Discount your services, discount yourself
At a recent lecture I co-taught at the Fetch dvm360 conference in San Diego, we used a statistic from a 2016 MedScape compensation report to demonstrate the difference in earning between male and female human physicians: 49 percent of male physicians have a net worth of $1 million or more, compared to only 34 percent of female doctors. While I agree that the gap in human medicine is appalling, my more immediate concern was, why aren’t more veterinarians routinely earning six figures ... or more? Our knowledge and training are certainly worth the compensation, but salaries remain flat.
When I lecture, I routinely ask attendees, by a show of hands, if they went into this profession for the money. One hand—maybe two—sheepishly go up. I’m not kidding! People who raise their hands seem ashamed or embarrassed that they would dare to have the gall to want to make a good living as a veterinarian. When did we create a culture where those of us who aren’t “in it for the money” are somehow superior in our financial martyrdom and look down on those who seek to create well-being through financial abundance?
Bull feces, I say.
I think we can all agree that the reason for this is multifactorial, and much like cranial cruciate ruptures, we can’t really blame it on one thing. But let’s start with discounting. One of the most important things we can do is to charge what our services are worth.
In other words, stop discounting. Seriously. Stop it.
Listen, you’re reading the words of a recovering discountaholic. Discounting estimates or invoices is addicting—for both you and your clients. Think about it. Your client gets a dopamine hit when they realize they don’t have to spend so much, and you get a double dopamine hit. The first when you gain compliance, and the second when the client gushes about how grateful they are.
Don’t get me wrong—as a specific marketing strategy to build business and get more pets the care they need, discounting can be a useful tool. However, if you’re going to discount, do it intentionally for a short time to spike sales. Never make discounting a last-minute, emotional, client-driven decision.
You. Can. Do. This!
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You may be reading this piece and fuming inside, thinking I have no business telling you what to do. But every discount creates a ripple effect. Your actions affect the other veterinarians in your practice, your town and your region. You make it harder for the rest of us to charge appropriately. You may not care about money, but there are a lot of us who do.
If you’re getting a lot of pushback on charging appropriately, here are three tips to make this whole thing go easier:
Realize that veterinarians (as a whole) are terrible when it comes to talking to clients about money. Train your technicians to present costs and financing options. Need more about this? Check out these articles.
Understand when you’re projecting your own limiting beliefs about money onto your client. Mind your own internal commentary, and never assume that someone can’t or won’t pay for treatment. Seek your client’s perspective, and work from your shared goal that you both want the pet to be healthy and pain-free.
Become a pet insurance advocate. Yes, I know—you don’t want to be an insurance salesman. But your clients want to know about insurance, and trust me when I say you want to be known to your clients as the expert on all things pet-health-related, including insurance. Know the options out there, and recommend one or two options to your clients. Don’t want to do that? Train your staff to give the insurance talk; maybe incentivize them for signing up people. Train your receptionists and technicians to share a personal story when pet insurance really made a difference in the life of a pet.
Maybe you’re thinking I don’t understand what it’s like to practice in a low-income area. I practice in Greeley, Colorado, which is a mixed socioeconomic bag, but I’ve also practiced in inner city Sacramento, California, where most of my patients were pit bulls and feral Chihuahuas. I know what it’s like to be rejected by clients who think I charge too much. Or to be told by clients I should name the exam room after them because they’ve spent so much money at my clinic. It’s not fun and it can make me feel bad if I let it, but I draw strength from taking the following personal pledge, which I learned at West Ridge Animal Hospital:
“I will be aware of my own value and the value of the practice’s services. My motto shall be if Grandma can’t do what I’m offering on her kitchen table, then I shouldn’t feel bad about charging for my services.”