Q. The recession is still hurting my clients. How do I help clients who want to do right by their horses, but say they can't afford my fees?
A. There are only three answers to this common dilemma if you want to keep these clients:
1. Offer creative payment options
When clients say they can’t afford your fees, they may really mean they can’t afford to pay them up front. Third-party payment options give clients the ability to spread payments over time (interest free, in some cases) while you get paid at the time of service.
Unfortunately, for many of the clients who have fallen victim to the economic downturn, being approved for additional credit is difficult. (Click here for a look at the pros and cons of different client payment methods.)
Depending on your comfort level with the client, you may consider accepting held (post-dated) checks or creating a schedule of predetermined credit card payments. Finally, consider designing a program that offers a year of wellness care at a slight discount paid in monthly installments. It’s a model commonly used with companion animals, and there’s no reason you can’t try it too.
2. Analyze your fees
We've all had to make tough decisions lately, and it may make sense to reconsider your fee schedule to make sure it still fits well with your philosophy. For practitioners who remain busy, or practitioners who can absorb an extended period of lagging revenue, sticking with fees (or even increases) regardless of their affordability makes sense. For others, if your fees result in your seeing only one or two clients per day, it may make sense to look for ways to compromise.
It’s a philosophical decision, but for some practitioners, continuing to reach the maximum number of clients (and patients) means that you have to figure out how to live with a little less, at least for a while.
3. Embrace the ways that clients can "help themselves"
You can start by making yourself available to dispense advice (in certain circumstances) over the phone in situations where, in the past, you may have pushed to see the horse for a physical examination.
For general wellness, be flexible and allow clients to purchase vaccine and dewormers to administer themselves. It may be revenue that you fear losing permanently, but in my opinion it’s better than losing an otherwise good client altogether. While most practice acts and general ethics prevent veterinarians from going too far without a physical exam, there are ways to help your clients weather the economic storm, and it’s an act that they’ll long remember.
None of us really know when, or if, the days of lucrative practice will return. In the meantime, there are simply many horses that will receive a minimum level of care if we are willing and able to be part of the solution.
Kyle Palmer, CVT, is practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore. Send questions and comments to email@example.com.