Small businesses are still businesses!
Your veterinary practice most likely fits the definition of being a "small business" but the rules of best business practices apply just as much to small businesses as large ones, if not more so since small businesses often have less room for error in their margins. Here are three areas where thinking more like a big business can help your veterinary practice:
Your clinic appointment schedule isn't just a schedule: It is the daily master workflow plan for your (in most cases) 6 to 7 figure annual revenue business! Optimizing your scheduling can improve your practice's production in arguably the most impactful KPI of throughput, and poor scheduling is damaging to the way your staff and your clients perceive your business and your competency as a leader. Running late, underbooking, and overbooking looks bad, runs poorly, costs your clinic money, and costs you valuable staff to turnover due to burnout.
Step 1: Limit access to your schedule only to team members who have the experience and training to schedule effectively. Knowing how long a visit will take for any particular presenting complaint and signalment is as much an art form as it is a science. Newbies don't get to touch the schedule, period!!!
Step 2: Ditch the "one size fits all" approach to scheduling. No appointment takes exactly 20 or 30 minutes or whatever length your clinic has set your appointment block length to. Stop booking appointments for time slots that you already know they're not suited for! Straightforward wellness visits can be booked for shorter blocks, especially when paired with pre-visit forms/questionnaires to allow you to identify client concerns that they'd like addressed in advance that might take longer than a short wellness visit slot. Sick visits need more time. Euthanasia visits need even more. Setting the right amount of time aside for a visit is crucial. Don't set your appointment length to aspirational numbers, be realistic about how long it takes you and your team to complete various types of appointment.
Step 3: Build gaps into the schedule. There should be some gaps for same-day booking, but also some additional gaps set aside for spillover and catch up. You need time to take care of medical records, your team needs time to catch up and catch their breath, and having some elasticity to your day will give you a buffer against falling too far behind schedule.
Keeping too much or too little inventory, allowing perishable inventory to expire, and keeping large amounts of low-margin or infrequently used inventory costs you money!
Step 1: Figure out how much inventory you need. A rough guide is to target $10-16k of inventory per full-time equivalent veterinarian.
Step 2: Make sure your inventory is moving! A rough guide is to target 10-12 inventory turns per year. Eliminating infrequently used items from inventory, especially ones that are not needed urgently and can be scripted out can help streamline your inventory.
Step 3: Work with an online pharmacy and move low margin and infrequently used medications there. Keeping a smaller margin on medications through an online pharmacy may seem unpleasant, but it is offset by reducing costs of inventory expiration and upkeep and can reduce the loss of inventory sales to third party online pharmacies. Your clients want this service and convenience and they will find it elsewhere with one of the large third-party online pharmacies if you don't offer it!
Effective leadership is needed regardless of whether you're leading a large or a small team. There is little to no formal leadership training in most veterinary medical schools to prepare veterinary practice owners for this role, so you should see this as an area to focus on self-educating.
Step 1: Practice emotional control. The emotional connection that you have to your work can be a strong motivator for your team if you express it in healthy and constructive ways: Passionate leadership leads to passionate teams. However, losing control of your emotions, especially at low points, can be damaging to cohesion, morale, and retention of your team. We're all human and no leader is perfect, but learning to modulate your emotions even under pressure is crucial for taking your leadership skills to the next level. When you speak, they hear your message. When you shout, all they hear is your volume.
Step 2: Delegate effectively. This is one of the hardest things for most small business owners to do well because the larger a business gets the more it forces its leaders to let go of the "I'll just do it" mentality. Training your team with the skills and training yourself on trust so that you can pass off more work to them is better for your business. Your time is your business' most valuable asset. Keep it focused on the bigger picture and build a staff that you trust to handle the rest.
Step 3: Good leaders are learners. New challenges will always arrive (hello, 2020) so you can't keep a static mentality or skill set. Be proactive in studying your business, learning new skills, and engaging your peers in conversation to source new ideas and stay up to speed on what is and isn't working across the industry.
Whether they employ 5 people or 500, all businesses have to abide by the same fundamental rules. Running the business of a veterinary hospital is challenging, especially given the lack of formal training in vet med school on matters of business. At AVP, we're happy to be your partner in taking the business side of your hospital to the next level. If you're still excited about practicing excellent medicine, leading your team, and retaining equity share in your business as it continues to grow then please don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how a partnership with AVP may be the right choice for you and your practice.