6 reasons to mentor associates before you sell your practice to them

6 reasons to mentor associates before you sell your practice to them

"Here are the keys; see ya!" doesn't cut it as a transition plan.
Sep 01, 2008

Dr. Craig Woloshyn
We boomers are on the way out and turning over the reins to the next generation of veterinarians. Visions of long sailing trips or around-the-world golf tours cloud our thoughts and require team members to carry 18-gauge needles to prod us with when there's work to do. Unfortunately, one of the jobs retiring doctors often skip in their final days is a good transition plan. Too many practice sales go something like this: "OK, Dr. Youngblood. Get your financing in place and I'll give you my keys on the way out. And, by the way, don't mention the sale to anyone. It's bad for morale."

As you might imagine, this puts the new owner at a disadvantage. And it puts you, the seller, at risk financially and emotionally. Having just sold my own practice, I'm here to proselytize for a well-planned transition plan. Here are six great reasons to devote yourself to a good transition.

1 Staff continuity

A clinic's staff is as responsible for the practice's success as the associate doctors and owner. Therefore, to set up a new owner for success, it's essential to keep the team together. Team members will be responsible for much of the mechanics of the ownership changeover, and they contribute materially to your clients' happiness and retention. In short, you can't sell a practice successfully without your staff's wholehearted support. Keep them informed and they'll reward you with a seamless, efficient transition.

2 Associate success

If you're selling to your associate, hopefully you've been training this doctor in management from the start. But the busy associate probably hasn't paid much attention, and there's a lot you haven't covered. So now it's time for hands-on training in business, accounting, law, team management, client relations, budgeting, fees, and a host of other matters. If you don't step up, the associate will pick it up on the street. And your business is best explained by someone who cares—you.

A formal education plan will introduce your prospective owner to the theories and practices of the business side of the clinic. By the time you leave, no one will miss you. Business wise, anyway. Get busy on this now.

3 Client continuity

Some people claim that it's better if you don't tell your clients about the transition until it's imminent—or even at all. "Why bother?" they say. "Some clients won't even find out until three years from now when they come in for their pet's rabies vaccine. They won't miss you at all." I disagree. Veterinary practices aren't like fast food restaurants, where the cooks change daily and nobody notices. We rely on our clients' trust—they're the ones who pay our bills, after all—and our sole currency in trade is honesty.

If you announce your departure early, you present an honest and open face to your clients, which by association will extend to all your other dealings with them. The worst thing for a client to think is, "No one ever said the boss was leaving until he was gone. I wonder what else they're hiding. And I wonder who that new doctor is. We've never even met."

If clients are uneasy about your departure, you'll have time to allay their fears. Introduce them to your associates, and let them work with the other doctors while you (in the client's eyes, anyway) supervise from the background. This gives clients time to see that their pets' care will continue unchanged. You may lose a few clients if you tell them you're leaving, but you'll have a bigger exodus if you don't. You just won't be there to see it.