There are few things in life more satisfying than becoming a veterinarian. Being able to make a career out of helping others keep their pets healthy. It can be emotionally grueling at times, but also incredibly satisfying. If you’re going down the path toward opening your own veterinary business, here are some important steps to help guide you.
Note that this post was not just made by research. It also utilizes a friend of mine who works for a local practice. She helped provide some of these details you’ll see below.
Decide What Type You Want to Be
Most people think of the vet as a clinic where people take their pets in for annual checkups and routine illnesses. These are set up like a doctor’s office with exam rooms, testing equipment, and staff. It’s the most common method, but there are other options.
A mobile vet is someone who can travel to the owner’s home. A “house call” you can say. These have become popular because it can be an ordeal to bring a sick pet into a clinic. Not just on the owners, but the stress it brings to your pet. And for as grim as it may sound, owners do often find more comfort when that time comes for their pet to have it done in their home instead of a strange exam room. Mobile clinics are more affordable to start-up but still require equipment.
Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re going to need some capital to get started. Depending on your location, this could mean around a million dollars.
Your best bet early on is to look toward the SBA for one of their patented SBA loans. The rates are typically better than a traditional private loan and some of the requirements are relaxed. Read up on everything you can before applying and find a bank you trust to start that relationship. Unfortunately, there is likely a personal guarantee you’ll have to make with the loan.
To do this you’ll need to create a detailed business plan. Explain what your business is and how it plans to make money. There are a number of guides online that can help with this and it goes a long way to securing the right loan at the right rate.
Decide What Services You Provide
This is where you determine how your business is going to make money. You’ll need to determine what pets you intend to see. Whether you’ll be dealing with checkups and routine illnesses or focusing on emergency services.
Your clinic will also need to decide how it will handle testing. The simpler route is to outsource that to local labs that specialize in it. You’ll pay a premium though. The other choice is setting up a lab within your business. This creates a larger initial investment for equipment and staff, but allows you to make more profit on each test. It also comes with the benefit of providing your customers with speedy results. As a pet owner, the waiting for results is the worst part.
Finally, a growing field is providing some extras. Many clinics are providing services such as grooming and training. This may in fact cost you little to nothing either. Team up with a local groomer and provide them with space in the office. Pet owners can save time by having their pet groomed right after their appointment. As the owner, you can take a cut off each sale.
The sale of medicine and other supplies can provide some added profit to your business too. Tick and flea prevention, heartworm medication, and good old shampoo works. Become an all-in-one source for pet owners.
Location Location Location
This is a no-brainer but sometimes overlooked. Not only do you want to be accessible to the largest number of pet owners, but also know what kind of regulations you’re dealing with. Different townships have different rules when it comes to medical businesses. In fact, if you’re a property owner, you can be taxed (property tax) at a significantly higher rate too.
These are things you want to look into beforehand so you don’t end up with an enormous property tax bill you weren’t expecting. Or absorbent fees to keep your license updated. Also note that you’ll need a narcotics license to dispense prescriptions. It is important to know every detail of what the state requires. Losing that license is a death knell for your business.
Sure most vets are in it because they have large hearts and love helping animals, but there are also bills to pay. You’ll need to set up the proper payment processing by offering as many options as possible for your customers. This can run around 3% for credit card transactions.
There are also companies like CareCredit you can team up with so that your customers can get financing. Not everyone has the means to pay a large bill up front. And this provides them with a way to make monthly payments while you receive the money up front.
And finally, there will be people who may try to stiff you on a bill. It’s a sad part of business and may make you feel terrible. But you spent your life learning this skill and likely have large bills of your own to keep the lights on in the clinic. This may require utilizing a collection agency for small business. There are even those who specialize as a veterinary collection agency. You hope it never comes to that, but it’s a part of business.
Building a Team
With most of the technical stuff out of the way, building a team is probably your most important decision. You want people who genuinely care about animals and can deal with the ups and downs of this profession. People who will be able to comfort owners in bad times and make pets as comfortable as possible. It’s not a job that anyone can do and you have to use your judgement to find the right people.
If you read through reviews on sites like Yelp, you’ll see that most focus on how the staff treated them. Businesses that are rated high are showered with praise about how wonderful people treated them and their pets. Those that rate low are called cold and callous toward them and their pets. You’ll learn quickly how important these reviews are to your success.
Marketing to the Community
Lining everything up means nothing if you can’t get people in the door. Depending on your budget, there are affordable ways to promote yourself online and through local advertisements. I stress local here because you want to focus on your immediate community before branching out elsewhere. That might mean sponsoring local youth sports teams or providing free promotional products at a town festival.
But what you’ll find is that nothing beats word-of-mouth. A good veterinarian gets most of their business this way. If you provide quality service, you’ll create a customer for life. And they’ll tell their friends about their experience too. So while plastering the town with ads helps, nothing works better than providing a welcoming experience to pet owners.