How To Avoid Being Clobbered By The Recession

Tips on how to keep a veterinary practice above water in the recession.

1. Look outside the profession for new ideas.

It is always wise to look outside the profession to see what others are doing.  Identify their strengths, and then adopt them. 

For example, the dental profession places great emphasis on staff training, including outside trainers.  They also like to find out what patients really want.  The dental profession has benefited from this, and so can we.

2. Focus on your practice’s three dimensions, not just one.

Your practice’s three dimensions are clinical skills, managerial skills and marketing skills. In the past, administration was the only decision-maker for practice policies. These days the model is changing.

Staff members know from working with clients what clients really want. Therefore, consult with your staff members about what they think really gets clients to want your service, and you can build a better business model.

Become a student of direct response marketing. In many cases, practices allot 2 percent to 3 percent of their gross production to marketing. In the case of direct marketing, though, the formula is re-engineered: The budget is based on the annual revenue from a top client ($700 a year, for example) times the number of years good clients stay with your practice (15 years, for example). This is called lifetime value. In this example, the LTV is $10,500.

Based on this, you can decide how much you are willing to invest in getting such clients to invest this much in your practice every year and how to keep their business.


Realize that you actually sell your service every day with every interaction you have with clients.


3. Stop hoping and start doing.

During times when your clients are not sure what’s going to happen in their lives, if you greatly improve your service, you will stand out of the crowd. 

Veterinary service has become a commodity; it’s difficult for clients to tell who is best for them.  Especially when they are worried, clients want more for every dollar they invest in their animals. 

There’s always interplay between price and value.  If the value of your service is higher in your clients’ minds than the cost of the service, they will gladly invest in it. How can you know what value they are after? Ask them.

If you conduct a survey on why your good clients chose you and why they continue doing business with you, you will find a common theme. Then you can take that value and make sure every client is aware of it. 

4. Marketing is crucial for your success.

Learn the concepts of effective marketing and plan ahead, based on your desired goals and how to get the right information to the right clients.

A question to ask yourself is: “What services would we like to educate our clients on in the coming year?” Then comes the most important question,  “Why?”

You, your staff and your clients need to know why these services are marketed and not just what they need to do. 

Not sure why you want to market services? Review your practice core values. For example, say you believe that you should always offer your clients the best service—this is one of your core values—but your staff hasn’t heard it before. Then Mrs. Jones comes in to get this special service and she asks, “Does Rover really need it?” If your staff is not clear on your practice core values, the response could be, “I am not sure,” or simply a shrug.

This can torpedo your success. Write out your core values and make sure everyone knows them.

5. Marketing is not “selling.”

Marketing is not about selling; it’s about education and it’s about guidance.  If you educate and guide your clients, they will sell your services to themselves. 

Realize that you actually sell your service every day with every interaction you have with clients. 

Any time a client calls to inquire about coming in, someone has to sell the service to that client.  Every time you conduct an exam and want to do something that involves exchanging money for service, you have to sell yourself, your credibility and your practice. 

There is no escaping this unless you have a successful marketing system.  Then your clients come in already sold on your service.

6. The golden rule of a successful marketing system.

The golden rule of effective marketing is: “Message to market match through multiple media.”  Creating the right message and delivering it by various media to the group of people most likely to want the service gets the best results. 

Analyze your client base, divide it into groups, know what each group wants or how each group responds to messages and then create specific messages for each group.

7. Understand the Parthenon concept of successful marketing.

The Parthenon is an ancient Greek building consisting of multiple columns, as should your marketing program.

Your marketing should have layers, depth and strength.  A strong marketing program should predict when things tend to slow down and then you can focus on working cases up more thoroughly and promote more involved services when the “slow times” arrive.

Good cases for slow times include dental care, senior pet workups. These cases are more involved and profitable.

8. Convert customers into clients.

It’s important to  identify when the majority of your customers decide to become clients. How can you find out?  Ask!

Call your new customers a month after they first came in and tell them you are conducting a survey among your new clients. Ask if they plan to return the next time they need veterinary care. Record their answers, and call them again six months after their first visit.

You may find that some of them have found another veterinarian.

Now is the time for special incentives to lure new clients back. Send a message describing these incentives somewhere between the first visit and six months.

They have to be such that even if they were not planning on coming in, they will. Examples for incentives: Work with a restaurant or coffee shop next door to let you issue a certain number of coupons for a free dessert or a cup of coffee. You can give them a gift certificate to a neighborhood business in an amount you yourself would love to receive.

After the second visit, it is much more likely there will be a third visit.

9. Find what’s hiding in patients’ records.

The reasons many practices do not offer all necessary services every time are fear of rejection and lack of focus (priority). If you go through your patients’ records, you’re going to find a lot of unrendered services. 

Incorporate necessary services into an efficient marketing system, and the slow days are going to be an event of the past.

For example, say Rover came in three months ago for an ear infection. The medical team also noted that Rover is overweight, is 10-years old and has gum disease. The information was shared with the client and even recorded in the medical record.But all this information went into a black hole.

Reviewing your patients’ records to discover sServices to recommend to your clients.

10. Look at marketing as a seven-letter word.

Marketing is equivalent to success. Not realizing this may mean having to struggle during tough times and worrying about the future.

The solution is there—your clients, for the most part, want you to educate them on what they need to do to make sure their animals live healthy and long lives.

When people come to your practice sold on what you can do for them, it will be a lot easier to achieve the success you desire and deserve.

Dr. Kornfeld is a veterinarian and a certified professional and business coach and is also a published author (“Leading the Way to Your Dream Practice,” AAHA Press). He is the co-founder of Veterinary Success Services Inc.

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