7 easy steps to a better veterinary practice
As this year draws to a close and a new one looms, we all know it's impossible to predict the changes we'll see. But one thing is certain: Charting a new course with a tactical plan based on what you do know will help you navigate through the next year and into the future.
We know you've got goals in mind. You might want your practice to gross $1 million or $5 million. You'd like that shiny new piece of equipment. You'd love to give your team members a well-earned raise. Sit down at least once a year and use the following seven steps to help you conquer change and achieve goals like these.
1 IDENTIFY YOUR PRACTICE'S STRENGTHS AND OPPORTUNITIESWhat do you do better than any other practice in the area? That's a strength. If you can't think of an answer, you have an opportunity. Strengths may include high scheduling rates and satisfied clients. Opportunities may include areas where you could improve your client service, patient care, and standards of care. An opportunity also might be taking advantage of an untapped market niche. (See page 14 for one idea for a new service.) And don't neglect to think about such challenges as a new practice in your area or a decline in the number of new clients.
Dr. Lee Burnett, owner of Palmetto Animal Hospital in Florence, S.C., recognized that his receptionist didn't always have time to schedule appointments for dental cleanings and other recommended care during the checkout process. At busy times, she was answering phones, checking in clients, and trying to juggle checkouts too. "This was a missed opportunity for us," he says. When Dr. Burnett identified areas for improvement, it was time to develop some targets.
2 DEVELOP NEXT YEAR'S GOALS
Given what you know from the strengths, challenges, and opportunities you've recorded, plot the direction your practice will take in the short term (the next one to two years) and the long term (the next three to five years). Cover the following five areas of management:
> Medical development. Does your practice have hospital standards of care? If not, what standards will you develop for the next year? Does the practice fill a local niche in a certain procedure? How can the practice teach clients about that niche procedure?
> Staff development. What external continuing education will team members attend? Will you offer in-house continuing education? How will compensation and benefits change, if at all? How will you present changes to team members? Will you need to hire additional employees? If so, which positions will you fill, what will the starting pay scale be, who will train the new hires, and how will you communicate the staffing changes to your team?
> Client development. Is your team active in the local community? Is your community aware of your services, both for-profit and volunteer? What sort of continuing education can you offer for your clients? Consider hosting an open house and providing information on your services, or adding a calendar of practice events to your website. By the way, if you don't have a website, you guessed it—that's an opportunity.
> Facilities, equipment, and technology management. What aspects of the facility's physical plant need a facelift or outright renovation? What equipment purchases do you need—or want—to make? What would you like to improve in the future?
> Financial management. Before the tactical planning meeting, the management team will complete a proposed budget. Then you'll compare last year's budget to last year's actual performance. Note the differences and review the proposed budget for the upcoming year. It's perfectly fine to make changes to the budget based on decisions you make in other management areas or as a result of unforeseen challenges or opportunities in the marketplace, such as changes in team compensation or staffing, equipment purchases, an influx of new clients, and so on.