21 elements of a successful practice

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Don't settle for second place. Take home the gold-and more green-when you offer clients five-star services.

Entrepreneurs have a reputation for taking giant risks when establishing businesses. This is not necessarily true. Effective entrepreneurs take intelligent, calculated and effective risks.

A job well done: Don't settle for second place. Take home the gold-and more green-when you offer clients five-star service.

So it is with veterinary practices. Yes, success might sometimes seem random and sporadic, but there are sound reasons for a practice's success. A successful practice creates a good product or service and makes life better for clients and their pets. Below, I have identified 21 elements of success in a veterinary practice.

Dream. Yes, dream a little. What is it that you most enjoy doing? The next step is to figure out a business plan surrounding your dream.

Listen and learn. Perhaps the biggest challenge in life, especially for those who are vibrant and enthusiastic, is the ability to listen. The lessons learned through listening can guide one to make good decisions.

Squeeze your lemons. Death, taxes and lemons are three things assured in life. Lemons are those unexpected and unwanted setbacks we all experience throughout our lives. We are each unique and can use what we learn from these difficult situations to make positive changes in our business and personal life. In other words, when life serves lemons, we make lemonade.

Exercise caution. We are regularly presented with new options, ideas, equipment and methods. It can be risky to incorporate untested tools and strategies into any aspect of your practice. Exercise caution when adding new elements to your business's daily routine.

Control debt. Capital debt can be a significant liability for any business. Take special care when adding capital debt to the business plan. Try to keep the payments at less than 10 percent of your total cash flow—5 percent is even better.

Invest in staff. Take special care to attend to the needs and desires of your dedicated staff. It is only with a happy staff that we can provide excellent patient care and customer service. Try to keep staff turnover at a minimum, and retention to 5 years or more.

Seek new ideas. Look outside your practice to see what others are doing successfully. Steal any good idea is my motto. Take some time—a day or a week, perhaps—to visit medical doctors, dentists and even successful nonmedical businesses to see what strategies or practices contribute to their success.

Challenge yourself. Look into the mirror and assess yourself for potential growth areas. Developing new skills can add new forms of revenue to your business.

Read. Yes, imagine that. With all the new forms of communication coming at us, the written word is still one of the best tools available. Expand your horizons by reading topics in relevant areas of veterinary practice, business, human resources, sports and politics.

Prevent burnout. Balance the PPFF categories of your life (Personal, Professional, Fun, Financial). Burnout, in short, is a failure to pursue your dreams and the balance of these aspects of your life.

Make it fun. Fun at work is essential to peace of mind. Make it fun for clients, staff and all those who come through the front door. The more enjoyable your clients' experience is, the more your practice can grow.

Stay current. It can seem like a lot of work to stay current with the trends and research in veterinary medicine, business and staff development— especially when things seem to change more quickly than we can keep up with them. However, doing so will be beneficial to you, your staff and your clients. Work to stay up-to-date in your area of specialization and on ways to improve how your office management and environment affect your staff and clients. You won't regret it.

Learn from the past. We must learn from the past if we are to avoid recurrent pitfalls. Take note of what is happening around you, make notes of those things that have happened in the four areas of your life (see PPFF above) and be diligent to avoid repeating former mistakes.

Use incentives wisely. Many argue about workplace incentives and all that stuff. The reality is that people do respond to incentives. But, remember that the bright side of an incentive always has a dark side—make sure the dark side does not interfere with your practice's mission.

Track your time. A time management system can significantly improve efficiency and productivity. Be it just a notebook, worksheet or scheduling book, documenting your time management plan is an essential first step toward success in this area.

Focus. We must constantly remind ourselves that for each mistake we make out of ignorance, we make 10 more because we forget what we already know. In other words, we must pay attention each time we walk into the examination room.

Carry on. We all know that persistence is the key to success, but what drives our persistence? Do something you love, persistent in it and success will follow.

Learn from the coyote. The lowly coyote has a reputation for being a bit of a weed, and yet they manage to thrive. Why is this? They adapt. So, in this fluid economy and environment, be willing to adapt to new situations as you encounter them.

Increase your value. We live in a world where our value can be determined by providing a service for which folks will pay us. So, to increase your income, work to improve your value to society, to the practice and to clients. Want a raise? Improve your value to the organization cutting you a paycheck.

Educate clients. Many veterinarians do not like to "sell" their services. So, look at it from a different perspective: Educating clients about what can be done to improve the health and well-being of their animals can be a very effective marketing tool. And unless we inform clients of their choices and options, they cannot make informed decisions.

Know your profit and loss (P and L). Get up to speed with your P and L (Fixed, Variable, Salaries, Profits). Know the benchmarks for your niche, be sure to keep payroll taxes out of the "fixed" group, keep debts in the "profit" group and keep all support staff labor expenses in the "variable" group.

Dr. Riegger, Dipl. ABVP, is the chief medical officer at Northwest Animal Clinic Hospital and Specialty Practice. Contact him by telephone or fax (505) 898-0407, Riegger@aol.com, or www.north westanimalclinic.com. Find him on AVMA's NOAH as the practice management moderator. Order his books "Management for Results" and "More Management for Results" by calling (505) 898-1491.

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