Veterinarians: Are you the next Donald Trump?


Do you have what it takes to create your own successful side business?

Ever wonder how some people who are already unimaginably busy are still able to take on a new project when it presents itself? How can a guy like Donald Trump—who is building skyscrapers all day every day—still have time to appear on a weekly TV series and develop plans for a run for the presidency?

Wherever I have lived, wherever I have traveled, I have always come across new acquaintances, including doctors, lawyers, dentists and other licensed practitioners, who while carrying out demanding professional lives, manage to continuously expand their horizons into supplemental endeavors. Some become active in politics, others in humanitarian or fraternal organizations. Still others decide to dip their toes into the non-practice business world, and many learn that they love how it broadens them.

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Business ventures outside of the clinical veterinary world are certainly nothing new. Traditionally, though, many of us seem most comfortable with outside enterprises that are in some way tangentially related to medicine and surgery. For example, dog, cat and horse boarding can generate significant revenue, regardless of how many headaches it involves. Also, more than a few veterinarians I have met over the years have scored big with patents on surgical and other products they have brainstormed and eventually marketed.

Not all of us are inventors and not everybody with a DVM wants to be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. But don't all of us have at least some spark of desire to stretch ourselves, break out of our traditional work world and explore the limits of our ability to undertake efforts that are not in our established comfort zone?

Getting started

As world-aware doctors, we all pretty much know how to begin taking an active role in politics and humanitarian work. If I were interested in a New York Senate seat, I would call my party's headquarters and set up a meeting. Humanitarian project? I have a pal who owns a large physical therapy practice in town who spends a third of his time on the road hammering up walls for Habitat for Humanity. I'm sure he could spot me a few days with a nail gun.

But the entrepreneurial world is different. There really isn't any established route to becoming involved in private-side business; it is more of a dance that you learn as you go. And not one of your business-owning buddies is likely to cut you in on his action just because you play on the same basketball team.

Instead, the potential veterinarian entrepreneur needs to be imaginative, inquisitive and, above all, free of shyness. I should say that the chance to perform due diligence on a business opportunity is the product of aggressively doing due diligence on what opportunities might be out there. Questions must be asked constantly, and the local economic surroundings need to be observed scrupulously. Then, after that hundredth inquiry, one genuinely promising idea may result.

Is it worth it? That may actually be a two-part question. Part one is, "Is it worth it financially?" The answer is that it might just be. Up near the Adirondack Mountains, there is a prominent law firm whose partners are among the largest franchisees in the fast food industry. In Suffolk County, New York, a small law firm operates an enormously lucrative senior apartment complex, which it built on land behind the firm's turn-of-the-century, converted-mansion law office. And half of the doughnut stores between Rochester and Syracuse, New York, belong to a bunch of physicians.

Part two of the question as to whether becoming an entrepreneurial veterinarian is worth it is the issue of whether it is worth it to you. Can you spare the extra hours involved? Will you regret the additional responsibility? Can you live emotionally with the concept of empowering your clinic employees to manage more of the day-to-day decision making?

Within this second question lies the key to your decision of whether to build up one or more side enterprises. Let's face it: Donald Trump would never be able to spend time firing celebrities on his TV program if he personally ordered every concrete shipment. He trusts himself to hire good people and then delegates with elegant skill. By analogy, there's probably not much of future for a veterinarian in an outside business if he insists on micromanaging his clinic.

From my perspective, successful delegation is empowering. It allows a confident, self-assured person, whether a health professional or not, to expand his reach. Great satisfaction can be derived from doing more than one type of work and doing all of them well. Realistically, though, the choice to undertake an entrepreneurial life must come from the heart, not merely from a desire to bring in extra income.

Advantages of a diverse business life

Side businesses offer more than just the potential for supplemental income. They stimulate intellectual creativity and frequently generate ideas and insights that cross over into potential savings and increased financial viability of the veterinarian's primary focus—the clinical practice.

Unquestionably, non-veterinary enterprises alongside clinical practice are not for every veterinarian. The additional demands of outside interests are only a distraction if the practitioner is undertaking them for the wrong reasons. For example, I would loathe becoming involved in a boarding and grooming facility again, even though it was a moneymaker for me earlier in my career.

Another plus to having business interests outside of the clinic is the positive example it can set for our kids and even their school mates. For instance, at my house, we have never really embraced the concept of an allowance for our children. My wife and I cover the necessities, but recreational spending requires money derived from fair pay for a fair day's work. (And that doesn't mean coming into one of my veterinary offices and chatting for hours with the receptikreimeronist.)

Consequently, I have never had trouble generating enthusiasm among my sons for manual labor at one of my business projects. Somehow, there is always a repair to be done at the law office, a lawn to be mowed at a multifamily rental or possibly a grave to be dug at the pet cemetery. This strategy appears to be working. Our kids' subsequent employers have told us that they arrive at their jobs ready, willing and able to produce, and they stay until the job is done.

Give capital, not time

What is the main characteristic of a good side business or investment for a veterinarian? Consider this example:

Our firm has a veterinarian client in the southeast United States who truly enjoys working in his clinic. However, he has been very disappointed with the return his financial advisor has managed to achieve with the profit and savings generated by his hospital. Fortunately, this doctor is a forward-thinker, and he invested some of his money over the years: first in a single car wash, then another. Now he has a chain of them.

This busy practitioner never actually lays a hand on a squeegee. However, the land under his car washes has appreciated in value many times the percentage returned by his mutual funds. When some of the car wash equipment is down, he has a list of reliable handy men and other workers to service the car wash facilities.

This fellow has realized that a veterinarian only has two hands and 16 hours per day to use his labor for the generation of income. His time and effort "credit cards" are already maxed out. (Sound familiar?) It is very fortuitous that through the magic of thinking outside of the box, this doctor brainstormed his way into finding a good job for his money. (Money that didn't have a bricks-and-mortar job has been pretty lazy over the last 10 years.)

The take-home point is that an ideal business project for a busy professional is one that involves the utilization of capital not labor. In today's economy, many health professionals are better qualified to secure low-interest financing for new enterprises than many in the public at large are.

Therefore, if the idea of branching out is consistent with your personality, and you can delegate at your practice, perhaps a new venture is for you. Just keep your eyes open, be willing to do your homework and make an appointment with a commercial lender. Karl Marx probably wouldn't approve, but maybe you have what it takes to be a participating owner of what he termed "the means of production."

Dr. Allen is president of the Associates in Veterinary Law P.C., which provides legal and consulting services to veterinarians. Call (607) 754-1510 or visit

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