Yours isn't the first crisis


Think you're the first and only business owner to suffer a particular problem? In almost every case, someone worked through the misery before you. They might even have learned lessons that could help you.

When things start feeling out of control, it's easy to think you're the first and only business owner to suffer this particular problem. But in almost every case, someone worked through the misery before you. And often they survived to tell the story. They might even have learned lessons that could help you.

Marnette Denell Falley

Dr. Brian Huss talks about the challenges he faced when his practice experienced a big growth spurt. And he says, rightly, that every business experiences predictable transitions as it grows. I asked consultant Gary Glassman, CPA, a partner with Burzenski & Co. P.C., about the most common transitions in veterinary practices.

At each of these points, he says, you'll need to think about marketing, employee management, and financial issues, because your needs in those areas naturally change. Here's a look at when you may feel growing pains:

  • You start a practice from scratch. New practices see a lot of growth, of course. The changing client load means you need to find the right staff and find ways to coordinate the workload as your team grows—all while you focus on attracting more clients and generating enough cash to support your debt load.

  • You buy a practice. "When you take over someone else's practice, it's important to share your goals and your vision with your new team," says Glassman, who's a member of Veterinary Economics' Editorial Advisory Board. You may also inherit a team that's not up to speed, either with your philosophy or your expectations about medical skills or client service. So you could face a period of turnover and rebuilding.

  • You add a doctor. When you grow enough to add that first associate and the three to four support staff members a second doctor demands, you really change the dynamic. "Smaller teams tend to work together without needing a lot of coordination," Glassman says. "But as the practice grows you require systems, leadership, and discipline."

For example, you'd develop a formal reporting structure, written job descriptions, written mission and vision statements, and an employee manual. Those changes can be uncomfortable for team members who've been used to a more free-flowing environment. They may chafe against systems that are now critical to efficiency, communication, and work flow.

On the financial side, when you add a doctor at any stage, you might buy additional equipment and inventory to support the additional doctor, which can put pressure on cash flow. And you'll pay the doctor's and additional team members' salaries, so your costs increase before you see much additional revenue. "Regular review of key financial indicators will help you track cash flow issues and adjust," Glassman says.

Yes, it's frustrating when your formerly smooth-running practice seems to fall apart. But you'll pop out the other side of the transition a more mature, stronger business.

Marnette Denell Falley, Editor

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