Alone we’re Strong; Together we’re Stronger

Feb 20, 2020 | Business Skills

I would not have managed to run my vet rehab practice if it weren’t for my amazing vet rehab team. Having started as a one-man band, I quickly realised my limitations. A whole variety of skills is needed to run a successful business. There are certain things I do well and certain things I’m pretty useless at. Life got a lot easier when I acknowledged this, and began to put together a team.

Now I actually like to be organised and am always punting the value of having systems, but the truth is, being organised does not come naturally to me. I started out by employing Bridget, a canine massage therapist, to help with the manual treatments and with admin. I thought it would be best to have someone who could do more than one thing.

 Bridget was really good at what she did – far better than me when it came to massage and manual treatments. We made a great team. I played to my strengths using my diagnostic skills, creating treatment plans, and doing acupuncture and bio-puncture (veterinary only treatments). Bridget assisted in implementing my plans. Soon I was a whole lot more productive than when I was alone. I was able to fit in more consults in a day and my practice began to expand.

Taking the next step

We were doing well, yet at the back of my mind I had this sense that something was missing. I needed to be doing more for my neuro cases, who really needed gait training via an underwater treadmill. Of course, I was referring patients who needed aqua exercise to a hydro center nearby, but it wasn’t enough. I knew an underwater treadmill would be a life-changer.

Buying an expensive piece of equipment like this is a huge decision. My new underwater treadmill required a loan of R270 000 (about $18 000 dollars), which was a lot of money back in 2006. But I took the plunge, and was right about it – it hugely expanded my practice.  Pretty soon we needed new premises, and the team expanded.

We officially opened Holisticvet in early 2007.  I stuck to the principle of doing what I do best and hiring others to do the things I’m less good at. Over time I realised that Bridget’s real strength was treating animals, not managing admin, so I found someone whose strength was admin – Mary-Ann. Mary-Ann was super-strict and slightly scary at times, but she got things done. No one dared leave the practice without paying, so debtors were never a problem. She was friendly and welcoming to clients, and she knew who was doing what at every point in the day. She managed the workflow, which turned out to be crucial to the success of the practice.

In the flow

A vet rehab practice is not at all like a veterinary practice. In a vet practice you have two separate workflows; consults, where people come in, pay and leave, and the hospital flow, for operations and procedures. Sometimes patients move from the consult flow to the hospital flow but they enter at the end and have to wait their turn. Each flow works quite independently. Usually the client is not present for the hospital flow and will collect at the end of the day, when the whole list of patients is complete.

Now in vet rehab we often have three or more flows. They all need to work together, with clients and staff moving synchronously between hydro/underwater treadmill, therapeutic exercise and manual therapy or acupuncture – sometimes in a specific order, and sometimes not.

Booking the flow

Getting the booking system right for three or four vet rehab workflows is a bit like mastering the game of Tetris.

The team member responsible for managing the flows needs to make sure there are staff and patients in each room during each consult period of the day, and be there to guide patients and owners to where they need to be next. Mary-Ann had this nailed, as was evident in the relaxed and happy atmosphere of Holisticvet, despite so many things going at the same time in every therapy or treatment room.

A well-oiled machine

With proper organising, most vet rehab practices can at least inch a little closer to being the well-oiled machine we all desire. Everyone in the vet rehab team should have their role. Most already have some degree of role definition, but if these roles are not fine-tuned and optimised, the practice still won’t run successfully and profitably.

My own practice really began to make a profit when I clearly defined the roles of everyone in the team and started to focus on my strengths. As the vet in the practice, I should be spending my time doing the tasks that only I can do. There is no benefit in me doing something that I could pay someone else to do. We need to look at the value of our time.

If I earn R1500 an hour ($100), then every minute of my time is worth R25 ($1.66). So if it takes me ten minutes to clean my room, I’ve missed the opportunity to earn R230 ($16). I might be able to hire a cleaner and pay them R3.80 (26 US cents) per minute to do the same task. My time is therefore best spent consulting and not cleaning.

We can apply this to all roles in vet rehab practice. If you’re a canine hydrotherapist, you are being used optimally when you’re doing canine hydrotherapy, not drying dogs and cleaning up.  Hire someone to help with drying dogs and cleaning so you can do what you do best, and fit more consults into your day.

Spend money; save time

I heard this saying for small businesses – it applies for vet rehab practices, too:

Successful vet rehab practices save time by spending money;
struggling vet rehab practices save money by spending time.

Time is our most precious resource!

Grow your team

It may not be easy to admit, but there are people out there who do certain tasks better than you do. When you can admit that, you open yourself to creating a vet rehab team where all members complement one another, and your business begins to thrive.  

In essence, grow your vet rehab team to

  • help to fill the voids in your own skillset
  • allow you to concentrate on your strengths
  • improve your clinical outcomes
  • assist in creating amazing customer experiences
  • assist you with shaping your vision and mission
  • create a practice culture that you can be proud of
  • optimise profit and growth.

To my vet rehab team at Holisticvet: Thanks for making every day fun, seeing my vision with me and holding my hand through the ups and downs.

To learn more about running a successful team, listen to our Podcast Episode 83 with Lisa Mason on the Team Approach.


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