How To Create A Veterinary Business Plan
A well-thought-out business plan is essential for any veterinarian running or looking to run a practice.
As Steven Covey (American businessman and author) highlights in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, it is imperative for a business owner to begin with the end in mind.
What this means is that it's important to continually work towards a big-picture target, something that keeps you on track and in check. This is where an effective veterinary practice business plan comes in.
Whilst creating a business plan might not be the top of your priorities, a good strategy linked to a set of tactics to execute is key to working smarter- not harder.
Not only can a business plan help you set and stay on track with your practice goals, but it can also help you stay on top of changing trends that may be impacting your practice.
In this article we outline how to create a veterinary practice business plan, which is not only effective- but easy to implement.
Define Your Values
Whilst you may think that the concept of ‘practice values’ might seem a little abstract or fluffy, this step will underpin everything you do (so don’t skip it!).
When we refer to ‘values’, what we’re referring to are the core principles that matter and determine how we behave towards each other.
Whether you have a written list of practice values or not, odds are you already have a set of values that you abide by.
For example, if caring for others is a value - you're probably already implementing actions that promote staff well-being without thinking about it much.
The benefit of listing these values however is that it keeps you accountable and makes it clear to those around you what the rules of the game are in your practice.
Once articulated, the values and the behaviors that flow from them form the foundation of your culture.
The problem is that it's easy to put aside doing this work to identify and articulate our values when things are busy (and if you're a veterinarian that's all the time!) so you are going to have to create space intentionally to do this. So be warned, any plan that is not supported by aligned values is likely to suffer.
Set Business Goals
Now you’ve created a base for your business plan (your core values), your next move is to get clear about what you want to accomplish.
Examples of goals are:
I would like to grow my practice revenue to achieve sales of $1M.
I would like to become the leading provider of veterinary services in my locality
I would like to build a happy team who stays together for the long haul.
At this point, it's ok to keep it somewhat vague (we’ll sharpen the focus later). What’s important is that you outline a set of say 3-5 goals for the practice (don’t overcomplicate it) that align with your core values and excite you!
Once you have a list of your values and goals, it's time to get technical.
Market research is an essential component of making an informed choice about whether it makes sense or not to enter a market. As any good veterinarian knows, evidence is key.
By taking the time to understand your market (and any gaps you can capitalize on!) you can save yourself much time, money, and heartache.
Think about it like this. If I asked you to go buy a gift for a friend, you could spend half a day perusing the shops trying to find something you think they’ll like, or, you could spend a couple of minutes looking at their Amazon wishlist and order something you know they’ll love.
The point is, market research helps you concentrate your efforts on strategies that you know are more likely to pay off and do so quickly.
Here ere are a few questions to try and answer:
What's the level of demand for my services?
Who are my competitors?
Are they any good at what they do?
What are my clients ‘pain points’ aka what are my clients' problems, and how can I solve them more effectively?
What are the trends in this market?
What are my strengths and how do these map to the market?
Are there other potential customers to make this idea viable?
Can I test my assumptions to minimize risk?
If you are a current practice owner, getting feedback from clients is a fantastic way to get market data - as is attending conferences and hearing what is happening in other practices and indeed other countries!
Encourage your clients to fill out a feedback form after service, or send out a survey in your next newsletter (try using google forms for creating surveys - it's easy to use and free). Walk around the local dog park asking questions.
Regardless of how you conduct your market research, this stage arguably is one of the most important parts of a business plan - so take all the time you need.
Not sure what strategy to use for market research? Click here.
Create Customer Profiles
Now you’ve built the foundation - it's time to put the walls up.
Once you’ve got a gauge for your market, it’s time to create some customer profiles.
Customer profiles are essentially a list of general personas which you wish to target at your practice.
It’s important to create customer profiles, as having a good understanding of who your client is (and more importantly what they want) can help direct your efforts into the right places.
Here is a fantastic resource that you can use to guide you through the process of creating a customer profile in 6-easy steps.
We cannot overemphasize this step.
For the last few years, vets around the world have been overrun with clients due to the pandemic-driven increase in pet ownership.
Traditionally vets have tried to help all clients do all things at all times. But this attitude is at the heart of the discontent and burnout we face as a profession. Better to select your clients very carefully and build a service around their needs.
Once you have done this - it's time for the next step.
You’ve created your values, listed your goals, done your homework, and penned your profiles. So what now?
Now it's time for action.
Now you have an understanding of what you want to achieve and where you want to focus your efforts, you need to outline how you're going to do this.
Go back to your goals. Using the knowledge that you have now, you need to outline how you're going to get from point A to B.
The starting point for this is to sharpen up those early goals so they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed (SMART). Meeting this framework allows you to clearly articulate what it is you are trying to achieve and by when.
For example, if you want to increase your revenue - be specific, about how much would you like to increase it. How are you going to measure your success? Is your goal realistic? Is it important to the overall functioning of your practice?
Once you have made your goals SMART, Determine who in your team is going to be responsible for what, and make your goals clear to everyone.
It's important to note that if you are working in a team, getting others on the same page is essential.
Going back to an earlier point, - this strategy needs to be realistic - and realistically you're not going to be able to do it alone. So designate tasks accordingly, and hold everyone ( you included) accountable with progress reviews (more on this in a minute).
Use calendar tools such as Asana to set specific priorities and deadlines. This will help hold everyone to account and help get work done.
Failing to set a budget would be a large error, but it’s very common for people to skip this step. If you are planning on borrowing money, then you will have to produce some forecasts of your growth with sales and expenses included.
But even if you are not, you should create a basic budget so you have a sense of what your cash needs will be. After all, one of the most important jobs of the leader is to avoid running out of cash. Because that is the end of the line for any business.
Congratulations! You’ve created a basic business plan and are now in a position to work in a very organized way toward your goals.
Now it's time to review everything you’ve achieved. Having a specific time frame whereby the team sits down to evaluate whether the practice has reached its business goals is key to keeping up accountability.
Evaluating your performance (and reviewing aspects of the plan that fell through/didn’t go to plan) can further help you figure out what to include in your next period of work. Typically these are broken down into business quarters.
Don’t take the setbacks too hard - it's almost impossible to adhere to a business plan perfectly, and those setbacks are key to creating an even better plan for the future! There are rich lessons for you as a leader and your team to be gained.
Although creating a business plan can be a time-consuming task, it is nonetheless incredibly important for new and old business owners alike.
As you probably have now worked out, implementing a strategic vet practice business plan is an ongoing process that you should try to repeat at least annually with quarterly waypoints to reflect, reorganize, and course correct.
Although it can seem arduous, taking the time to create a good plan is likely to be an important difference between a successful practice and a chaotic and stressful one, so take the time to invest in yourself and your business and start planning now.
Want to learn more about how to run your business without the drama?
Check out our 60-minute complimentary masterclass for veterinary leaders, teaching you how to be the best practice owner you can be here.