When Business Doesn’t Work

July 1, 2012 | Practice Management |

When my oldest daughter was very young, she was prone to ear infections. I would patiently wait the one to two hours for our GP to prescribe Amoxil , the very same Amoxil I prescribed for my veterinary patients.  After a few episodes of this, I am embarrassed to say my wife, also a veterinarian and I would dispense Amoxil for our own child’s otitis, in order to save time from our busy lives.  On one particular episode, the Amoxil did not work and the otitis worsened after treatment from the medication we had dispensed from our veterinary pharmacy.  We were referred to a specialist. I promptly told the ear, nose and throat specialist about our peccadillo of treating our own child after he had examined her. He started to tell me a parable: “doctor, once I tried to cut my son’s hair………..”!  I quickly asked him to stop the lesson, as the point was already very well taken.and we never treated our kids again… for otitis!

Veterinarians are notorious ‘do-it-yourself-ers’.  In the case of creating value in your veterinary practice, in my experience, this only works for the exceptional few who are gifted in business skills.  In many cases veterinarians, who are highly skilled medical professionals, try to manage their business with very poor results.

I have been in this profession including my years as a student since 1976 and have been in dozens of veterinary practices.  Since 2008 I have been in dozens more, armed with financial statements and practice valuations.  The fact is, most veterinary practices are worth less than they could be, and less than they shouLd be, often far less.

Many of my clients are very successful, using business coaching in the same way Alexander Ovechkin has skating, shooting, fitness and mental coaches, to keep him on his game.  However, to paraphrase a colleague, I also meet veterinarians who are either tired, sick, broke, or a combination.  This scenario has a tendency to breed a sort of cynicism that will become pervasive inside any veterinary hospital. It does not have to be this way!

In the same way as my wife and i followed the ear specialist’s advice and used the expertise of a trained professional, practice owners should heed similar advice.

There are a plethora of experts trained in veterinary law, accounting, marketing, and other aspects of practice management.  One need only look to the veterinary journals to find the
advertisements of a number of highly qualified individuals, all of whom can do an admirable job of improving aspects of a practice and subsequently, their value.  Many of the
provincial associations offer advice that is free for the asking.

Why is it that only the minority of practice owners hone their management skills, judiciously use the services of management professionals, and grow the value of their practice?  In my view, much of it comes down to the fundamental nature of our profession and the type of person that the veterinary school selection process chooses: quick-thinking,
independent, self-motivated, high achievers. If we could add willing to listen to the advice of others, focused and goal-oriented, with a very positive attitude, we would have the
ideal successful business owner.

What I see routinely is an inability to focus on long term goals and extreme reluctance to listen to another who may have information with which the veterinarian is not familiar,
information that can have tremendous positive impact on a practice’s bottom line. Compound this with a lack of organization and short attention spans and we have a
‘sure-fire’ method for poor business performance.

I take extreme pleasure in working with individuals and coaching them to take a focused, goal-oriented approach to their practice.  It is amazing when they listen!  We can make
dramatic improvements in inventory control, human resources, infrastructure and all the other aspects of management.  All of these actions will have a positive cumulative effect
on the bottom line.  More importantly what I see is when the bottom line is taken care of, patient care and attention to detail can increase along with job satisfaction and work-life balance.

I love interacting with other management professionals to help my clients. in particular the legal, accounting and valuation people in this profession are unparalleled.  My greatest joy is when the second valuation is higher than when the client and I first started working together.

When business doesn’t WORK, it is because owners have taken a haphazard, misguided or even overtly incorrect strategy to manage their business.the results will speak for themselves.

When business does WORK, it is because owners are willing to be coached and listen to the advice of the management professionals.  The old saying “it takes money to make money” is absolutely true in the business of veterinary medicine.

So my advice is to FOCUS on a number of concepts.

First, the neuroscience of positivity and optimism are now well-documented.a positive mental attitude can be extremely powerful.the research on this subject is vast.  I will refer the reader to the first scientific primer on this subject by renowned psychologist Martin Seligman (1).  To quote the greek engineer, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, physicist and philosopher archimedes in the third century B.C.,“give me a long enough lever, a strong enough fulcrum and firm enough ground, and I will move the world”.  Dr. Norman vincent Peale wrote “the Power of Positive thinking” in 1952 and it has been reprinted numerous times and sold dozens of millions of copies in over 40 languages.  A similar success was achieved by “How to Win friends and influence People” by dale Carnegie in 1936, the essential book for communicating with others and remaining positive.

Second, is to learn the skill of leadership. People will follow a good leader and leadership can be learned, just like surgery.  One has to be willing to learn, willing to change.the book stores are filled to overflowing with books on leadership.  The university of guelph has found the need for leadership in the business world so great that the university now offers
a master’s program in Leadership, in essence an m.B.a. in leadership, one of the first of its kind.  My favourites books on leadership are the critically acclaimed “emotional intelligence” by psychologist Daniel Golman in 1995, and “Who moved my Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson in 1998.  There are countless high quality books on leadership.

Finally, consult a professional to help you grow your business.   Coaches and consultants do this for a living, where the average veterinarian may be only able to focus on management for a couple of hours each week.  Don’t be a Noonan – don’t try to cut your son’s hair, or treat your daughter’s otitis!

Bottom Line: Veterinarians are renowned for being do-it-yourself-ers, a characteristic that may result in some practices being undervalued.