Why Brexit & uncertainty might be the perfect innovation incubators for vets

Action R of the Vet Futures Action Plan calls for an Innovation symposium. I understand that plans are afoot at the RCVS to deliver the first event in September this year and I, for one, am really quite excited. It reinforces a growing feeling of excitement and a sense of being on the cusp of something special in the veterinary profession. The apocryphal ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times”. We’re definitely living in interesting times and whilst this generates uncertainty, it’s an old English proverb that says, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. We certainly have the need!

When we think of innovation, we tend to think technology or things like telemedicine or pet wearables. I’d likely to try and reframe that thought to be more all encompassing because innovation can occur anywhere.

Indeed the recent Veterinary Innovation Summit at Texas A&M University was such an example. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend, but having spoken to people that did and seen some of the live streaming it seems to have been an inspirational event. The format was innovative in and of itself, with a set of keynote lectures on each theme and then breakouts in one of three styles; Understanding the theme and context better; Implementation, where experts tutored on how to get things done; Creation where you could get down and dirty by practicing with tools or methodologies around the theme.

The summit focused on three themes and it’s not for me to tell you about them, but they illustrate the wider context of innovation in the veterinary world.

  • The quantified patient
  • The connected clinic
  • The exponential practitioner

I hope the RCVS can deliver an equally inspirational symposium for the UK and indeed show leadership globally.

So if we consider innovation at a much higher level and not just about technology where could we start? At the most fundamental level, our veterinary world in the UK is defined by the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. Although Legislative Reform Orders and a Royal Charter have helped to keep regulation and the RCVS fit for purpose, Brexit necessitates an overhaul of many legislative processes. That makes it like the right time to put innovation on the table and indeed the RCVS is actively doing so. What opportunities does that give us to innovate? A Veterinary Services Act, bringing all veterinary and paraprofessionals under a single regulatory instrument is one. Can you imagine what your new multidisciplinary practice team would look like with that in mind? Redefining what RVNs can do with a protected title and new regulatory framework could revolutionize how practices run or how animal health is delivered. The same is true for equine vets, dentists, herd health managers and as yet undiscovered opportunities for new specialisms. If you do one thing after reading this blog, complete the RCVS Survey on Schedule 3 of the VSA.

Another clear sign of change is the recent RCVS council elections with record voting turnout and a pleasing number of new faces. I hope it shows a new engagement with the RCVS and the work that lies ahead of us but of those eligible to vote only 22.8% of vets and 14.5% of VNs turned out. That’s still a small number even if markedly increased compared to 2016 voting. We all need to participate and it irks me that we will inevitably read negative letters in the back pages of various vet journals or magazines complaining about status quo.

Our future is our own and we must actively own it.

Think also about a new VSA with compulsory CPD, new definitions of specialization or compulsory practice inspections and what that would do for our veterinary clinics. We can view this as scary, because it’s human nature to be change averse, or we can take an opportunity to be brave and imagine a better world.

The second opportunity for innovation is Brexit. The RCVS, supported by the BVA, has established a Brexit task force and adopted three Brexit principles. These provide a framework for negotiation during Brexit, but critically provide a framework for innovative thinking as well. The principles are

  1. Vital veterinary work continues to get done.
  2. High standards of animal health and welfare remain and improve
  3. The RCVS is a global force for good

Each principle is underpinned by a number of policies that will be the foundations for negotiation. You can imagine “getting the work done” requires the right number of vets, reflecting concerns about EU workers in the sector, that “animal welfare legislation”, once a pan-European issue, now becomes a case of global accreditation for UK producers and that the “global force for good” ensures the rights of UK graduates working in the EU or in a world leading capacity in some way.

Whilst these might seem distant concerns for the average UK based, UK graduate or veterinary business owner, they’re real opportunities to be innovative in education, employment, practice systems and business management. There’s openings for innovative recruiters, CPD organizations and yes, technologies too.

The danger we face is that the world is moving around us very fast. We cannot afford to wait and see, or to move slowly. None of the conditions I’ve noted so far are exclusive to the veterinary profession. Consumers, pet owners and farmers who are moving faster than us surround us. If we don’t get a move on then we face the interesting proposition of having people steal opportunities from us. Remember the rise of the online pharmacy or pet food supplier? We can’t sit around and complain about losing sales to the Internet like we have done so far. It’s not the fault of companies selling online or your suppliers selling you out. Consumers demanded it and entrepreneurs stepped up.

We must innovate or die.

But here is the rub; we fall foul of our usual problem; busy-ness. It’s the mind killer because we don’t give ourselves the brain space to reflect and consider. We’re so busy working in the business; we give ourselves little time to work on the business.

So here’s the final call to action. At some point during the month of May, schedule yourself a minimum of 2 sessions, preferably longer than an hour each, to sit and reflect on how you see our profession evolving. Here’s a few tips for ensuring this works and you get something out of it, however restrain your inner achiever and realize that even if you don’t have inspiration, you’ll have spent a quality couple of hours with yourself.

  • Schedule your reflective time in your diary.
  • Preferably do it outdoors, in the fresh air and a sunny spot or at a slow steady amble
  • Take a note pad and pen, even if only for show
  • Turn your phone off. (If you need it on because you’re on call, then it’s not the right time to do this kind of reflective exercise).
  • Allow your mind to wander and just capture the thoughts.
  • When the session is over, either because the real world is intruding or because it just “feels right”, stash the notepad until the day after. The following day, re-read your notes and refresh your thinking.

Between the first and second session, take the time to do any background reading to further illuminate or develop the thoughts you had. In the second session, where all the same recommendations apply, you can ruminate on the thoughts, develop them further or even just sleep on them. We do a lot of problem solving in our sleep.

Running an innovation workshop for your practice can be a great exercise to do, but only if you have your basics under control. If you need help, want to run a workshop or structure your time to enable some reflective thought, then the VBC is the place to start. Vision, strategy and tactical delivery are specialties and we can support you at a practice or personal level. Get in touch, we’d love to help you paint your vision.

What Vets can learn from Theresa May and the Mountain

First things first; this is NOT a political blog. I’m going to use Theresa May’s trip to Snowdonia, where she decided to call a snap general election, as an example of the relationship between nature, mindfulness and clear thinking. We could explore the Prime Minister’s decision in the context of a leader engaging with their team and seeking a mandate for action, but that’s a whole other blog and fraught with political innuendo, so I’m not going there!

On the 18th April Theresa May walked out of possibly the most famous front door in the world and stood at a lectern to announce a general election on the 8th of June. That was the story of the day and as usual the pundits and journalists went in to overdrive.

What surfaced later in the same day was a secondary story that the Prime Minister had decided upon the general election whilst on a walking trip in Snowdonia. Gore-Tex clad correspondents were dispatched to North Wales and conducted on the fly interviews with bemused walkers from the Miners Track, one of the established routes to climb a mountain that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember.

What I find incredulous is that the tone of the story in the mass media suggested she’d done something wrong by going to the mountains and that the general public wouldn’t understand why on earth she was “up a hill” whilst all the world went to rack and ruin around her.

I’ve always walked, cycled, camped and partaken of outdoor activities. It’s been part of our family DNA through the Scout movement and friends over the years. I’ve always valued the mindfulness of it, the exercise and the opportunity to disconnect from everyday life. I just enjoy it and always come home refreshed and calm whilst paradoxically being tired, sweaty and sore from the exertion. That’s the cleansing or cathartic part.

A simple Google search yields several articles from 10th April where Mr & Mrs May are pictured attending church in Dolgellau and quotes a Walesonline article where Mrs May says:

“Walking in Wales is an opportunity to get out and about and see scenery and clear your mind and your thinking. We stay in a hotel and try to walk every day. Walking is about relaxing, getting exercise and fresh air.”

It’s completely sensible to me that a major decision should be made after a reflective period and this could be up a mountain. It surprises me that others think not, so I did some digging. It turns out that there’s a lot of science behind the impact of nature on mindfulness, wellbeing and your psychology.

In his 2005 book, Richard Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder, which encapsulates the idea that human beings, especially children, are spending progressively less and less time in nature and that is an underlying factor in a wide range of behavioral problems. The description of Nature Deficit Disorder has been criticized as a medical diagnosis, because it glosses over a myriad of underlying reasons for the decline of time spent in nature. However it serves well as a description of the alienation of humans from the natural world. The list of associated problems includes dissociation from nature with a lack of respect for the natural world, a lack of ecological or environmental awareness, depression, attention disorders, anxiety disorders, obesity, reduced creativity and even rickets from the lack of sunlight. We’re now beginning to understand the impact that a lack of nature might represent on our lives in a much deeper way.

So if a lack of nature can cause problems or even disease, is it possible that an experience in nature could be therapeutic? I’ve always thought so, but it turns out that there is lots of evidence for this too. I’m going to look at some specific examples, but there’s a really nice paper entitled “A Dose of Nature: Addressing chronic health conditions by using the environment” that summarises it well.

Green Prescriptions are becoming more widely established and the New Zealand Ministry of Health has been pioneering in this field. Adoption within the NHS has followed as the evidence based has expanded. Examples include:

  • Referrals to appropriate voluntary sector organisations have been shown to improve patient outcomes in managing psychosocial problems, compared to GP inputs alone.
  • Studies in the BMJ show that a Green Prescription improves physical activity and quality of life over 12 months without adverse side effects and with a 20-30% reduction in all cause mortality.
  • An Asian study in the Journal of cardiology has shown spending time in the forest has therapeutic effects on hypertension.

Ecopsychology studies the relationship between human beings and the natural world, using psychological and ecological principles. The emotional connection between a human, shaped by their normal social construct, and the “more-than-human” natural world is deeply innate, crafted by eons of evolution and it’s one that we’re inevitably adapted to. This relatively new science is seeking to explore how we can develop sustainable lifestyles and remedy the alienation from nature, for example:

  • Eco-therapy, a facilitated experience in nature, but with a safety net of more formal support.
  • Using nature to enable significant change, decision-making and personal development. There are many providers offering development programmes in this area.

Shinrin-yoko, or Japanese Tree Bathing was first spoken about in the 1980’s and has since developed a robust body of work. The idea is deceptively simple: if a person visits a natural area or forest and simply walks in a calm and relaxed way, calming, restorative and rejuvenating benefits can be gained. It seems intuitive, but the list of reported benefits includes:

  • Reduced stress, reduced blood pressure and boosted immune system
  • Improved mood, energy and sleep patterns
  • Improved, deeper intuition and creativity
  • Increased ability to focus, even in people with diagnosed ADHD.
  • Overall increased sense of happiness.

So, at the risk of making a political statement: Theresa May is right. There is copious evidence on the benefits of taking a break in nature. Not only should you walk in the fresh air, you should disconnect from your technology and allow yourself an immersive experience. I know a few people who work in this area and it’s possible to experience such powerful flow experiences as to be life changing.

The obvious call to action is to literally go for a walk. For vets as a profession, with our well documented mental health and wellbeing issues, the main issue becomes managing your time in a way that gives us the chance to go for that walk. The dog owners among us might get that regularly but personally, with a Border Terrier and Labrador both less than 3 years of age, I don’t find the dog walk a mindful experience. Try it solo and you might find a completely different perspective.

The VBC can help develop your practice nature strategy, whether it’s time management strategies, people management requirements or other business development activities to help you see the wood from the trees. Drop us a line and you can have a free, confidential preliminary chat.

Why vets need to stop selling products & take lessons from their accountant

I’ve been looking at a great forum for vets who are at a turning point in their careers. Should they stay in the profession, diversify or do something completely different? I found myself offering advice about limited company start up, having done it myself recently. In my previous role I was used to managing the macro business, supported by a finance team of full of accountants and administrators. When you are self-employed and starting from scratch you have to learn the micro side of the business such as registering the company, your own invoicing and bookkeeping, because the buck stops with you.

So in answering the forum question about the cost of registering a limited company, I used the bundle figure from my accountant of £300. I was rightly challenged about this, because registering a company online at www.gov.uk costs £12, so what was the rest for?

Time and effort.

On reflection the charge I paid was for the accountant’s time, advice, use of their address as my registered company address and filling in the paperwork for me. So that got me thinking about how my accountant charges me for their work and how ironic it was that a vet was asking about the cheapest way to register a company without having to pay a professional for their time. Does that ring any bells with you about how our customers behave?

So let’s draw some parallels and for good measure I’m going to compare accountants to lawyers. Having just sold and bought houses, I’m going to use conveyancing as a fixed price legal “product” to compare to the accountancy example. Dear reader, please do the vet extrapolation yourself and please get in touch if you don’t get the penny drop moment, because the parallels are clear.

My accountant:

  • Gave a free first meeting, as a business development opportunity for themselves, to meet me, get to know what I needed and make a proposal.
  • Gave me a written set of business terms at the first meeting, which I have to sign to become a client. The business terms spell out our relationship, their charging and the mutual expectations we have in our business relationship.
  • Has a fixed hourly rate for everything, which I pay as a multiple of 5 minute allocations. This is for telephone calls, letters, and meetings and for every other conceivable interaction.
  • Has a specific hourly rate for each of the disciplines in his practice, for example his partner rate is highest, a junior accountant is lower and administrators lower still. Therefore my monthly bill is a composite of his and his staff’s time, dependent on who did the work or the level of responsibility needed.
  • Estimates the time required to manage my financial affairs for the year, communicates this in advance and then we agree a monthly direct debit payment. I receive monthly updates about how well I’m tracking to the agreed budget.

My conveyance solicitor:

  • Was chosen on two criteria for our house move: first was locality and the second was price point, because conveyancing services are a loss leading, shop-able, legal product.
  • Provided me with terms of business up front, required me to sign them and provide the proof of identity documents required for the conveyance.
  • Was great, until I had problems with the survey and extra work was required. As this was unexpected, the value driven product had no scope for charges to ramp up. Therefore I ended up paying an hourly rate for the extra work.
  • What I didn’t know, until I got the bill, was that clerks and a junior solicitor did the conveyancing, but the more complex work was a partner. This was an unexpected and significantly higher charge.
  • Having started with a fixed price, value led product, which then required ad hoc work, I ended up paying significantly more than planned.
  • As a shop-able product and as a client who was moving away, the legal practice were not inclined to treat me as a valued client.
  • As a practice with a high proportion of conveyancing work, I did not have a great customer experience and their communication was mediocre at best.

In the vet world, costs and products fixate us. We find it challenging to charge for our time or to demonstrate value. I used to think was generational, lost in the mists of time and a different model of providing veterinary care in 1950. Yet we lament our ability to earn the same kind of salaries as other professional colleagues.

It’s not generational though, because there’s little evidence of the situation improving. That means it’s institutional. We’re effectively doing this to ourselves when we’re surrounded by examples of better ways to do it, in other professions and in veterinary models around the world.

What would our practice finances look like if we were legally required to sell drugs at cost + 10% plus VAT? That’s the situation in large parts of Europe and to me is eminently sensible and socially acceptable given the bad press about profiteering in pharmaceutical sales.

What would our practice finances look like if that first consultation with a new client was free, established the business relationship, T&Cs and then we charge properly for our time? It would mean the death knell for the depreciating sliding consultation scale. You can never charge Cons1 again once you’ve charged a client Cons3 or ConsFOC during a case. Imagine that paradigm shift.

If you’re feeling brave and you’d like to try something a little different, please get in touch for a free preliminary discussion. It’s one part of the quest for better practice finance that the VBC can help you with.

Are you Ready? Cx Club Congress 17th June 2017

Cx Congress is the only place where the programme, speakers and events are entirely dedicated to the unique needs of customer experience professionals.

And it’s this weekend!

Brought to you by one of the VBC’s favourite collaborators, Onswitch, this congress is part of Cx Club, a set of tools dedicated to those veterinary team members dedicated to the customer experience (Cx- geddit?). There’s a suite of learning tools, information and training on their website too.

Tickets are limited, so check them out ASAP!

www.cxclub.care/cx-congress

That’s one of the benefits of working with the Veterinary Business Consultancy. We’re closely networked in the veterinary community and although we’d love your business, we have our limits and we’re happy to recommend collaborative companies to suit your individual needs.

 

What vets can learn from yoghurt marketing

Yoghurt marketing? No, I’ve not gone crazy, I’m just going to use an example of a personal experience to demonstrate where vets should be aspiring to be. Actually, any business that is trying to engage with its consumers and use all of the available tools could use this model. So, stripping away the slightly sensational title (made you look) let’s rephrase:

Joined up marketing with no dead ends.

It sounds intuitive; you don’t want your hard earned consumer to end up in a dead end with no call to action or without an activity that loops them back in to your clinic. We can create virtuous loops that keep bringing people back to you, even if something bad happens. This is a true story about me, Tesco and a company called Koko who make excellent coconut based diary free yoghurt.

Yoghurt was on our weekly Tesco shopping list when a new product called out to us from the shelf in the yoghurt chiller. The marketing team at Tesco/Koko had done a great job with the point of purchase promotional materials and the product literally leapt off the shelf and in to our trolley. Yum, coconut flavour yoghurt.

Fast-forward, 24 hours and with coconut based breakfast anticipation I peeled off the lid to be greeted by this:

Mouldy yoghurt

I’m no microbiologist, but that wasn’t right. Frustrated and hangry (yes, that’s a word; bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger), I defaulted to Weetabix. So I’m a couple of quid down, which isn’t’ much in the grand scheme of things, but I wondered how responsive Tesco might be to this? I picked Twitter as my medium of choice and the next bit goes about as fast as I can type.

@Tesco – Send photo of offending contaminated yoghurt, with wry comments

@adrianVBC – Profuse apologies: please send photo of bar codes, BBE, store purchased from, photo of receipt and your contact details

@Tesco – Send 4 more photos and requested details, with thanks

@adrianVBC – Thanks, we’ll refund you and send a note in the post. More apologies.

Two days later, a very nice letter arrived from Tesco, with the promised refund in the form of a £2 gift card. On the same day, from Koko the manufacturer, a letter arrived with a “we’re investigating and we’ll let you know what we find” commentary and a further £5 Tesco gift card by way of an apology for any upset. Read the language in the letters; it’s concerned, empathetic and action oriented.

IMG_2938

A month later, a further note arrived from Koko with a full explanation of the problem, explaining why it happened, what they’ve done to rectify it and to ensure it won’t happen again. In addition, there is also a promotional flyer and money off next purchase coupon, redeemable at Tesco.

IMG_2942

So Tesco and Koko, working seamlessly together, have converted a bad tub of yoghurt into a raft of activities that not only solved my problem in a transparent manner, they refunded the product more than three times over and made me feel great about their service. They’ve also taken the opportunity to draw me back into Tesco, the Koko brand and Koko products. I had a great Twitter conversation, effectively in real time and traditional media in the form of a letter has backed it up.

There was not a single missed opportunity.

So how does the average, or even above average vet clinic fare? Not many have the scale to compete with a customer service centre with the size and connectivity of Tesco’s, but that’s not the point.

If we think in virtuous cycles, then using two specific phrases can be useful

  • Then what?
  • What if?

As you plan your marketing activities, keep asking “then what?” Only when you have run out of answers is the campaign complete. This can be really challenging when the practice management system doesn’t speak to the web platform and social media channels. Compound that by trying to communicate activities through the different layers of the clinic staff, ensuring that each group of vets, nurses and front desk customer care staff and the challenge is self-evident. Most practices are lucky if they have a person with marketing in their job description. Tesco do it on a much larger scale so it should be attainable in a smaller business shouldn’t it?

So here is an example:

A two-year-old mixed breed dog comes in for it’s annual health check and vaccine.

Then what? The PMS logs a reminder for the next annual health check to be sent in 11months time.

Then what? A process is needed to ensure the reminder is sent in 11 months time.

Then what?

Well, I think most practices stop here. The proliferation of digital marketing companies suggests that a large number of clinics need help getting even this far. There are two obvious dead ends already, one being the 11 months of silence from the clinic and the second being a single reminder process.

So applying “What if?” thinking opens up new opportunities.

What if you could generate a dental check up reminder, a parasiticide product reminder and a process for following up on poor compliance? What if those reminders came by email, text or social media messenger, with data tracking open rates? What if you could loop customers into an online booking system for appointments and repeat prescriptions? What if you could add promotional information and a voucher for discounts? What if those discounts can be tracked and analysed?

Each one of these “what if” thoughts is a potential dead-end, where the answer to the “then what” question is: The customer is lost to follow up. Only when there are no dead ends is the process complete.

So here’s the call to action. Have you mapped out your consumers marketing journey through the myriad of things you do? Have you created a virtuous circle of marketing activities that ensure your consumer doesn’t end up in a dead end? Once they’re down a dead end, they’re as good as gone.

Getting a grip on your marketing can be a challenge and it’s one that the VBC is very familiar with. From building a simple marketing campaign for a single product area right through to a revision of your annual marketing plan, the VBC can deliver for you.

Even better than that, working with our digital partner agencies, we can bring even more expertise if you have a grander plan in mind. We’d love to talk.

The three behaviours holding back veterinary leadership

I’ve just spent the last couple of days recovering from and reflecting on BSAVA Congress 2017. Like many others, I have an unbroken run of 15 years or more attendance, although until recently I’ve been on the exhibitor side of the fence. Even as a pure delegate, Congress continues to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

The delights are the quality of the event, the people and the opportunities that it presents, whether for networking, learning or business. Having a sunny couple of days also really helps charge the batteries after periods spent in lecture halls. However, it markedly impacts the exhibition’s performance and I know people who will have been hoping for rain to drive the crowds indoors at the BarclayCard Arena.

The frustrations from me this year fall in to two areas. Firstly, the distributed nature of ICC, Arena and linking walkways give all kinds of logistics issues. Yes, it gets the blood going round after two hours seated but it challenges my timeliness. Secondly, I find myself frustrated by us as vets. Let me explain because it’s a question of language.

At a rough count, of the 350 or so lectures at congress, about 10% were on non clinical subjects, with a nice proportion of those addressing personal development and leadership topics. That’s great to see and the improvement in the number and quality of non-clinical topics continues. However, having sat through a number of these sessions, despite excellent content, it doesn’t seem to be widely sinking in that leadership is a personal thing, delivered by the individual, on behalf of organisations.

There are three key behaviours that we, as a profession, need to work on.

  1. Use the language of leadership. There is no place for mickey taking, sarcastic witticisms, lack of respect and anything less than carefully chosen language. If you need help, let me know because I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life working on it and it’s not easy to get right.
  2. Behave as leaders. This is a choice. We choose the perspective that we take and we can choose to stop moaning, take a positive outlook or a broader view and accept that we are masters of our own destiny. Yes, some of the things that are happening right now are contentious, but they’re happening nonetheless and whilst it’s great to be passionate, we must channel our passion into a positive approach these issues. The next generation of vets and the pet owning public are watching.
  3. Move to a solution oriented position. The problems of the profession are well elucidated and there is a plethora of published materials on it. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, the Vet Futures Report, the Mind Matters Initiative, the VetLife statistics about the number of vets seeking help or the RCVS Strategic plan all demonstrate the problems. But we’re in a tailspin. We’re sitting with our heads bowed arguing about who has it worst. It might be because we use a “problem oriented learning” approach to clinical cases, but we’ve got to move on.

We need to look up and see that veterinary leaders are now starting to move forward and that a vision of the future profession is being painted. We’re being invited in to the future. We all need to talk like leaders, act like leaders and bring solutions, not problems to the table. Don’t you want to be part of the solution rather than one of the problems?

Let me give some of examples: –

  • I have chosen to use Doctor as a title. I have had friends, both PhD and not PhD question this. Its been done in private and also in front of an audience. One example is, “I’m a real Doctor because I earned my PhD”. I respect and understand this, however why don’t you respect and understand my right to use the title? If we can’t offer each other the mutual respect and courtesy, how can we expect to get along? It’s just not acceptable. My old American DVM boss always called me Dr Pratt out of respect, long before I was able to use the title. Imagine the sea change in public and professional perception we could drive with that level of respect.
  • The Vet Futures report has a list of 24 jobs that need doing. Each has a draft plan, but there’s no roadmap or sense of urgency. We need to prioritise the jobs, communicate the plans and hold people accountable. Not in a punitive way, but through leadership. I think at least 4 of the jobs represent mandates for action and are commercial opportunities for entrepreneurial vets. Facebook use the phrase, “Better done than perfect”. Our instinctive perfectionism holds us back, but perfection is an asymptote, meaning it’s unobtainable, so let’s just get going.
  • I heard the phrase “fear of the RCVS” used in several contexts, several times and it’s clear that a population of vets live in fear of the RCVS or of a mistake costing them their career. What’s driving this fear? It can’t help that the RCVS has a Disciplinary Committee rather than a Fitness to Practice Committee or that Communication in Practice seminars delivered by well meaning organsitions have jokey references to how not to get sued. We need to carefully choose our language, because we can’t know the impact on people were trying to reach. Read the RCVS strategic plan, because it might just change your perspective. You should have had an email from them yesterday.

We are a bunch of passionate, caring, professionals who do an incredibly skilled job, often under suboptimal conditions. We owe it to ourselves, the next generation and to the public and animals that we serve, to walk and talk like the leaders we aspire to be.

If you’re an entrepreneurial vet service provider that would like to sit down and explore Vet Futures with a view to writing a business plan, then get in touch, we’ve got lots of ideas.

If you’re a vet who finds themselves wanting help getting out of a tailspin, personally or on a clinic level, then the VBC can help. Get in touch via our contact page.

Three ways to veterinary business success

Once upon a time, you could be a successful vet just by being there. The geography was your friend and as estate agents say: Location, location, location. You found premises, usually a building with a historical link to animals, such as a farriers, a yard, or a big townhouse in the centre of town that was always the vet’s and you screwed your plate to the front door. Away you went. Since the turn of the century though, the number of vet sites has more than doubled in the UK1.

This explains why the new generation of vets is dislocated from the older generation of vets. A lot of retiring vets are property tycoons, not veterinary tycoons and in the current property market, that’s not a viable route to financial success for young vets.

Note: For the purposes of clarity and to twist your thinking a little, I’m going to only refer to clients as consumers in the rest of the blog.

Well, aside from a few rural locations where geography is the limiting factor, that’s not how vet businesses thrive today. Various studies have shown that there are lots of factors affecting how consumers pick their clinic2,3.

Here are the key ones:

  • Recommendation – word of mouth mainly, but increasingly online reviews.
  • Local to them – why would they want to travel when the world is now delivered to them?
  • Relationship with the vet. We work in a service industry after all.

Interestingly clinical skills, competence and price aren’t usually in the top 5 reasons and critically; the consumer is not vet loyal. Consumers may frequent several local vets, for different reasons or with different animals. They almost certainly buy a chunk of the animal care products, food and medicines online.

So how do you become a successful veterinary business when the density of clinics is getting greater, access to veterinary care is simpler and communication is getting easier?

There are three routes any business can take to win consumers; you just need to decide which works best for you.

 1. Be a low-cost provider

In a highly charged financial environment, post recession, pre-BREXIT and with the internet now creating open book pricing comparisons, a low price offering will always win a group of consumers. It can be done well; just have look at the success of the not-for-profit practice Animal Trust.

However it’s a challenging financial model for clinics to adhere to and remain profitable. If your service to product sales ratio is worse than 80:20, then you have a big risk. You’ll be too reliant on margin generated from sales and it opens you to risks of pricing fluctuations and on-line competition. If you have the time to manage your pricing daily, the supplier relationships to ensure negotiated pricing wins and a relentless focus on cost management for the service elements, then great; crack on.

2. Have a differentiated proposition

This is the holy grail for most retailers and product manufacturers. Invent a new widget, gadget or service. In the supply of veterinary services as we know it, having a differentiated proposition can be very difficult though. The public has preconceptions of what going to the vet means and it can be difficult to surprise and delight a consumer. The proposition could change with telemedicine and as yet unknown services, so if you are an innovator, go for it!

It’s possible to offer a unique service to the consumer, but not at the level that most vets think. The thinking goes something like this: Wouldn’t it be great if we had ultrasound or CT or a new dental machine? That means we could offer service X, Y or Z and we’d be the only clinic around here with those facilities.

That’s flawed thinking though, because owners don’t think in terms of the medical facilities you have. Remember the reasons consumers choose a practice? Clinical skills and competence aren’t high up the list. Consumers are much more oriented to the way you care for them and their animals. Don’t forget, most of the time we’re talking about family members not animals.

You could offer a differentiated proposition in terms of how consumers pay for veterinary services, for example, a pet club direct debit scheme, payment plans or credit terms. That’s great for your cash flow and in theory great for the consumer too because you can bundle services and products very economically. But again, it’s flawed thinking because price isn’t in the top factors defining the choice of vet.

3. Deliver exceptional service

So if price and differentiation are difficult or not high in the vet consumer’s mindset, then the only way to be successful has to be in the delivery of exceptional service.

That makes sense doesn’t it? If we think as consumers and all else were equal, we shop where we get the best service, we eat in the restaurants with the most engaging waiting staff and we buy from those online stores with the best user experience and delivery services.

And so it must be for vets as well. All the clinical skills and medical facilities count for nothing unless we recognise the special relationship between people and their pets and we can create a special relationship between that consumer and ourselves. How can you surprise and delight a consumer? If you can achieve this, then word of mouth will become your biggest driver of new consumers, in person or online.

To steal a phrase from a colleague’s practice, they won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Here at the VBC we can help you review your current offering. We’ll be challenging but at the same time nurturing, because you’ll need to make some big decisions. Working as partners in marketing, social media and business development, we’ll help you build, develop and implement your business plan. Any of the three routes to success can work and at the end of the day, it’s your plan.

Get in touch to arrange an initial confidential chat.

  1. http://www.rcvs.org.uk/publications/
  2. http://www.onswitch.co.uk/uploads/docs/france%20vet%2013.pdf
  3. http://www.cm-research.com

Three last minute BSAVA pre-congress jobs you must do now!

BSAVA is less than one week away now so here are three final jobs to do before you hit the road to the best small animal congress in the world.

  1. Download the new FREE congress app. It’s brand new, so don’t forget to un-install any previous versions first. It’s available on the App Store (for iPhone/iPad) and Google Play (for Android devices).

 I’ve been playing with the app since it launched and I have to say it’s the best yet. You can set your own schedule, lecture-by-lecture and set reminders to make sure you don’t miss that critical lecture you wanted to go to. It also has a wonderfully interactive exhibition map, with a clever little widget to help you navigate around the arena. Search for an exhibitor by name and then tap the location button and, hey presto, it’s highlighted on the map. Blitzing the exhibition will never be the same again!

  1. Double-check those reservations. In my last Blog about Congress, I urged you to book your hotels as far in advance as possible. Well since I did that, several horror stories have emerged, with well-known internet booking engines upsetting the apple cart at the last minute. Better to be safe than sorry, so check them out again!
  1. Plan your down time. There’s a lot to cram in during Congress and the danger is that the pressure to stay contactable, meet friends, suppliers and digest all the information can be quite hard work. Turning that phone off for lectures gives you the space to learn, but a reflective period to process the information afterwards is just as important. Taking even half an hour to reflect before moving on to your next chosen activity can make a significant difference in your learning and enjoyment of the whole event. Give yourself the space to grow.

I’m going to be at the conference for all 4 days, with a mixture of activities in mind. If you’d like to catch up with me, wearing my Veterinary Business Consultancy hat, to discuss how we can help you, your business or your clinic, please get in touch!

Have a fabulous Congress!