SOAR VETERINARY SERVICES

HOW TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL VETERINARY REHABILITATION PRACTICE

I have no idea what it takes to run a successful veterinary practice lol!!!   I definitely don't claim to have all the answers as to what is required to make a veterinary hospital or any business thrive and I have made so many mistakes along the way.  What I do know as that as SOAR continues to grow, I must be doing something right.  I know that I question my own decisions almost daily and learn from my mistakes.  I have never been OK with status quo and constantly change things to improve who SOAR is, and what we can do for our patients.  After graduating from veterinary school in 2002 I have worked in a large number of clinics.  I have worked as a receptionist and an assistant.  I have worked as a veterinary associate.  I have worked as a locum.  Now I am a business owner.  This has provided me with perspective from all aspects of veterinary medicine.  I have experienced a large number of practice management styles and have taken away many different ideas; some which I vowed to never use if I ever owned my own practice, and some that I took away as important pearls of wisdom from the many veterinary owners I encountered.   As I watch SOAR grow, I look back on decisions that I have made, mistakes I have made, and what allows us to continue to grow and be who we are.  It would be so easy to say the typical things like pick a good location, work within a budget, and market yourself well.  While these are definitely important in the growth of a business, these are the things I have found to be important to me, my personality, and SOAR.

1)  Be true to yourself

My version of success may not be the same as yours.  Does success mean a large income?  Does it mean having a mobile practice instead of being in a clinic setting?  You have to define YOUR version of success in order to make a plan on how to achieve it.  When I opened SOAR in Burlington I had no idea what it would grow to be, or what it would evolve into.  What I wanted was to go to work and be happy.  Happy in the job I was doing, as well as with the team I worked with. I also wanted to be relatively well compensated for the job that I did.  With two small busy kids at home at the time, I also needed flexibility in my schedule.  And honestly I wanted control....control over my appointment times, control over my staff, and control over my medicine.  I had an idea of what that would look like in my head and wanted to take the plunge to see if I could make it work.  Simple right??  Absolutely NOT!  I have made mistakes and have learned and progressed based on them.  What I did know is that every step of the way I needed to evaluate what it was I wanted, what the next stage would be, and make decisions on how to get there.  


2) Develop positive relationships

a) With other veterinarians.  The veterinary community is a small community.  This is particularly important if you are planning on a referral based rehab practice.  Other veterinarians need to know that they can trust you with their patients' care.  They need to know that you are not trying to steal their business but indeed want to enhance what they are offering their patients.  Not only does this generate revenue for them based on recommendations you may have (bloodwork, radiographs, etc), but also generates trust from clients.   They realize that you are willing to go above and beyond and offer them the best possible care for their pets including integrative options.


b) With clients.  Be patient and listen to what the client is telling you. Are they overwhelmed?  Are they in a difficult financial situation?  Even if they are does that limit what they are willing to do moving forward.  Never make assumptions.  Not every client can afford thousands or even hundreds of dollars a month for rehabilitation.  Communication about options and treatment plans is essential.  One of the largest concerns we hear from clients is that they did not know what all of their options were.  They felt pressured or forced into situations they weren't prepared for.  Rehabilitation consults are not just about treatment but about working with clients to determine the best course of action for them.  When clients can only proceed with minimal treatments, it is still a win for that patient.  That client is still doing whatever they can do for their pet, regardless of whether it was your first choice.  Having your clients trust you and your recommendations not only makes it easier to treat your patients in the best way possible but gives you an amazing long term relationship with some amazing individuals, and provides a positive word of mouth to continue to build your business.  


3) Do not undervalue yourself

It is easy to rationalize low fees.  "People will not pay more to see me."  "The less I charge, the more patients I can see and help".  The reality is that it costs money to run a successful business.  After completing your rehabilitation certification, you have likely invested $10,000 on average.  This is above and beyond the time and money you spent completing your veterinary degree.  Completing this certification has made you a better diagnostician and practitioner.  Make sure you do justice to the education you have pursued.  Does this mean some patients will go without rehabilitation due to cost?  Sometimes, unfortunately.  There is always a way to add in some work for those who are struggling to get these treatments.  We often have donated sessions from patients that pass away and we save these to use for these cases, or for special rescue cases.  The Farley Foundation can be an option for those that are on disability or pensions.   There are options out there aside from short-changing yourself.


4) Choose the correct staff

You may not be able to hire staff initially.  However as your practice grows, having staff that fits with your own beliefs is important.  This does not mean your religious beliefs.  I mean the ethics and beliefs of how you treat your clients and patients.  Sometimes training staff on what it is you believe in so that they know how to help you and your clients, but sometimes it is a matter of hiring that specific personality.  Depending on what your desire is, I do believe that some things just come naturally to some people.  Some are great with people.  Some are amazing at organization.  Hiring out of desperation can lead to disappointment on behalf of you and the staff member.  I realize this is often easier said than done, but knowing what you are looking for will help guide you in the hiring process.


5) Enable your staff

With the right staff, you will find they have ideas and ways that they want to improve and change the clinic.  You will not and do not have to approve all of their ideas, but giving your staff freedom to come up with ideas and decisions allows them to feel invested in the workplace and ideally lead to longer term retention of staff.  Each staff member has at least one thing that they are amazing at.   Foster this trait by giving them tasks related to it allow them to excel.  Maybe its how they greet the client.  Maybe its their organizational skills.  Maybe its how they take charge and help their colleagues.  Sometimes its  easy to focus on the negative traits or actions.  The more we focus on the positive, the more positive the working environment, and the easier it is to deal with a concern when it arises in the future.


6) Reward your staff

Proceeds from a financially positive month or quarter can be dealt with many ways.  Reinvesting back in the clinic is definitely important, especially in the early stages.   However sometimes even a small bonus to your staff, can let them know that they are appreciated and that the work that they do is important to growing the business.  


7) Remember that the work place environment is influenced by YOU.  It is not easy to shrug off distractions from home as you walk in the door.  Family, pets, lack of sleep, commutes, etc all have an effect on your mood.  I have staff members that come in every shift with a "Good Morning" and a smile.  I have told them over and over how much this means to me.  Working in places where you start your day wondering if someone will be in a good mood or a bad mood, or if they will grunt at you or say good morning, starts the day off already with a negative atmosphere.  It does not mean that you have to come in skipping and singing a tune, however even a minimal polite acknowledgement can set the mood for the day.  We work in a stressful career that can range from puppy appointments, to an emergency hit by car patient, to a euthanasia.  A team that works together, and can decompress together, building each other up instead of putting each other down, is ......nothing short of a miracle.  I have been very fortunate to find that in our staff at SOAR.  It does not mean that every day is full of sparkles and dancing (although that would be great!).  It does mean that as a leader, you pick up on when your staff might be low on energy (due to a busy schedule, or some stressful situations) and find a way to help them through.  Yes this is work to do that. No you can't be perfect all of the time.  There are days when I have to let the staff know that I am just struggling...either I haven't slept in what seems like a year, or I fought with my husband, or maybe the weather is just getting to me.  By communicating we are better able to help each other and open up the option for them to come in and say "Hey, I'm having a rough time.  Have patience with me today."  By communicating, you can pick up on subtle changes that you may not otherwise see in your staff and tackle it sooner.  Never ignore a problem hoping it will just go away.  


So those are my thoughts on running a business.  What do you think?  Am I off the mark?  Have I missed anything you would consider important to YOUR business?  Let me know!!

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