Bored by checks, balances and bottom lines? Got your debits and credits mixed up? Does the prospect of becoming a practice owner send you scurrying under the cramped corner counter you’ve been assigned as desk space?
If you’re a practitioner and you answered “yes” to all three, you’re not alone. In fact, by now you’ll have gleaned that you hail from the most populous and rapidly growing segment of the veterinary community, one our profession tends to file under the catch-all appellation “associate veterinarian.”
While I respect this position, and I get it—believe me, I was right there with you—I’m here to tell you that if you think you’re immune to the twin concepts of management and marketing, you’re fooling yourself. I mean, you receive paychecks and pay taxes, right? So, according to the federal government, that makes you a financial life form unto yourself.
And, according to my way of thinking, that makes you a significant business entity, too—more so if you learn how to work it.
Yes, associates can be powerful veterinarians, too. But you’d never know it from attending practice management seminars, walking the exhibition floor at a conference or participating in most higher-level veterinary functions. In fact, sometimes it seems as if general practice associates are the fifth-class citizens of the veterinary world, trailing practice owners, academicians, specialists and industry types by a league in terms of prestige, income and influence alike.
I should know. After spending my first 20 years in practice as an associate, the veterinary hierarchy has become achingly clear: Associates come in last. Well, almost last if you include veterinary students, who few among us seem to deem worthy of professional-level consideration, but that’s a whole ’nother column.
But here’s where I’ll posit that those who think along these lines are missing the bigger picture: In a world where media makes or breaks individual careers and businesses, it’s clear that no money-making organisms, be they pop singers, mommy bloggers or veterinarians, are excluded from the opportunity to influence their position, popularity and proceeds if they choose.
Consider the following two examples I raised in my May column on online reviews:
1. Dr. Hot Vet
Dr. Evan Antin, also profiled in the May issue of Veterinary Practice News, is this year’s newest veterinary Internet sensation. Celebrated for his “adorable” way with lizards and puppies, this veterinarian’s online popularity has blown up in recent months.
Double standards aside—I have lots of thoughts on how we too often accept the objectification of men vs. women—who cares whether this guy has throngs of panting animal lovers clicking hearts each time he flexes a snake-wielding bicep? After all, no matter how popular (284K followers and counting!), Instagram feeds are tough to monetize when it comes to hard cash.
Nonetheless, it stands to reason that Dr. Antin would be worth significantly more to the practice he works for.
In fact, if he hasn’t received a raise yet, let this column serve as an uncomfortable suggestion that he redraft his contract or find a more lucrative opportunity elsewhere. (I know you never asked me for my advice, but that’s the price of celebrity, dude.)
Alternatively, for associates who earn any kind of local recognition or social media traffic, or who manage to make the practice rain with clients by virtue of their marketing savvy, any partnership aspirations become a very real shorter-term possibility. I mean, why wait? Every year you wait to buy into the practice is one more year you have to renegotiate your employment terms. (And we all know how comfortable that is, right?)
Here’s where I tell some of the female veterinarians I mentor: What’s more taxing, business-wise?
Handling common associate issues like job insecurity, asking for raises and renegotiating contracts every year.
Buying into a practice where the work is challenging, satisfying and worth your long-term financial commitment, regardless of your aversion to running a business? (After all, you don’t need to be a manager to be a partner.)
OK, so enough of the practice ownership evangelism. It’s time to dive into the netherworld of business for nonowning veterinarians. Which largely has to do with managing your reputation. Consider our second example:
2) Katniss the Cat-Hunting Veterinarian
This Texas veterinarian undoubtedly holds the title of “Most Vilified Veterinarian Ever.” In our history as a profession, never has so much of the world’s collective scorn been poured onto one individual. To be sure, hers is an extreme example, but it’s also a cautionary tale.
Manage your reputation as you would your school grades, your finances and your family. To wit, comport yourself in public (social media included, of course) as if your actions might land your mug on the front page of a national publication. Do you really want that South Beach clubbing pic out there for your clients to gawk over? Personally, I don’t care, but that’s part of my brand.
Which brings me to this point: It’s a good thing to start thinking about yourself as managing your own brand. For example, maybe you’re Dr. You, the general practice veterinarian, whose twin interests in dentistry and behavior make you unique among your peers. Your at-home herd of shockingly housebroken rescue Maltese dogs makes you extra-relatable (and a god, too).
So let’s say you want to take my advice and start building your own brand. Here’s how to market yourself, beginning by thoughtfully outlining a marketing plan built on four simple steps business school types call your “marketing mix.” We call these the four P’s because it’s all about putting the right product in the right place, at the right price, at the right time.
What’s your PRODUCT?
Who are you as a veterinarian? What defines your practice preferences and style? What do you want to be known for? That’s your product. Now you’re ready to create a bullet-point list of your answers and then craft one or two simple sentences that describe you perfectly.
In what PLACE do you distribute your product?
Place is all about where you reach your target audience. Is it only in your practice, as it probably is for most veterinarians, or do you have a Facebook page or Instagram account where you answer client questions, display your life as a veterinarian or otherwise build your brand?
What’s your PRICE?
It might seem a tacky thing to think about, but whether we’re talking about the fees your employer charges or the salary you demand as an associate, you should start to think of yourself as a product that commands a certain price you can control.
How do you get the word out about your brilliance as a veterinary product? Here’s where you carefully consider what kinds of social media you might like to exploit or what skills you have to offer. Do you write, take great pics, ask good questions, have lots of friends?
The idea here is that each of these P’s is specific to your product and defines your brand. It’s that simple. But consider this marketing plan a mere starting point. You’ll most certainly play with it throughout your career and make adjustments as needed.
If you follow this advice you’ll certainly be a happier, more satisfied veterinarian and likely richer, too. But that’s what comes from knowing exactly what you want, and so you have a chance of achieving it. I promise.
Dr. Patty Khuly owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at www.drpattykhuly.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.
Originally published in the June 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!