Dr. Michele Drake, the founder of The Drake Center For Veterinary Care in Encinitas, California, is renowned for having created an incredible staff culture, an esteemed reputation among her peers, and a level of profitability to be admired and emulated. With an authentic desire to uplift and support her independent veterinary practice-owning colleagues, Dr. Drake has created a short list of principles that have most directly contributed to her success. In this article, we will be highlighting them for you.
As a high-performing veterinary practice owner and a co-founder of GeniusVets - the top-performing marketing agency serving the veterinary industry - Dr. Drake has recently zoomed out to see the big picture of what has directly contributed to the success of her veterinary practice. In doing so, she's also been able to see the benefits these techniques consistently deliver for veterinary practices that embrace them. And while there's no denying that the veterinary industry is competitive, Dr. Drake has always sought to help her peers—particularly the independent practices at risk of being swallowed up by corporate consolidators.
Dr. Drake's Takes
Before sharing Dr. Drake's tips, we realize that some of you might need more incentive to read on—perhaps you want to know what makes Dr. Drake such an authority figure in this arena. After 30 years in business with consistent growth year over year - even in the face of a pandemic - Dr. Drake has figured out what independent practice owners need to do to maximize efficiency and cohesion among staff. As a result, they've created a loyal community of pet owners that has allowed them to consistently outperform their local competitors.
Veterinary practice owners who don't do these things tend to work harder for fewer profits while continuously suffering from the everyday struggles of independent veterinary practices. However, practice owners who implement these strategies can enjoy the innumerable rewards that culminate in a higher degree of success and satisfaction from owning a thriving business that truly delivers on its highest ideals.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Drake this week and dive deeper into some principles that she has proven to help you grow your independent veterinary practice. So please read on for her unique take and five tips that will turn your veterinary struggles into success.
Dr. Drake, take the reins...
Tip #1 - Work ON Your Practice; Not Just IN Your Practice
In veterinary hospitals, it's chaos, right? You're signing checks, taking meetings, and seeing clients, patients, and more. I can say with the utmost confidence that there's no way to be thoughtful and collected and plan properly without getting outside your practice—quite literally, you need to step outside. I always tell practice owners to take themselves out for coffee at least once a week and to bring along a practice health checklist that goes over the following:
- HR Practices
- Patient Care
- Customer Service
- Your Practice's Financials
- Business Tenets
- Real Estate
One of these items will be demanding much of your attention one week, and the following week it will change, so you're constantly reprioritizing. And, again, I maintain that you have to be outside the practice to do that to be able to think about where you are and where you're headed. You might bring some people with you from the practice some days, while other days, you might need to be alone to truly focus. But if you don't do this, you're the hamster on the wheel. And you know what? It's easier to be the hamster on the wheel. People can be more comfortable in the chaos, which gives them an excuse to say, "Oh, I'm too busy to look at my financials, my hiring, or my analytics." So you have to stop and put some thought into it. Even more, you have to schedule that time, just like you would a staff meeting.
Tip # 2 - If Something Isn't Working, Change It
No matter what's happening, you can change your reality. Perhaps this sounds a bit harsh, but instead of looking for where to place blame, point the finger at yourself as the practice owner first. Have you instilled the core values, mission, and culture your practice needs, and have you hired and trained for that? If not, nothing is ever going to change. You are the master of your own destiny. As I always say of practice owners, the only thing you don't have control over is the rent in your building.
Have you made some bad hires? If so, it's time to go back to the beginning to see if you have a core culture and values and that all your employees are aligned with those. Don't wait to fire someone who isn't aligned with your practice's mission, as that person will detract from the employees who are aligned. Practice owners always tell me that they are too worried about finding the time for new people during challenging economic situations and tough labor markets. You can always find good employees if you are willing to train them. And beyond that, you must put effort into your staff's development. It's about retention—invest in them, and they'll stay with you.
Tip # 3 - Create an Amazing Culture and Brand
Regarding the veterinary industry, I like to think that culture is what goes on in your hospital, while your brand is what you put out there into the world and the ether. I see our brand as a culmination of things that come together - culture, core values, and services. Culture is an intangible concept; it's the feeling you get when walking into a hospital or clinic. As a practice owner, you need to remember that you have to have the culture set to put a unified brand that you put out there. For us, it's the Drake Difference. You see the phrase, "When you know, you know" (WYKYK) online often, and that's how we feel about the Drake Difference. A spay is going to be different here. Phone answering and post-op instructions are going to have their unique vibe. And I'm not afraid to say that you'll have a very different experience at The Drake Center than at a Banfield or other big hospital.
Do you know what your company stands for when it comes to culture and brand? If not, that's your first order of business because it bleeds over into many other things—how you behave towards one another, your patients, and your clients. When everyone is aligned, you all know how you would handle specific scenarios. And when you have a strong culture within your practice, bad hires become readily apparent.
Tip # 4 - Be a Disciplined Owner — Run Your Business Like You're Selling it in Six Months
My business partner and GeniusVets Co-Founder, Harley Orion, likes to say, "Why sell when you can succeed?" And considering the vast majority of practice owners regret selling after the fact, I wholeheartedly agree. But there's another way to look at it, too: you should have the discipline to run your practice like you'll sell it in six months, even if you aren't.
Always make sure that your practice is financially well kept. If someone were to come into your practice today and assess your marketing, HR practices, and financials - would they want to buy it? Or would that person look at your practice and think they will get a bargain? It's about everything, right down to the cleanliness of the building and how cutting edge your technology is. Believe it or not, many people comment on the fact that The Drake Center doesn't stink! Why would anyone take their pet to a hospital that smells?
Taking care of your business to this level is also your best opportunity for taking care of your staff and your family, keeping everyone from getting burned out, and being able to offer benefits, 401k, vacation time, and more. At any given time, there is always something going on with one of my employees personally, and we take care of them. My employees know that they don't have to call in sick because, when legitimate things inevitably arise, we always help that person.
Tip # 5 - Understand What Marketing Really Is
As a veterinary practice owner and the co-founder of a marketing company, I try to explain to my peers that marketing lets people know about everything you work so hard to create in your building. Despite some common misconceptions about marketing, there's nothing disingenuous about it, as you're simply telling the public what you do, who you are, and what you offer. How else would they know who you are? How would new clients know what to tell others? That's marketing. And practice owners must understand that how we do it now is highly digitized. No more yellow pages! People have their phones in their hands 24/7, and we have to be accessible to them to let them know our hours, services, reviews, etc.
Practice owners and managers must realize that marketing is not just some advertisements about your services; marketing is truly an extension of customer service. It's communication and sharing the information that local pet owners seek before they ever pick up the phone to schedule a veterinary appointment. Marketing is about supporting your clients with the information they seek between appointments. Effective marketing means you become the client's touchstone, the first resource they consult for pet care. And the fact is, to do that today, you have to put that information online, on your website, on social networks, and more. It sounds like a lot, but that is what we do at GeniusVets, and we've figured out how to make it easy, fun, and very impactful.
Marketing is also your first impression, and I make sure to tell everyone that it's not just for potential clients. If a recent veterinary grad is considering a job at your practice, what's the first thing that person will do? They're going to look you up online. If you have a subpar website, it's fair for that person to think your practice may also be subpar. You also have the other end of the spectrum, where some veterinarians create a flashy website and believe they can stop there.
Three things have to happen when you create a veterinary website:
- It has to be authentic
- It has to come from YOU, the practice owner
- You need a company that understands the digital world to launch and manage it
Having a company to help you with your marketing doesn't mean you won't have to partake in the process, but that's part of being a disciplined business owner. And trust me when I tell you that all of these efforts will return to you.
As any sound business owner would, you're likely interested in seeing proof that this works. As you can see in the chart below, the average GeniusVets client's monthly website traffic improves by 20% month-over-month in the first twelve months following our Alpha Plan package. This is compared to the average veterinary website that receives just 1,000 visits monthly on a month-over-month basis.
GeniusVets is also at the center of a recent study that determined the top 10 GeniusVets client websites are attracting more monthly visitors than the top 10 client websites from their top 10 competitors combined, by more than a whopping 30%.
Download a copy of the GeniusVets Agency Study here
You might be skeptical when you read that I want to see my peers succeed, but that is truly at the heart of my mission. In fact, I've made it my goal in the past year or so to help others fight this movement in the veterinary field towards corporatization. As part of that, I'd like to issue you a challenge. Do these steps for the next 60 days and then review the results. You will see significant positive changes in your business, and the excitement of those achievements will energize you to do even more! By implementing these five principles, 60 days from now, you will be able to see a significant shift in your veterinary hospital, as well as your own perspective of the business. You will feel more empowered, in control, and confident. Your staff will show a noticeable change in attitude, and you will notice them displaying more pride in their daily activities. You will have a better idea of what the future holds, and ultimately your clients will start to feel like better clients.
A Parting Message From GeniusVets
It's no longer okay to abdicate the responsibility of crafting your messaging and communications internally and externally. It's no longer okay to ignore the immense role that the internet and your online presence play in your clients' lives as pet owners and allow untrained people to give advice that should come from their veterinarian. It's no longer okay to have an underperforming website and a lack of engagement on social networks with your practice owner's tech-savvy niece at the helm of your marketing and social media - it's time to invest in your business! Let GeniusVets show you how we have consistently delivered industry-leading results for veterinarians across the country, just like you.
Get more valuable tips from Dr. Drake, including our complimentary workshop on establishing a positive culture within your practice. This workshop has been called "the greatest staff meeting we've ever had!" We offer this incredible resource to you 100% free of charge because it is our mission to help veterinary practices thrive.
You can request a free demo and consultation here if you wish to learn more about our professional services.
We look forward to hearing from you and seeing the difference these resources have made in your veterinary practice.