Being a mentor can make a significant difference to the person being mentored as well as to the industry as a whole. Clea Sherman reports
Now you have been a vet for several years and built up an established business, is it time to give back?
In an industry which suffers from high burnout rates and a suicide rate double that of doctors, pharmacists, dentists and nurses, having a mentor can make a great deal more than a financial difference.
Practice owners who become mentors are able to fill the knowledge gaps left by formal education. Often it is not the medical applications themselves that vets find overwhelming, but business management and so-called ‘soft skills’. By getting in control of processes and improving customer experience, stress levels are reduced and clinics become more profitable.
As a mentor who supports vets, you can help minimise burnout within the industry and identify new ways to build your own practice and support your team.
The road to mentorship
Industry veteran Dr Diederik Gelderman knows the feeling of overwhelm and despair all too well. After graduating as a vet in the late seventies, he confesses he made every possible mistake during his early days as a practice owner. Eventually, he gave himself a limit of 12 months to start making money or walk away from the industry.
Two years later, Dr Gelderman was not only running a successful clinic, his business was awarded the AVA Practice of Excellence. This triggered a new calling, to help other practice owners who were plagued by overdue bills and low customer numbers.
As one of Australia’s first vet practice mentors, Dr Gelderman has now helped over 500 clinics to turn their fortunes around. Having an outsider perspective means that he “can spend an hour looking at a practice, pick up the major issues and begin to help address them”. The fees he charges are quickly re-couped through streamlined processes, more engaged staff and better client retention.
If you’ve had 10 years of experience and feel you have insights which would benefit others, it makes sense to investigate mentoring. You can work with practice owners or employed vets, showing them how to avoid burnout and achieve better results.
When Dr Gelderman started as a mentor in the mid 2000s, few practice owners were sharing their knowledge. Now, a lot of coaches and mentors offer their services, but this does not have to be a deterrent to those who wish to help.
It can be difficult to find your first mentees. Dr Gelderman’s recommendation is just to put your name out there. “Put up a website, get a blog out there and make a start,” he says. “You may also want to come up with a point of difference to get people to sit up and take notice.”
How you mentor is your choice. You may wish to work with only one mentee at a time, giving them advice on how to identify their end goals and take the necessary steps to reach them. To keep in touch, schedule a monthly, weekly or fortnightly chat and catch up via Skype. Include some structure in your sessions, encourage your mentee to come up with a vision for their business and help them decide how they will make it a reality.
It is your role as a mentor to provide advice and encourage your mentee to stay accountable for their actions. At the end of the day, you’re not taking over their business completely. You can provide guidance, but it is the steps they take that will determine their level of success.
When starting out, you may not want to collect payment, however Dr Gelderman says asking for money can help your mentee to commit and “have skin in the game”. If they stick to their plan, the practice should experience positive return on investment within 12 months.
What’s in it for you?
As a successful practice owner, why take the time to give back?
For Dr Gelderman, the benefits circle back to his clinic in the NSW Southern Highlands. “I’ve been all over the world fine-tuning strategies,” he explains, “I take the best of the best and apply them in my practice.”
For example, you may come up with a strategy for your mentee to develop lead generation funnels and apply them to Facebook and Google. After collaborating on ideas, you can apply what works to your business.
In addition, if you create a marketing strategy for your mentee and find it to be worthwhile, you can sell the model and create a diversified income stream. Put together a series of paid-access online webinars and you can extend your mentoring to an even wider audience.
Improving the industry
Mentors shorten the learning curve and can create the leaders the vet industry desperately needs.
From Dr Gelderman’s perspective, mentors raise the level of practices, not only from a medical angle but in terms of client services. Often, when working with the clients he mentors, the major changes required relate to culture as much as financial or organisational issues. “When practice owners learn how to be more effective leaders and hire the right people, things start to change,” he says. “You have a good team and better customer retention.”
Even if you apply your knowledge and only mentor one or two clients, Dr Gelderman explains the ripples can be widespread throughout the industry. “There are vets out there who are very depressed and overwhelmed but it doesn’t need to be that way. The more knowledge we share, the more we can experience a thriving and robust industry.”