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Veterinary – Strategies For Success library

Leadership: Key to a Successful Transition

by Tammara Plankers | 06/06/2008 | Practice Acquisition & Start-up , Vet

Most veterinary hospitals ultimately succeed ? but inevitably, some new practice owners run into transition difficulties that require considerable assertiveness to overcome. Whatever challenges you may face when transitioning to ownership, your practice can survive and thrive when you apply the lessons of leadership. Take a look at how two new practice owners used their leadership skills to overcome a difficult situation.

Lesson #1:  Gain Confidence by Building Your Strengths

Dr. ?Lee? purchased a veterinary hospital in the suburbs of Boston with annual revenues of $875,000, or about $73,000 per month. However, he was not as charismatic and persuasive as the original owner, and practice revenues quickly dropped to $58,000 per month. Dr. Lee lacked the confidence to recommend more procedures and also did not want to offend the clientele with the perception that he was overselling. As a result,

Dr. Lee turned to Matsco Client Services for help. His first step was to gain a better understanding of the business by tracking and monitoring practice statistics. Within a few weeks he understood why the cash flow was poor and what areas of the practice could generate growth. He soon realized that the procedures he felt less passionate about earned less income for his practice.

To remedy the situation Dr. Lee worked on his verbal skills, using scripts and practicing client presentations with his staff. He also improved communications with his staff, holding regular meetings and implementing several of their suggestions for improvements. Soon he and the team were more proficient at client education and sales. By working together to strengthen their relationships and communications skills, the hospital soon regained its average $75,000 monthly revenue and is well on its way to long-term success.

Lesson #2:  Provide Adequate Time to Build Your Practice

True leadership always requires an honest assessment of your business situation and the appropriate next steps. And sometimes the best next step is not to push forward, but to simply take a giant step ? backwards.

Dr. ?Kelly? built her practice in a small town in Nevada close to where she had gone to high school, quitting her part-time job as an associate veterinarian three weeks after opening the hospital. For the first few months Dr. Kelly?s practice was considerably busy with friends and family members lined up for appointments. But once her personal contacts had completed their visits, it didn?t take long for Dr. Kelly?s rate of production to drop significantly and cash flow to become tight. The new practice was the only source of income for Dr. Kelly, creating tremendous pressure for her to attain new clients.

After looking at the numbers with Matsco Client Services, it became apparent that Dr. Kelly had quit her associate job too soon. She learned that it can take two to three years to build a self-supporting client base that can sustain a full-time hospital.

Dr. Kelly decided to return to part-time associate work, giving herself the time she needed to continue to build her practice while having the assurance of a steady income. In one to two years, Dr. Kelly will be ready to move to her new hospital full time and continue to build on the success she?s creating from the ground up.

Seven Steps To A Smooth Transition
An important lesson from both of these examples is to have a definitive back-up plan should you run into problems. The solution may be as simple as holding more staff meetings ? or as serious as applying for supplemental practice financing. The point is to not waste time floundering, but get busy with the solution.

Here are seven key steps you can take to help ensure a smooth transition to hospital ownership:

1. Complete your due diligence before purchasing a practice.  You can help prevent unpleasant surprises by asking to see charts, reports, inventories and schedules ? any information that will help detail the daily operations of the practice.

2. Be prepared to market yourself. Even if you are shy, you need to learn how to meet people, start conversations and encourage referrals. It?s one of the fundamentals of growing your practice.

3. Take responsibility.  Understand what you can control, what you can?t, and what you need to change to ensure success. Remember that you are in a service-based industry, so even in the worst of scenarios patients will still come to you based on your reputation and how they feel treated.

4. Know your strengths and build on them. Surround yourself with people who complement your skills, and while you work to improve your weaknesses, let your strengths take the lead in guiding the tone and style of your practice. You?ll be happier in your work as you will succeed while being yourself.

5. Don?t be afraid to ask for help. People love to help one another. Join a small business networking group to gain the support and mentorship you need to be successful.

6. Establish good savings habits. Some practices place 10% of all deposits in a separate office savings account in order to ensure they have cash on hand in case of a bad month or an unanticipated expense.

7. Become a student of leadership. Learn to be a motivator and celebrate small wins everyday. A happy work environment leads to employee loyalty and new patient referrals.

Remember that when you do run into a challenge, finding the solution that works best for you, your clients and your team is evidence of true leadership. This alone has a significant impact on the degree of success you can achieve. 

Statements of opinion not necessarily endorsed by the American Animal Hospital Association or any of its subsidiaries, counsels, commissions, or agencies.

Tammara Plankers
Tammara Plankers, Assistant Vice President, Client Practice Services for Wells Fargo Practice Finance, helps doctors establish and grow their new practices. A Certified Executive Coach and practice consultant for over 20 years, Ms. Plankers assists practitioners in successfully transitioning to practice ownership through the use of proper due diligence, and guides them in developing the management and leadership skills necessary to successfully operate a practice. She can be reached at 888-499-8871 or

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