Starting from scratch

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May 01, 2006



A client of ours recently reflected on the first year of her start-up practice. She said it was like scaling Half Dome, completing the Mojave Death Race, and winning a pot at the World Series of Poker—all at the same time. There's no doubt, successfully starting a veterinary practice takes a certain type of individual. Do you have the qualities necessary to pull it off?

Like the mountain climber, are you willing to negotiate death-defying feats—borrowing, building, spending, and borrowing more? And are you willing to do this all before you've earned your first dollar, knowing there may not be a net below—no existing clientele and no assurances that clients will even find you?

Like the triathlete, do you possess the courage and stamina to struggle through the certain adversity—slow days, empty waiting rooms, and paltry daily deposits—sometimes with no relief in sight? Can you face the long hours, piles of paperwork, and administrative hassles that your old boss used to handle?

And, like the gambler, do you have the guts to bluff the other players—your lender, your competition, and your staff members—into believing that you're holding all the cards—a strong vision, a thoughtful strategic plan, and a truckload of confidence? Can you make them believe that you're willing to push all your chips to the middle of the table—juggling bills, adding more capital, and not taking a paycheck—if that's what it takes to make your new practice a success?

If you answer all these questions "Yes!" then you're likely an entrepreneur at heart. Most veterinarians who travel this road are, and they're passionate about what they do. That's good, because when you start from scratch, you'll run into some bumps along the way, pretty much guaranteed.


Your team of professionals
Usually, entrepreneurs have two main goals: to build a business they can be proud of, in this case a practice that provides quality medicine and excellent service, and to make money. Both are important, but the first goal isn't attainable without the second.

Achieving profitability

A start-up practice should be able to generate a positive cash flow by about the sixth month. This means you have money left over after you've taken out your expenses, salaries, and loan payments. After the first year, a start-up practice should enjoy a cumulative positive cash flow.

Yet profitability won't just land in your lap. You need to consider these six major questions to successfully plan and build your profitable veterinary practice.

1. What's your vision?

If you're still willing to walk across those burning coals to start a practice from scratch even after all you've read and heard, then you probably have a clear vision of what you want your practice to be. Write this vision down. Write down the size, the look and feel, the quality of medicine you'll offer, what specialties you'll provide, and who your clients will be. And be sure to include details that explain how your practice will be different from the others in your area.

This vision will impact every facet of the launch process, right up to your grand opening. Once you've put your vision on paper, look at it every day, and share it with your staff members and your team of professional advisors.

2. Where's the perfect location?

Choosing your spot is one of the most important decisions you'll make. Carefully consider these factors when picking a location: