So you’re thinking of taking your career to the next level and opening your own veterinary clinic?

Young female veterinarian holding a catCongratulations! But before you set up shop and open your doors to customers, there are some key steps to take on the road to success. Becoming a business owner can be thrilling, lucrative, and professionally enriching, but it can also be a risky venture when you aren’t fully prepared. The short-sighted veterinarian believes that their clinical skills and training is all they need to open a successful animal hospital, but the smart practitioner will understand that in addition to scrubs, they also have to put on the hat of ‘business owner’. To ensure that your veterinary practice startup is a success story, follow these 10 tips to be on your way to building a thriving veterinary clinic/animal hospital.

1.  Research, Research, Research!

Like any major life decision, it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into. Are you ready to be the boss? Are you fully aware of the financial and legal obligations involved in starting a veterinary clinic? In addition to learning about your responsibilities and expectations, it’s also beneficial to speak to or read about other vets who have made the transition from associate veterinarian to practice owner. Knowing what challenges they faced and what did and didn’t work for them can help you make smarter decisions when you open your own animal hospital. Consider it an exercise in continuing your education.

2. Establish Your Professional and Personal Goals

You likely aren’t ready to retire yet, but it never hurts to think about your career in the long-term, and doing so at the onset of your new clinic means you can take steps to reach those goals. Determine and outline what you want to achieve in the future, and how you envision your practice before you begin planning. For example:

  • What are your production goals and cash flow projections?
  • Will you be able to service the clinic debt (build) in the first few years?
  • Will you start off as a solo veterinarian, or bring in an associate or two?
  • How many exam rooms will you need? Do you need kennel space?
  • Do you envision yourself expanding down the line, requiring more space?

Once you have answered some important questions, you can work backwards to create a business plan that will support all of these objectives.

Young female veterinarian with a dog

3. Develop an Airtight Business Plan

When you have established your personal and career goals, it’s time to determine how to achieve them. You should think of a business plan as your road map to success, and the framework for your entire clinic – and it will also help to secure lenders. A good business plan will contain the following information:

  • A timeline that includes important milestones and a proposed deadline for each. (i.e. what date would you like to open your doors? When will you need to obtain necessary insurance?)
  • Key steps broken up into tasks and deliverables (i.e. what measures must be taken to determine if a location is suitable for your clinic? What needs to be done before you can sign off on the veterinary office lease agreement, including drafting the letter of intent, reviewing the proposed lease, and negotiating the terms to meet your needs)
  • Financial forecasts and business/production projections based on market research.
  • A debt service plan.
  • A financial plan that includes a detailed budget and breakdown of projected expenses.
  • Monthly new customer goals.
  • A marketing plan to ensure your clinic production and new customer goals are met.

4. Determine Your Resource Needs

One of the more challenging aspects of running your animal hospital is anticipating its needs before your doors open. For example, will you require a full staff? Do you need a full suite of new veterinary equipment? Some new clinics fail by taking on too much too quickly, so it’s best to start slow and build your practice as it expands naturally. You may find it beneficial to speak to an established veterinary practice owner about their experience, and learn what type of resources they had in place when they first opened. Remember that you can always scale up, but it’s much harder to scale down.

5. Show Me the Money!

Young male veterinarian holding a rabbitObtaining financing isn’t usually a problem for veterinarians for one simple reason: veterinarians are a good investment, and banks consider veterinary clinics/animal hospitals low risk educated borrowers. This knowledge gives you leverage with lenders, so shop around for the best terms for your loan. That being said, you should ensure that your personal credit is in good standing before applying for a clinic loan. A lender is also more likely to approve a loan if you can demonstrate good credit, and a strong business plan and growth strategy, which is why the planning stage is so crucial.

6­­. Team Up with the Experts

Animal health is a booming industry, and the demand for business solutions partners has created a robust market of specialists who operate exclusively within animal health. For a new veterinary practice owner, this means you won’t, and shouldn’t have to, go it alone! From professional veterinary office lease negotiators to accountants, to office designers and equipment and supply specialists, these professionals will tailor their services to the specific needs of your startup clinic. Enlisting the help of specialists can save you valuable time, help protect your assets, and optimize operations and revenue.

The next steps to starting an animal hospital are critical: find a suitable location, review and negotiate the veterinary office lease for the space, build a marketing and client acquisition plan, and budget managements. Click here to read Part 2 of our “10 Tips for Starting a Veterinary Clinic” blog series.

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