Startup diaries: Managing the time suck


Building and opening a veterinary practice is a marathon experience that requires slow, steady and consistent effort. While you may have to sacrifice your time (and sanity) during the process, the payoff is well worth it.

New practices are time-consuming in a "death by a thousand scalpel blade cuts" kind of way, but carving out space on your calendar isn't as hard as it sounds. (yuli_ko / Shutterstock)“Starting a practice is easy,” said no one ever. Obviously, the time, effort and financial commitments are real when it comes to practice ownership. But how much time does it really take to start a new practice, and what about the time involved in running your new practice once it opens?

New practice startups are time-consuming in a “death by a thousand scalpel blade cuts” kind of way; it's the tiny details that gobble the most time. But carving out space on your calendar isn't as hard as it sounds.

A team of professionals will be helping you throughout the process, among them architects, realtors, engineers, attorneys, accountants, contractors, distributor reps, equipment/pharmaceutical/food/product sales reps, and practice-owning mentors. During the planning and building phase, most of the electronic and in-person communication with these people will be short (less than an hour), flexible and easy to do while multitasking. Roger that!

But I've already got a full-time job!

Much of the practice startup process occurs while the new owner is working a full-time job. This certainly means your schedule will be a bit more hectic on some days, but it doesn't have to take away from family events, holidays, vacation and other leisure activities. Most of my emails and texts were sent during my lunch break from my full-time job or at the end of the day, either at the gym between weight lifting sets or while grocery shopping.

New builds also have a lot of downtime while waiting for bank loan approvals, closing dates, blueprints, building permits, contractor availability, code inspections, and other formalities. Although you will have crazy days full of back-and-forth communication with your startup team, you will also have days, weeks and likely months where very little happens. Some days you may have an additional three hours of work, others just 15 minutes.

Get organized!

Preparation is key to managing your time while building a new practice. The more you can visualize exactly how you want your practice to look, feel and run, the less time you will need to commit to making those decisions along the way.

Spend time thinking about as much detail as you can. Knowing what you want the wall color to be now will save you three hours at the paint store six months from now! Create a calendar for meetings and phone calls and a spreadsheet for tracking costs. Create image boards to help you visualize the space, and keep an idea folder to help you sort through all the information. Keep a to-do list to help you manage your time efficiently and remember the many details that must be addressed. Create a project management timeline to help you know how far out to order equipment, draft a logo, prepare your website, hire staff, etc.

Thinking of a new practice yourself?

Lots of first-time practice owners find their way to the HospitalDesign360 conference each year.

“Attending the HospitalDesign360 conference was crucial to our success. We were able to ask questions and learned new questions to ask. Ultimately, networking with many different contractors led us to select a contractor there that had extensive experience in building veterinary hospitals.” - past attendee

“I had a space to be built 16 months later, but I did not yet know the timeline. This conference was tremendously helpful in surrounding me with already established and successful veterinarians building [similar-sized] facilities. I also connected with professionals I was able to consult with later in my project.” - past attendee

Interested? Learn more here at

Use your team … and Google

Leverage your distribution rep to help you maximize your time. Ask your rep to set you up with equipment, pharmaceutical, food and other industry sales representatives. Many of these meetings can be done on your lunch hour, and most reps will travel to your location for your convenience.

Visiting other new practices and talking to new practice owners will also save time in the long run. These veterinarians can help steer you toward layouts, materials and equipment they love while helping you avoid the mistakes they made. (Insider tip: Always include more electric outlets than you think you will ever need!) Another great source of information are other area business owners. Ask them for recommendations on sign companies, landscapers, logo designers, etc.

Google is also a great resource for business management and operations information. I simply Googled “most popular neutral paint color” and made the decision from there in less than two minutes. Get ideas for finishes and décor from websites like Pinterest and Wayfair. Search images of practice layouts, equipment, materials, finishes, etc. and provide these to your architect.

Google is also a great source of information for business management and operations information. For example, searching “best payroll company for small businesses” or “what small businesses need to know about (your state) employment law” will easily trim the time it takes to understand operational compliance. These quick searches can be worked into the down time in your normal day.

You're open for business. Now what?

The first few weeks will inevitably be full of operational and one-time management tasks such as creating your employee handbook, compiling employee files and payroll paperwork, preparing for your state inspection, getting comfortable with ordering inventory and creating systems for check-in through checkout.

But what about your appointment schedule? Unless you are in an area that has no other veterinary practices within 10 miles, you are unlikely to be busy the first several months. You will have some very slow days at the beginning, but this is a blessing! Use this time to reconnect with loved ones and catch up on hobbies you ignored during the hectic building phase. (Here are a few ways to keep team members busy.)

New practices see more solicitors hawking insurance and SEO packages than actual paying clients in those first few weeks. As your clientele grows, you will get busier and busier. Cherish the first few slow months to recuperate from the stress of building and opening the new practice. Find ways to grow your business through marketing and advertising. Spend empty appointment blocks working on systems, training manuals and protocols so that as you grow, you will already have these tools in place to save you time managing your practice in the future. Train your new staff extensively during these slow periods, so that when the schedule fills up, your practice runs like the well-oiled machine you envisioned it to be!

Eva Evans, DVM, MBA, CVMA, is the owner of a small animal practice in Nashville, Tennessee, focusing on combining gold standard medicine with five star client experience.


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