the card in random places on course. They used this system at the Winnipeg Pan Am Games in 1999 and it worked very well.
The challenges are different for each support group. For example, the human medical team might not have any experience with horses. How will they respond if a rider has fallen and the horse is in close proximity? Its one thing to be near a calm horse in a stall, but it is another to work around an excited athlete. This reminds me of a classmate from veterinary college. He was the Canadian triathlete champion. We knew him in school to be very mild mannered, relaxed and calm; he made the Dali Lama look excited. Yet when I say him being interviewed after completing the Canadian Championship he was so intense that he would have made The Rock back off. Adreneline changes every athlete so we will work with the medical team on how to work around an excited horse.
Meanwhile, the veterinarians have the opposing challenge in that we are used to dealing with horses in distress, but how do we work with the medical team as they treat a rider and we are examining the horse. We don’t want to get in the way of each other and we need to focus on the situation we have are facing and not be distracted by the other team.
The key to our preparation will be how well we communicate with each other. Most of our prep day will be ensuring we use the radios correctly, that we use proper terminology that everyone understands, and that we accurately describe a situation. The good news is that we will have several veterinarians that are very experienced with cross country events and they will be paired with experienced technicians.
My goal for the equestrian events remains the same: I want all of the vet team to be mind numbingly bored because if we are bored we have healthy horses. The one event that has the most potential to kick us into gear is 3 Day Eventing. With the right preparation we will be ready to deal with whatever we encounter. Hopefully, our training is for naught and we spend the day enjoying the amazing horse and rider pairs conquer a challenging course.
In less than two weeks the first dressage horses will be arriving at the Caledon Equestrian Park to participate in the pan am Games and the list of things to do to prepare for them continues to grow. As the veterinarian services manager I am responsible for coordinating all of the veterinary care for the competing horses so this has required working with those responsible for bringing the horses to Canada, preparing bio security protocols, arranging for the many veterinary team volunteers and ordering the right medication, supplies and equipment to support the teams and their horses.
I have been very pleased by the generosity of 20 equine veterinarians and 18 veterinary technicians who are willing to volunteer their time to help. The Games have highlighted the close relationships veterinarians in Ontario have with each other. I hate to admit that the competitive nature of veterinary practice can lower the professionalism of some vets in other areas of North America but Ontario has a very tight group of vets that support each other. We also have 15 students from all across Canada who are using the games as part of their 3rd year externships. We had numerous clients and vet colleagues volunteering to billet the students but one student who lives in Ontario volunteered the nearby family cottage to host all of the students. Fortunately, they won’t all be there at once, but what a great experience for students to meet other students from the other vet colleges. One of this things I wanted to do when I was selected VSG was to offer as many voluntary opportunities as possible for students. When the games were in Winnipeg in 1999 Dr. McKee and I were fortunate to be student volunteers and the exposure to high level competition and the contacts we made with other vets were very useful as we developed our practice. We both wanted to make sure we gave back to students and we are fortunate that we are able to do so.
In the coming two weeks I will be arranging to have veterinary equipment set up in our portable vet treatment area before the final security sweep on July 5. There are numerous equipment suppliers that have generously loaned us equipment so we can offer full medical support to the equine athletes. We will have a full diagnostic laboratory supplied by Idexx for onsite blood and urine analysis along with expedited analysis of samples that need to be seen at their main laboratory in Markham. They are also loaning us their latest digital X-ray units so we can offer on site digital imaging along with a digital ultrasound supplied by Sonosite. This is all equipment and services we use in our vet practice so we are comfortable offering them to the competitors.
I’m also putting together a large order of medications and supplies to treat whatever situation arises. If we have a major problem or disease outbreak we will be using the Ontario Veterinary College as our referral hospital, but we hope we will be able to handle most situations on site.
Next week I’ll discuss the preparations that are going on for the cross country phase of three day eventing. This is when we will need the most support from our veterinary team so that we can cover all areas of the course. We will also have a temporary veterinary treating area at the Will o Wind site of the cross country event so we are having to juggle many responsibilities during eventing week. Stay tuned for more on this next week.
I had the pleasure of presenting the valedictorian address to my class mates at our recent graduation from the Richard Ivey School of Business EMBA program on June 5, 2015. The speech might not have much to do with veterinary business on the surface, but since a number of people have asked me about the value of an EMBA I thought I would publish this speech for those who are interested. It also points out my bias towards a classroom EMBA, rather than an online version. The price is significantly higher with a class EMBA than the other, but the value of learning with other people is worth far more than the dollar value. Like veterinary medicine business involves other people. Its one thing to learn how to diagnose feline diabetes, but the real skill and art of vet med is being able to communicate this to the cat owner and have them trust the diagnosis and comply with treatment recommendations. The same thing apples with business. If you can’t lead or work with other people you won’t get far.
In any case I hope you enjoy the read. I got a very satisfying reaction from my classmates. They laughed when I hoped they would and I heard there were many moist eyes towards the end. I also added footnotes to give context to the inside jokes and mentions of people. Let me know what you think in the comment section.
My name is Mike Pownall. I am thankful for the honour and privilege of being selected as our class valedictorian. It is especially meaningful because unlike a typical valedictorian this one was not selected based on the highest grade in the class. Rather I was selected by my classmates to represent them as we celebrate the finish of our EMBA. It is one of the great honours of my life. I hope that by the time I finish, our guests will have a better appreciation of the incredible people in our class, what our 17 month EMBA journey was like, and hopefully my fellow classmates can take pride and satisfaction in our accomplishment.
Unlike most stories I am going to start at the end, because knowing how we ended up helps us appreciate where we started. During our last class Professor Tony Frost[i] asked each of us to come to the front of the room and answer a simple yet hard to verbalize question – If I take away nothing else from the Ivey EMBA experience, I will always take away this….. and for the next 2 hours we all got up in the front of the class and answered that question as best we could.
It was one of the highlights of the program for me because after 17 months we were close enough and comfortable enough with each other to share our personal and intimate answers. There were laughs, and there were tears, and several times there was an emotional hush in the room as we told our stories.
As a class we learned things about each other that many of us had only shared with a handful of other classmates. I am sure I am like many in that my respect and appreciation grew even more for my classmates as I understood the individual challenges we all took to get here.
From that session there were two themes that came through from all of the stories
The first was personal transformation. 51 individuals learned a lot about themselves over the 17 months and unexpectedly changed how they view themselves, their relationship with other people and the world around them. They realized that they can be more successful when they work with the complimentary strengths and skills of others. They don’t have to do it all themselves.
The second was the profound appreciation we all had for our families and friends for the support they gave us through the program. Several of our classmates mentioned that their career aspirations have been scaled back because of how much they valued their family after all of the time away from them.
So how did we get here, different people from when we started 17 months ago? I think it helps to go back to where we at the beginning in August 2013 to the Pre-EMBA accounting class hosted by Murray “a wine label is not just a wine label” Bryant[ii]. Accounting? Excel? For many of us these were not words in our vocabularies. We approached that day like it was our first day of kindergarten. That was how nervous we were.
Personally, after reading the bios of my new classmates I was blown away by their accomplishments and careers. There was no way I belonged here. One moment in particular resonated with me. We were discussing the Caribbean Café case and trying to project the profit over the next several years of a young internet café company in Jamaica. We had to figure out the NPV, or net present value of the projected earnings? NPV, what is that? Murray “rugby is a metaphor for everything in life” Bryant[iii] asked if anyone had figured it out and Deborah raised her hand and walked us through the Excel formula she used in her calculations. I was blown away. I had never met a person who could work a spreadsheet like that. It was magic. I knew then that we were going to learn a lot in this program.
Lets jump ahead 2 weeks to our first week at Spencer. Professor Peter Bell, who taught us analytics[iv], explained to us that there were two kinds of people in the world; Quants and poets. Quants were those who used data in the analysis of everything; their world was easily figured out by numbers and formulas. And then, he said with what seemed like pity, there were poets, who had feelings and saw the world as uncertain and needed to explore the feelings of themselves and their co-workers so everyone could move on together. Quants were easily recognized because whenever we had a spreadsheet exercise in class they would stop playing with their phones in boredom, they would sit up straight, and you could see the faint crack of a smile as they navigated around a spreadsheet.
Sammy was so happy he would even stop watching football highlights, while Renee would shake her head in disapproval.
Many of us in the class were poets and although we didn’t understand Quants we were happy that there was one of them in each of our Term1 learning groups. And we were thrilled that they were willing to help us incompetents learn Excel. Thank you Omar and Michael Benvenuti for organizing after hour sessions for the class. Your selflessness was a sign of things to come.
The first couple of days at Spencer were intense. One person just upped and left the program on the second day. That night, many people were shell shocked, some in tears, others ready to quit because of the challenges of analytics and accounting. But it soon became clear that the quants were challenged too. They were facing situations in Leadership and Marketing that weren’t explained with a formula. For example, we learned in our marketing class with Professor Mark “give me an answer now” Vandenbosch[v] that it is ok to begin an answer with “it depends”. Nothing is black and white.
How else did the changes within each of us begin? How did 51 Type A personalities, a group of
aids to Federal ministers,
small business owners,
(and this is just what Ajay[vi] has done so far in life) veterinarians,
experts in heavy manufacturing,
and even mustard learn to work together? Easy. Break them up into groups of 6 and have them pretend they are survivors of a plane crash in the wilderness of Labrador and have them answer – Stay and wait for help, or walk to civilization?
Welcome to the first lesson in our first learning team.
Regardless of the answer we all learned that what we thought we knew to be right might be wrong, so it might be time to listen to and work with each other to get to the best possible solution. The road to personal transformation had begun.
The EMBA is a great equalizer. No matter how smart we are, how poised we are at work, how well we dress, or how successful we are the EMBA program is guaranteed to make each of us feel like an absolute idiot at one time or another. How many times did you raise your hand with the certainty that you knew the answer that would break open the case, guaranteed to get you 95% in class participation, and the everlasting admiration and respect from Simon, Lyn, or Tony[vii] and the only thing that came out of your mouth appeared to be absolute gibberish? We all had those moments, but we felt comfortable enough with each other to try again. We became each other’s biggest cheerleaders, because we wanted each other to succeed.
Our educational voyage concluded with our trip to India where we saw a collision of extremes; exciting entrepreneurship and smiles on the faces of child street beggars, gut wrenching poverty and over the top opulence, women dressed in rich vibrant colours and grey smoke from coal fires over Agra. Our eyes were opened to the opportunities and collective ambitions of economic and social progress in India. Thank you Michael Rouse for introducing us to this memorable opportunity and thank you to Matt for organizing our meeting with the Canadian High Commissioner in India.
Meanwhile we weren’t just changing personally, we were also changing as business people. I knew that the EMBA program had done what is was supposed to do when during one of our company meetings in India our team looked at each other and realized we were able to add value to an international company. We weren’t terrified of the challenges, or doubting our ability like we were 17 months before; we had become business people with the skills, knowledge, awareness and confidence to add value wherever we chose to apply it.
So now we are done. Truly done. It first hit me one Sunday in February when I woke up and I realized I had nothing to do that day. Nothing. No cases to read, no projects or tests to write. My wife, Melissa, and I discussed what we could do that day and we had no idea. We had to learn what normal people do with their free time?
And now that we are done I like to think back on the EMBA and tease myself with some questions.
For example, when I am home in the evening, or during a weekend I sometimes ask myself could I now spend 20-30 hours a week working on the EMBA. Absolutely not. Could you? I don’t know how we did it for the 17 months.
I think of the things we never want to see or experience again: Murray “ I know more about your business than you do” Bryant questioning us about the companies we work for, being Vandenbosched, demand curves[viii], 5 hour take home exams, demand curves, studying inside on a beautiful day, supply curves, sitting in class at Spencer on a holiday Monday………
Then I think of the things we want to see and experience again and all I can think of are the learning and intellectual challenges that came with all of the above. It was tough but our minds were so alive.
I used to think that the EMBA gave the best return to small business owners like myself, because we could apply what we learned right away., or we could use our businesses for projects. By the way thank you to all of my learning teams; our business is doing great because of your help. I felt that those who worked in larger corporations would have to wait until they moved up the corporate ladder to directly apply their knowledge.
I have since come to appreciate that my classmates in larger companies or organizations are in the best position to fulfill the Ivey mission of being business leaders who think globally, act strategically and contribute to their communities.
As a small business owner I can directly impact a small group of people but that can be magnified by the hundreds, thousands and 10s of thousands as some of you progress in your careers. Your ability to make significant and positive contributions to your business, your employees, your industry, your community and society are profound. Don’t forget our lessons, our cases, and the clarity of how things should be that was so fresh in our minds just a few short months ago. You have a gift of knowledge and skills that will keep on giving.
In closing I would like to thank some of the people who contributed so much to our Ivey experience.
Melanie and Karim for organizing our social activities. We were not always the easiest people to please, but you did an exceptional job helping us blow off steam.
Thank you to Anusha for putting together our yearbook. She has been working tirelessly the past few weeks to get it done for today.
Thank you to our charity committee of Sayma, Anusha, Melanie, Ritu, Marcy, Selwyn and Sonal. They helped the class raise almost $10000 for Asha Education Canada[ix], a charity whose goal is “to catalyze socio-economic change in India through education of underprivileged children.”
Melanie also arranged to bring $1500 and 10 suitcases full of clothes, shoes, school supplies and toiletries to the Missionaries of Charity orphanage, in Agra[x], founded by Mother Theresa. To some, visiting the children in the orphanage was the highlight of their India trip.
Charity doesn’t have to stop now. I am sure we can think of something we can do as a class, or as part of the Ivey community to continue our interest in helping others. I have some ideas so anyone who is interested let me know. Lets see what we can come up with.
I would like to thank the Ivey Staff and our professors. Brenda, and later Sarah Ferguson made sure our lvey lives ran as well as they did. It was Sarah’s first time managing a trip overseas, but she ran as tight a ship in India as she does here. She even stayed a couple of days over in Bangalore to make sure a very sick Andarz got home ok. I have never seen her in a bad mood.
Thank you also to Liz Snelgrove[xi] who knew what we were going through and for being a guide and supporter through the difficulties of juggling work, family and Ivey.
To Murray, Peter, Simon, Lyn, Tony the other professors, thank you for challenging and inspiring us. Thank you for the business lessons that often became life lessons. It was a pleasure to be taught by you. I hope you appreciate how each of you has influenced all of us.
Without the support of our families, friends and co-workers we couldn’t have survived the grind of the program. I often think they had the hardest job in the EMBA, particularly those with young children. While we had the support and companionship of our classmates as we navigated the learning challenges and deadlines of the program our families handled all that we didn’t have time for.
Near the end all we cared about was finishing the program so we could go back to our lives with our families and friends. Our appreciation for you has never been stronger.
Finally to the EMBA class of winter 2015,
Thank you to our individual learning team members. You had the biggest influence on us during our Ivey experience. Thank for your friendship and support.
On a personal note, my admiration for all of you will continue to grow. I look forward to seeing your successes in life and in business. I have learned so much from every one of you and you have made me a better person.
I cannot thank you enough.
I would like to end with a quote from Peter Drucker, one of the most influential business thinkers of the 20th century.
“Pick the future as against the past; Focus on opportunity rather than on problem; Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon; and Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do.”
I would like to raise a toast. To all of you. We did it!!
[i] Tony Frost taught us “Global Environment of Business”, a macroeconomic course that was part of the overall 3rd term theme of global business.
[ii] Murray Bryant taught us that the obvious problem a business may have is usually related to another element within the business. Although he taught us Managerial Accounting, it wasn’t just accounting; we used more numbers in Marketing than we did in this course. Murray trained us to open our minds to the internal and external forces at paly within a company. The nickname comes from a case where we were determining the value of buying a new wine label machine for a winery. The calculations justified the purchase, but when we discovered that a good wine label can help a winery stand out from the crowd on the shelf we realized that the company couldn’t do without the new labeller.
[iii] Murray loves rugby and his native New Zealand All Blacks. He often used the structure of that team as metaphors in how a business should be run. His examples were right on target.
[iv] This was the course I feared the most and had one of my lowest marks, but it was the course I might have learned the most from in the EMBA. It raised my awareness of the power of data to influence decisions within a company. Our own business has benefited greatly from this course.
[v] If you answered a question from Mark he would keep pushing you with other questions. We used to joke that we would “Tap out” like a MMA fighter when we ran out of answers. It was a great way for us to learn to respond logically and comprehensibly under pressure.
[vi] Ajay Gulati would regale us with his life experiences in different industries and countries. It became a running joke in the class that whenever Ajay would answer a question he would involve some career in had in an exotic country. He was one of the most impressive people to me in our class for what he has done with his life from very humble beginnings.
[vii] 3 other professors that were attending the dinner.
Simon Parker taught us Entrepreneurship. I hear his voice every time I am tossing around business ideas with friends and colleagues.
Lyn Purdy taught us Leading and Change Management. Both are essential soft skills and Lyn was an excellent professor. She is also Director of the EMBA program.
Tony Frost, as mentioned was our professor for Global Environment of Business.
[viii] AS part of Tony’s GEOB class we would work on drawing out demand and supply curves in response to certain pressures in the economy. Essential learning to understand the national and global economies. Fascinating stuff.
[xi] Liz is the Director of EMBA Recruitment and Program Services. She graduated from the program a couple of years back so was valuable in guiding and supporting us as we navigated through the program.
It was a year ago this week that I started my EMBA journey. During that period we have completed two terms, with one more to go, starting next week. When I reflect back on the year I often think how the experience and education has changed how I deal with my business. Once I get past the horrible anxiety I remember having during the first week I realize that there have been three positive changes in the way I lead and run our business.
Collaboration – When one is studying with gifted people from all walks of life you quickly realize that you are pretty good at a couple of things, but you are much better when work with others with complimentary skills. For example, I love reading data analysis of situations. This probably comes from my veterinary training in that I want proof that a medication or treatment works. Although I find the output of data analysis fascinating, don’t ask me to be the person to mine the data. My Excel skills are much improved since last year, but I am a toddler compared to some of the people in my class that can look at a set of data sources and compile meaningful information from that. Similarly, many of my black and white thinking classmates have a hard time with the abstract concepts in Leadership or Entrepreneurship, since these courses require soft skills. All of us are learning to work in the others world, but we are unlikely going to master those skills that aren’t inherent in a person. That is why complimentary skills will lead to better results. This is similar in the veterinary profession where most equine vets don’t like to admit they can’t do it all, while small animal vets are more collaborative. The later group is more willing to refer to specialists more, and recognize when they are in the deep end, while equine vets are willing to try anything once. As I look at for business opportunities post-EMBA, I am thinking of who would I want to work with that can round out my deficiencies? That thinking was not somewhere I would go a year ago. Until recently, when I had an idea, good or bad, I would pursue it relentlessly until I succeeded, or I crashed and burned. I’m tired of failures and so I’m going to maximize my chances of succeeding by working with excellent people with skills I don’t have.
Veterinary businesses are like any other business….
Discipline – One of my challenges in running our business prior to the EMBA was finishing or continuing what I started. I would get excited about a new idea, and the project, or task, I was working on would languish until I remembered it in the future, or it just dropped off my radar completely. I’m embarrassed about that as I write this, but project management was one of the reasons why I thought I needed a MBA. Over the past year I have appreciated the value of following through on projects I have started in many ways. My co-workers are more motivated and engaged in my projects. Before, they would wonder if my latest idea was going to happen. They would question why they should commit to following through if I wasn’t going to. It had to be very demoralizing to them having their work be discarded or ignored. This also ties into the benefits of having the discipline to be thorough in communicating with co-workers and clients. Now there are fewer unanswered questions that require follow up emails of phone calls for clarifications. Finally, a key focus of my discipline has been the analysis and review of various financial and key performance indicators in our business. For example, we have prepared and adhered to a monthly budget. If the best predictor of future activity is prior trends I am able to predict with a fair bit of accuracy our yearly financial performance. I am also tracking the activity of our vets and certain categories of medical procedures. If we are measuring things we can respond in a timely manner when performance is not up to expectation. Typically most veterinary business owners review financials or veterinary activity after their accountants have completed the year-end review. By that time it is already 3-4 months into the new year and too late to make any significant changes for that year. Veterinary businesses are like any other business and if I’m not on top of what we are doing I am unable to respond to any challenges or opportunities until it is too late.
To keep me on track I have adopted a rule that I have no more than 3 ongoing projects ongoing at once. Until I finish 1 of the 3 I don’t start another project. Sometimes the timing of a project needs to be delayed because of outside factors and so I take the project off my top 3 list and return to it when appropriate.
Confidence – My new found appreciation for collaboration and disciplined behaviour have contributed to a new found confidence and calmness in my day to day engagement with co-workers, and management of our veterinary business. Collaboration means that I don’t have to do everything myself. Partners and co-workers with the skills I lack give our business a better chance to succeed. At the same time, the results from a disciplined and through approach to communication, project management and business analysis gives comfort that future plans will work out. It is easier to have confidence about the future of our business based upon being prepared and understanding how all of the pieces of business fit together, rather than crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. Being proactive is more reassuring than being reactive. This doesn’t mean I won’t screw up in the future, but it should be less likely, and costly.
Reflecting back on how I have improved as a business leader I wonder how anything ever got done before. I think a lot of wasted effort was used to get to where we ended up. There were too many two steps forward and one or two steps back instead of steady forward progress. The amount of wasted opportunity and efforts makes me nauseous thinking about it.
Another way to measure my progress is that after a year of the EMBA I can safely say that the expense of the program has paid for itself already. Between money saved, smarter business decisions and improved revenue I have recouped the investment.
Starting next week we will be learning about business on an international scale. At first glance I don’t see how this will impact our very local business, but who knows what can happen. The program has surprised me many times already in what I can apply to our business, so why should this last term be any different?
I’ll keep you posted.
I would live to read your comments, so please make sure you drop a line. Thanks
The following is an article I wrote for Partners in Practice, the digital veterinary business management magazine sponsored by Merck Animal Health. The article spawned an interesting email discussion between myself and a retired veterinary technician about the limited prospects facing most technicians, regardless if they are registered or not. Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunities in companion animal hospitals. This is likely a combination of work flow behind closed doors, and the type of dental and surgical procedures performed in a companion animal hospital. Unless a tech is working for a surgical equine practice there doesn’t seem to be many opportunities for them. It is the rare vet who lets a technician give iv injections, or take x-rays on a farm call. In any case, I thought I would give some of my opinions on other options that are available for technicians in an equine veterinary practice.
As an aside, the photo above is of all of our technicians. We are very fortunate to work with such amazing, dedicated and consistently curious people. Their desire to do more as technicians allows us to involve them even more in the care and treatment of our patients. We are a better business for doing so. Without them our vets couldn’t do their jobs as well as they do.
On with the article.
Every veterinary practice has investments that have not worked out as planned. Have they really made a profit on a gastroscope or PRP machine? Sure, taking a DR xray is convenient and clients love the immediacy of the results, but are the vets taking enough x-rays in a year to justify the leasing and maintenance fees? One of the most underutilized investments in an equine veterinary practice are the veterinary technicians. Unfortunately, the typical scenario for many equine vet technicians is a wasted education and boredom if all they do is hold legs for injections or jog horses. As a result, there is a high turnover of technicians as they get frustrated by their low wages, and no career advancement.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Many equine veterinary practices are taking their cues from their small animal colleagues and utilizing their technicians for many non-dvm roles by expanding the job descriptions for their technicians. These forward thinking businesses are finding that they have happier and more loyal clients and staff, and they are actually saving money by paying their techs more than they have in the past. Here’s how.
Technicians are ideal for educating clients about health care issues during appointments, or as part of a formal client education seminar. While the vet is at the truck preparing treatment medications, or writing the bill, a technician can be explaining treatments or recommended after care instructions. Presentations to clients don’t have to be the sole domain of vets either. Technicians can present on topics like bandaging, nutrition or rehab, for example.
Client Follow Ups
It is the rare client who doesn’t appreciate a follow up call from the veterinary practice inquiring how their horse is doing after a procedure, or answering client questions about a recent appointment. A well-trained tech can make these calls freeing up the vets time for more appointments. If the client asks a medical question beyond the scope of the tech they can arrange a time for a follow up call from the vet. In the meantime the bulk of the interactions between clients and techs will not require further input from a vet.
If a tech likes to write or take photographs they can be utilized to supply content for the various social media platforms the vet practice are involved with. Whether it be a blog, or posting to Facebook or Instagram techs are well positioned to take the photo of the healing wound, or the new foal, or write about deworming protocols, or even a behind the scenes look at the role techs play in the practice. What seems mundane to most vets is very interesting to their clients. After all, most horse owners at one time considered becoming a vet. Any information a practice can supply on the activities in a vet practice is always appreciated.
While the vet and tech drive from farm to farm there is often ample time for a technician to be writing up invoices for previous calls. Initially, the vet might need to dictate many of the invoice items, but over time many techs become very familiar with the ways of the vets they are working with and can often prepare an invoice and a basic medical record on their own. The vet may want to add some notes to the medical record, but that takes far less time than creating a complete invoice. An interesting benefit of this is that unlike vets, techs are less likely to offer discounts to clients.
A little extra training for your technicians to expand their roles offers so many advantages to an equine veterinary practice. Clients appreciate the many touch points that a tech can offer, which gives vets have more time to focus on what they do best, diagnosing and treating horses. Clients that feel appreciated are less likely to move to another vet practice and are more compliant with patient care. It’s far easier to keep current clients than replace them. There is another financial benefit since an employee happy in their job is less likely to quit. A rule of thumb is that it costs a years salary to train a new hire and regain the lost knowledge of the departed staff. If a vet practice is replacing disgruntled techs every year how much money are they losing? It’s certainly worth paying existing staff a bit more to help show appreciation.
Veterinary technicians are often an underappreciated opportunity for business growth and cost savings. By expanding technicians roles many veterinary practices are discovering that their vets are busier seeing more horses, clients are happier and techs are more satisfied in their jobs. Who wouldn’t want all of this for their business?
My EMBA is incredibly time consuming. Last week I lifted my head from the cases and projects they I have been working on and realized that winter is over and it’s all of a sudden really nice outside. If I count the modules we have done I find that our class is just past the midpoint of the program! Summer is almost here, but first I have two more 4-day class modules and 5 more projects before this term is done. Then we have the summer off before we start up again in September. Summer will give us a bit of a breather so that many of my classmates and I will have time wandering what the heck we’re going to do when this is all over.
The intensity of the EMBA is a lot like my workload in vet school; I never seem to get ahead of it and I always wish I could understand a subject just a little better. Vet school had a balance between studies and my personal life, while the EMBA has this, plus the addition of a full time job. Some of my classmates are working 60-80 hours a week at their jobs, while trying to find the time to do their school work and scratch out a couple hours in the week to see their family. All of us are struggling to give attention to work, school and family, yet it seems that many of us, are undergoing some personal changes that are creeping in from the periphery and starting to distract us when we really don’t have the time to deal with it. We all started the program set in our careers, perhaps looking at other options, but not really sure what is out there. Hopefully, the EMBA would give us some skills that would help get us a promotion, or at least help us do our current job better. That was my goal. I wanted to learn more business skills that would help me run our veterinary businesses better. That was then. And now? Many of my close friends in the program have reverted to their teenage selves as they ask what do I want to do when I grow up (get out of this program)?
How are these changes affecting me? A few months ago I attended the American Association of Equine Practitioners annual convention in Nashville. Usually, I look forward to this for months. I can’t wait to see friends, check out new medical equipment and indulge in CE. Attending the convention this year was a shock to my system and it has only been recently until I have figured out why. I flew to the convention the morning after a 4-day EMBA module in downtown Toronto. This means that I’m staying at a hotel and going to class right smack in the middle of the bustling financial district. I’m wearing a suit and tie and working with driven classmates from a wide variety of industries and businesses. Four days of 8-hour classes, group work before and after classes and yes, social activities, is draining. But when you are there it is all encompassing and you get into a groove. After the module I went home, repacked my suitcase and flew into Nashville the following morning. I arrived at the convention center and I saw thousands of horse vets wearing the uniform of horses. Depending where they are from in North America this could mean Wranglers and cowboy boots to khakis and polo shirts. I greeted old friends and we started talking about equine veterinary medicine, mutual friends, their own businesses and I’m struggling. Really struggling. What was once so comfortable to me is making me very anxious. I’m having a hard time adjusting from talking about contribution margins, writing a marketing exam and fretting over an upcoming Information Technology project to the easy going relaxed manner of equine vets. Some of them are my closest friends that I have shared the ups and downs of our respective businesses through the recession, and people I have called, or have called me for advice on veterinary cases. What the heck am I doing here?
It wasn’t until about 3 months later, when I was talking to another vet who is also a grad of my EMBA program about the situation, that I realized I was probably having an identity crisis. What the heck? Am I 16 again filled with angst wondering who I was in the world? Not quite, but when I examine the situation I realize that I came into the program with a distinct professional life as a successful veterinarian and businessman. Since the EMBA I have been exposed to so many new business skills and colleagues that appear so different from where I came from. I feel that I am being pulled hard between my current life and one of other professional opportunities. From a predictable and comfortable life with people I admire and trust as my closest friends, I have come to this new land of ever expanding horizons.
I am comforted that many of my EMBA colleagues are feeling the same way. I have had many conversations with people that are going through what I am. Classmates are seriously contemplating career changes, transferring to other countries or just waiting for a opportunity that feels right. One of my Term 2 workgroup teammates, Sonal, put it perfectly when she described her own questioning as “what will some of us do with all of this, and how can we add value to our lives and those of others?”. The last part is huge in many of our lives in that until this EMBA at Ivey we have been focused on our careers and businesses and improving our lot in life. Now, like every great education should do, our minds have been opened to opportunities and how the power of our knowledge can do a lot more for ourselves, and the world around us.
I love veterinary medicine. I think it is one of the most honorable professions in the world in that we can help care for those who cannot speak for themselves. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the relief on a horse owners face when I have been able to successfully treat their suffering horse, although, between school and running the business I don’t get to see this enough. As a business owner I’m excited thinking about the positive changes that are happening to our business because of this education. Yet, I am also chomping at the bit exploring other business opportunities that are now opening up before me. The last time I felt like this was in my final year of vet school. I knew I was going to be a horse vet, yet I knew there was more than that to come. I was right. One year later my wife and I had opened our own vet practice that continues to grow. So what is next? What else is out there beyond running our business with more skill and insight than I did before, or is that enough? Can I use my education to help other vets and the profession, branch into other industries, work with classmates in other businesses, or donate my time to a charity? I never thought when I started the EMBA that I would be facing these decisions. I thought I was done with these career choices years ago. I’m glad I was wrong. What a wonderful position to be in.
I would love to hear your comments so please don’t be shy.
We can all agree that equine veterinary practice is very hard work. What makes it even tougher after the long hours, fractious horses, challenging cases, and miles on the road, is when we don’t get paid for our services. Despite this, many equine vets resist implementing an accounts receivable strategy. Whether it is because we are afraid of losing clients or a lack of appreciation of the value of our services, we hate asking for money. Our excuse is, “that’s just the way equine practice has always been, and no horse owning clients will ever pay at time of service”. At the same time, we are expected to pay our bills within 30 days and yet most of our clients take 60 days or more to pay us. What happens when that gap gets so wide? We have to borrow money from the bank so we can pay our bills. Something is wrong with that picture.
3 years ago our practice was finding that it was taking us over 60 days on average to collect from our clients. We pride ourselves on paying our bills on time so we were in a position of having to use whatever profits we had or borrow from the bank to pay our bills because our clients had not paid us. We had to do something.
We instituted a simple to follow, but very effective system, that has resulted in the majority of clients paying at time of service, while a few remaining excellent clients retain the privilege of paying within 30 days. Here is how we did it:
Average Days AR
This is the formula we used to determine that our average days AR was over 60 days!!
It tells us on average how long it takes to collect payment on the services we sell. The formula we use is
accounts receivable total.
(sales for previous year/365
Ideally we would like this number to be less that 30 since we have to pay our supplier bills in 30 days. We want to get paid before our bills are due. The closer to zero the better.
Once we had developed this metric, we split our clients into three groups: new clients, chronically late payers, and excellent clients who always paid within 30 days. We realized that the best way to avoid AR problems was to not let customers pay on credit. With that in mind, we developed a policy that all new clients were to pay at time of service, with no exception. Our customer service receptionists would email or fax a new client form to every new client that detailed our credit policy. It asked the new client to give us a credit card to keep on file and to sign their agreement to the policy. 99% of all new clients did this without batting an eye. Those who refused always had an excuse like “I don’t have a credit card”. Our attitude was, if Visa or Mastercard won’t offer you credit, why should we? We wouldn’t say this of course, but we told these people that our vets would expect to be paid with a cheque or cash at the appointment. Right away we are on the right track to reduce our average days AR by getting paid at the time of service.
The slow payers were sent a letter informing them of the new policy, and that because they were historically late on their accounts we now expected them to pay at time of service. We enclosed our credit policy and asked for a credit card on file and a signed acceptance of our new policy. I made sure to be at the office for a few days after sending these letters out expecting a huge backlash from certain clients. Was I every surprised when we didn’t get a single phone call! Well we thought, wait until we call them for a dentistry appointment and ask for a credit card for the first time. Not a peep!
The last group were the great clients. We also sent them a letter explaining our new policy, but let them know that since they have always been reliable we weren’t going to insult them by expecting them to pay at the time of service. However, if they strayed even once past 45 days they would automatically become a COD client. Again, not a whimper from anyone about our new terms
The end result was that we did not receive one client complaint or threat to move to another practice, and at the end of the year we actually had an increase in both sales and new clients. We may have quietly lost a few who did not agree with our new policy, but it appears they were ones we could stand to lose and they were quickly replaced by those who were willing to pay for veterinary services.
It has been 3 years since we instituted our new credit terms and there have been a few things we learned along the way.
- We must be diligent with the policy. Once we slack off even a little bit we see our Ave Days AR creep up a little bit.
- If the vets are paid on production, only pay commission on the clients invoices that have paid. This way vets won’t work for just anyone to increase their sales, while at the same time the office must be vigilant about not sending them to work on bad paying clients. Not all practice management softwares can run a report that gives you this information, so you may want to investigate your own software system to see if you can benefit from this feature.
- Detail what the method of payment will be for every appointment on a day sheet for each vet. This lets the vet know whether the clients will have a credit card on file, or will be paying by cheque cheque or they are a client that is allowed credit terms.
- Have a very safe system to store credit card information. Most practice software systems can do this. Some veterinarians have had good luck using smartphone apps like Square, which allows you to swipe a credit card using your smartphone. In this manner, a veterinarian can take a payment at the appointment even when on the road.
Of course with every system there are exceptions to the rule. For example, this system can be challenging to implement in a racetrack or breeding practice. The business model of those types of practice depend on numerous part-owners, and trainers that attempt to control the process. At the same time, our clientele has many absent owners in show horse barns and boarding stables but we have not had an issue with acceptance of our system.
Before we instituted our new AR system our average days AR was in the 60 day range. It was taking us twice as long to collect our money as it was to pay our bills. Now we are less than 30 days and have been for 3 years. Our cash flow is much better because money owed to us is acutally in our hands, and not in the pockets of our clients. Our vets are much happier knowing they are working for clients that are paying when they are supposed to. The customer service representatives spend most of their time making appointments instead of chasing after money. The main thing is that we haven’t a lost a client because of our credit policy, except those few who likely wouldn’t want to pay anyhow.
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As I approach the last module for the 1st term of my EMBA I have been reflecting on what has been the most challenging part of the program. At the same time I have been comparing what I thought would be difficult to what the reality has been.
As a veterinarian I have been fortunate that I have some advantages dealing with the program. Long days studying are the norm in vet school, and so are the multiple exams/ assignments that are due within a couple days of each other. The other advantage I have is that as a veterinarian I am trained to exam situations diagnostically. Fortunately, this is helpful when reading a case analysis of a company – what is the history, what are the symptoms, what do the financials (blood test results) tell us, what are the options to fix the problem and what is the prognosis? A business case is very similar to a presenting patient. At the same time I don’t know if I could have been any more pathetic working on Excel spreadsheets when I started. All of my classmates came in with their own strengths and weaknesses and it has been interesting to see how we are changing.
When I came into the program Analytics and, to a lesser degree, Managerial Accounting terrified me. I actually had sleepless nights before the course worrying about these courses. Leadership, Marketing and Information Systems seemed to be within my comfort range. What I found about Analytics was that it is very much like the Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry and Physics that I took in my Pre-Vet courses; there is only 1 answer and results are directionally related to study effort. It is black and white. I’m not saying it is easy but there are formulas and principles that can be learned and applied. The hard part is looking at data and wondering what story it can tell about a business.
Managerial Accounting and Information Systems have elements of absolutism paired with intangibles that require many of the skills we learned in Leadership for a successful outcome. I found that when we look at businesses in trouble in this course their financials tell a story that require leadership skills to influence organizational, employee motivation and behaviour. Hmm, seems like there may even be some marketing involved.
Information Systems was an eye opener as well, since like Accounting, it is a mix of data, technology, organizational behaviour mixed with leadership skills so that implementation of an It project will be successful.
Marketing blew me away. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the subject, but we dealt with areas like supply chain partners, pricing and business models that have opened my eyes to how marketing is involved in so many layers within a business. We did more accounting in Marketing than we did in the Accounting course! We actually had to prove that the marketing efforts for a business had to make money for the company! Facebook Page Likes are not enough!
Leadership is the course that I went into feeling pretty confident about. I have studied a lot of leadership for my business and some of the best CE I have done was with this subject. Surprisingly, It has been the most difficult course, because one assignment required us to use ourselves as the patient and work with key co-workers and classmates to perform a soul searching and sometimes gut wrenching self analysis. There is no black and white when you examine why you deal with situations and people in a certain way. There is no formula to figure out the profit and loss of a person. You just know there are some areas that seem to work pretty good and in another areas, not so much? We all know the saying be the person your dog thinks you are? Well, if I had a dog and it saw how I dealt with certain things it would probably run away. I want to write about this course more in another blog, because I see a failing in leadership throughout our profession on so many levels. Let’s not feel picked upon though, since leadership is lacking in pretty well every industry.
What the courses have done so far is give me a solid background for what comes next. I certainly look at my business differently than I did 4 months ago, I now look at it as an organization with different elements that are easily influenced by the activities of each other. If I don’t have the finances right it means I need to do some data analysis to find out where the shortfalls are coming from. If my staff is not engaged with what we are trying to do it doesn’t matter how great our vets are because people will be less likely to use us, and if we can’t use marketing to improve our financial position why are we doing it? Here is a teaser on that. My Analytics group just completed an analysis of what variables contribute to a Facebook post that has extensive reach and engagement. Stay tuned because I can’t give the results until I submit the paper and get it assessed. This will be another blog too.
If I had to summarize how I have changed approaching the last module of term 1 is that I now analyze situations in greater detail and use all the information that is supplied to come up with a solution or a decision. The other big difference is the questions I now ask about a situation to better understand it. I have a bigger toolbox of knowledge and skills to help me. It is no different than the quality of questions and diagnostic abilities of a veterinarian with training and experience.
I have finished 4 modules of 15. Right now the Term 3 students are in India for their international trip. That will be my class in 12 months. What will be my perspective on things then? How will I run my veterinary business in a years time?
I can’t wait to find out.
P.S. I’m planning to write over the next few weeks a bit more on the specific courses I took this term and how I have applied what I learned to my business. If there is anything in particular you would like to know make sure you leave a comment. Thanks
We have worked with several veterinary practices with our consulting business, Digital Pulse Consulting, over the past 4 years on social media and we have come to realize that the main obstacles to the successful implementation of a veterinary social media presence are……..veterinarians.
Time and time again when we look at veterinary businesses that can’t seem to get it online the underlying factor are the veterinarians that either own the hospital or those working for it. There are 3 reasons why veterinarians can fail at social media. One of the 3 is easy to deal with but when 2 or 3 are at play it is a significant challenge.
Veterinarians are too old
Not all vets are too old, but recent AVMA figures tell us that 32% of the veterinary workforce is over the age of 55. When we look at practice owners in North America the majority are middle age or older and they are men. The simple truth is that older guys don’t get social media. I should know because I am one of them. When Facebook first came entered the mainstream I had to force myself to use it since I could see it was going to be a significant communication channel. I’m not a psychologist so I don’t know why that is but there is a lot of surveys that show that woman are more likely to use social media than men, and that older men are less likely to use it.
The challenge then is if an older male veterinary practice owner doesn’t sees the value of social media in their life it is harder for them to advocate the use of it in their business. It is getting easier to get buy in now from these older vets, since like it or not, social media is here to stay and they are starting to use it.
Veterinarians are too busy
Veterinarians are busy. True. And the longer they are in practice the busier they are. I don’t understand this argument from vets because they often have support staff that answers the phone or assists with procedures so why should social media be any different. One of my favorite veterinary groups to present to are technicians since they see how they can be part of the process.
This doesn’t mean that a practice owner should hand over all social media responsibilities to the youngest person on staff. This person running the social media efforts for a business is the one responsible for presenting and managing it’s image and reputation. The practice owner has to make sure what is posted on Facebook or Twitter is in line with the goals of the business. More on this next week.
Veterinarians are scientists, not artists.
Social media scares many vets because there is so much uncertainty involved with it. Vets rarely improvise during a procedure. You won’t see them try a new anesthetic protocol on a whim, yet so much of the fun and success we see with social media is trying new things. Lets also not forget the uncertainty that is inherent in interacting with people on line. Bad things rarely happen, but if your frame of reference is the consequences of a procedure or operation gone wrong you tend to be a little shy about jumping into the unknown.
All is not lost for veterinarians though. As I mentioned, they are starting to use it more and more, and those who want a successful client list will learn to love it. I am seeing less and less of the cross-armed bored, sometimes hostile face of the older vet looking at me as if I’m from Mars. When I see this my inner voice wants to say “how do you like being a dinosaur?’ or “do you still use a rotary dial phone?”, but I realize change is hard for some people and my job is to get these resistors to get on board. Nothing is more satisfying than meeting up with a vet who was dead set against Facebook telling me that they are now having a blast with it.
What kind of pushback are you getting in your veterinary business about social media?
Is it just from vets or are others digging in their heels?
What do you do to get them on board?
Let us know in the comment section. Thanks
Photo courtesy of http://www.ramonaspainting.com
I have been fortunate to work with many veterinary practices and their social media efforts. To that end I created a company called Digital Pulse Consulting to advise veterinarians and others in the animal health care industries on marketing and other business challenges. As part of our service to our clients we often send them How-Tos on certain subjects. I thought I would share them on this blog as well. Here is our first one. It is written by Heather McPherson who works with our clients and their social media efforts. We hope you enjoy.
We know that we need to have a social media presence for our veterinary practice but finding the time to have an engaging presence all of the time can be a challenge. Try this time saving tip to schedule your Facebook posts. This will help you during busy times, over the weekends or if you find out your posts get more action at a certain time and you are unavailable to post at that time!
Step 1) Create your post as you normally would with your content, whether it is a photo or link or something else entirely. Once your post is perfect and ready to go, click on the clock in the bottom left hand corner of the post.
Step 2) This will open up a calendar for you to pick the date and time that you would like your post to be published.
Step 3) Once you have chosen your time, click on the Schedule button in the bottom right hand corner of your post.
Step 4) Once your post has been scheduled you will be prompted with a message telling you so. Voila success!
Step 5) If you would like to see a snap shot of your scheduled post you can visit your activity log. This can be found in your Admin panel in the edit page drop down.
We hope you have found this useful. Let us know if you have any other questions about social media and we will do our best to answer them.
I’m not one for New Year Resolutions. Every year-end I feel like a New Years Scrooge because I don’t create personal resolutions for the coming year. I have blogged about resolutions for our business, but lately I have fallen off doing those too.
I’ve been wondering why I feel this way over the past couple of days and I have come to realize that what I end up doing this time of year is reflecting on the last 12 months. I do this to see how I have done with the little changes that have affected me over the period. I think of life as a series of continuous lessons that happen when you least expect it. My reflections focus on those lessons and what I have done to learn from them.
When it comes to our business my reflections focus on making sure that we are continuing to be the kind of business we set out to be when we first started. We are going into our 12th year of business. We have grown from a husband and wife team to 3 locations with 11 vets and about 20 support staff depending on the season. It is easy to lose track of what was important to my wife, Melissa, and I when we started our veterinary practice. I vividly remember getting our first order of supplies and medications from our distributor and wondering if anyone was ever going to use us.
There were 3 things that my wife and I felt were critical in our new business.
An unrelenting focus on our client’s and their relationship with their horse(s).
Prior to opening the business we had spent a lot of time as students and in our internships with experienced vets who either treated horses like livestock, or gave the impression that the client was lucky to have them as their vet.
We saw how frustrated horse owners were by the lack acknowledgement of the bond they had with their horses. We saw how they were dying to be educated on horse health care issues. We saw how they wanted some respect from their vets.
When we opened our business we made a point to spend time with clients talking about their horses and calling the day after an appointment to see if everything was ok. We demonstrated that we cared about the clients and their horses
We also began sending out client newsletters with health care tips and soon started client education seminars. We have continued and added to this with our strong presence on social media and a robust web site.
The biggest way we were able to show respect to our clients was to show up on time for an appointment. If we were going to be more than 15 minutes late we would call to let them know. We still get compliments on our punctuality.
Making sure vets can have a work like balance
When my wife and I were in vet school we realized that the days of a new vet wanting to work 80+ hours 7 days a week were a thing of the past. In spite of this, many vets bemoaned the lack of work ethic in these new grads. Sounded like sour grapes or jealousy to us. We vowed that when we hired vets we would make sure that they worked reasonable hours and were able to share on call. We wanted to challenge the saying that if you like horses it is better to be a small animal vet so you will have the time to do so.
I knew we were on the right path when one weekend my wife and I were on call and our three associates spent the weekend riding or showing their horses…in the summer.
Giving staff an opportunity to grow.
During our internships we met some excellent technicians and receptionists. They were integral to the ongoing success of the practice…and they were paid horrible wages. We realized that if they didn’t have a husband or wife with a “real” job they would be living below the poverty level. On top of that there were few opportunities to develop skills or new roles within the business. That didn’t seem right to us so we were determined to pay our non-vets competitive or above wages and to grow our business so that there were opportunities for growth.
About 3 or 4 years ago I had a light bulb moment when I realized that if we want to offer the best customer care our staff has to love being at work. How can they deliver amazing client care when they didn’t care about our business? Since then we have put an intense focus on making sure we have an excellent work environment based on mutual respect, growth opportunities and profit sharing. This is still a work in progress but I love the fact that our staff at all of our locations gets along well and has several good laughs in the day. One of my favorite compliments from a client was a remark that she loves when our vets come to the farm because they and the techs seem to be having a great time.
I figure if we are maintaining or improving on what we set out to do with out business there is no need for a grand proclamation for the coming year. It’s not as if I am going to wait until the end of the year to make changes for the following year. We have the foundation of what makes our business special so we will use that to guide our business throughout the year.
It is a good idea though to look back on the year to make sure we are keeping true to what we want to be as a business.
I would like to thank you for reading and listening to this blog over the year. I appreciate all of the feedback I get either in person or on the comments page. If there is anything you would like me to discuss in 2014 let me know.
Happy New Year everyone. May you be healthy, happy and prosperous
Readers of my blog over the past few months have read how my EMBA is transforming me as a business leader. After each module I find myself a little bit smarter, a lot more humble, and eager for the next learning challenge. Going back to school has helped me beyond my expectations. I have wondered is it just me, or would other small business owners appreciate it as much as I do.
I asked Liz Snelgrove, director of EMBA recruitment and Program Services of the Ivey School of Business to join me in a discussion on advanced business education and why small business owners should consider it. I also asked for her perspectives on the challenges facing small and large businesses. Liz brings a very broad perspective on the subject since she has a chance to meet EMBA business students from all industries and all sizes.
I welcome your comments so please don’t be shy.
Earlier this month, I was working out at the gym with my personal trainer when we noticed a young woman in a corner by herself doing all kinds of athletic moves. There seemed to be a pattern to what she was doing, as if she was in a group fitness class, but she was the only one there. Curiosity got the better of us so we moved closer to her to continue my workout. When we got there we noticed that she was working out to a video on her iPad. There I was, being trained by a real person, and she was using a digital coach. I turned to my trainer and asked him if he was prepared to compete against digital trainers. On my way home from the gym I asked myself the same question.
Later that day I came across an announcement from Google promoting their new service called Google “Helpouts”. Here is an excerpt from the announcement on Mashable.com. “Google on Tuesday announced Helpouts, a new tool that connects users via live video chat with experts who can help them with questions about home improvement, cooking or even medical advice”. Did you notice the last part? I replaced medical with veterinary and all of a sudden I had a chill down my spine.
Right away I remembered reading about a vet in Texas who was suspended for dispensing specific medical advice online (you can read about that here), but I worried that if Google is involved then we are facing a formidable challenge. Google is not just a search engine anymore, and they have the financial resources to fight lawsuits. They are competing against Amazon, Apple and even Walmart for their share of the consumer dollar, so if they think they can make money selling personal advice they will find a way to do so.
Thankfully, the next morning I had a grip on my worries. I compared our profession with personal training and thought of the 3 benefits I get from a personal trainer, and why I pay for them.
- They motivate. When I don’t think I can do another rep of an exercise they encourage you to get another 2 or 3 reps.
- They correct bad form. It is easy to get sloppy and perform an exercise with bad form risking injury. A trainer can identify when this is happening and can correct technique.
- They can create a personalized program. Not every workout program is for everyone. I have some chronic injuries from my past life as a farrier, so my PT has created a program that goes easy on some parts of my body. Also, they mix it up so we aren’t doing the same thing week after week.
There are benefits I can get from working out with a real person with education and expertise, and veterinary medicine is no different. The question remains though, am I giving similar benefits to my clients, or am I making it easy for them to try an online solution?
The veterinary profession has been focusing a lot lately on customer service and communicating the value of veterinary expertise, to compete against other vets or even big box stores. Now we have to think of it as part of our plan to compete against online sources that are actively pursuing clients. It isn’t like someone is just using Google to search out information, now people can talk to real people or find how to videos. Check this one out from WebMD.com. Yes MD.
What is your digital strategy for your veterinary business? This is something to seriously consider, because if Google thinks there is money to make in this area then I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon or others try to join the party. We are already seeing this with all of the major pharmacy chains selling pet prescriptions.
I’m not discouraged, because like my personal trainer, if our business can give our clients the confidence that they are getting the best personalized care for their pets or horses from us, then they will likely pay for our services. We have a relationship with the animal, We can palpate sore limbs or abdomens, we can x-ray or ultrasound, we can run lab tests, and we can prescribe appropriate medications. When I look at it this way we have to really screw up to give our clients the impression that what we offer is no different than what is online. If this happens, then shame on us for giving them an excuse to look elsewhere.
We shouldn’t let this happen.
Please share what you are doing to compete against internet advice sites.
“There are known knowns.
These are the things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns.
That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns.
There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
Donald Rumsfeld – Former USA Secretary of Defence
We were finishing our last class of our EMBA module this past weekend. We had 2 hours to go after 3.5 days of 8-hour classes and we were beat. During the month between modules we had a comprehensive group marketing paper due, along with a self-reflective and gut wrenching leadership paper. This was in addition to the 12 or so cases we had to analyze. Between work, family and school, I don’t think there was anyone in the class that had any energy left, yet when our professor flashed a slide with this quote I sat up and a gnawing question I couldn’t formulate the past 4 days came clear – what are my unknown unknowns?
As a small business owner I have not been exposed to the corporate “things” that large enterprises do. We have at the most 35 people in our business, and like most veterinarians, we run a very lean organization that is run very similar to other veterinary businesses. If a vet from Nebraska came to work with us tomorrow they wouldn’t feel out of place. Some of my business school classmates work in multi-billion dollar organizations with tens of thousands of employees; our annual sales are a rounding error to these behemoths. Fortunately, I am being exposed to the working lives of my classmates and there are things I have had heard of, but knew nothing about, and there are things I am learning that large corporations do that I had no idea ever existed. Sometimes I feel like someone from the Sahara and the instructors, or my classmates, are trying to describe snow to me. Unless you experience it how can you really know what it is?
Now that I am getting to know the systems and processes that large and medium sized organizations use to run their businesses more effectively I am beginning to appreciate how “scale” can be the enemy of a small business. Emphasis is on can be. We often hear how a company, like Walmart, has the scale to buy products cheaper than a competitor, or that a company can use their scale to develop a broad promotional plan. This could include television, radio, newspapers and social media, while most small businesses are trying to find the time to keep up with their Facebook page.
Some of the areas that frighten me as a small business owner are how companies are using data to monitor client behavior and buying habits, along with the integrated information systems they use to manage their internal processes, and their relationships with suppliers and customers. Not every large corporation is using these systems, but the smart ones are. When a Walmart can send a client shopping in a store a message on their phone about a sale in that actual store based on their previous buying behavior how can a vet convince someone to buy a prescription dog food ? How can we compete when a large manufacturer has an integrated information system with their supplier that can notify the supplier when they are low on stock and the supplier, in turn, can notify the factory when they are shipping new product. How can I compete against this efficiency when we rely on hand counting our pharmacy every couple of days to let us know if we have enough 2” x 2” gauze squares in stock?
I don’t know of one veterinarian that isn’t worried that the future of vet medicine lies with corporations. The business model of a single veterinarian building a practice might become a thing of the past, especially with the huge student debt facing new grads. It seems that these larger entities have the “scale” to compete and it is only a matter of time before they buy up all the independent vet businesses. I am not entirely convinced this will happen, because the one unknown thing that I didn’t know that I didn’t know is how many of these large companies struggle at implementing many of these new technologies. Integrating an enterprise wide information system isn’t as easy as turning on your new iPad with a couple of screens of super easy instructions. Instead, it is expensive, complex and involves clear communication between employees from the front line to the executive suites, the system supplier and other members of an IT department. Add in the need for strong leadership to drive this challenging process and the odds against success begin stacking up. Heck, I can’t get everyone in my organization to read an email I sent, imagine how hard it is when you have thousands of people?
…. we need to learn what we don’t know.
I could go back and forth comparing the strengths and weaknesses of large enterprises versus small businesses but there is a larger and more important point to make and that is small business owners need to make the effort to learn what they don’t know. I get it, another thing to add to the list of things to do, but even if you focus on one area at a time you will be ahead of the game. For example, the next time you are reading the newspaper, or surfing the news online, try to read one article on Big Data. Do this for the next 2 weeks and you should have a basic idea of what this means. After this look for items on Customer Relation Management Systems (CRMs), Cloud Computing or anything on Amazon. Once you become familiar with these new terms and businesses it will open up other possibilities of discovery. Finally, ask yourself how these new things you know relate to your business. Having fewer unknowns in our lives gives us the knowledge to make better choices about our business.
I would love it if you could share what you now know that you didn’t know before in the comment section. Thank you
Two months in to my EMBA at Ivey I am constantly reminded of how humbling the learning experience is. On my first day back in class earlier this month I was chatting with a classmate who has a senior position in a marketing company. I asked her how does she feel about everything so far and she gave the one word that exemplifies how I feel as well – humbled. All 51 of my fellow students are all very good at what they do in their jobs, yet we walk out of class here shaking our heads hoping that one day everything we learn will sink in. For example, I’m fairly confident about my abilities to perform a pre-purchase examination on a horse or diagnose a lameness. I’m dealing with a living animal that can’t talk so there are limitations to my abilities, but day in and day out I get the job done fairly well. Now ask me to prepare a spreadsheet model that creates a formula that will allow someone to bid on a project and be the winner 66% of the time and I might as well be learning a new language. I can identify certain letters and punctuation, but I have little idea how it works together. This is humbling, but at least I knew nothing about spreadsheet modeling before I came into the program. Any knowledge gained is a huge win and when I did learn how to do this example I felt pretty good about myself. Until the next day.
What is particularly humbling are the areas where I felt I came into the program with a fair amount of knowledge and experience. During the Marketing and Leadership classes I can’t help but think, whew, at least I found an area that I don’t have to be so stressed about. Not so fast. A recent incident drove this lesson home. In our leadership classes we are often put into situations where our small learning groups work through scenarios that result in good coaching or communication lessons. All elements that a good leader should have. I have always felt that I am pretty good at this “soft” side of business. When I work with my teams at work, or lead a staff meeting everyone seems engaged with me. Other than my writing is a mess, I seem to do a good job communicating with people. During one of these exercises we were going down a path that didn’t seem right to me. The exercise was built on a previous one we have done, so the inclination was to pick up from where we left off. I just knew that there was another point to what we were doing. I kept voicing that and to my frustration nobody in my group was listening. One of my team members had the same realization, but instead of doing what I was doing, with no one changing what they were doing, he went to the professor and started asking questions about our goal in the exercise. As he began asking better questions the professor revealed little by little what the outcome of the exercise should be. He didn’t come right out and tell us because that would defeat the point he was trying to make. With the information my team member was able to capture we shifted what we were doing and came up with the desired solution.
How was this humbling? I learned that unless I have something concrete to offer with good reasoning behind it I can not expect people to change their behavior because I think they should. In our exercise I was right, but I totally failed in convincing my group to change our course of action. Up until them I was fairly smug in my ability to lead people with my vision. It works at our company most of the time, unless I am way off base. Then it hit me. My co-workers follow my lead because I am the head of the company. I sign the pay cheques! As long as what I want is fairly reasonable they will go along with me. What an eye opener. It seems very obvious that was the case as I write this, but when one is in the midst of a situation, and has been for a long time, the actions of others are rarely questioned. I’ll use the word again. I was humbled, and I also felt that I have let me co-workers down all this time. Instead of giving direction with real reasons behind my thoughts I have often been happy to say “lets do this” and they of course attempt to do what I ask. How much wasted effort has gone into poorly thought out plans or how often have I confused them with sudden shifts in strategy? Now, it isn’t all doom and gloom, but I have not given my team the proper leadership they deserve. What is also galling is the laziness of my thinking. Instead of preparing a thoughtful plan I skipped that step and went with the easy part. It is much easier to say I want to go there, rather than we should go there and this is why and how we are going to do it. I wouldn’t plan on performing a dental procedure without knowing why and how I am doing it. That is part of what makes a trained professional
There is never a better lesson than the one that is personal. As a business leader and veterinarian I have become complacent in my role as leader. What this incident reinforced in me is that sometimes you have to get in a vey uncomfortable situation to learn the best lessons. The medical errors I have made still linger. When I do certain procedures the mistake I have made in the past doing the same thing are front and center. I have been in certain situations with the business side of things too, but those lessons seem to come less often. Probably because I have rarely pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. I won’t be that complacent again.
Here’s to being very, very uncomfortable. It’s humbling, but worth it when a lesson can be learned.
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As I write this on Canadian Thanksgiving I am thankful for all of the amazing people I have been able to meet and chat with to make these podcasts. Everyone has helped make me a better business person and manager of my own veterinary businesses.
One of these people is Mike Falconer. I have been following Mike on Twitter, and on his blog for a few years now and I have enjoyed his take on the veterinary industry and business in general. We have communicated a couple of times through Twitter, or blog comments but that is it. Recently, Mike posted a blog on Yelp that made me nod my head. A week or so later he posted a blog on the website for the practice he manages where he shared the details of their customer surveys. That transparency floored me. I knew I had to get Mike on the podcast real soon.
I hope you enjoy our conversation. Mike is a thoughtful observer of our industry and puts words into action, which is easier said then done.
Here’s how you can reach Mike.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Lisa Kivett-Ioppolo at the 2013 AAEP Business Education Meeting in Charlotte, this past August. Lisa has an excellent story of starting her new equine practice this spring and how she got a full book of clients in no time at all. Her and I discuss how she used customer service, social media, and identifying client needs in her market to contribute to her new success. Regardless of what kind of veterinarian you are, if you want to start your own practice, or jump-start your established business Lisa has some excellent tips for you.
Don’t forget to sign up for email notifications of new blogs and podcasts.
Here are some links to help you reach Dr. Kivett-Ioppolo
As we get older and set in our veterinary careers there seems to be fewer and fewer opportunities to interact with people outside of our profession or industry. When we go to CE events they are filled with other vets, or vendors of veterinary medical equipment and supplies. This familiarity is great for social situations and for learning about veterinary issues, but more and more I have found that in the business sections of conferences that it is vets, or people that work with vets, talking to vets and vet staff about vet businesses. I am sure this is a similar scenario in other industries as well in that we are comfortable with people like ourselves who share similar experiences and communicate in a similar language. The question I sometimes ask is if all we are doing is talking to people like ourselves are we learning anything new?
Jump ahead to the first day in my EMBA and we find out that we have all been assigned to groups of 6 for the term. Before we meet our fellow group members we hear our professors stating that “your 5 other group members are your new best friends” and “get ready to meet some new lifelong friends”. Those are some pretty lofty words for these people I haven’t yet met. Are we in cult? When do we start wearing funky robes and call each other by secret names? Still, I’m intrigued. I have read the bios for my classmates and I am very humbled by the depth and diversity of experiences. Starting a veterinary business with my wife doesn’t seem that impressive in the grand scheme of things.
Our group finally meets and in the group is an emergency room physician, a banker and others with experience in IT, the insurance industry, nursing homes sales and supplies, and a horse vet. I thought back to the last time I was in an assigned group and that was during vet college for junior surgery in 3rd year. At that time we were assigned alphabetically and because of our age the only experiences we had were from our university backgrounds. We didn’t have complimentary skills that would enhance each other’s learning. At Ivey, we are told that our teams are carefully thought out so that our work and life skills would enhance our learning. We all bring different backgrounds and skill sets to the table with the goal that we will help each other gain in the areas where individuals are lacking. Sounds good, since I am here to improve as a business leader.
So how is it working out so far? Simply put, I have a great group. Beyond the usual things that help make a group work well like respect, tolerance and patience we just get along very well. These are not people I would have met socially or have had any other reason to work with, but now that I am I couldn’t be happier for the experiences we are having. The influence of my colleagues is having an effect on me too. As we work over cases as a group I hear the questions and insights they have that would not have entered my mind. In one exercise, each of the groups had to work on a real world scenario of what we would do if we were on a plane that crash-landed on a lake in Northern Canada. We all survived but we were left with 3 minutes to grab necessary supplies from a sinking plane. Sounds ridiculous at first, but it taught us to evaluate all of the options and consider why we were making the decisions we did. 5 of us went into the meeting set on one approach and within 5 minutes the other group member convinced us to take an alternative decision. A different perspective based on experiences and education allowed us to see other options. It struck us all that this group work thing had its advantages.
I have come to appreciate other benefits of our group work
For one thing, I am starting to get the hang of Excel and, believe it or not, I look forward to the cases that require me to find a solution working with a spreadsheet. The other is that I am looking at real world situations with a different perspective. When I look at my own business I am asking different questions and options than I used to. I find that I am able to drill down to the core issues that we face while having a holistic view of our company as it relates to other industries, and the economy as a whole. What encourages me is that this is only after the first of 15 months. Right now I have enough knowledge to be dangerous, since I know that I am just scratching the surface of what I will ultimately learn. In other words, I wouldn’t do a cat spay on my own after doing one in my junior surgery class. I need a lot more guidance and experience with other things, like anesthesia, to make sure that my knowledge is comprehensive.
The good news is that EMBA program doesn’t appear to be a cult. We don’t have secret handshakes or passwords in order to enter a classroom, but we are learning to appreciate the value each of us brings to the program. Sadly, we don’t see enough of this in veterinary medicine. We tend to be suspicious of outsiders with the default phrase that “our profession is different”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would challenge any veterinarian, or business owner for that matter, to seek opportunities to learn from other businesses or professionals in other industries. I am sure they will learn as much from you as you do from them. I know I am benefitting from this experience. So is my business.
We have been fortunate in our various equine and companion animal hospitals to have had some excellent summer students working for us over the years. For the past two summers we had 3 students in the same class at the Ontario Veterinary College. In this podcast I speak with Michelle DaCosta, Marisa Markey and Samantha Molson. All are entering 3rd year. I have known Michelle and Samantha for two years and close to five for Marisa so I have noticed a change in them over time in their knowledge of the veterinary profession, and what it will be like in 2 years when they graduate. It’s a pretty sobering discussion for them, yet all of them have excellent ideas on how vet colleges can better prepare students for the profession, and what the three of them will do to seek employment.
What do you get when you put a gold mining executive, 12 bankers, 2 physicians, a retailer in the Canadian Arctic, a politician’s media director, 2 HR specialists, a comptroller for an oil company, a realtor, an international project developer, 3 entrepreneurs, 2 veterinarians, a financial advisor, an insurance agent, an event planner and a builder, and many more in a room? This is just a sampling of the many different careers of the people in my EMBA class. On top of that, more than half the class of 53 was born outside of Canada and have become, or are trying to become, Canadian citizens. Did you notice that there are two veterinarians in my class? Having one is unusual, so it is certainly a sign of our times that two vets want to be better at running their veterinary businesses.
I was reading the bios of my class mates a couple of days before the semester started and I have to admit I was very intimidated. I’m a vet who treats horses after all!! What was I thinking getting involved with this? Look at the resumes of these people. They work in successful large corporations. I’m being eaten by flies at a farm as I write this. Some travel internationally to conduct business, while I drive a dusty SUV and some days I remove my clothes at the door because they stink so much. Thankfully, I don’t have as many of those days since I stopped shoeing horses. My wife kept reminding me of all the incredible things we have accomplished in the short period of time we have had our business, but my thoughts kept returning to one thing. Since I received my textbooks and first assignments due during our first week of residence I have been fretting about spreadsheet modeling in EXCEL!!! Have you had dreams after graduating from vet college where you are back in school, and failing an exam, or missing too many classes? Well I am having them again, only this time I was looking at a blank spreadsheet and had no idea what to enter. I was certain to be the dumbest person in my class. It was a given.
“trying to be better business people”
Imagine my surprise that when I showed up at the pre-EMBA tutorial, for those needing extra help with accounting, and almost the whole class was there. Not only that, but we all felt the same. That was my first eye opening moment of my EMBA; everyone here is getting their MBA because they are trying to be better business people. The other thing I realized is that every one of their businesses face daily challenges from competitors, other industries or our changing times…..just like our industry.
This sense of comfort lasted exactly one week until I started the official EMBA. To enhance our learning we are broken into groups of 6 each term to work on cases and assignments together. Next insight was that better business decisions are made with input from multiple sources and to that end our group is comprised of people with distinct strengths and weaknesses. Our first assignment required spreadsheet modeling to help us get an answer to a case. One of my team members can work a spreadsheet like I can treat a horse with colic. I have years of experience and have been exposed to many presenting variations of horses suffering from this so I am fairly comfortable when dealing with this. Unfortunately, when I saw the polished spreadsheet he presented to the group I felt so defeated. After the hours and hours of work that I spent on mine, what I had looked like a stick drawing next to a fine piece of art. I went to bed that night after 14 hours of class and group work as dejected as I felt in years. I was not alone in that feeling. Over drinks the next night everyone at my table felt the same way about their own efforts. That was my first inkling that I was going to be all right. They weren’t going to accept us into a class only to have us all crash and burn.
Out of this turmoil I learned 3 things that resonated with me.
Everyone has something to learn about business.
I meet so many people at veterinary business CE events that are intimidated by their lack of business knowledge. I realize that there is no reason for this since it is very likely that most of the people at the meeting know just as much (or little) as you do.
Every business, even Apple, is facing a significant challenge.
I don’t think there is an industry that is not looking over their shoulder wondering what is around the next corner that is going to rock them back on their heels. Businesses facing this can either try to be on the offensive and try to get a bigger piece of the business pie or retrench and be on the defensive. Most vet practices default to the latter. How is that working out you?
Use the resources around you to make better business decision
Even if you are a solo practice owner there is no reason to rely solely on yourself as your business advisor. Involve other people whether they are accountants, lawyers, family members or colleagues to bounce off ideas or to solicit ideas. Someone outside of your situation might have an insight that you have never thought of that might be the ticket to help your business.
I survived my first week of the EMBA with more knowledge than I expected. I am cautious, though, with my few new business smarts. Just because I know a dog’s tooth needs to be removed doesn’t mean I’m up to extracting it yet. I need some more skills and foundation knowledge just like I need several more classes before I’m about to make plan for the future of our business. In the meantime, I’m reading more cases, trying to improve my Excel skills and meet with my learning group.
I don’t regret my decision to take an EMBA. I’m enjoying the ride so far.
We’ll talk soon.
As someone who loves the business of veterinary medicine I am often challenged with making the best business decisions for our group of veterinary practices. I am trained as a veterinarian and have the background, structure and knowledge that allow me to take a history, perform an exam, make a diagnosis with, or without, various modalities and prescribe a treatment plan. Unfortunately, I don’t have that confidence or resources when I am faced with a problem in my business. Increasingly, this has become more of a concern as we face the same challenges to our business as most other veterinary business owners do; oversupply of vets, pressure to cut prices, heavy student debt that prevents practice ownership and a decreasing pet and horse population. With the complex business decisions I am facing I am starting to resemble the lay practitioners who with a little knowledge think they can do anything involving an animal. I’m thinking of the dog groomer that now cleans teeth (poorly) and as is now expressing anal glands. I am making business decisions with some self taught business smarts, but I worry that I am missing something, or not making the best decisions. I have been getting more and more tired of being in that situation so I have decided to take action by enrolling in an Executive MBA program, at the Ivey School of Business, at the University of Western Ontario. Yes, I am again a university student, at least until January 2015.
What is a 50 yr old vet with what looks like a successful business doing that for? The answer is easy. I have already listed the challenges facing our profession and along with them there are still opportunities. I’m a glass is half full and getting fuller kind of person and I want to make the most of the opportunities out there. I also feel a responsibility to create and maintain a strong business for years to come everyone that works for us.
“Business is business….veterinarians are not an exception”
I love this profession and it bothers me greatly that new and recent grads are facing a bleak future, while older practitioners are discouraged and dismayed by what has become of it. If I can be even a little bit smarter about creating smart new opportunities for our veterinary clinics and I can give some guidance or inspiration for others interested in their business I hope I can give back to our profession. To that end I will be focusing my blog over the next 17 months on what I am learning in my EMBA and how it applies to the veterinary profession. There is one thing I am sure of and that although we think that our businesses are special, because we are vets, they aren’t. Business is business. For example, we are facing a shrinking pet and horse population and an oversupply of vets, and in the same vein newspapers, magazines, the record industry, cable tv, etc are all seeing their business models disrupted and are having to find ways to survive. I have learned so much about our business by looking at other industries and know that what I learn in business school will be very applicable to how we run our veterinary businesses. I’m hoping to post at least a couple of times a week as well as post a podcast every 2 weeks.
In my next post I will give an overview of the program, my class and how it all works and some of the early light bulb moments I have had.
Hang on, this should get interesting.
Every once in a while I come across veterinarians who are approaching veterinary medicine with a different enough slant that makes me want to follow them and their career. One of these is Dr. Johnny Slaughter of Baltimore Maryland. Dr. Slaughter ‘s veterinary business is focused on geriatric clients and their pets. He has a mobile practice, works alone and, most importantly, he is someone who loves being a veterinarian. If I thought Johnny was an interesting veterinarian before chatting with him I now think he is one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. His various careers have led him to a professional place where he is gone from a graduate veterinarian, to a researcher, to a stockbroker, to a senior executive at Morgan Stanley and finally back to where he started, as a veterinarian. If that is not enough he now embarking on a plan to host rabies clinics in the Western part of Africa beginning in the fall of 2013.
I know you will enjoy our discussion. Of note is how he analyzes the world about him to identify population trends and how they will impact veterinarian medicine. I was surprised by the areas of vet med where Johnny finds opportunity.
After listening to our chat I know many of you will want to contact Johnny and enquire about his trip . Here is his contact info.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/DrJohnnyDVM
Phone – 410-404-1600
Email – email@example.com
As always, feel free to leave a comment below
Thanks for listening
A few weeks ago we chatted with Kristin Britton, a soon to be graduated veterinarian and Dr. Scott Spaulding of Badger Veterinary Hospital about the challenges facing new veterinarians. One of the subjects we touched upon was mentoring. After our first conversation we thought that the topic of mentoring was so big that it deserved a discussion of its own. The subject of the new vet transitioning is very relevant at this time of year since Kristin will be graduating from WSU this weekend and is about to start a new job! Congratulations Dr. Britton and good luck. We hope to keep in touch to see how she does as a new veterinary.
Follow this link to the podcast Veterinary Business Matters on iTunes
In this 1st episode of a 2 part series we talk to Kristen Britton, fourth year veterinary student and Dr. Scott Spaulding, DVM, CEO of the Badger Veterinary Hospital about challenges facing veterinary students seeking employment and practices hiring new associates. Kristen is the past president of the Veterinary Business Management Association, a vet student driven organization that works to educate veterinary business students on the business of veterinary medicine. Her involvement with the VBMA gives her a unique insight into the challenges facing the soon to be veterinarians graduating this spring in North America. Dr. Spaulding has been a guest on this podcast last year. I always learn something new to bring back to my practice whenever Scott and I chat.
I recorded this episode earlier this year and recorded the 2nd part on the subject of mentoring recently so I thought I would release them close together. In the next couple of weeks we will talk about the sometimes thorny subject of mentoring the recently graduated veterinarian. The sound quality is not the best in the first couple of minutes in this episode but it improves soon so please be patient.
Enjoy the discussion
I have been following Dr. Geoff Tucker for awhile now on Twitter and have found his attention to marketing fascinating. I don’t think Geoff would mind me writing this, but his attitude is not one that your average vet shares. Instead, he markets himself as a brand called The Equine Practice. Dr. Tucker has a book, articles, a constantly updated BarnPics photo gallery and he has the time to practice as an equine veterinary dentist 6 days a week.
My interest really peaked in what Dr. Tucker is doing by an article he wrote for The Equine Veterinarian Magazine on marketing for veterinarians. I was blown away by his positive attitude and the real world tools that he is using to grow his business. I knew I had to talk with him.
I hope this is the first of several podcasts with Dr. Tucker because he is a pro-active and optimistic go getter that any vet can learn from. After I got off the call with him I right away looked up some of what he is doing and am looking forward to incorporating some of what I learned into how we market our equine and companion animal hospitals.
You can find Dr. Tucker at www.theequinepractice.com. From there you can find links to his Facebook, Google+ and Twitter profiles.
Please feel free to leave a comment below.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Drs Leighton and Kornatowski, of Twin Pines Equine in Voluntown, CT, for about a year now. I have been impressed at their use of social media as a tool to help them grow their new equine ambulatory practice. Their courage to strike out on their own is impressive, but equally impressive is how fast their business has grown, due in part to their use of social media to get the word out. In this podcast they discuss how and why they started their own equine practice after completing their internships and how they are using social media to help develop their business. Dr. Kornatowski will also be part of a panel at the AAEP Annual Convention in December on the social media and veterinary practices.
If anyone has their own stories to share about starting a veterinary business or the use of social media please tell us about it in the comments section.
In this Veterinary Business Matters Podcast I chat with Dr. Scott Spaulding of Badger Veterinary Hospital of, you guessed it, Wisconsin. They are a mixed animal practice with 2 locations in the South Central part of the state. In this podcast Scott discusses the advantages of operating a mixed animal practice. He is also a member of the AVMA Economic Strategy Committee so Scott shares some of the business challenges and opportunities facing veterinarians.
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This week I would like to welcome Dr. Melissa McKee as a guest blogger. She had an interesting interaction last week that was too good (or bad) not to share. Regardless of what business you are in there are simple and effective ways to communicate with prospective clients. Sometimes these simple techniques are forgotten with dismal results. Here is her story.
A few days ago I received a message from my office that “Ted” of the, lets call it, “Bumbling Business Bureau” had called asking for me by name, but had left no details as to what this was about. My curiousity was piqued, not to mention my anxiety that this enigmatic message signaled a complaint about our practice, so I anxiously waited until I had a free moment to return the call. I was then treated to an experience that could be filed under “How to do absolutely everything wrong in a sales call”.
Now, to frame the event, consider that this was Friday, the fifth day of 4:30 am starts, record-breaking heat, and wrestling with cranky sweating horses while wearing a lead gown. I know, you’re thinking “where do I sign up?”, but it is actually worse than it sounds. The key concept is that I am busy, hot, and tired as I dial (at my expense) the long distance number provided.
I am immediately treated to a lengthy recorded introduction to the BBB, followed by a request for the extension of the party I am trying to reach. I was not provided with this information so it was my privilege to listen to Jethro Tull’s pan flute stylings while “waiting for the next available operator”. Who did not turn out to be my new friend Ted. More (expensive) time is wasted on hold as I am patched through.
You have probably already spotted the first mistake.
The following is the highlights of our conversation:
Me: “Hello, this is Dr Melissa McKee returning your phone call”
Ted: “Hi Melissa, how are you today”
Me: “I’m fine thank you, I’m returning your phone call?”
Ted: “First of all, happy Friday!”
Mistake three. I will stop pointing them out now as every gaffe is painfully obvious.
Me: “What is this about?”
Ted: “Well, you have come to our attention because we have had a number of inquiries about your company” (Does not qualify whether this is a positive or negative thing. As a business owner, if the BBB contacts me my first thought is that someone has complained. Thanks a lot for not reassuring me that this isn’t the case)
“We did some research on your company and found that you have a great reputation and very good business practices. Congratulations on that!”
Me: “So what is this about?”
Ted: “Well that means that we are inviting you to place your company on our registry which means that consumers can use you with confidence”
Me: “At what expense to me?”
Ted: “Well, uh, what does your company do?”
Some research. I guess they stopped at my phone number.
Me:” We are equine veterinarians”
Ted: “Um, ok, you are veterinarians. How many full time people do you employ?”
I continue to be amazed by Ted’s detailed preparation for this sales call
Ted: “(blah blah blah, too banal to repeat), and for the first year we offer endorsement for $450, but that goes down the following year to….”
I don’t know what he said after that because I had already hung up.
In summary, Ted has furnished us with a shining example of how not to attract business:
1) Leave me a message with no context (Is this a complaint? An emergency?)
2) Expect me to call back, at my expense, and make it difficult to reach you
3) Insult my education and take an inappropriately familiar tone
4) Ignore the signals that I want to get down to real conversation and waste my time with trite small talk
5) Offer meaningless and patronizing compliments about my company (his tone suggested that if we met in person, he would have patted my head and given me a lolly)
6) Despite “looking into my company”, reveal that you have done absolutely no homework and expect me to educate you about my business
7) Get evasive when I ask for specific details about your fees, then launch into a ridiculous amateurish sales pitch.
Needless to say, Ted did not close the deal with me. In fact, I was so irritated by this call that I will never consider using their services. Maybe I should make a complaint phone call to the Better Business…. Oops. Goes to show just how effective they are!
In conclusion, the golden rule is clearly in effect in all of your business dealings. Treat any potential customer with respect, honour their time, and don’t make it hard for them to do business with you. One negative experience may drive them away for life, and with the wide reach of social media and people (like me!) willing to blog about their experiences, others may not even give you that first chance. There are too many alternatives out there for people to settle for poor service, so put yourself in their shoes and let that guide your actions and relationships.
Melissa McKee DVM
Melissa McKee DVM and her husband Mike Pownall DVM are the owners of McKee-Pownall Equine Services and Digital Pulse Marketing. She is a graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College and was an equine veterinarian in New Jersey and Alberta before returning home to start McKee-Pownall in 2002. She divides her time between racehorse and sport horse lameness practice, with a particular interest in diagnostic imaging, regenerative therapy, and rehabilitation. Melissa also writes articles for equine health publications and has responded to over 1800 questions on the popular “Ask The Vet” online forum.
Long time listeners of this podcast will remember Dr. Andy Clark as a frequent participant in our podcasts. Dr. Clark consults for companion animal, emergency and equine veterinary businesses. His great line is that he has worked for the smallest vet business and the largest equine veterinary hospital in the world – running his own one person equine mobile practice to being the CEO of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, KY. Dr. Clark is also a featured presenter at the AAEP Business Management Workshop later this month in Oklahoma City, July 22-24. He will be facilitating a workshop on “Increasing Profitability in Your Veterinary Business”. He will demonstrate to participants how they can make a few minor adjustments in their business resulting in an increase in profitability. I don’t know about you, but having a more profitable business is something I am interested in. In the latest Veterinary Business Matters podcast I chat with Dr. Clark about the steps required in increasing the bottom line in a veterinary business.
Follow this link to the podcast Veterinary Business Matters on iTunes
You can find out more about Dr. Clark and how he can help you in your business by going to his website and blog at www.dvmmba.com.
Kirk Eddleman, the CEO of Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery of Weatherford, Tx, is no stranger to regular listeners of this podcast. Kirk will be presenting at the upcoming AAEP Business Education Workshop, July 22-24 in Oklahoma City, where he will be presenting on “Founders Syndrome” and “The Value of a Veterinary Practice Manager”. Many vet practices encounter “founders syndrome” where the founder of the practice is still hanging on and having a hard time giving up management responsibilities and transitioning the business into the 21st century. Kirk has also helped Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery grow during the recession so we know he values how a practice manager can help a veterinary practice. In this podcast Kirk discussed “founders syndrome” and how vets and staff in a business can deal with this issue. This is a very timely topic as many older practitioners are trying to bring on junior partners and associates in all types of veterinary businesses. We all know this doesn’t go as smoothly as we would like. He also goes over the steps a vet practice should go through in deciding if they need a practice manager and how to choose one.
Dr Betsy Charles was one of the hits at the 2011 AAEP Annual Convention Business Education Sessions. Her all too brief presentation on communication in veterinary practices struck a chord with many. Whether it is between and older practice owner and younger new associate, or veterinarian and technician, healthy communication between all members of a veterinary practice is essential to the ongoing success of that business. Dr. Charles is uniquely qualified to present on the subject, since she is the Executive Director of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience, an annual conference that teaches veterinarians about leadership and emotional intelligence. Due to the overwhelming popularity of her presentation at the annual convention, Dr. Charles has been invited back to give a half day workshop on communication for veterinary practices at the AAEP Business Education Workshop, July 22-24, in Oklahoma City.
In the latest Veterinary Business Matters podcast I chat with Dr. Charles about the communication and leadership challenges in veterinary practices. We also discuss her upcoming presentation for the AAEP. Regardless of the size of your practice this podcast offers some great insights from Dr. Charles on these subjects.
Here is a link to the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience in Post Falls, Idaho, June 4-9.
You can find more information on the AAEP Business Education Workshop, July 22-24 in Oklahoma City.
Follow this link to the podcast Veterinary Business Matters on iTunes
Equine Veterinary Business is changing. I’m not talking about the industry, but rather the blog. One of the most profound things I have learned in business is that no business sector is truly unique and that there are lessons to be learned from other industries. The light went on for me about this while I was attending the Equine Business Management Strategies Course a few years ago. One of the presenters challenged us to identify business challenges we had in equine vet practice, and to look at other industries to see if we could find similar issues and, better yet, solutions to these challenges. Until then, I thought, like many equine vets do, that our business was unique and that we were the only ones to face the challenges we do. My opinion on that changed forever about 15 minutes later. Our group identified seasonality as a concern in equine vet practice. Our business is in the North, so we are busy 3 seasons of the year, and at that time we died during the winter. When we looked at other industries we, indeed, found businesses facing similar situations. Better yet, we also were able to find ideas for solutions to these challenges. For example, Bombardier, used to only manufacture Ski-Dos. That was great for the winter but what could they sell in the summer? That business challenge led to the creation of the Sea-Doo. Anyone who spends time on a lake in the summer now yearns for the days of yore, when we never had to hear the incessant buzz, of the this now ubiquitous summer recreation vehicle. Great success for Bombardier, bad for quiet days on the lake. This led us to think of the owners of ski hills. Once the snow was gone what next? Now, most progressive ski hills offer summer recreation, like mountain biking. I have used that lesson in our own business to make the peaks and valleys of our business year less abrupt. We are much more busy in the winter than we used to be. The ability to think outside of our own constraints led to many opportunities.
Last year we purchased a companion animal practice. At first I was overwhelmed by the apparent differences between an equine vet business and our new endevour, but I soon realized there were numerous similarities. A vet performing an exam and then taking a dog or cat to the back room for diagnostics or treatments is no different than the work flow in an equine hospital. I also learned that there were things we did in our equine ambulatory practice that can be useful in a companion animal practice. Equine vets know a lot about working on the road, so we can offer a wealth of knowledge about running a mobile companion animal practice, which is a growing area in companion animal practice. Our small animal business has a busy retail section and a high level of compliance with preventative health programs. I think most equine vet businesses could use some help in those areas.
When I looked at the Equine Vet Business blog with the point of view that lessons can be learned from other industries, I knew I had to change the focus of the blog. I had to try to bridge the usual gap between vets who think what they do is so special to asking what can equine vets learn from small animal vets. Conversely, what business lessons are there for companion animal vets from the equine vet industry. Indeed. what can these 2 learn from large scale food production veterinarians? I don’t know yet, but I am looking forward to finding out.
With that in mind I have changed the name of the blog to Veterinary Business Matters. The name has two, very relevant meanings. Business matters of course. Without paying attention to how we run our businesses we would be in big trouble. We will also be talking about the individual items that make up a veterinary business. To do all of this, I will feature blogs and podcasts with me and others discussing veterinary business issues relevant to all vets. I have added a new Facebook Page in conjunction to this blog and have renamed the Twitter account to @dvmbusiness. The iTunes Podcast has also been renamed to Veterinary Business Matters – The Podcast. You can find links to all of them on the right hand side of this page.
If you are interested in veterinary business and want to be part of something beyond your area of professional interest, I hope that this will become a destination for you. We are fortunate to work in a wonderful profession that is facing threats on many sides. Those who can run there businesses well will survive and prosper. If we can encourage enough veterinarians to pay attention to their business then the whole profession will do better and we won’t be as challenged by online pharmacies, lay practitioners, decreasing vet visits (in all species) and price slashing colleagues, to name a few current issues. By learning from each other, we can make all of us better. I look forward to this new collaboration. If there is anything you would like to present in a blog or discuss on a podcast please let me know. I look forward to numerous people contributing to this blog.
Welcome aboard. Lets make our businesses and our profession better.
I had the pleasure of facilitating a table topic discussion on generational issues at the 2011 AAEP Annual Convention. Unfortunately, there is only 2 hours to try to cover every issue that attendees bring up so sometimes good subjects go unaddressed. One such topic was raised by Dr. Mark Roozen. He wanted to discuss how younger vets are dealing with older clients and conversely, how older vets are dealing with younger clients. We spend so much time discussing generational issues between vets and staff and yet we rarely discuss intergenerational issues between vets and clients. We didn’t have time to discuss this during the table topic so I asked Mark if we could record a podcast together on that subject. Mark has some other insights on veterinary business management as well, so this podcast covers a wide range of topics.
Follow the link to Veterinary Business Matters on itunes
I look forward to your comments here or on our Facebook Page.
This blog has been written by Dr. Melanie Barham. You can see her bio at the bottom of the page.
In the wintertime, equine veterinarians like to breath a sigh of relief. Then, two minutes later, we throw ourselves into all the fun things we wanted to do but were too busy for in horse show season. This year, I am pursuing a dream to run a half-marathon, with help from the Running Room clinics. The Running Room is a retail store for runners offering courses/clinics to help runner achieve their goals of running a particular race (everything from 5km to marathon) for a nominal fee. Runners frequent the store at least 3-4 times per week and become really loyal customers.
On our clinic “lecture” night, we heard from a sports psychologist, who introduced Lazarus and Folkman’s model of stress vs. success, leading me to think of learning in veterinary medicine. The model states that the outcome of a situation is influenced by the way in which an individual assesses a situation (or threat), and by the number/quality of coping mechanisms they have on hand to deal with the issues at hand. Changing how we perceive the threat, and increasing or using our coping mechanisms can incite success instead of stress. The idea is that basically, changing your outlook can make a big impact. Of equal importance- knowing what to do when a negative situation arises.
The model applies well with respect to young veterinarians, how they/we learn, and how we teach them. When we come out of school, we are “baby vets”, like novice runners, and have very little in the way of tools or coping mechanisms. Even a simple call or client question can be a “perceived threat” and leave you speechless. As runners progress from novice recreational joggers to elite athletes, their biggest predictor of success is past performance. They are able to draw upon the experiences they have had and get through the tough parts of the race. Novice runners don’t have the experience, so they must rely on self-confidence and positive outlook. Running clinics and groups work to improve success for this reason; they help to build self-confidence and some experience through actually performing the activity we’re training for. We have weekly talks to prepare for the race, and we run with group leaders who are experienced runners. I often email my questions to my group leaders to ask advice about technique or aches and pains. I could have completed my training alone, but I’ll be honest, I probably would have stayed in bed on those cold -16C days! I also would likely have given up or been discouraged at my first shin splint.
An interesting realization I had was that there really is no way around the model of stress/success. I find it very gratifying to attend hock or back injections and be able to successfully diagnose and treat a problem. I am also able to anticipate potential problems, deal with the unexpected and handle situations calmly and gracefully. I also remembered, when working with a new associate, the exact same process I went through learning to perform hock injections. I palpated the site many times before using my needle. I worried I would never be good at injecting hocks. I asked for help when needed. Now, it’s one of my favorite (vet) things to do.
To me, the model presented above is the absolute best argument out there for doing an internship. Of equal importance is to subsequently position yourself in a practice willing to be supportive and helpful as you grow and learn. An internship is a controlled environment where one can gain experience and self-confidence just like a running clinic. You get an idea of how to handle the things that could go wrong at any given time, and a way to approach a problem positively.
Just like a running clinic, an internship helps you every step of the way, building upon what you have learnt already. There should be a good group of individuals interested in helping you succeed, but letting you try to do it yourself. No one can carry you across the finish line, nor can anyone force you to become a successful clinician. However, you can surround yourself with a good team of mentors and as much knowledge as possible so that with a little luck, you’ll cross the “finish line” or complete your day standing tall and smiling.
If you have any comments please post in the comment section or on the Equine Vet Business Facebook Page.
More about Dr. Melanie Barham
Dr. Melanie Barham is an associate veterinarian at McKee-Pownall Equine Services Campbellville location. Melanie grew up riding and showing horses on the eventing circuit in Ottawa, Ontario. She graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Canada. Following graduation, Melanie completed an internship in southern California at a performance horse practice, before returning to Canada. Currently, Melanie enjoys treating lameness cases and working on all types of performance horses as well as incorporating acupuncture with Western medicine. She enjoys running, hiking and cross-country skiing and lives with with her husband Tim and her dog Cali. Melanie hopes to complete the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, March 2012.
Follow Dr. Barham on Twitter @mbarhamdvm
Every vet practice has a culture whether it is by intent or default. Simply defined, the culture is the DNA of the business, or how a business looks and behaves. It encompasses how they treat their clients, patients, each other and how they offer their services. Up until now the foundation of most vet practice cultures has been excellent veterinary skills, courteous receptionists, and well-stocked pharmacies. Differentiating cultural factors would be cleanliness of the hospital or vehicles, how employees are cared for, or customer service. Very few veterinarians set out to define a culture, instead the culture is exemplified by the influence of the practice owner(s) and the behavior they tolerate or encourage. We have all heard of the vet practices that have staff morale issues, practices inferior medicine or conversely, are on the cutting edge of technology or have a great client education program. With this in mind, does it matter if a vet practice purposely defines their culture or is it enough to let a culture just develop over time? Is there an advantage to determining what a culture should be and putting in the effort to bring it forward?
Over the past number of years I have been reading about companies like Zappos and the Union Square Hospitality Group. These companies share several factors that we wanted in our vet practices: excellent customer service, lower staff turnover, a happy work environment, and prosperity in a competitive business. What struck me about their culture of customer service was that it was based on taking care of their staff first. Wow, I thought that customer service was “the customer is always right” or “do what it takes to make the customer happy”. Then I learned there are different approaches to both. First of all, the customer is not always right. In our case, some are mean or petty and do nothing except make our vets and staff miserable. Part of a customer service oriented culture is learning who our customers are and catering to them. Those who don’t fit into our values or type of practice are eliminated. Our clinics enjoy working with the animal owner or trainer that wants the best and is willing to pay for it, and not those that like the idea of having the best but never want to pay for it or expend the effort to care for their animal. This leads to the second approach, that we must take care of those clients who do value us by giving them exceptional value in the services and products we offer. Up until now these were simple concepts for me. What surprised me was the concept that you can only give exceptional service to your clients by first taking care of your vets and staff. If they are happy at work they will be more likely to reflect that attitude back to the client. The simplicity of it astounded me. I remember being miserable in a job and struggling to care about customer service, but when I worked for people that cared about me I would do anything to help the business.
Early in 2010 our vet practices decided that we were going to create a business culture of customer service excellence, both internally(staff) and externally. We were hoping to create a great work environment, which would then translate into better customer service. Based on this underlying vision, my wife and I as practice owners asked staff members to help identify the key characteristics of our culture and created a manifesto of our ten cultural behaviors with examples. Once we had our template we met with all of our vets and staff to explain why we have identified our culture and what the behavioural characteristics were. Since then, we reinforce this by ensuring that new hires have appropriately answered behavioral questions based on our culture. As well, we compensate staff based on positive cultural activity. For example, everyone identifies “gold star” actions of staff members each month in our staff meetings. My wife and I are the drivers of the culture and we set the example for everyone else. I also meet with new hires and go over, not only the values and vision of the practice, but the why of what we are and explain how they all tie into our culture. Our culture is all-encompassing in that it permeates how we make business decisions, treat each other, and influences actions taken individually, or as a group.
What was the end result of this? Now that we know the type of vets and staff we want to work with, we are able to hire people more effectively. We use our culture as a basis for staff evaluations, so that those vets and staff who live up to our culture are more likely to get raises or promotions. We have an excellent record of customer service where complaints from disgruntled clients are rare. A huge benefit is that we have fun at work, laughing a lot and enjoying each others company. I have lost track of the number of times clients have commented on how much fun we have while working. There are no office dramas or crises. We could never say that before. On a dollar and cents basis we are holding our own during this recession. It has transformed our business in more ways than we can measure.
How can your business evaluate and determine your culture? Here are 5 easy steps.
- Practice owners write down their ideal culture. An example would be a workplace where staff work together in a positive and cohesive environment.
- Quiz vets and staff to determine what the culture currently is so areas of shortcoming can be identified and targeted for improvement. A comment on work environment that mentions mini soap operas would reflect that the desired cultural traits need to be adjusted.
- Create a culture document and explain to all vets and staff that this is the desired culture for the business. Practice owners then have to live and breathe the culture as they set the example
- Make staff compensation and HR decisions based in part on positive culture activities.
- Measure internal and external client service metrics to evaluate the success of your new culture. Are you getting less complaints, are fewer staff quitting, have you noticed increased business?
Your veterinary practice has a culture. Is it one that you have created and control or is it one that controls your practice.
Have you done anything in your vet practice to actively influence your culture? Please let us know in the comment section below or on our Facebook Page.
I have asked a friend of mine, Dr. Michael Warren, to write a blog about the positive impact a good webpage can have on a vet practice. When I asked him for a bio he supplied this following, “Dr. Warren is a practicing veterinarian and certified online strategist. As Managing Director of the website development company DVMelite he writes, speaks and consults internationally on how the veterinary industry can improve client communication and engagement through online media.”. All that is correct but what he didn’t mention is that he is concerned, as I am, about the veterinary profession. His website efforts are part of his desire to help vet practices survive and prosper in these challenging times. This is first in what, I hope, are several blogs on the value on websites. Thanks Michael.
1. New Client Acquisition – Arguably the most important, and definitely the most dramatic, way a new or improved website can impact a veterinary practice is in the area of new client acquisitions. After implementing a beautiful marketing driven website, on average we are witnessing new client intakes increase up to – and sometimes in excess of – 30% just 1-2 months after the new websites go live. That’s pretty spectacular, but why is this happening?
In our opinion, the jump in new client acquisition can be attributed to two different yet related factors. The first is due to the increased visibility the practice now has online. A properly programmed website (which is surprisingly rare) will appear towards the top of the page on search engines, thereby placing the practice on the radar of clients who are searching for veterinarians online (and the vast majority are). Where a practice was for many prospective clients invisible online, it is now easily found.
The second way a new/improved website can boost new client growth is via an increase in word of mouth referrals. This initially puzzled us since at first glance there is no direct correlation – in fact, ‘word of mouth’ and ‘online’ referrals seem to be two distinct sources. What we ultimately came to appreciate was that word of mouth referrals rarely happen in isolation these days – it is by far the norm that people run everything past ‘google’ before taking action. Therefore, word of mouth referrals PLUS a new beautifully designed website EQUALS increased new clients – a winning combination. This phenomenon is covered in detail in the following article: http://www.dvmelite.com/2011/09/21/the-new-reality-of-veterinary-word-of-mouth-referrals/
2. Increased Client Engagement – The typical clients response to a beautiful new website is invariably positive. Client’s suddenly begin utilizing the online communication options through booking appointments online, refilling prescriptions online, and reading the practices blog. Inevitably within the first week an old client will walk in through the door and say “Great new website Doc!”.
Further, clients are now reading all about the practice’s veterinarians, staff, services and are becoming engaged in ongoing articles which the practice is publishing on their blog. If you are a practitioner you will immediately sense the subtle change in how clients look at and feel about you. I felt a real connection one day as I was sitting down for lunch in a local cafe when a lady approached me and said “You’re the veterinarian right? I read all about you on the website!”. This is exactly the sort of client engagement that practices should seek to cultivate, and a new website is the way to do so.
3. Increased Staff Engagement – An interesting spinoff from a well developed website is how it is embraced and utilized by practice staff. We have found that staff let out a sigh of relief when introduced to a clean, easy to use interface, and very quickly rally behind the promotional opportunities a well designed website affords. Whether it’s to write pet related articles along their areas of interest or to post cute clinic pictures, staff become engaged. It is personally very rewarding for team members to see their name published under an article on the website – furthering their sense of pride and participation within the practice.
A veterinary practice’s website is the cornerstone for all communication and marketing efforts. Through implementing a smartly designed, programmed, and supported website, everything becomes so much easier. From new client generation, to social media participation, to client communication, & even to leadership within the community, everything is enhanced. I always like to compare it to the Star Gate; once you step through the portal, you can never imagine trying to grow a successful practice without it.
If you have any questions on the subject please click on the comments link. Thanks
The overabundance of vets graduating into the work force has been a theme of recent blogs and podcasts. I was going to post my discussion on the subject with Dr. Katie Garrett, of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, at the beginning of the school year, but thought I should wait a couple of weeks so as not to depress excited students. I’m a realist, but I’m not mean. In this podcast Katie and I discuss the new vet colleges opening up in the USA and the impact they will have on the future vet job market. It is not all doom and gloom because Katie has some excellent insight into what new grads can do to make themselves more employable. As someone who gets to work with a lot of student externs and interns, Katie has a unique perspective on the dilemma.
On a side note one of our employees, Marissa Markey, just started vet school. One her jobs with us was to edit and post my podcasts. She had the joy of editing and posting my podcasts, which meant she heard all of those discussing the challenges facing new vet school grads. She has no worry about her future. She has the people skills and enthusiasm any vet practice would want. We have first dibs on her though.
You can access the Equine Vet Podcast #10 here. Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook Page. You can also download it from iTunes. Just click on the iTunes icon on the right side of this page.
I am looking forward to next week where I will be presenting with Dr. Andy Clark, the CEO of Hagyard Equine Medical Center, at the Equine Business Management Strategies International program in England. I have seen Andy present on the subject of “Sustaining Value in an Equine Veterinary Practice” before, and it his ideas have been instrumental in helping me develop our group of vet practices. Andy is a great story teller so I asked him if we could have a conversation on the subject, as well as discuss the challenges and opportunities in equine vet practice. He has his fingers on the pulse of practices throughout North America allowing him a unique insight into our industry. Read more
I blogged recently about how new grads are taking the route of starting their own practices because either there are no new jobs or the cultural differences of older vets are at odds with the needs of newer vets. You can find that blog here. After posting the blog I received an email from a young vet Read more
I had the pleasure of presenting at the recent AAEP Business Education Workshop in Indianapolis. I gave a presentation, and hosted a workshop, on social media for equine vets. You can view or download the presentation here. On the last day I was part of a panel discussing some of the main challenges facing our industry. There were numerous concerns voiced but the top three in terms of emotion and time spent discussing them were all a result of the recession; a decreasing horse population, increased competition from non-vet & vet practitioners and the oversupply of vets entering the profession.
This is the final podcast related to the upcoming AAEP Business Education Meeting, July 24-26 2011, in Indianapolis. In this episode we talk to Dr. Mitchell Rode, an equine practitioner and practice owner from Maryland. Dr. Rode is the member organizer of this years meeting which is titled “Transitions in Practice, Practices in Transitions”.
Earlier this week I tweeted about the new private veterinary school opening up in East Tennessee. To paraphrase my tweet, now that I have more than 140 characters to work with, I commented that we need another vet school in North America like we need more lay dentists. There are hardly any jobs for new grads in vet med regardless of the species. I think most of us are aware by now that there is not a shortage of vets in rural practice, instead there is a shortage of clients in these regions that can afford vet care, let alone the case load to justify a full time vet. This was my explanation to a vet student on Twitter who wondered why I was so negative about this new school. His next question asked what should a vet student or new grad do to make themselves more attractive to job opportunities. Here is my response.
In the Equine Vet Business Podcast #5 we chat with Dr. Jim Guenther on pricing strategies and practice valuations. Jim was an equine vet in a former life before he became a MBA and is currently a practice consultant based in North Carolina.
We talked with Jim in advance of the AAEP 2011 Focus/Business Education meeting in Indianapolis, July 24-26., where he will be giving two presentations. A new slant this year will be Jim’s presentation on pricing strategies for colic with is the theme of the Focus meeting. It is one thing to learn about new diagnostics and therapies for colics but how much should you charge for them. Jim, will also give us a sneak preview of his talk on valuing veterinary practices. True to the theme of this years Business Education Program, “Transitions”, many practice owners are of the age when retirement is looming. How can they maximize the value of their practice so that they can reap all of the rewards they deserve, after a long career in vet medicine.
Download the podcast from here. You can listen to it on your smartphone or iPod while driving around. You can also click on the iTunes tab to the right and subscribe to our iTunes Podcasts to make sure you don’t miss an episode.
As always, we welcome your comments or questions. If you would like to contact Dr. Guenther you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the class of 2011 graduating new vets are facing challenges that no recent grad has ever faced. By recent I mean in the last 30 years. There may have been the same paucity of jobs in the early 80s when we were in another long recession but nothing like there is now. Consider this! There are 32 jobs available for 720 applications on the AAEP web site. That means there are 23 resumes for every job. It is now easier to get into vet school than it is to get a job as an equine vet upon graduation. For those of you who are practice owners do you see yourself needing to hire a new associate within the next year or two? To really make a new grad, or retiring vet who wants to retire cry, keep in mind that the average vet student graduates with $133,000 in debt. Whether students are borrowing and spending wisely for their education is a discussion for another day. What is a new grad going to do with this mountain of debt and no prospect of a job going to do?
More and more I am seeing new vets start their own practices following an internship. To do so immediately after graduating would doom the endeavor to failure but after an internship it might be a necessity in spite of the challenges. There are 2 reasons why a post intern grad might start their own practice.
If a new associate is going to work very hard they might as well work for themselves.
- There are no jobs. If you want to be a vet and nobody is hiring what are you going to do?
- Cultural disconnect between older practice owners and new grads. Older vets have a work ethic unique to them. Many want their associates to work as hard as they do regardless of the strain this puts on family life or outside interests. If a new associate is going to work very hard they might as well work for themselves. As for the work life balance typically they are not very busy as they start out so there is plenty of time to be involved with family or hobbies.
It would be nice to view this progression with a chuckle and shake of the head as we wish them good luck but I worry that there may be some unintended consequences for the equine veterinary industry.
- Poor business decisions made by the new practice owner may create a new level of expectations amongst horse owners. A new business may cut prices with the hope of getting new customers. A new vet will not have the appreciation of the difficulties or challenges of the job and likely won’t value their skill and education. All they care about is getting work.
- These new vets might have a better sense of customer service and a willingness to try newer medical techniques. I know when we started our practice that we rejected many of the conventional attitudes of older practices that we had spent time in and tried to show our clients extra attention along with a willingness to try new things. This was a differentiating factor between us and other vets and allowed us to grow a practice very quickly.
So where does this leave the older and established practices and the young bucks starting out? This might sound counter intuitive but I would suggest taking the high road and arranging an introductory meeting. Encouraging professionalism will benefit everyone the most. The older vet can explain why they price the way they do. The younger vet can discuss newer techniques. The end result should be mutual respect. I have been spending some time recently with companion animal vets and I am amazed at how much they collaborate and refer to specialists unlike the “I can do everything” equine vet. Who knows if this new vet may be in a position to buy the practice of the older vets in time or if the established practice can cover on call for the new kid in town?
At the end of the day it is in the best interest of everyone if our profession is conducted with integrity that does not diminish the value of veterinarians in the eyes of our clients.
Have you had a new vet open a practice in your area recently? If so how did you respond?
Many of you have enjoyed recent posts by Dr. Andy Clark on veterinary practice management. His insight and years of consulting give him a perspective unique to our industry. I am happy to announce that Andy now has his own blog on the subject at http://www.dvmmba.com/blog. Andy will still be a part of Equine Vet Business in that I will be sharing his blogs with our readers as they come out. The benefit is to the veterinary practice owner or manager. The more good information there is out there the better the business decisions that can be made. It has never been harder to run a vet practice and now it has never been easier to find the resources to help run these same practices.
Welcome to the blogsphere Andy. We need more like you.
Last week I used a Bob Seger concert as a metaphor to discuss why most veterinarians don’t retire as soon as younger vets would like them to. Of course there comes a time when a veterinarian must retire. Some just hang up their stethoscope if they are not self employed and those that own their own practice eventually will try to sell their business. This is where it can get ugly since most retiring veterinarians tend to overvalue their business. This week on the Equine Vet Business Podcast #4 I speak with Kirk Eddleman, the CEO of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery in Weatherford, Texas on this subject. Kirk also consults for numerous equine veterinary practices and is finding that more and more retiring vets are facing a reverse sticker shock. Click here to go directly to the podcast or you can go to iTunes and subscribe to the Equine Vet Business podcast.
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This past weekend I had what I hope was an insightful thought about our profession in a very unlikely place. My father and I took a road trip to Detroit to see Bob Seger perform in possibly his last concert in Detroit. Those of you of a certain generation and from the Midwest know that Bob Seger is something of a musical icon in the area. Rumour has it that in the 1970s he had 3 of the top selling albums of all time in Detroit. The other 2 were albums from The Beatles. In other words, he is really popular and has been around for a real long time. Usually when we see musicians from the 60s, 70s and 80s tour again they are going through the motions hoping to get another payday to replenish the bank account exhausted from years of indulgences and bad financial decisions. Not so with Bob Seger. At the age of 66 this man was as enthusiastic and appeared as happy on stage as when he was first starting out. I don’t remember ever seeing a musician having such a good time singing a songbook of classic rock as Seger- no going through the motions here. I also was so impressed at how down to earth he was. The man had grey hair, old man glasses and a paunch! There was no Elvis girdle or hair dye in sight, nothing flashy or new, just good classic rock and roll. He was also so gracious, constantly acknowledging and thanking his long-time band members. Contrast that with the brash, cocky, self-absorbed opening performer who strutted around the stage showing off every rock star cliche. It was a display of vanity that became comical when compared to the genuine and heartfelt performance by Bob Seger. This was a man who was enjoying the appreciation from fans that have been with him for up to 40 years from the days when they were teenagers and young adults together. This was a man who was as comfortable on stage in front of 16,000 people as he is in his own living room because he had done this so many times and knew what it took to make his fans happy.
The contrast between the two reminded me of how I felt 10 years ago when I graduated from vet school and I thought I was pretty damn smart. I thought I knew it all and couldn’t figure out why everyone thought the older vets were so special. Didn’t people know that I had the most current education? Why don’t these old timers retire so I could get some clients? These thoughts seem pretty harsh now when writing them down but when you are young, hungry, and ready to take on the world one doesn’t often stop to think of another point of view. After 10 years of practice though, I am beginning to see the allure of the elder vet and why they are not going to retire as long as they can still tube a horse and flex a hind leg. From a client’s point of view there is a comfort level that comes from a long history of routine patient care interspersed with the occasional emergency. After a few years, some degree of humility develops after one realizes that bad things happen and that in spite of our best attempts we do make mistakes. Measured against this humbleness is a quiet confidence that most situations can be handled with minimal fuss. From the vet’s perspective, they have survived years of making a real difference in the lives of their patients while seeing babies of clients become teenagers become parents with their own animals. After 10 years I can now begin to see this progression and it is very comforting knowing that I have shared some amazing experiences with some special people.
To the new grads that feel as I did upon graduation, all I can say that your profession improves with age. In spite of the challenges facing veterinarians, success is attainable if you approach your new clients with respect, humility and appreciation. And don’t expect your older colleagues to retire when the turn 65. From what I see at local vet meetings, as long as they are physically healthy, can do the job, and make their clients happy, they aren’t going anywhere. Why should they? Their medical education might not be as current as yours but years of experience have given them knowledge that can only be earned. Hopefully Bob Seger decides to keep performing and maybe my father and I can go see him when they are both in their 70s.
By the way I am going to go see Gordon Lightfoot with my wife and a couple of our younger associates tomorrow night. I’m looking forward to seeing another master at work.
The busy spring season is in full swing however many vets I speak to throughout North America are finding that practice growth is flat compared to last year with the rare clinic showing a slight growth. This is actually encouraging news since up to last year year most practices saw a decline in revenue. One asks though since we are flat have we climbed out of the pit of the recession? Do we have nowhere to go but up? I would like to think so but a conversation I had recently with a veterinarian gave support to a concern I have been having for a while. This vet has a very well run practice in a region that was affected severely by the recession. During our conversation they mentioned that they had just completed a survey of their clients. The results were staggering. 30% of their clients are over the age of 55 and 30% of the horses in the practice were over the age of 15. To add salt to the wound reproduction billing is down 50%. Two things came to mind right away when I heard this. The first is that barring a huge influx of new clients this practice is going to shrink in size. The second is kudos to this vet for actually taking the time to do this survey.
If these numbers are reflective of the general equine population the shrinking equine veterinary practice is our reality now. It is not going to happen over night but with a trend of aging horses and fewer new ones on the ground it is inevitable. All practices gain and lose clients every year. This is a natural part of a business. Horse die or are sold and people rediscover the love they had for horses as a child or introduce their children to horses. Is there a population of people on the horizon that is going to jump into horse ownership? Right now it doesn’t look like it but who knows what the future will hold.
The second point is the important one here. We have all have wondered if the horse economy will bounce back to where it was. How much of what we think is based on fact and how much is hope? Beyond measuring our practices annual income and expenses do we really know what is going on with our practice? How many of us truly know the viability of our clientele like this one vet does? What kind of decisions would you make if you had this info? Would you put off buying a new piece of equipment or hiring a new receptionist? If you repeat a survey in a 2 or 3 years would you be able to monitor trends? Perhaps we find you have less jumpers and more western horses. That knowledge would certainly change how you deal with your clients beyond asking a horse to lope instead of canter during a lameness exam. The list is limitless.
The intent of this blog is to be optimistic. If we have excellent numbers about our veterinary practices we have power. We have the power to adapt to our future and prosper. Hindsight is 20/20 but with the right approach now we can have the information we need to make adjustments.
Thank you to the veterinarian who gave me the inspiration to survey our practice clients and patients. We are going to use Survey Monkey to prepare an anonymous online survey so that we can learn about our clients and their horses.
Who else has done a client survey? Can you share your experiences and if the data you collected allowed you to make better decisions about your veterinary practice?
I talk to many veterinarians about social media every week. More and more are asking about doing a Groupon deal in order to increase exposure to their practice and hopefully increase sales. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Groupon, it is an online deal service that allows companies to offer a promotion to a minimum number of people within a period of time. The hope is that not only will people flock to the great deal but since a minimum number of people are required they will enlist friends and family to get to generate sufficient interest and reach the deal threshold. For example, your vet practice can offer a 50% saving on dentistry if 50 people sign up within the next seven days. The hope is that horse owners who may have thought about using your practice will take the opportunity to try you out at this reduced rate. To get the numbers up, they might talk to other horse owners in a barn to sign up as well. If 5 people from every barn in your area signed up it would only take 10 barns participating for the deal to kick in. Sounds like a great deal doesn’t it? Well, I’m here to tell you that there are several risks when a veterinary practice uses Groupon.
The 5 Pitfalls of Groupon.
1. The promotion is too popular
What happens if you want 50 people to sign up for your dentistry promotion but 100 do? Sounds great at first, but then you actually have to do the dentistries when the clients want them. That is a lot of teeth being floated at half price. If the sale goes on during a busy time of the year, you run the risk of neglecting your loyal full-price paying clients as you fulfill your obligation to the promotion. If your going to do this, pick a slow time of the year and cap the amount you will offer.
2. You Damage Your Reputation
Long time readers of this blog know I often compare veterinary medicine to the restaurant business. Long hours, demanding clients, and hazardous conditions are a major factor in both industries (if you are interested here is a link to a past blog on the subject). As with restaurants, clients already have a notion of your practice brand that guides their choice of veterinary care provider, or meal they expect to be served. Assume you are known for a high level of medicine and quality care. You are not the bottom feeding vet practice that is becoming prevalent nowadays. What will your clients think when they see you basically giving your services away? Do you value your knowledge, your skills, and your medical care if you are willing to charge so little for it? Can you return to full prices once you have such a gigantic sale? A case in point is a Groupon promotion offered recently by a very famous chef in our city. He built his reputation as a celebrity chef with very high-end restaurants. When my wife and I saw his promotion we were saddened that he felt he had to sell his skills so cheaply. His business must be hurting, and I wonder if the quality of his cooking has decreased. The same things can be said about your veterinary practice.
3. Your vets, staff and clients might hate it
If your vets are paid on production are they going to like being paid on half price services? Will your support staff be able to handle the extra influx of calls and appointment making? How will they feel when good, loyal clients get short shifted to take care of this new business? Here is another restaurant example. Groupon first became popular with restaurants who offered these promotions to increase business. The restaurants would get busy but the patrons would tip based on the reduced price. The servers who make their living from tips weren’t too impressed. The restaurant would get so busy that regular full paying clients had to wait to get reservations or to be seated. Loyal clients became so frustrated at this that they stopped using the restaurant. Ouch!
4. You lose money on the promotion
Groupon has to make money somehow. They do this by charging the client a share or percentage of the sale price. Often it can be up to 50% of the sale. For example, if you are selling a service for $50 they might charge you $25. So if a dentistry is being offered at $50 instead of $100 and you have to pay Groupon $25 you are left with only $25 at the end. Not much is left over to pay your vets, staff, overhead, etc. In fact you have lost money. Guaranteed.
5. You don’t gain lasting business
We can have long discussions on branding or customer loyalty but the reality is that customers choose vet practices because they like what is offered. If a new customer comes to you because of a cheap price, they won’t stay with you when the price returns to normal level. Or, if your new client is so fickle that they will drop their current vet because of your sale, what are the odds they will leave you when a competitor offers a bigger promotion?
Our practice has thought about Groupon for awhile and have resisted based on these arguments. Instead, we create similar promotional concepts that will reward our established clients first, encourage many people to come on board, emphasize excellent medical care, and does not cheapen the value of our services. For example we are currently offering a huge promotion on fecals to our clients. 1-3 samples pay full price, 2-9 pay a significantly cheaper price and 10+ pays the lowest price of all. We are offering this deal to our clients primarily because we believe that fecal testing is a good thing for their horses. A bonus to us would be if they encourage other people in their barn to join on to benefit from the volume pricing. Finally, we don’t share revenue with an outside agency and we haven’t cheapened the value of our services since the testing is done by our technicians. Of course this can open up a whole new discussion on leveraging technicians to offer services at more affordable pricing.
The allure of Groupon is enticing. There are many hidden costs to jumping on this bandwagon though. Before you do think of the 5 ways it can hurt your veterinary practice.
Has anyone used Groupon? If so can you share your experiences with it?
I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Mike Thomas present at a recent conference about the pending oversupply of new veterinary school grads. Mike owns several small animal practices in the Indianapolis area but his message pertains to all veterinarians. Dr. Thomas has some very compelling evidence to support his argument that in the very near future there will be far more veterinarians than is required. AFter hearing his presentation the questions just flowed from me. Why is this happening? What will this do to the veterinary market? Will this affect the level of care we deliver? What can we do about this looming problem? At first, I was taken aback by Mike’s presentation but soon became very concerned about his message. For anyone who is concerned about the future of the veterinary profession this podcast is essential. You can download a copy here or you can go to iTunes and search for Equine Veterinary Business to download there.
You can out more about Dr. Mike Thomas at the web site for his veterinary practices. http://www.noahshospitals.com
In this post we will discuss measuring the success of your veterinary practice’s Facebook Page. How can you tell if you are doing a good job or not?
We have many posts that get up to 1200 impressions, but yet we only have 600 some fans. How do you interpret this? Are people clicking on the posting multiple times?
Post impressions can be seen only by Page administrators. They are a count of how many times individual posts have been seen throughout Facebook (on your wall or on other people’s own walls). It gives you a much better picture of the real impact of each individual post. Now you can compare impressions with the number of interactions each post gets. “Impressions” are the number of times a post is viewed, anywhere on Facebook. As a result, your impressions are usually higher than the number of likes (fans). There is no way to convert the data into real people since one post can be seen twice per person, whereas another may be seen five times per person. The feedback exclusively measures the number of likes and comments a post receives. It does not measure clicks, video plays, or similar.
Where do I look to see the statistics on our Facebook Page?
Page administrators have access to a Facebook service called Facebook Insights. The link to it can be found on the upper right had side of the Page under the picture of the Page administrators.
There are a lot of insights. Which are the important ones for a veterinary practice?
There are three sections of Facebook Insights; Page Overview, Users and Interactions. Let’s go over each one in more detail.
This section gives you a brief overview of the other two sections over a period of time. I prefer to examine things each month. Facebook tells you with a green arrow if you have more likes compared to the previous month as well as how many monthly active users you have compared to the previous month. Again you want to see a green arrow telling you that more people are actively viewing your Page each month. If you are getting red arrows indicating decreases perhaps your content was not as engaging this month compared to the previous month or you aren’t posting as often. Insights will let you examine what content is interesting to your “Likes” or fans.
The next overview is of Page Interactions over the previous month compared to the month before. Again you want to see green arrows indicating growth. We look for large spikes on the graph to understand what was popular. We look at flat lines as well to see the posts that did not receive any interest. You can plan your upcoming posts based on this information.
In both the Users and Interaction sections you can drill down to get more specifics. It is a good idea to find the metrics you like and enter them on a spreadsheet so you can compare month to month.
There are a few graphs in particular that I like to track. The first two are under the User section. I measure New Likes in the daily view and demographics. I examine New Likes because I want to know what information is causing people to “Like” our Page. Demographics are helpful to get an idea if people from your practice area are Page fans.
In the Interactions section I monitor the Daily Story Feedback again to see what content drives people to comment or “like” something. Secondly, I track Page Posts to see which of them garners the most impressions and percent feedback.
By now you can see that I am very interested in discovering the type of content that drives interactions and new likes. A large strength of social media is the ability to listen to your audience to know what they want. Facebook Insights gives you the tools to review your Page over a period of time to help you understand what your followers interact with. A successful Facebook Page will respond to this information. You will know you are developing a successful page when you see the green arrows of growth each month.
Next week we will begin discussions on Twitter. This is a social media platform that is quickly becoming more and more popular. It is particularly suited to equine vets. I will explain more next week. In the meantime if you have any question on social media please post them in the comment section below or on our Equine Vet Business Facebook Page.
Every month we host a veterinary-farrier day at one of our clinics. We arrange to perform a diagnostic work up on a horse or two with a hoof issue. Afterwards we discuss our diagnosis with the farriers and develop a shoeing plan. We don’t charge for the lameness work up and neither do the farriers for any of their shoeing. Over the past few years these have turned into “must attend” events. Typically, 20-30 farriers participate. It is a great opportunity for us to help break down the typical vet-farrier walls. As a result, they are comfortable working with our vets on foot cases because they know there is mutual respect. In turn they are willing to recommend our services to their clients who do not use us as their veterinarians. It is a win-win for everyone.
I taped a short video of our most recent vet-farrier clinic day. Follow this link to our YouTube page to see the video.
Does anyone else host farrier clinics? If so could you please share your thoughts on how they impact your clinic.
I was fortunate to meet Kirk Eddleman, the CEO of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery of Weatherford, Texas, at a conference last week. Kirk runs a very large practice but he has great insights into the equine veterinary profession that are relevant to the one person practice as well as larger vet hospitals. I was impressed by Kirk’s passion for our profession so I asked him if he could share some of his insights into the business of equine veterinary practices.
In this podcast Kirk and I chat about some of the challenges facing the veterinary profession as a whole. We also discuss some equine specific issues and what our practices are doing to combat these challenges.
You can download the Podcast here or you can go to the iTunes Store and search for Equine Vet Business. You can subscribe to Equine Vet Business in the iTunes Store so you don’t miss any of our Podcasts. We are hoping to release two Podcast a month featuring various veterinarians and practice managers.
Fifty mile an hour winds, single digit temperatures and a winter snow blast forecast of 14-24 inches pending, that’s today, that’s now – Imminent Storm. You prepare, develop a plan, implement your strategy and then wait out the storm hoping the shingles don’t get ripped off the stable, the horses in the lean too are safe and the vets in your practice don’t have to venture out on a night like this.
Sounds a little like the economic crisis and our feelings toward the end of the year 2008. We were informed about the crisis (storm), many specialists gave their projections (weather person) and then it hit…and still uncertainty and consequences no one can accurately forecast.
Life is kind of funny – it makes no difference whether you’re talking about challenges in business or life’s simple moments of a large weather front traversing the country…we assess, sometimes prepare, and then deal with the results or effects of the storm.
Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work, but I remember something important that my partner told me several years ago…”learn from the experience, and don’t make the same mistake again if you can prevent it.” True words of wisdom and part of the culture we try to embrace in our equine practice. It may not sound too profound, but think about the consequences of learning and improving all the time, every day, using every experience as our teacher. This is a recipe for success
The one thing I hate when I travel is renting a car. There always seem to be hidden fees and penalties that make me suspicious. On top of that are the concerns about insurance and filling up the car before you return it. I have never enjoyed an anxiety-free car rental experience until this past weekend, when I rented a car for the afternoon from Enterprise. I have always heard that they place a premium on customer service, so I was curious to se if they would live up to that reputation. Many companies boast that their customer service is well above par, but the reality typically disappoints. This time, that was definitely not the case- so how did they exceed my expectations? For starters, every time I met a new person they asked “how has your customer service been sir?”. At first I was suspicious. I was thinking to myself that they are just asking this but don’t really care what I say. However, when the second person asked, and then acted in a manner that confirmed that they really did care, I was a believer. I asked him how much gas would I need to get to my destination and back, as I was wondering if I needed to buy fuel or just pay the inflated price for them to replace the small amount I planned to use. Since it was going to be less than half a tank he offered to charge me a cheaper rate than they use to fill up a whole tank. Wow. I’m thinking I like this so far, but the real kicker was when I returned the car. When I made the reservation, I was told that they would drive me to my hotel after I was done with the car. This is the Enterprise specialty. They pick you up and drop you off, except (as I found out) when you are renting from an airport location, of which I was informed when I asked for a ride to my hotel. When I expressed my confusion about this, the gentleman who was checking out my returned car replied “ well, if you were told that then we will honour what we said” and drove me to the hotel. Wow again. You can guess that I will be using Enterprise from now on. My experience with them made me realize that renting a car can be a great experience. It is not just who offers the cheapest price.
How does this experience compare to our vet practices? A couple of things come to mind. The first is that if we promise something then we had better deliver. In fact, the more we stake our reputation on a specific service or skill, we must truly be the best game in town. Enterprise places their reputation on customer service and in my experience they excelled at it. If our practice is known for lameness diagnostics and therapy we must have the best equipment, the best vets, the time to perform nerve blocks and the patience to explain to our client everything that we are doing and why we are doing it. Short cuts and substandard equipment are not tolerated anymore. The other thing that struck me was how every employee was empowered to make decisions that would enhance the customer experience. A supervisor was not called or I was told “no that’s not how we do things”. Their job was to make me happy so that I would become a long-term client. It made me wonder how much we empower our receptionists to make decisions without consulting with me, or their manager? Have we given them the freedom to do what it takes to make our clients happy? Is our staff allowed to credit disgruntled clients upset with their bill because they did not get a quote before the treatment or diagnostic procedure was performed? Do they know their limits when dealing with clients over common issues? I’m sure there were established parameters for the decision making of the Enterprise staff I met, but they had enough freedom to deal with what I am sure was a common situation.
It is refreshing to deal with a business that lives up to their reputation. It certainly helps maintain client loyalty. Do your staff and vets know what you want your practice to be known for? Have you trained them to fulfill these expectations? Is your vet practice doing what it takes to ensure your clients are getting the great things they expect from you?
About this time last year I put my money where my mouth was and revealed my 2010 New Year’s Resolutions on this blog. If you’re like me you struggle to maintain your resolutions until the end of January, let alone throughout the year. There were four resolutions made at the time; reduce AR, reduce inventory expense, increase vacation time and reduce staff turnover. So how did we do?
At the start of the New Year we instituted a policy that ALL new clients had to pay at the time of service. Established clients who had historically paid on time were advised that if any of there bills went past 45 days they would revert to COD only status. A number of clients who typically took 60-90 days were told effective immediately they were COD. Success with this initiative meant that this rule could not be adjusted for anyone. The end result is that we reduced average days to AR by 36%, and our average days to AR is now approaching 30 days! What does this mean? Increased cash flow, less interest paid on our line of credit and less time wasted chasing after clients for a late bill.
Reduce Inventory Costs
Cost of goods sold (COGS), the amount of money the business spends buying medications and supplies, is one of the biggest expenses facing a practice. This was harder to do than reduce our AR but we were able to reduce our COGS by 2%. We do need drugs to service our patients but we don’t need to keep large amounts of it on the shelves of our pharmacy. We began doing more frequent counts of our top-selling items to make sure we didn’t have drugs approaching expiration, and to ensure that we were billing for all the drugs dispensed. We also looked at historical numbers to see how much of a certain product was needed at a given time of the year. At any given time there are 2 weeks worth of most drugs on our shelves depending on the season. You don’t see Regumate on our shelves in November. If a client needs it then we can order it in overnight. It’s rare to have an emergency that requires Regumate right away to treat a horse.
Increase Personal Vacation Time
This one was easy to measure. My wife and I have never taken a vacation in the fall during all of the years we have been building up the practice. This year we went away for a week in October. When we came back everything was great. The practice was still standing and everyone, including our clients, did well without us.
Reduce Staff Turnover
This area was the hardest one to work with. We lost some support staff at the beginning of the year who went on to pursue other goals, but in the second half of the year we didn’t lose a single person. I believe that is because we have become better at interviewing people and we are beginning to show an established culture that guides us in hiring people and makes our workplace environment a lot more fun and satisfying.
This leads to my resolutions for 2011. I’m only tackling three this year.
I would like to reinforce our culture so it is ingrained in everything that we do. Why is culture so important? It defines who we are, how we treat our clients, and why we do what we do. Explaining our culture will require another blog so keep returning and I will go into that in the near future. If your interest is really piqued I would recommend reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Heisch, the founder of Zappos.
Use a Budget
This year we are going to work from a budget. I can’t imagine any company not having a budget but I can think of only a handful of equine vets who use one. Most of us have a household budget that typically manages a lot less expense than a vet practice so why don’t we use one in our business? I’m curious to see if we save money this year by using one.
Fifty two. That is the minimum number of blogs I am going to write this year. I am also going to include sections of blogs written by other people. I enjoy writing about aspects of our business that interest me, and the process of writing forces me to think through my ideas. There are numerous unfinished blogs that don’t cut the mustard because of this process.
Here is one resolution from a reader that I wanted to share:
Joanne wrote, “ it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming we know what the client wants. Part of 2011 for me is to focus on the services I provide that clients actually want (vs services they don’t want or needs they have that don’t fit with the care we provide).”
I think the key phrase is resisting the temptation to offer services that diminish the great medical care you provide. Good luck Joanne. I hope you can write us through the year to let us know how it is going.
Finally, Dr. Andy Clark offers the following on how he prepares for his New Year’s resolutions. The message of measuring results is key.
Rocks, Gravel, Sand and Water
Dr. Pownall mentioned a few weeks ago that he was considering writing a blog on his New Year’s resolutions. I have always looked at New Year’s resolutions as another name for goals. I spent some time thinking about the various approaches people take to goal setting.
My wife Kathleen and I use New Years Day as our family retreat for goal setting each year. We set one year goals, three year goals and ten year goals. We tend to set ambitious goals; personal, financial and business related. After we finalize our goals, we take some time and look back to review how successful we were attaining the goals we set a year ago, three years ago and ten years ago. Accountability to yourself for reaching those goals is critical to success. You can’t be accountable unless you measure your results.
I used to find the most challenging part of goal setting to set the right goals as the highest priority. For several years I worked with a business coach, Lou, who used a simple but great visual aid to help with goal setting.
Imagine starting with a large bucket. Put big rocks in the bucket until it is ‘full’. Then put some gravel in the bucket until it is ‘full’. Then put some sand in the bucket until it is ‘full’. Finally put water in the bucket until it is full. This time it really is full. The bucket is a metaphor for your year and the rocks etc are your goals. One way or the other the bucket will get full. If you don’t get the rocks, the really important goals, in first they won’t fit and you will go another year without accomplishing the ‘rocks’, the important goals.
When I set goals, I always make myself put the rocks in the bucket first. Those are 4-6 goals that I really want to accomplish. I refer to them as my ‘rocks’. I post them on a corkboard in front of my monitor where I have to look at them every day. Every day you get covered up with gravel, sand and water. It is just the nature of life. If you don’t focus on your ‘rocks’, they will slip away for another year.
What new years resolutions would you like to share with us?
Happy New Year’s everyone.
This weeks blog is by Andy Clark, DVM, MBA of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.
Are you happy with the financial performance of your practice? Are you confident in your exit strategy? Perhaps you need a personal trainer for your business. Let me share an experience that led me to think in terms of the concept of a business personal trainer.
Having moved to Lexington, Kentucky from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, I was naïve to the peril associated with the simple act of walking in an ice storm. In fact, I never heard of an ice storm before moving to Lexington. In the process of stepping out of my GMC for the first time on ice, I was amazed how quickly so many things can happen when you apply the laws of gravity while attempting to get out of a vehicle on ice. Imagine my surprise when after what appeared to be a few nanoseconds; I was down on the ice with a remarkably clear view of the entire sole of my right shoe even though it was still on my foot. Things seemed to happen very slowly once I was on the ice. The mind works in mysterious ways under duress. I applied logic and reasoning to the situation. I remember thinking that a 50+ year old man should not be able to see the sole of his shoe without taking it off his foot. I was marveling at this ability to see the entire sole of ones own shoe, somewhat proud of this unanticipated youthful flexibity…when the pain hit…
Exactly two years ago I had surgery on that knee. The knee was arthritic to begin with and I had been working around it and protecting it for decades through two previous surgeries. I had a fine surgeon who told me straight away that the knee had been a mess before the ice incident. The fall led to strained collateral ligaments and cruciate ligaments to the maximum limit without failure and oh by the way, both the medial and lateral meniscii were torn. Surgery was a debridement procedure and it went well. I complied with the modest and brief rehab program and considered the unfortunate incident behind me.
I was famliar with knee pain and confident working around it so I marched on with life using the same strategy as before the incident; naproxen and compensation. For the next year, since I was using the leg less and less and doing less and less, the logical result occurred. I lost fifteen degrees of range of motion and gained 15 pounds.
About a year after the ice storm and surgery, I realized that managing the problem with grit, determination and manliness was not working out all that well. I was faced with the decision to begin to use a cane and buy larger trousers or try a new plan. My problem was that I didn’t know what else to do. My best thinking had gotten me to the place I was. I needed a new strategy to get new results. What an epiphany!
I started working with a great physical therapist. With calm confidence in the face of my discomfort, she returned my range of motion to normal in a remarkably short period of time. When my insurance coverage ran out for physical therapy, Esdee, the physical therapist, hit me with the awful truth. If I didn’t take personal charge of my soundness, I would lose the range of motion again and go right back where we started. “What are my options”, I asked her? Physical therapists are often direct people. Concisely, she told me “Get a personal trainer, explain your challenges and objectives and then do what you are told. A personal trainer can not help you if you don’t want help badly enough to do what you are told.”
I have worked with Josh, my personal trainer for a year. I lost the 15 pounds I gained plus losing another 15 that I should have lost long ago. I walk without limping, I have great balance, I can tie my shoes without bending my knees and I am much more confident riding. Oh by the way, I hated every minute of the experience.
The epiphany for me was when I realized that despite three college degrees, I needed a personal trainer to help me reach a pretty basic goal. I had clearly demonstrated to myself that for whatever reason, I was not able to get there on my own. My knee hadn’t been normal since 1974 but I had been ‘dealing with it’. With the additional damage from the ice storm fall, My old plan no longer worked. It took a new plan and someone to help me implement the plan to improve my situation beyond what I could have imagined.
As I look at my personal trainer experience it appears to me that business coaches, personal trainers who attempt to help you improve your business, have the potential to help you achieve remarkable results…if you really want help and are willing to work the new plan. You may hate every minute of it but the results can be remarkable. After all, you were trained to be a veterinarian, not a business person. One day you may look up and be enjoying the business equivalent of walking without a cane and not wearing extra large trousers…it will have been worth it.
Andy Clark, DVM, MBA
Hagyard Equine Medical Institute
Later this week we will review how we did with our 2010 New Year Resolutions and discuss what our plans are for 2011? Have you submitted your resolutions for 2011. Check out our post from last week to comment.
Shopping after Christmas is fertile ground for this blog. Every year I am struck by a situation that makes no sense to me. Last year it was all the indistinguishable stores that were selling clothes at such a discount I am sure they were losing money on each item sold. Compare that to the line ups out the door at Lululemon for their premium yoga clothes that were not marked down at all. Guess which company just released record earnings this month?
Yesterday my wife and I were shopping for some work out clothes. It was 2 days after Christmas and the malls were full of people. Again, we were in that situation where every athletic brand clothing store was beginning to look the same. Fortunately, we found some items at an unnamed store and went to the front to pay. We were informed by an employee standing there that all the cash registers there were closed and that we could go to the cash register at the associated shoe store next door. To give you a perspective it was similar to the situation where a BabyGap is attached to a regular Gap store. When we got to the cash there was a huge line for only one person to handle. Of course everyone had a lot of items since everything was on sale. I went back to the empty registers and told the clerk that there is a huge line in the other area. His response? These registers are closed please go to the other side.
Some things in life are difficult to figure out but it is a sure bet that 2 days after Christmas will be busy and that the faster a store can process purchases the more people will end up buying. Simple stuff. Instead, my impression of this particular brand is now tainted and when choosing between the indistinguishable stores I will remember this one as the store who doesn’t care about their clients.
This got me thinking of the value of great customer service. In this time of price cutting in our industry and the commodification of services great service is still expected. One will put up with an inconvenience once but twice?
As we prepare for 2011 I think it is a good exercise to look at how we interact with our clients. Are there areas where we make it hard for them to do business with us? Are we taking them for granted? Where do we risk losing business because we are not taking care of our clients?
Next week I’ll post my New Years business resolutions and review how I did with my 2010 resolutions. Do you have a business resolution for 2011. Post a comment below and we can discuss them next week.
It has been a week since the conclusion of the AAEP Annual Convention. Each year I always try to focus on the key pieces of information I’ve learned that can help our vet practice. It could be a new procedure or technique or in this case an attitude. Dr. Dennis Brooks gave the prestigious Milne lecture this year. For those who don’t know him, Dr. Brooks is an ophthalmologist wi
th the veterinary college at the University of Florida. I was able to attend only 1.5 hours of his 3 hour talk but in that time a theme became obvious; he is not happy with the status quo with regards to the veterinary treatment of corneal injuries. I don’t know how many times he stated, “It’s not good enough”. At a stage in his career wheremany of his peers are enjoying their positions of tenure or looking forward to their impending retirement this gentleman is still challenging himself to be better. Whether it was for the love of the horse or his own personal challenges it became obvious that he wants to be better.
What an inspiration! If this icon of veterinary ophthalmology strives to improve so much why can’t I in what I do? As a veterinarian or a practice manager the better I can be the better it will be for horses, their owners and the veterinarians and staff that work for us.
Going forward my approach to common day take it for granted situations will be “It’s not good enough” In my world the conclusion of any sentence starting with that phrase has to be “there has to be a better way”.
It’s not good enough to lower fees to be competitive. There has to be a better way to attract and retain clients
It’s not good enough to pay support staff minimum wage. There has to be a better way to compensate staff so that they want to stay and have a career with our practice.
It’s not good enough to get paid 30, 60 or more days afterwards for work performed. There has to be a better way to get paid for the work that we do.
How can you use these phrases to deal with a challenge at your vet practice?
I presented on social media in veterinary medicine at the AAEP Annual Convention in Baltimore this past week. It is my belief that the use of social media is an excellent tool for veterinary practices to deal with many of the challenges they face as well as solidify the loyalty clients have to your practice. Attached is the link to the presentation where I explain the pros and cons of social media in veterinary medicine. I look forward to any comments anyone might have. I have also added a copy of the social media/computer use policy used by our practice along with the disclaimer we get clients to sign if we take photos or videos of their horses. Please feel free to use or edit to suit your needs.
To receive automatic notifications of new blog posts click on this icon to subscribe. It is located on the right side under the photographs. Thanks you.
I enjoyed the company of Drs. Kathy Anderson and Bob Magnus as we presented 61 Minutes at the AAEP Annual Convention. It is a summary of the year in review in business, technology and new graduate issues as they relate to equine practice. Here is a link to the slideshow if you missed it or want to review some of the information.
One things that really upsets me are issues that progress beyond our control due to apathy and myopia. The recent Gulf Oil Spill is an example. It annoyed me to no end that apparent cost cutting and the lure of quick profit was so disruptive to a natural and shared ecosystem. A more recent example is the sad state of the equine health industry and the looming decline of the equine sector as a whole in the province of Ontario. This may be old news to my friends in the USA but it is spreading fast on my home turf. We are faced with lay dentists, trainers injecting their own joints, pirated medications, commodification of vet services, declining interest in horse racing, indifference of our governing body to infractions of their own rules, and only12 horses entered for a $50,000 jumping Grand Prix, it is obvious we are facing some challenges. How does a trained veterinarian compete against a solo lay dentist who charges $30 for a poor quality hand float? As a side note this is illegal in the province of Ontario, not that this prevents anything. There is a race horse trainer who travels around injecting joints on both race and non-race horses- he actually hands out business cards advertising his services. He is responsible for the deaths of several horses through post-injection septic joints. Representatives from the larger pharmaceutical companies have suggested that they have not developed and released some needed equine drugs because a pirated product is guaranteed to show up soon afterwards. Historically our only shopped item were call fees and vaccines, but now more and more clients are comparing our dentistry and lameness exam fees. Not all procedures are performed equally but our clients no longer seem to appreciate this. Ontario has a large racing industry. One only has to look at the situation in New Jersey to know that state and provincial governments are reviewing the subsidizing of this industry. Many local vets have called our governing bodies about the infractions we see that threaten the health of horses only to be met with bureaucratic excuses. Finally, horse shows are struggling to get adequate entry numbers in their big sponsored classes. Whew. What to do? We could be reactive like so may state vet organizations, but this is closing the door once the horse has left the barn. Unlike the oil spill, this is something I believe we can have some positive influence on. Here’s how.
Last week our veterinary practice hosted a dinner for our referral vets and suppliers. It was a way for us to thank them and show our appreciation for years of support. The welcoming remarks from my wife (and business partner) touched upon the challenges and the potential opportunities in our industry. We admitted that if our vet practice raised these issues that we would be thought of as self-serving. Instead we proposed that prominent industry stakeholders begin talking and identifying our challenges. Afterwards we can look for opportunities to influence the industry and work towards creating a future that is beneficial to stakeholders, horses, and horse owners. It is in the best interest of all involved to have a healthy equine population in Ontario, Canada and North America. Together we have influence. Subsequent to this meeting we have planned an initial round table forum to follow the AAEP convention. As we move forwards I will post blogs to update you on our progress.
I don’t want to be one of those people who recognize the challenges but do nothing about them. Then in a few years we can congratulate ourselves that we were indeed right- the industry did go down the tubes. Why not do something about in advance? We are always promoting preventative health to our clients. Why not do some ourselves?
I am sure many of you have felt the pressure from clients that they want you to be cheaper or they want you to be faster but they still want your same high quality. This has become a common refrain at one of our practices that has a lot of race-horse clientele. They are price sensitive and used to working in a commodity driven environment. We have come up with a solution that seems to work for everyone. We have a sign at the reception area that states.
Our services and products can be
Our clients now know that if they want lab results as soon as they are done they will pay a premium because this means contacting their vet and getting them to drop everything to get an interpretation. If they can wait until the next day they will pay the regular price. Likewise, if they want us to do a cheap and fast preg check? You get the idea.
We can’t be all things to all people. If a choice is given most people prefer good or better. Those that want cheap at the expense of quality are not the clients we want. With this sign we are upfront about it just like some of our (ex) clients are upfront about wanting cheap. There is nothing wrong in letting your clients know the type of practice you are. It sure cuts down on the headaches from upset clients that were expecting one thing and got another and the stress level amongst your vets and staff is a lot lower.
What does everyone else do to announce the type of practice they are?
Change is hard. We all agree on that, but not changing in response to pressures on your business can be devastating. Those that can respond quickly and adapt to new challenges have the upper hand in the market place. An example of this in action is the debate over concussions in both hockey and football. Both sports are under increasing scrutiny over the effects of head hits. We are all familiar with the stories of middle-aged ex-players with premature dementia, and there is nothing more disturbing than seeing a player splayed out on the ice or turf unconscious after a hit to the head. These are supposed to be fun sports, not carnage. An inadvertent head shot is one thing, but the problem are those plays that involve deliberate attempts to injure an opposing player. Who would want their child to play these sports knowing that head injuries are considered an acceptable side effect of playing the game? What has this got to do with change? The response from the NHL and the NFL to this issue cannot be more different. Over the past couple of years the NHL has deferred responding to the controversy until the end of the season when they will put together a committee to study the matter. This seems to happen every year. Their reticence to change anything is based on their concern that they don’t want to alter the spirit of the game. They state that the game is so fast that how can you expect a player to know that their body check is connecting with the other player’s head? Meanwhile, injured players continue to sit out games and loyal fans are deprived of the opportunity to see their favorite players play. Compare this to a recent Sunday of particularly brutal illegal head shots by football players that were all over the highlight reels. Within a week the NFL implemented new penalties for helmet-on-helmet hits. What happened the next week? There was not one infraction and the games were still exciting. Long term, I imagine that the NFL will continue to have a strong fan base with a game that is responsive to changing times. As a Canadian I hate to admit it but the NHL runs the risk of losing market share in the competitive sports arena. Their inability to make the decisions for fear of altering the spirit of the game is maddening. What sport is the same now as it was even 20 years ago?
The same sort of inertia faces many of us in equine veterinary practice. We are used to a profession that grew regardless of how involved we were with the business side of it. Those days are over. There are numerous challenges facing our industry that, if not dealt with, can have a profoundly negative effect on our practices. For those of us with large repro practices or a strong racehorse clientele, what are we doing in response to the decline in these areas? What about internet pharmacies or the obscene amount of student debt that prevents associates from buying into practices? I don’t believe any of us are immune from the economic downturn. With these sobering thoughts in mind now is the time to make the hard decisions about how we are going to change our practices to adapt to this new reality. Business cannot carry on as usual. The NFL realizes this.
What are you doing to change your veterinary practice?
In this last of our series of podcasts on the 2010 AAEP Business Education Workshop I spoke with Dr. Dan Keenan. He in a partner in Keenan McAlister Equine, a three veterinarian practice in Central New Jersey. Dan serves on the AAEP Education subcommittee on business management and has worked with Dr. Mitchell Rhode of Maryland in creating this workshop. In this podcast Dan speaks candidly about the pressures facing equine practices from a veterinarians point of view and what his practice has done to deal with the economic downturn.
You can click here for a direct feed to the podcast or search on iTunes for Equine Vet Business to download a copy. I would like to hear if you like our use of podcasts. Please comment below. Thanks.
I had the chance recently to chat with Dr. Christine Merle. She, along with Nikki Quenette, will be presenting at the upcoming AAEP Business Education workshop in November. In this podcast Dr. Merle discusses some of the business stresses facing equine veterinary practices and her thoughts on how practice owners can position themselves to survive in this tough economy. Follow this link to hear the podcast from the source. You can also go to iTunes and download the podcast to your computer, iPod, iPhone or any other MP3 player.
What do you think of Dr. Merle’s opinions on the current business state of equine veterinary practice?
Welcome to the first podcast from Equine Vet Business. In episode #1 we talk with Nikki Quenette about her upcoming presentations at the AAEP Business Education Workshop in November. Nikki is a rising presence in the field of veterinary practice management consulting. Click on this link to download the podcast directly or go to iTunes and subscribe to the Equine Vet Business podcast. Listen to new podcasts while on the road between calls. More podcasts from other presenters at the AAEP Business Education Workshop will follow as well as conversations with other equine vets.
For most of my life I have thought that if done properly I could keep the major parts of my life in balance and that would bring true happiness…In fact, what I have learned and experienced is that it is difficult and almost impossible to accomplish this life goal. Some aspects of your life do take a back seat at any point in time. It sounds very negative, but really it is not. I have learned that it is the understanding of where you are balanced at a particular point that is the key to being happy in business, relationships, and personal /spiritual growth. If you can understand it, you can manage it, and you can adapt to the priorities you define…thus no excuses. Accountability for yourself – nice concept. The diagram below is my visual tool to help keep life in balance. The center blue circle is always moving…I am in control of circle. Sometimes its round, other times it is deformed or oblong. It moves and shifts based on priorities at any given point.
This is an equine veterinary blog right? How does this play in our industry? Simply put, we as practitioners are very passionate about our profession, and the patients we treat. This passion drives us, the feedback from owners stimulates our egos, and frankly we often find ourselves working, and working, and working
to please others and care for the patients at the expense of living our lives. This is my perspective of most equine practitioners and my own experiences. Balance for me is understanding this cycle, and learning how to adjust and be happy. One of the solutions is to improve our business skills to reduce the daily stresses, improve profitability, and decrease the emotional challenges and frustrations of managing staff and difficult people. Delegation, empowerment, and engagement are popular buzz words, but they are very real and are all predicated on the fact that we need good people in our organizations to help steer the ship on a daily basis. This has been my approach in the past 4-5 years. It’s still a journey and will always be one.
Recently I finished about 150+ miles of backpacking in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Several friends, my wife, and my dog Gracie joined me on the trail at different times. The solitude of hiking alone for 10+ miles a day in the rugged terrain was a great experience….so simple that it makes you think about life, business, and priorities….and yes balance. I love horses, I love business and most of all I love family and life.
The challenges facing the equine industry are many, from decreasing revenues, increasing student debt, to economic forces not in our control. I believe that often we do not address the issue of personal balance in life as an important factor in our careers and for the future equine veterinarian. What do you think?
I had the pleasure of presenting an in depth session on social networking at the recent Equine Business Management Strategies in Delafield, Wisconsin. I had never presented for four hours before but the time flew by. The session was very interactive and I think, I hope, I was able to demonstrate the need to use social media in an equine veterinary practice. It was quite the sight seeing some older practitioners creating a Facebook account for the first time. I think some of them actually became hooked. This was my fifth year attending the course and it never disappoints. There was so much knowledge presented to the attending vets and practice managers. I also enjoyed seeing some of the friends i met at the European version of the course in Amsterdam last month. Two of them attended the course courtesy of Intervet Shearing Plough and Business Infusions. This course should be on your radar next year if you have any interest in equine veterinary practice management.
In any case here is a link to my presentation on Slideshare. I removed the long videos I had in the presentation but I inserted the links to them so that you could go to them directly.
If you have any questions please let me know and I will be sure to try to answer them. If you are on the main page of the blog you can subscribe to get regular updates by clicking the RSS icon on the right side of the page.
I just came back from the Equine Business Management Strategies International meeting in Amsterdam. This was the first meeting in Europe based on the successful Equine Business Management Strategies course held each September in Wisconsin. The few North Americans attending the conference were able to spend an intense 4 days being educated on business management with the attending equine vets from Finland, Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and Portugal. Quite the mixture of equine vets attending! When we all got together and began discussing the challenges, we were surprised to learn that the North American and European vets are facing exactly the same problems: Succession planning, cut-rate veterinary competitors and practice governance.
Unlike most North American practices it appears most European vets work in large group practices that have equine, companion animal, bovine and even porcine vets under the same roof. It was not uncommon to have a vet announce that they were partners in a 20+ vet practice! This is very rare in North America. We did share common concerns about bringing on new partners and resolving current partner issues. The continued success of our businesses depends on succession and if we can’t determine accurate practice value, find partners willing to buy in, and institute proper governance, then our current practices will die out when the partners retire. New European vets fortunately do not have the debt load of their American counterparts so they do have the ability to buy in sooner. The problem remains of how to properly and fairly determine practice value in the current recessionary market place. How can a new partner pay their debt load when a practice has reduced income with increased expenses? This is a problem on both sides of the Atlantic.
Cut-Rate Veterinary Competitors
This subject probably caused the most discussion. We all have neighbouring vets who think if they lower their prices that they will get busier, without realizing that this does not equal more profitable. Clients think this is great for them, but the long term outcome of this habit can be dire. Our expenses still continue to rise significantly and the only way to maintain profitability is to work much longer hours. The reality is that new grads will not work excessive hours that workhorse vets from an earlier generation who are nearing retirement age. There is a different emphasis on life choices with newer vets, but at the same time a professional graduate has the expectation of a salary appropriate for their education. How can a practice with decreased profitability due to slashed fees pay for a new associate and still stay in business? There is a potential future for horse clients where vets do not buy up-to-date diagnostic equipment, continuing education is ignored, and longer hours worked result in more errors because of fatigue and burnout. Remember, there will no be new vets joining the profession in this scenario so what you have is what will remain.
Vet partnerships form because people work well together, they are classmates, or they have been part of practice long enough that is seems to be the next logical step. Rarely is a set of rules written down that instructs the partners on how the business should be operated, and the results can be catastrophic. How to determine partner buy-outs or buy-ins? How to deal with partner death or divorce? When large group practices face this, the outcome is immobility. Decisions are not made, plans to deal with the economy are ignored and the practice is left circling the drain.
Kudos to the veterinarians that attended this course regardless if they were from North America or Europe. By no means did we have the answers to all of our challenges but we knew more than before we came. All of us left with the resolve to do something to improve the business management of our practices and profession. The ultimate benefit is for horse owners and their horses. Let us work towards a future of vibrant, healthy and progressive vets working on improving the health of the horse.
A special thanks to Dr. Joop Looman of the University of Utrecht College of Veterinary Medicine for hosting us. He was assisted by Dr. Arno Werners. Both made all of us feel at home. Thanks also to Dr. Bob Magnus for creating Equine Business Management Strategies and having the vision to bring it to the rest of the world.
Better practice management results in better medical care for our patients. Does anyone disagree?
I have just finished presenting at the 1st Equine Business Management Strategies International meeting in Amsterdam. Along with Drs. Bob Magnus and Joop Loomans we presented the year in review in business, finance, lifestyle and technology/social media issues relevant to equine veterinarians. Follow this link to see the presentation. Dr. Magnus and I will present this again at the AAEP annual convention in Baltimore later this year with more news from now until then. In the meantime here is a link to the US version of this event Sept 11-15, 2010 in Delafield, Wisconsin. I welcome your comments.
How much do I like my iPad? At this point, I can’t imagine working and living without it. My original intent was to see if it could be used in our veterinary practice. Since then, I have learned that it is one of those products created by Apple that you don’t realize how much you need it until you use it. Remember the iPod? Who would have thought that it would be so popular?
What can I do with my iPad that I couldn’t do before? Well, I can access x-rays from our server to show clients while at their farm. I can educate clients with how-to sections from our web site while on the road. It is always on so there is no need to wait for my laptop to wake up. There is no excuse not to write letters or discharge statements when I have a few moments of down time. While my technician is driving I can read and answer emails and most importantly I can invoice wherever I am. To be honest invoicing is a bit awkward but I am sure within 6 months or so it will be much easier. In other words I am much more efficient with it.
The biggest surprise from my iPad is how fun it is for personal use. From reading Kindle books to the New York Times app to an excellent GPS application I am finding new uses for it daily. As an aside I find the gps app more accurate than my Garmin unit. Sorry Garmin. The battery life is 10 hours! On a recent 5-hour flight I was able to watch 2 movies and I still had 5 hours of battery life left. This is the magic of the iPad. It combines so many different products into one.
There has to be some downsides right? I wish it had a camera. There is not a lot of memory so you will need to keep documents on an external server or the cloud. There will probably be a new version of the iPad in January 2011 that will have more features than the one I am currently using. Uhm… I spend too much time on it? Seriously, there are very few down sides. If you decide to buy one get the version with 3G/Wi-Fi, which allows you to have Internet access when you don’t have wifi available.
With regards to using it in your vet practice, it has some attractive features but the main drawback is that it is awkward to use with windows based practice software. This will get better in time, and when that happens I have all of our vets use the iPad. It is half the price of a laptop, it is very portable, and it is so useful for communicating with and educating clients. It is not a replacement for a laptop or desktop but it is pretty close to it.
Is anyone else using an iPad in their vet practice? Share your thoughts if you do.
Just over 6 months ago I blogged about my four New Years resolutions for our business: Reduce AR, Reduce inventory costs, Reduce staff turnover and Spend more time on non-work related activities. At the time I was expecting to achieve only one of these goals, however, someone left a comment that they expected me to succeed on at least two of the four. The challenge was on! Now that we are half way through the year it is time to evaluate my progress.
At the beginning of the year, our “Days to Accounts Receivables” (DAR) was 60 days. This is a measurement that describes on average how long it takes to collect on an account. Some people pay right away and some take months to pay, and our overall average was 60 days. If we have to pay our suppliers within 30 days, we would either have to use money saved in the bank or use our line of credit to pay them, since it will take another 30 days on average to collect from our clients. My goal was to reduce that amount as much as possible. The good news is that as of June our average DAR is now down to 30 days, which is a huge success. How did we make such a dramatic improvement? Basically we insisted that all new clients pay at the time of service
and that any established client who had been slow to pay would be COD going forward. We have not lost any old clients with this policy and all new clients are expecting to pay at the time of service. Furthermore, we have more cash on hand.
In 2009 we counted our inventory at the end of the year. This year we are performing a full count twice, but I will not be able to compare 2010 to 2009 until year-end. However, we are still taking measures to minimize our on-hand inventory. For example, we are preparing quarterly maximum and minimum levels for a number of popular items. This way we won’t overstock an item in the fall that we only sell a lot of in the spring. Much like our reduced AR, less money on our shelves equals more money to pay our bills.
Reduced Staff Turnover
We have lost one full time employee this year. She left us to pursue a job in the field of her college degree, and we knew at some point this would happen. We will see what the rest of the year brings but so far we have lost fewer staff at this point in the year compared to all of last year. We will see how the rest of the year turns out before we can consider this a success.
More Personal Time
I am certainly traveling less this year and working fewer horse shows on the weekends. The key to success here is very simple. I have learned to say no and there is more acceptance of our newer associates by our clients.
How are your resolutions going? Do you have any successes to share?
Original Blog Reference – How-to-Keep-a-New-Years-Resolution
A recent job applicant opened my eyes to just how exposed we are when we have web sites and use social media. This particular person reviewed our website to learn more about our company before sending in her application. On the site she found that one of our staff members was involved in fox-hunting. Instead of applying for the job she wrote us a scathing letter deploring our support for a staff member who participated in a sport that she thought was cruel to animals. I was not expecting that when we advertised for a job to say the least.
There were two ways to deal with this situation; either ignore this person, or try to engage her and explain our position. Unfortunately, ignoring people in this age of exposure makes one a prime target for negative online reviews. As we use the web to reach current and potential clients she could use it with equal effectiveness to create an uproar and spread negative comments. Instead, I quickly responded and thanked her for the email. I explained that the staff member in question is involved in “drag hunts”, where a lead horse drags a scented cloth through the countryside that the hounds can track and chase after. In effect, it is an organized cross-country romp on horseback. The enraged job applicant was immediately mollified and apologized for the misunderstanding. She admitted that she wrote us without proper investigation and now wished even more to have a job with us. I in turn thanked her for exposing something on our website that could have been badly misinterpreted. We corrected the staff bio on our web page and everybody was happy. We put out a potential fire and at the same time elevated our reputation with this applicant.
There are three important lessons to be learned from this situation:
You and Your Practice are Being Judged
People will be looking at your practice to see if you walk the walk and talk the talk. For example, if you are into calf roping, you must be prepared to accept that there will be people in your community that may not agree with the sport and will judge you based on your pastime. The separation between your private life and the perception of your practice is non-existent. By all means do what you enjoy but don’t be surprised if you get feedback on your personal life. This will happen if there is even the slightest perceived contradiction to the perception of veterinarians as healers of animals.
Deal with the Negative Feedback… NOW!
Two current situations in the news illustrate how companies can either rise to the occasion or badly fumble when coping with a problem. BP is doing a horrible job dealing with the fallout from the Gulf oil spill. They are slow to respond to new developments and appear to be fudging the facts in an attempt to minimize the fallout. On the other hand, McDonalds released promotional drinking glasses that turned out to have a toxic substance in them. They responded openly and quickly, and took full ownership of the screwup. Ultimately, McDonald’s reputation is intact and even enhanced. Deal with a negative impression quickly, respectfully, and honestly. Even if you are not successful, your accuser will respect your candor.
Prepare Your Defence
Sorry, but when your personal life becomes your public life you must have a story prepared to defend yourself for everything. No intelligent adult should have to defend personal choices but as soon as you have a public profile be prepared.
Here is the key point.
If you aren’t prepared to or don’t want to defend a hobby, club affiliate, religion or political point of view, do not put it on your web site, Facebook page or practice brochure. Keep your private life private. On the other hand if you don’t care what people think about your life go right ahead. Just don’t be surprised if not everyone thinks the way you do and you lose a client.
The web makes it so much easier to reach so many people and yet so hard to remain private. Are you prepared?
I just finished reading a book by Joe Jaffe called “Flip the Funnel”. It is an inspiring book that illustrates the positive influence of keeping the customers one already has and leveraging that relationship to gain new customers, instead of devoting all of your energy to enticing new clients. Several of my recent experiences have reinforced the theme of this book.
A client of ours keeps a couple of jumpers with a local trainer. This person is an ideal customer who pays his bills on time, buys new horses for both his kids and the trainer to ride, goes to all the local shows, and ships to Florida in the winter. The trainer’s services have begun to slip by missing entry deadlines, failing to schedule the farrier regularly, ignoring the client’s daughter at the horse shows, all while spending much more time with a new client who does does not go to all the shows, is miserable to other barn clients, and is cheap. This other client is always complaining about costs and has become a pervasively negative presence in the barn, with little upside from a business point of view.
Another example is the restaurant my wife and I frequently visit. It seems lately that the more regularly we go, and the more we bring other people, the worse we are treated. We tip very well, always order a moderately expensive bottle of wine based on their recommendation, and rave about the food. I believe that we are ideal patrons. This past Saturday night we went for dinner and were unapologetically walked right past the table that we had specifically reserved earlier in the week, to a lousy table in the back of the room, and were then sold a bottle of wine that was twice the cost of what we typically spend. What did we do? We ate our meal and skipped our usual cappuccino and deserts. We felt ripped off and used and just wanted to go home. We were taken for granted. Compare this to another restaurant where we are regulars; every time we dine there the chef comes out to say hello when we arrive. Not just us either. He greets all of his regulars. At the end of the night he sends out either a grappa or another drink on the house. Once he is finished in the kitchen the chef comes out and spends a few more minutes chatting with us and other patrons. When we are thinking of going out for dinner next where do you think we will go?
My wife and I came up with the idea for this blog as we gnawed our way through a meal where the great food was ruined by the diffident attitude surrounding us. It got us thinking about our great clients. How do we treat them? Do we show them the respect they deserve? Do we take anyone for granted? We were reminded that we all want to feel important when we are using a service. Especially when we are such fans. This is simple human nature. Even if your product is outstanding, bad service will alienate and drive away even your most ardently loyal clients
It is far easier to keep the great clients we have then find new ones. What are you doing to keep your best clients coming back for more and encouraging them to tell all their friends about your practice?
One of the side-effects of this recession is that a number of vets are discounting their prices in hopes of attracting and retaining business. The recent recession has had a greater impact in some areas of North America when compared to others. We cannot ignore how price conscious our clientele has become in these regions. Our concern for the welfare of our patients makes us more sensitive to this effect than many other professions. No veterinarian likes to see a patient suffer because the client cannot afford a service. Our practice feels the same pressure but there are so many reasons why price wars are a bad idea.
Lets examine these reasons and see if there are ways to rise above the fray.
When we become price-oriented, we join the ranks of Walmart and Target. Our services become a commodity that is no different from any other vet. When this happens, the lowest price vet becomes the most popular one. Of course many of the goods we sell and some of the services we offer are price sensitive. Many clients do shop around looking for the best price on vaccines and call fees. When price becomes the sole reason for people to choose us, there is little or no value placed upon our skill and knowledge. The key word here is value. Are we running the risk of losing our value to our clients when we engage in a price war?
This is the best time to be a single person ambulatory practice because they have such low overhead. As soon as you have staff, infrastructure, and expensive equipment you become squeezed with tighter margins when prices are lowered. Prices for our supplies, insurance, and staffing are not going down. In fact, many are going up. Now we have to work longer and harder to make the same amount of money as we did even at the same fee schedule, and even more so if we reduce our prices.
Who is going to want to join a practice that is high volume with low prices? New graduates have huge debt loads that are going to require realistic wages if they have any hope of paying them off. Also, lifestyle is a major priority for newer generations of practitioners, who have the attitude “work to live”. If new grads can’t get the job they want they will either go back to school or reclaim their old bedrooms at home. There is a significant threat to our profession if we cannot attract future equine veterinarians. Where will this leave horse owners when there are fewer vets to treat their horses?
The Future of The Equine Vet
I have been ruminating on this subject for months now. It drives me crazy when I hear a client complain about the price of our products or services. I know that the low prices charged by competitors are not sustainable and that eventually they will have to adjust their fees, die in harness, or go out of business. In the meantime our clients increasingly view the profession as purely price competitive with no other means of differentiation between practices. Does it have to be this way?
Last week I was walking in our local shopping mall. My wife and I noticed that every clothing store was selling the same stuff. I couldn’t tell if we were in store A or store B. Every one greeted the client with “Hi. If you buy 2 shirts you get a 3rd free” or some variation thereof. There wasn’t the “check this shirt out it is made with …… that wears much better than …..”. Of course the customers that were entering the stores just wanted a deal and whoever had the best deal in the mall was going to get the business. It struck me that our profession was running the risk of becoming like this. Later, I noticed a long lineup outside the door at Lululemon, sellers of high-end yoga clothing. Nothing was on sale and the cash registers were ringing. I notice this frequently at the stores that offer unique high-quality products. That isn’t the only difference. These stores become destinations, they have excellent personalized customer service, and they do not compete on price. They have a story to tell of why customers prefer them over the competition. Ultimately they will have competition but in the meantime they are solidifying their reputation with the marketplace- just ask Apple. Whatever new product they introduce sells off the shelves at a premium price because of their reputation for quality and innovation.
Are there lessons here that we can apply to equine veterinary practice? First of all we need to look at vet medicine with a fresh perspective. Our new standard has to depend on “above and beyond” customer service. We need to educate our clients about the value of the information and experience we possess. We need to solidify the value of our skills and knowledge with associates, co-owners and staff. We need to find new niches and profit centers that our competitors lack. We need to discover our story. When we have this story, excellent customer service, and confidence in our skills and abilities, we must shout it out to our equine communities. Let them know what we are all about. We’re not shy about trumpeting our cheap prices so it should be easy to turn that business model over and talk about the things that make us proud. Of course we need to price competitively but that does not mean we cannot create value for our clients. Find or create those services where price is less of a factor. Finally, we have to realize that equine practice management is an active process. Our businesses don’t hum along like they used to.
What are you doing to combat the price wars in your area?
Mike Pownall, DVM
What could possibly be wrong with that?
A Guest Blog with Andy Clark, DVM, MBA
For decades, two of the greatest challenges we face in equine practice have been our reliance on selling drugs to generate the revenue necessary to sustain the practice of the practice and our failure to collect fees at time of service.
The origins both of these challenges faced by equine practitioners lie in the history of the development of the practice of veterinary medicine. Veterinarians in the early days, beginning in the late 1800’s treated horses that were an integral part of an agricultural economy. Most horses were either involved in farming operations or transportation of agricultural products. The clients had a reasonably high level of experience with livestock in general and horses specifically. The differentiator between veterinarian and client seems to have been in access to ‘medicine’ and medical equipment. Because clients were reluctant or even unwilling to pay a vet for “intangibles” such as knowledge, wisdom and advice, veterinarians were pressed into a business model in which they relied on drug mark up to make a living. They gave away their knowledge, wisdom and advice and charged for medicine and for using equipment the horse owner didn’t have (tooth floats, Obstetrical instruments, surgical instruments etc)
Once those late 19th century clients were trained that the vet service was free and the drugs cost money, clients balked each time vets tried to re train them to pay for professional services and less for drugs. The path of least resistance for everyone was to continue the old model, charge more for drugs and little or nothing for professional service. That business model endured through the 20th century and now into the 21st century. Now in 2010, many equine vets continue to lose money on professional services and try to make it up on drugs.
It was probably always a bad business model but it definitely is now! Now that internet access is so common in our society and internet pharmacies are abundant, clients can easily learn exactly what their veterinarian pays for products. They do some rudimentary arithmetic and assume their veterinarian is gouging them. Often the client challenges the vet about the drug markup. The clients usually winds up paying the internet price for the drugs. The veterinarians wind up struggling to generate enough revenue to cover the overhead of their practice because they “can’t” charge appropriately for professional services.
Our challenge lies in education; demonstrating to owners the value of the knowledge, wisdom and experience they receive. Once clients understand that those services have a dollar value that is fair and reasonable to be charged for them, veterinarians can get out from under reliance on drug markup to pay the overhead.
As far as billing for services instead of presenting an invoice at time of service, that’s a bad business model too. Its roots are in the agricultural history mentioned earlier. Vets worked for farmers who grew livestock or crops. The feed man, grocery store owner, farrier, vet etc, all received payment in the fall after the crop was sold. All those other folks have migrated to payment to time of service over time. The vets are still working on a 19th century business model. After over a century, many large animal owners view vet service on credit as an entitlement and will fire the vet and get a new one if the vet attempts to bill at time of service.
In some areas of North America, vets have successfully moved to payment at time of service. Coincidentally, many of those same vets are charging for professional services and working on a much lower markup on drugs to compete with internet pharmacy prices. It may be that group of vets have developed a healthier business model and will be the leaders in their industry.
Andrew R Clark, DVM, MBA is the Chief Executive Officer of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky. Founded in 1876, Hagyard is a 134 year old equine practice with over 60 veterinarians. Hagyard is the second oldest business in Lexington.
Dr Clark earned his Doctorate Degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of California at Davis. Following 21 years in equine practice, an injury ended his career as an equine practitioner. Dr. Clark returned to school for his MBA. He is an Honors Graduate from St. Mary’s College of California, Graduate School of Business and Economics, Masters in Business Administration program.
Prior to accepting the CEO position in 2005, Dr Clark owned and operated an equine practice management consulting firm. In addition to consulting work, he has been very active speaking to international, national and regional Association Meetings and AAEP student chapter members.
Through Hagyard Consulting Group, Dr. Clark continues to provide business solutions, strategies, and development for equine practitioners in 12 states. He also facilitates two Veterinary Management Groups. Each group is made up of 20 veterinarians from the US and Canada who meet twice annually to learn management techniques to use in their practices.
Dr Clark is a trustee for the AVMA Professional Liability Insurance Trust. The trust manages the Liability Insurance program for 82,000 members.