We are experiencing unprecedented times. No one could have planned for an international pandemic (it’s not something that happens in most people’s lifetimes) and it is forcing a lot of re-evaluation – including a re-evaluation of our income sources.
If our vet rehab practice is our sole source of income, and suddenly, as now, we’re unable to practise, how do we earn any income?
Recently, the topic came up in the weekly ‘virtual coffee’ I enjoy with the vet rehab community. Everyone was wondering how to keep going financially – which means, essentially, how to diversify their income streams. I agreed to do a webinar on the topic, and it turned out to be quite a journey down memory lane!
Limitations of consulting
We all love what we do, but we have to acknowledge some limitations to the way we do it. Face-to-face consulting is time bound. We can only see a certain number of clients in a certain amount of time, and for that reason there is a ceiling to our daily earning potential. In my first years of running my vet rehab clinic, Holisticvet, this became very apparent. I was nearly fully booked but not really making much money. I started to think about ways I could serve my clients that were not restricted by time.
So I opened a shop in my practice and started selling products that my clients and patients needed, such as Sticky Paws, harnesses, life jackets, joint supplements and holistic dog food. Soon almost every client coming in for their pet’s acupuncture or underwater treadmill therapy was walking out with something they’d bought. The added income to my practice was noticeable. I opened a profit account for the first time. Yay! I was making a profit, finally.
I didn’t stop there. A lot of these products were unavailable at veterinary practices and through local distributors, so I had to import them into South Africa myself – a steep learning curve. Since I was the only person importing these goods regularly, I began ordering more and distributing to vets and other vet rehabbers. I created an online shop and sold the products online, posting or couriering items to buyers.
This became a business within a business.
Solving a problem
I am a problem solving kind of person. I am not sure if this is a trait taught to me in veterinary school, or something I always had. I like to think it’s in my nature and that my 8-year-old daughter’s love of making things and solving problems is inherited! So when a patient needed a product which we didn’t have and I could not source, I made it myself. The product was a brace for a dog with an angular limb deformity.
I spent many hours with a needle and thread, thermoplastic, velcro and neoprene trying to get this product right. Eventually I created what today is known as a thermomould – a brace that, when immersed in warm water, becomes malleable, and then cools and hardens around the dog’s leg.
And so I got into product manufacturing and distributing. I loved everything about it – except that the perfectionist and control freak in me was a little obsessed with quality control. A good thing, I suppose, because quality is always a challenge in manufacturing.
I continued thinking of ways to diversity. Part of the impetus was my desire to do more to help more animals. Owners in far-flung places would phone, desperate for help. I hated the fact that I could not get to that dog in a small town ten hours’ drive away, when I knew just what the dog needed! At first I’d try to find a therapist close by, but in those days veterinary rehabilitation was still new in South Africa, and very few were available. So I started helping owners on Skype, sending exercises in the form of a PDF. Sending videos was not yet a thing.
The more this happened, the more I realised I needed to create something online that would help all pet owners. I started with e-books and eventually developed three online courses: my 12-week strengthening programme, the massage course and my ‘7-minute doggie workout’. These were all programmes I had used in my clinic.
Each one of these projects became an additional source of income. Gradually I added pet owner workshops, lecturing, TV presenting and brand consulting to the pie. And so when pregnant with my second child in 2014, I was able to take a sabbatical from practising, relying on all the additional sources of income that had sustained me in the previous two years.
During this period, I started a new project, which you all know as Onlinepethealth. Over time this became my sole focus – it was what I really wanted to dedicate my time to. So I sold the product business, stopped the brand consulting, decreased the lecturing (I still do a little) and stopped the pet owner workshops and online courses. My feeling was that I could not properly serve both pet owners and vetrehabbers at the same time.
Onlinepethealth became a flourishing business that serves my real passion – helping vet rehab therapists to become the effective, valued and professional members of society they should be. Every aspect of this online work is challenging and motivating to me. Now, some years later, I am looking at further ways to diversify – just like everyone else. But I am not starting from scratch. I learned so much about expanding into new ventures, and I’d love to pass on what I learned to fellow vetrehabbers. The possibilities are all out there – we just have to think creatively and enthusiastically.
Please join me as I share some ideas on how to generate a second or third income stream, using what you know and have, or can learn. Click here for free access to the webinar, ‘Diversifying your income’.
For those interested in the business side of vet rehab, please join us on the ‘Business Vetrehabbers’ Facebook group.