Veterinary Practice Ownership: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

veterinary practice ownership

For many vets, practice acquisition is a natural progression on the veterinary career ladder. But it’s certainly not an easy feat. Owning and running a practice is a complicated affair that requires a number of soft skills which, frankly, many leaders lack. 

In this article, we take a look at three of the biggest challenges of ownership, and why, when all is said and done, we believe it is 100% worth it. 

Challenge Number One: Owners Have To Work A Lot

Veterinary practice owners have much on their plate. They not only have to deal with business development but also with recruitment, clinical duties, payroll, marketing admin, and much more besides.

According to research, practice owners work an average of 71-hours a week. And even then, there’s still normally not enough time to get everything done!

Unlike veterinarians, practice owners are always on duty. They cannot simply jump ship if the practice is short-staffed or under pressure. 

Many owners also struggle with the delegation of tasks and end up balancing both clinical work (which can take up a huge portion of their time) and managerial duties- causing a conflict of interest that can detract from leadership. 

Almost all owners also have to invest a huge amount of their available time working in practice initially to get the business off the ground. This can be a trap that many fail to ever escape from, such is the allure and volume of clinical work.

Currently, a large proportion of veterinary leaders are struggling with fatigue and burnout, something we explore in our recently published study on leadership (which you can download here). 

Challenge Number Two: Ownership Can Be Costly

How much it costs to set up a practice can vary depending on several factors.

If you’re acquiring an existing practice, for example, you’ll be buying goodwill (the relationship value baked into the existing client list and how well the business is run) and ‘stuff’ in the form of materials and equipment. 

Well-run practices can cost a lot. If you’re bidding against corporations, then you might find yourself unable to compete. But if, on the other hand, a practice is badly run, the price tag and demand for this business will be much more manageable. 

If you are starting from scratch, you will have the chance to build a facility as you like. But this doesn’t come cheap (or stress-free), and you’ll have no clients on your books to pay your bills.

Either way, you’re going to require cash to get up and running- which will be in the form of private investment, a loan, or your own cash, possibly all three! One thing you never want to be short of is liquidity.

Costs which new practice owners have to consider include:

-The price of acquisition

-Staff wages

-Fees for drugs and consumables 

-Equipment costs

-Marketing costs 

-Rent/mortgage costs

This is by no means exhaustive, but it does give you an indication of what’s in store for the new business owner – lots of hungry mouths to feed on a regular, and recurring, basis!

Practice owners in a startup situation will also have to be prepared to lose money each month as they build up the business to the point of breakeven. How long this takes depends on the demand for the service. 

The clinic’s location, your marketing skills (and, dare we say it, sales skills) are going to be huge considerations. The runway to sustainable profit might be anywhere from six months to three years. 

Although the initial cost of practice ownership can be high, the investment does tend to pay off. Practices owners (on average) take home more than $213,611 a year than the average vet– a sizable sum indeed [1]

Challenge Number Three: Management Can Be A Real Pain

If you’re starting from zero, hiring and training a new team can be an intensive and potentially problematic process. 

Practice owners starting from scratch have to consider a multitude of factors before even going down the road of recruitment. 

They have to decide what their practice values are (to help guide the hiring process), decide what their ideal candidate skills match looks like and what exact strategy they want to use to increase their odds of reaching this ideal person. All of that against a backdrop of national staff shortages. 

Owners who are acquiring an existing practice have the added challenge of adopting a team. Taking over and retraining a new team so they accept a new owner and culture is absolutely not for the faint-hearted. 

Fraught with challenges, it takes skill and may prove to be impossible – as you really can’t change people’s values. Expect turbulence in the form of pushback and potentially higher staff turnover for a while. 

Rebuilding a team is pretty much a nailed-on certainty when you buy a going concern, which is going to take time to work through. But doing so is incredibly rewarding as your new team takes shape. 

Whatever route you take, more than half of surveyed clinics are currently short of at least one veterinarian, meaning you are going to have to work very hard to attract and retain talent. And your success in doing so is going to be a crucial factor in your outcomes.  

Owning A Veterinary Practice Is Hard… But Worth It.

Ownership is great if you want to be your own boss and have creative control over everything you do. Freedom is one of the most powerful elixirs that entices people to set out on their own. A practice that is run well, with clear vision, defined values, strong leadership, and a team that works well together is a joy.

But there is no guarantee of success, and there are many practice owners who are stressed, burned out, and unhappy. The difference is how well you create a vision, build a team and make fellow humans happy. Clinical skill matters too, but a lot less than people think.

We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts on leadership- please leave a comment in the box below.

If You Liked This, Then Perhaps You’d Also Be Interested In…

If you are a prospective practice owner or currently running your own business, we’ve got a webinar that can help you avoid many of the pitfalls others have made when moving into ownership.

 During the session we’ll  cover:

1- Classic mistakes leaders make and how to overcome them.

2- The importance of vision and how to create one.

We’re passionate about helping leaders like you, so if you want to take your practice to the next level, click here.

References:

1- ‘Being a veterinary practice owner is hard. But good. But still hard.’ 2 Jun. 2019, https://www.dvm360.com/view/being-veterinary-practice-owner-hard-good-still-hard-0. Accessed 10 Sept. 2021.

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