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Your winter run: Making the most of the slow season

Article

Make the most of downtime with a well-earned vacation, wellness appointments, and practice housekeeping.

January reminds you it's a new year with new possibilities. It just doesn't seem fair then that the time of New Year's resolution inspiration is also when the snow settles in, your appointment calendar empties out, and the phones stop ringing at your practice. It's downright disheartening. You're inspired to improve, but clients are focusing on their kids' school year after horse show season winds down, or maybe they're making their non-equine resolutions a top priority. Either way, all's quiet on the practice front.

Well, don't let that fire in your belly burn out in the cold winter months. You—and your team, if you have one—can clean up and reorganize in these quieter weeks. Learn how the cursed slow season can be a blessing.

Hawaii's nice this time of year

You've worked hard all year. Now you have a chance to take a breather. Scheduling vacations (you do remember those, don't you?) should be at the top of your list. The slow times are the best opportunities for your team to take breaks, too. This may seem obvious, but I've seen practices where even the doctors request time off during the busiest season of the year.

If it doesn't already, use this time to make sure your employee handbook spells out your vacation policy: Everybody's entitled to a vacation each year, but only in dire circumstances can vacation time be taken during the busy season. And spell out when the busy season is. Your team members can then make it clear to their in-laws that scheduling a family reunion during breeding season will mean they can't attend.

For tips on updating your employee manual, read "Dust Off Your Employee Manual" in the June 2007 issue, or click on Related Links below.

Well, well, well

Do you have a wellness program at your practice? Consider it. A systematic focus on preventive care allows you to spread out your work over the year. Your clients probably don't know about your scheduling challenges, so they'll schedule a dental appointment during a week when you're putting in 12 hours a day every day. And they don't really know better—after all, that's when they've always scheduled them.

How does an organized wellness program help? It lets you decide when dental and other preventive care fits best. Instead of working crazy nonstop hours in the spring, you can move some of your less-urgent work to the slower fall months (and work 10-hour days with one day off in the spring—imagine!).

Wellness programs fulfill many needs, not least of which is caring for horses' health year-round. But these wellness programs are also a key way to even out your yearly schedule. Wellness programs aren't easy to implement, but now's the time to set one up.

Do some research, read back issues of journals, talk to colleagues. This won't solve all of your immediate problems, but next year at this point you'll be glad you took the time. After all, it's not like your phone's ringing.

Time for spring—er, winter cleaning

Just as in your personal life, in your practice there are probably a lot of projects you say you'll get around to when time permits. Well, the slow season is when time permits. Ideally, you'll have spent your whole year jotting down projects on a list for just this time. If you haven't done that this time around, buy a fresh new notebook and start. In the meantime, consider tackling these tasks:

• Update patient files. If you haven't seen a patient in five years, chances are you're not going to see it anytime soon. Move inactive client files to a backup storage system, and you'll have less computer file clutter to worry about. Also, you or a team member can call or mail inactive clients to check on their status. Following up with inactive clients can also help you spot problems at your practice. Ask if these clients will share their reasons for choosing another veterinarian or for not requesting equine healthcare work lately. Maybe they won't answer, maybe they will, but it doesn't cost you anything to ask.

See Related Links below for an inactive client letter, which you can use as a letter or a phone script. For tips on using it, read the related Click and Copy, also below.

• Review your reminder system. Send letters to clients to verify mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, and so on. When you hear back from them, you might find out they need work done. And remember: Your reminder system isn't just for vaccinations. Use your system for Caslick's removals, pregnancy rechecks, and any other care that clients need to schedule.

• Update your protocols. Unless you're a solo practitioner with no employees, team training is always a good investment. Does everybody know your clinic's protocol for answering the phone? What about the truck's organization system? And can anything be improved? Team members want to be inspired and they want to be included. Get their input on protocols at least once a year. Just sharing information with your team on what makes your practice different from the other practices in town can pay huge dividends in loyalty.

Read up on safety protocols in "Stay Safe in Ambulatory Equine Practice" in the November 2007 issue, or below in Related Links

• Manage your inventory. One of your major costs is inventory, and all practice management software has an inventory component. So why don't more practices use it? First, many people don't understand how the program works, and second, they never seem to have the time to learn.

The slow season is the time. Get training and start getting your money's worth out of that software. Your software company has teachers ready to help, and your accountant or consultant can help you see how inventory management affects your bottom line.

Once you have a means of tracking inventory, it'll be time to count, register, and examine all that stuff that's accumulated on the back shelves of your supply room and in the forgotten crevices of your truck. What's there? Has anything expired? Do you use it? Efficiently managing your inventory translates to a more profitable bottom line for your practice. And that's always a good thing.

Read "Just in the Nick of Time" from the November 2006 issue to learn about best equine practices in inventory management. You can also find it below in Related Links.

So when the shows slow down or the weather gets frightful, won't it be nice to know your slow season can be delightful? This is opportunity season—get seizing!

Elise M. Lacher, CPA, heads Lacher McDonald Consulting Inc. in Seminole, Fla. Send your questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com.

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