We all want a thriving vet rehab practice and the majority of us throw our heart and souls into our work. I used to think that working really hard and long hours was a prerequisite for a successful practice.

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it,” I told myself as I pushed through the hard times.

Running a practice is no easy feat. We are faced with daily challenges and struggles. And in my early days as a new practice owner I accepted these struggles as part of the path I had chosen, and an inevitable prerequisite for success.  Looking back, I feel sorry for my younger self – for all the hard times I put myself through, pushing myself relentlessly. If only I had learnt these three lessons earlier, I might have saved myself a lot of stress and anxiety!

There are a couple of fundamentals that I should have focused on from the beginning. Had I done so, I could have fast tracked my practice to where I wanted it to be.

A Rocky Start

In the beginning I spent far too much time doing things that were not important to the success and growth of my practice, in the greater scheme of things.

I knew nothing about prioritizing my time, and spent hours doing things that had no impact on the growth of my practice. This was completely unintentional. Due to inexperience, I said yes to every opportunity, hoping that this would be the one thing that would put me and my practice on the map.

I knew I needed to get more clients, but in practice that is not easy. I put ads in newspapers and magazines. Nothing. I joined animal business network meetings which ended up being free advice from me to everyone else. I wrote articles for magazines with my details at the end. Nothing.

I started to doubt whether there was a need for the service I was offering. Some days I would look at my appointments book and there’d be just one consult booked for the whole day. I felt that uneasy, queasy feeling in my stomach. Last week had been a lot busier. Was this a decline in my practice? All the feelings were irrational.

I can now look back and see where I went wrong and where I made good choices. These are the things I would share with my younger self if I could do so. I hope they help you.

Lesson 1: Learn to Prioritize your Time

Spend time doing things that are important to the growth of your practice. Always do these things first. Most of the time they are the difficult things, so we often put them off – with the inevitable result that they never get done. We say we’ll do them tomorrow, later in the week, next week and then a month has gone by. Your time is limited. Learn to evaluate the opportunities that come your way and decide if they are worth it. Remember that saying no opens you up to saying yes to something else. Say “Yes” to the things that count.

Lesson 2: Write Vet Reports and Communicate with those who Refer Clients to You

When you first start practicing, most of your business will come from word-of-mouth clients.  Once you start to establish relationships with referring vets, you’ll find that referrals become your largest source of new clients. As soon as I started sending vet reports on a consistent basis, I began to see continuous growth in my practice; and it just grew and grew.

Lesson 3: Create a Marketing Plan

Marketing was an afterthought for me. I think the reason is that I had very little understanding of what to actually do. And because it was hard and daunting, I kept putting it off (Lesson 1 again). I had no plan but would use different marketing tactics randomly and inconsistently. And for that reason I did not see consistent results; to be honest, I didn’t even know how to measure the results.

In my mind, results were the new clients that came in during the week I did the marketing. I now know that this was shortsighted – there are more accurate ways to measure results of marketing – but we didn’t learn anything about marketing in vet school, so I was ignorant!

When marketing inspiration hit me, I went at it full tilt. I hoped that I’d be able to sustain it, but my marketing sprints often ended in exhaustion. I’d post on Facebook six times a week and then nothing over the next two weeks. I just became overwhelmed.

Finally I realized that I needed a plan that would allow me to employ marketing tactics in a sustainable way. It was OK not to do what all the social media blogs were suggesting; I had to focus on the activities that got results. So instead of trying to be everywhere at all times, I focused on the marketing activities that worked for me. I kept up with my plan and remained consistent.

Success will never be plain sailing, but there are definitely ways to get there that are shrewd and tactical, rather than based on hard slog alone. Yes, you’ll have to work hard, but think about how you spend your time, and what is really paying off. Once I created a plan, everything I did was for a reason. No more random social media posts or adverts in magazines. My posts and ads had goals and I slowly started to see the results.

Consistency is absolutely key. Plan your way forward, rather than taking a hit-or-miss approach. You’ll get where you want to be more quickly that way.

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