A business plan is essential so you can set goals and achieve more for your practice. By Clea Sherman
In your everyday dealings of meeting new pets and their owners, administering vaccines and treating sick animals, you have a business to run. This can be a considerable challenge, particularly when the basic operations of a vet practice are so time-consuming.
However, without a business plan and an idea of your long-term goals, operating from day to day is all you’re doing. Unless you have a vision and a strategy in place to achieve it, growth is near-impossible.
As a practice development advisor with Crampton Consulting Group, Tania Gover believes every veterinary business should have a business plan. “Your business plan shares the ‘why’ of what you are doing,” she explains. ‘Without it, your practice is purely transactional.”
Each business has a different ‘why’. It may be the aim of encouraging better health and care for local domestic animals. Other owners have a vision to establish a facility that they can sell or franchise. Having a business plan will clarify the true purpose of your practice and help you achieve your goals.
Gover recommends a strategic plan as well as a business plan for your practice. Your strategic plan is a one- to five-year outline of what you hope to achieve. Your business plan covers a 12-month to three-year time period. Vet practices also need a robust budget to underpin the business plan.
While your strategic plan establishes the objectives for your practice, the business plan will help you get there. These steps can help you devise an effective business plan:
Step 1 Establish a vision
Get together with senior management and stakeholders to clarify the vision and key focus of your practice. You don’t need extensive documentation around this but try to be specific beyond attaining a certain amount of turnover. Write a few clear sentences outlining your raison d’etre beyond the financial.
If you’re struggling with this, Gover recommends what’s known as a SWOT analysis. “Examine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Have a 10-minute play in each category. This will help you work out where your priorities lie,” she says.
Step 2 Come up with a strategy
Now you know where you’re going, you have to figure out how to get there. Consider strategies to achieve your vision. For example, if you wish to become the area’s most sought after advisers when it comes to canine wellness, your branding, message, marketing and customer service must all reflect this.
A strategy in line with this type of vision may be to introduce extra training for your staff on dog care. You could also hold educational sessions for owners about preventative health.
Step 3 Set goals
If your vision is to be the leading canine wellness practice, set some smaller goals around this.
“Examine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Have a 10-minute play in each category. This will help you work out where your priorities lie.”
Tania Gover, trainer and consultant, Crampton Consulting Group
One goal may be to welcome 100 new dogs over the next 12 months. Another might be to feature in local publications or to build your number of Instagram followers to 3000 plus.
Step 4 Take action
You won’t reach your smaller goals without being proactive. Write on your business plan the steps you will take to hit those milestones. To reach your goal of 100 new dogs, you may decide to send a letter to current members asking for referrals and offering an incentive to do so.
One action could simply be to pop a sign promoting your Instagram account in the waiting room. Alternatively, you could decide to invest in the help of a professional to grow your social media following.
Step 5 Evaluate and monitor
Gover stresses that this step is one of the most important when creating a business plan. As well as tracking sales and dollar figures, measure the outcome of the actions you have taken towards reaching your goals.
Things like word-of-mouth referrals, social media traffic and repeat business can all be measured and kept track of. Doing this will save you from spending time and money on strategies which don’t work.
Step 6 Review your business plan
Gover recommends reviewing your business plan at least every three years, if not every 18 months. With customer expectations and the economic climate changing rapidly, you’ll need to update your business plan so you can keep up with the evolving market.
Tips for business plan success
As Gover explains, it is possible to have a successful business without a plan but there will come a point where you hit a ceiling. What’s more, without a business plan, your vet practice is more likely to be derailed in the event of a local competitor opening or issues arising with your staff.
“You need to know how to generate new income. Without a business plan, you can get into strife,” she says. “What’s more, if something should happen and you need to exit, a business plan and adherence to it will mean your business is in its best shape for a rapid sale.”
Having worked with practices around Australia and New Zealand, Gover says it is better to share the finer details of your business plan with senior management only. “Share your vision with your team. If they are supportive, they will take the right steps to align with that.”
She also suggests a strategy to mitigate the risk of change disrupting your team. “More involved actions can cause anxiety so consider a change management plan.” This will minimise the impact of a dramatic shift in the way your business does things.
Having seen many practices reach new levels without extra stress or longer hours thanks to a business plan, Gover believes the importance of having one can’t be ignored. “Business owners need to invest in themselves. Set aside a day or two and work with a mentor or guide who has experience within the industry.”
Allowing yourself time away from the business to work on a plan will give you clarity, focus and direction so you can sustain success way into the future.