If you’ve made it this far through our Sell, Struggle or Grow series, we’re hopeful that this means you recognize the opportunity that’s in front of every practice owner today, and that you want to make the most of it.
At GeniusVets, our mission is to help independent veterinary practices thrive – so we’re excited to see this tribe of forward-thinking veterinary professionals continuing to grow.
In earlier articles in this series we addressed:
- How the rapid expansion of pet ownership in America is the opportunity of a lifetime for practice owners;
- The key causes of “the struggle” inside a veterinary practice;
- The alarming counter-trend of propaganda aimed at convincing practice owners that they are facing a crisis rather than an opportunity; and,
- How practice owners should carefully consider the valuation of their practice and their life goals before even thinking about a sale
Dr. Michele Drake has often said that while a stack of cash today may be tempting, it’s basically inevitable that you’ll always be better off financially by hanging on to your practice than by selling it. If that weren’t the case, corporate buyers wouldn’t be lining up to make offers on these practices.
As Dr. John Tait, a leading expert in practice economics and valuation, put it in his great interview with GeniusVets last year:
It's not about the sale price, it's about wealth accumulation over time, and as a financial planner, when you get them to think about that a little bit differently and they're willing to take some calculated risk in reinvesting in the practice or waiting...
Many cases during a lecture I illustrated a few where their wealth accumulation over a reasonable period of time – this isn't like 10 or 15 years, but three to five years, actually – with a reasonable amount to bridge, actually puts them in a better position than taking the higher consolidator offer upfront. Not all, but certainly, in some cases, definitely there are multiple ways to go when you factor in time in particular with an exit strategy.
There is a really low level of awareness though...Certainly, it's not going to be flagged by the purchasers, "Hey, you can do this and sell the practice to somebody else." –Dr. John Tait
So while there certainly can be circumstances where selling the practice makes the most sense, such as when the founder is ready to fully retire, there are many situations where the best option is to “lean in” to the business further; to confront any ways the practice is struggling; and to commit to growth – personal and professional – as the best route to an ideal long-term outcome.
Growth Starts With a Decision
Before we can take action on anything, we first must decide – and commit. One thing we’ve heard over and over from successful practice owners is that growth can be very hard at times. There will be setbacks, challenges, and unexpected changes of plans. The only thing that will get you over those hurdles and keep you on track is your own commitment.
“Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality.” –Abraham Lincoln
One secret to sustaining commitments that has been proven by many top leaders is that you need to be specific and intentional about your goals.
Growth Vision Exercise
To help you be more intentional about your goals, take the following steps. This exercise doesn’t take a long time, but it can be the start of something massive for you and your team!
Either on your own or with a few key leaders from your practice, complete the following goal statements. Envision your practice not as it is now, but as it will be – write in the present tense as if these goals have already been achieved. So for example, rather than “we will be the most trusted practice in our community,” say “we ARE the most trusted practice in our community.”
- By (date)...
- Our vision for our ideal practice is: ____________________ .
- The quality of care in our practice is: ____________________ .
- Our revenue per year is: ____________________ .
- Our year over year growth is: ____________________ .
- Our EBITDA is: ____________________ .
- Our practice culture is: ____________________ .
- And of course feel free to add more to this … the idea is to create the most specific and detailed vision of your future state, so that you can really “see” it – and thus work toward it!
Once you’ve completed this exercise, post these goals where you will see them regularly. Some people even hand-write their long term goals every day so that they will never forget what they are working toward.
By clearly defining your goals, you'll have more energy to work toward them successfully – and you'll be able to better motivate and retain your team during these trying times.
I hear a lot about “burnout” these days. Working closely with Dr. Drake, I have a really good idea about how difficult it is inside a practice right now. But I also know from many years of experience as an entrepreneur myself, and working with great practice owners as well, that high levels of productivity do not inherently lead to burnout. Burnout is NOT caused by too much work. It’s caused by working too hard when you don’t know WHY you’re doing it. The most inspirational people in my life have worked in non-profit organizations on a shoestring budget trying to handle immense global problems under terrible conditions. Some of them worked 100 hours a week – but I never saw one of them “burn out.” On the other hand, I know plenty of people in meaningless corporate positions that are burned out on half that schedule. Ultimately it’s about purpose. When you know what you’re working toward, it’s amazing what you can do. –Harley Orion
Being Ready for Growth Means Knowing Who You Are
Once you’ve set out your goals, you need to be intentional about the culture and values of your practice, and how they help you accomplish your mission and reach your goals.
The most successful practices have clear statements of their mission, values and culture, and they use these as tools to recruit the right staff; to train their employees; and to attract and retain the right types of clients.
We’ve distilled some of the successful actions taken by great practice owners to build their culture into a series of tools that your practice can use today to move toward growth.
Here are some key resources we’d like to share (links):
- Guiding & Growing Your Veterinary Business With Your Mission, Values & Culture
- GeniusVets Culture Workshop – Sponsored by Merck
- GeniusVets HR Toolkit
Leadership Is a Skill – Just Like Medicine
Leading a practice is about a lot more than being a great doctor. We’re here to help you any way we can to create the kind of practice that you really want to lead – for the long run. Leadership skills, like medical skills, are developed through study, practice, and consistent effort. While they may seem to "come naturally" to some people, the reality is that the practice owners that are great leaders have worked hard at it.
I think many veterinarians have always struggled with how to run a great business, versus how to be a great veterinarian. Some are very good at separating those out, but many are not. And for most DVMs, business management and leadership are not in their comfort zones, so they get neglected. The hat that I wear in an exam room is different than the hat I wear when I'm running my business. I think it’s vital that practice owners learn to manage their practice as a business, and be willing to push themselves outside their comfort zone to learn new skills in terms of leadership and personnel development, if they want to really reach their goals. –Dr. Michele Drake
As our series continues, we’ll unpack further steps you can take to implement a strong culture and position your practice for growth. We’ll also be interviewing more practice leaders to share their insights, advice, tools and strategies to help you lead your practice – now and in the future.