9 Stupid Things I Did as a Veterinary Practice Owner

And how not to make the same mistakes.

Much has been written and said about how everyone should view failure as a best friend. That can be true if we take the perspective of people like Michael Jordan and Thomas Edison.

I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

— Michael Jordan

“I have not failed.                                        

 I've just found

 10,000 ways that won't work.”

― Thomas A. Edison 

As a practice owner for 30 years, I experienced plenty of “failures,” so I guess you could say I had lots of “best friends,” too. In retrospect, I sometimes took advantage of what I learned from mistakes; sometimes I didn’t.

Hopefully, as a current practice owner, you can adopt some “new friends” from a few of my mistakes. The following is a partial list along with a short explanation about each one.

  1. I did not think big enough.
  • The initial sign in front of my practice may have looked professional, but it was far too easy for people on the highway to overlook.
  • I didn’t purchase the lot next to my practice when it was sold at auction.
  • My fees were too low in the early years because I didn’t have big long-term goals at first.
  1. I gave away far too many services.
  • Lots of psychological reasons and ethical dilemmas put unique pressure on veterinarians to be benevolent.
  • Still, everyone loses in the long run when this habit gets out of control.
  1. I failed miserably at delegation.
  • Surrounded by skilled and capable people, too often I performed tasks that they were paid to do.
  • Not only does that reduce productivity, it accelerates the journey to burnout.   
  1. I allowed employees to stay who should have heard me say, “You’re fired.”
  • This brings to mind a time when the best employee I ever had did me the favor of saying, “OK, doc, either he goes or I go!”
  • Three factors need to be in place to avoid keeping the wrong employees in your practice. Those factors are: careful hiring; appropriate training; and documented evaluations. This link will take you to a deeper explanation.
  1. I neglected my family too often.
  • At the time I thought I did all I could to avoid this mistake. We’re still married after 44 years, three kids and 12 grandchildren. But…
  • My wife reminds me of a time when friends brought her home after a major surgery because I was busy at work…
  • I was present for the birth of each child, but took no days off to help out once they came home from the hospital…
  • I worked half days every Saturday when the kids were still at home (plus took after-hours calls).
  • Check out this article for some good suggestions on running a business and prioritizing family.
  1. I waited too long to write a mission statement for my practice.
  • I realized one day that just because the core values of our practice were clear in my mind didn’t make them clear in the minds of all who worked there.
  • One winter a snow and ice storm kept staff, clients and pets away from the practice for 3 full days. It turned out to be a blessing because it gave me time to step back and look at the “big picture.”
  • Fortunately, I sought the help of our entire practice team in writing a mission statement, which yielded benefits for years to come. I wish I’d done it sooner.
  • Check out some benefits of a mission statement here, here and here.
  1. I should have done a better job of mentoring associates.
  • It seemed as if every time we hired an associate, we’d get crazy busy and they’d be left too soon to fend for themselves. I should have written an intentional protocol and set aside at least a paid week of shadowing me no matter what.
  1. I didn’t train receptionists as well as I should have.
  • This one is hard to admit because its importance seems so obvious now.
  • We had really capable people in that position, but they would have benefited from more specific guidelines and training.
  1. I wish I’d considered all of my options before selling my practice.
  • There were plenty of good reasons for selling my practice when I did, and it has worked out well for all concerned. But, I realize now that it would have been wise to research and consider more options for how to handle the whole transaction.
  • It’s never too soon to create a long-range exit plan.
  • Resources are available to guide you through how to build value into your practice. Get started here, here or here.

There are plenty more mistakes that could have made this list. But here’s one last point that I hope no one misses: I am…

  • Grateful for the honor of being known as a veterinarian;
  •  Sure I would do it all again if I had the chance (with a few tweaks);
  • Not wanting to discourage anyone (who wants to) from practice ownership;
  • Happy to contribute to our profession by sharing my experiences.
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