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Veterinary Forum October 2007 (Vol 24, No 10)

Doctor to Doctor: Identifying your practice style

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM

    To create a successful and profitable practice, it is important to clearly define your practice style and the goals you hope to achieve. It is not possible to be all things to all people, but with a comprehensive statement of objectives, it is possible to have success with many types and qualities of practice.

    Defining your clinic

    Whether you want to specialize in critical care, large animal, exotic pet or companion animal medicine, it is a good idea to offer a mission statement that clearly outlines the type and quality of care you provide. Identify your potential clients, and convey to them the level of veterinary care that your practice offers.

    It also is wise to analyze your competition. An important question to answer is, "What makes my practice different?" Many clients want specifics. They want to know why they should bring their pets to your practice rather than one that may be closer to their home or less expensive. Solicit input from your staff, and try to envision your clinic through a client's eyes. Sometimes there is a difference in perception between what the client sees and what you believe the client sees.

    If no differences or advantages can be found, you can create them. Set your practice apart from other clinics in your area, and promote the differences in a twice-yearly brochure or newsletter that is conveniently placed in your waiting room and mailed or emailed to your best clients.

    Once your clinic has been defined, evaluate your practice management strategies for cost-effectiveness. Put into place the strategies that offer the best return on investment for both time and money. You cannot do everything, but you can evaluate the services you offer and eliminate those that are unprofitable or work on improving those that are inefficient.

    Client perception

    Clients will pay higher fees and accept your recommendations more readily when they perceive you as a professional who is concerned about the welfare of their pet. Evaluate the exterior and interior of your practice for professional image and appearance. It has been said that veterinarians get the clients they deserve, and the image your practice projects will reflect the type of clients you will see.

    It also is important to remember that informed pet owners request more services. If you do not make the client aware of your services, they most likely will not ask for them. Efforts to educate your clients can be a significant long-term revenue enhancer.

    In general, clients would rather spend more money than more time. A good goal, therefore, is to get the client from the waiting room into the examination room within 5 to 10 minutes. Wait time is one of the most common client complaints. Keep in mind that many clients shape their opinion of a practice while waiting.

    After the clinic visit, a follow-up phone call for progress reports is a good way to keep a positive image of your practice in a client's mind. Computerization of records can make this process efficient. It may also be cost-effective to hire someone specifically for this task.

    Reminder messages also can increase repeat business. Consider sending a minimum of three reminders to clients who have not kept up with regular visits. It is possible to gain back a client who has tried other practices, so keep them in the system for about 2 years. Mail reminders are the most cost-effective direct mail marketing tool that veterinarians can use.

    Another way to keep your practice in your client's mind is to issue "Very Important Pet" cards to the clients you deal with the most. These can be used as possible discounts on certain prescriptions or nothing more than a professional-looking card identified with "VIP" status.

    Credit with control

    "Shopped" services should be priced competitively. These services are now your "milk and bread," and keeping these fees competitive can enhance the overall profitability of your practice. Quality service may not be the deciding factor in every client's decision to bring their pet to your practice.

    An important goal is to have "credit with control." If a sufficient deposit can be obtained to cover the "hard costs" of the procedure, then it can be much more profitable to provide some sort of credit than to discount the fee. Today's clients are less concerned about the total cost than they are with the monthly payments. In fact, many department stores make more of a profit from monthly interest on store credit cards than they do on the actual merchandise purchased.

    Some closing thoughts

    All of these suggestions can help build and define your practice as your own, but the most important goal to remember is to follow through on whatever you choose. An active, professional, conscientious practice is one that is remembered the most.

    NEXT: Early Spay/Neuter Protocols — Board-Certified Specialists Speak Out About the Benefits


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