Practice Management News and Views from around the World – December 2012

Have a wonderful Christmas with your family and friends

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Keeping it liquid

from an article by Mark Gorman published on the Vet2.Net website

One of the biggest challenges I come across when I work with small businesses is cash-flow, or rather it’s the lack of it. It’s what keeps small business owners awake at night and the lack of it seems to be tolerated less sympathetically than ever before by the banks. So here’s a few thoughts from the frontline on how to manage it better.

  • Have a zero tolerance policy on customer credit. Your work is done before you raise an invoice and assuming you have made your terms crystal clear on your invoice the customer is due to pay on the terms you specify with no exceptions. Late payment surcharges should be both hefty and clearly stated in your terms and conditions. Obviously immediate payment is the desired option.
  • Invoice at point of sale. Gone are the days when you can do one run of invoicing at month end, losing up to four weeks credit on some jobs. Invoice on a daily basis and you’ll be paid on a daily basis. Naturally, the precise opposite policy should apply (within reason) for suppliers. My personal view was always pay small companies as soon as possible (if I was cash rich at the time I’d often pay small suppliers upon presentation) and let the big boys wait. Harsh, but hey that’s what policy they usually apply (if you
    doubt that take a look at the T’s and C’s of most of the supermarkets and you’ll be in for a shock).
  • Evaluate your stock. Have you got lines that haven’t shifted for months? Are you stocking them just to look good? Maybe looking good could actually be of value in itself (it might add credibility to your retail, even your professional, offer without actually making you money) but if it’s not, be ruthless and stop tying your cash up in stock that’s never going to realise its potential.
  • Run a regular cash-flow forecast so that you know exactly when the pinch points are due to arrive and then manage your way around that. VAT payments, PAYE payments and wages day are particular challenges in my experience. If VAT and/or PAYE is a real issue speak to your VAT/PAYE manager at the HMRC. Contrary to popular opinion these people are human and often very accommodating/flexible so long as you are honest with them. Wages day can be a different challenge altogether. Maybe you, your partners or certain individuals will adopt a flexible policy on payment.
  • Be vigilant. Cash-flow can turn against you in the blink of an eye. The most important thing you can do in running a tight financial policy is to personally be on top of cash at all times. Of course building up a cash pile in good times is vital. What’s your business’ reserves policy? Taking every penny out of profit at year end might mean great holidays but the old rainy day adage is a crucial one. You just never know when the well might run dry. The deeper your cash reserves the less likely that you’ll need to
    adopt any of the policies above. Remember another adage. Cash is King!

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Developing a Culture of Customer Service – A Veterinary Business Matters Podcast

by Mike Pownall DVM

Earlier this summer I sent one of our receptionists at our companion animal practice to a one day seminar on customer service hosted by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. It was called “Frontline Bootcamp for Frontline Staff”. Our staff member came back on cloud nine. She was enthused, excited and pumped to institute all of the excellent customer service tools and techniques she had just learned. Wow.

I had to check this out. This initiative is spearheaded by Terra Shastri, the OVMA Practice Management Advisor. I had known Terra over the years from sitting on the OVMA Economic Advisory Committee but I had no idea of the positive impact she was having creating the awareness of the need for excellent customer service in veterinary businesses.

I have since sent one of our technicians to the same course and she came back with the same rave reviews. I needed to know more so I arranged for Terra to join me in the latest Veterinary Business Podcast. She has great insights on the why and how of customer service for any business. This discussion is not only for companion animal veterinarians since she has attendees from equine and large animal practices. If customer service is a puzzle you haven’t figurered out yet, you can access it directly here or you can go to iTunes and subscribe to the Veterinary Business Matters Podcast.

You can click here to visit the Veterinary Business Matters website

You can click here to listen to the Podcast

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Customer Service is the One Thing that can Differentiate You from the Competition

from Mark Stallwoods Blog on the Stallwood Consulting Services website

The last few blogs have focused on customer service as a critical function of professional practice. To finish up the discussion we need to consider the role of customer service in the overall business strategy.

Michael Porter proposed that businesses can only choose one of three strategic approaches. Your business must pursue one of the following:

  • overall cost leadership
  • differentiation
  • occupy some form of niche

Interestingly we see professional practices try to use all of these approaches.

A niche is the easiest of the concepts to grasp — practices that focus on one aspect or specialist field. Even within a specialty we see the development of sub groups e.g. surgeons that specialise in one particular joint or limb as opposed to the whole patient. A niche is easily defended and enables a practice to charge a higher fee for the specialised knowledge.

Cost leadership is a more difficult strategy to pursue in practice. Many business owners mistake cost leadership for low fees charged. The two are not the same thing. Cost leadership is where the practice has the lowest cost of production of the service; this enables either a greater profit than any other competitor or a lower selling price with still a similar profit to a competitor. Where a practice tries to compete on a lower price and their cost of production is not lower then long term the business will fail due to
insufficient funds.

The final strategy of differentiation is much harder to achieve. As a practice tries to set itself apart from the competition by offering a different range of service or products, then what it will find is that it becomes copied by its competitors within and outside the industry. There are few areas that cannot be duplicated — possibly only two.

  • The knowledge of the staff within the business
  • The level of customer service that is provided

This strategy of differentiation is what will set your practice apart on a long term basis.

The sad thing in the veterinary and medical professions at the moment is that in the primary care role i.e. general practice, there is little differentiation. The services that practices offer have become so similar or commoditised that clients and patients chose the practice based on convenience and price. Both of these don’t lead to loyal customers – only repeat business until somebody cheaper or more convenient comes along.

So if customer service has this potentially strategic role in your practice – doesn’t it deserve a greater focus than what we often give it?

We need to develop a customer service charter that sets out what we will do for our patients and clients, we than need to train our staff to deliver the standard of customer service that is mandated within the charter. We need to monitor and review constantly, the service delivered.

As a final step we need to consider some of the principle of continuous quality improvement, and look at how we can improve the service level with every encounter that we have with a patient or client.

You can click here to visit Mark Stallwood’s websiste

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Why Measurement is the Key To Your Business’s Success or Failure

by Ben Williams

Measurement is key. Yet so many businesses don’t have tracking URL’s, don’t have tracking numbers for adverts or their website, and don’t measure at all how much they’re spending on things like advertising compared to how much they get back from this through new clients.

That’s called ROI, Return On Investment, and in this post, I’m going to tell you why ROI and Measurement are some of the most important things you need to consider if you want your business to thrive.

Think of it like this: if you’re trying to lose weight, how are you going to know you’re succeeding unless you weigh yourself every now and again?

Business is exactly the same as this: if you aren’t measuring how much money your, for example, advertisements are bringing in compared to how much you spend on them, how will you ever know if they are making you money, or in fact, costing you money that could be used on more effective marketing?

So, here’s one way you can measure your advertising: call tracking numbers.

These are simply numbers that still come through to your usual landline, but you get statistics for them, for example, how many people called in. You can then see how many of them became Clients, how much those clients are worth, and you can then work out if your advert is making you money, or losing you money.

So, for example, say you are advertising in two different publications: one in the Yellow Pages, and one in, say, the Mid Sussex Times, and you want to know which one works better. You’d get two different tracking numbers, and use one for the Yellow Pages, and the other for the Mid Sussex Times.

You can then see exactly how many people are calling from each publication, and you can then match that to the prices these publications are charging you to advertise, and then concentrate on the more cost-effective one. As the meerkat would say, simples!

Tracking URL’s are easy as well! All you need to do is add ?utm_campaign= to the end of each URL you want to track. After the = I put where I am sharing it, for example on Twitter, I would put Twttr (I remove the vowels so that the analytics I use doesn’t recognise it as a generic Twitter visit), and also the first letter of each word of the Title of the page. For example, if I wanted to track this blog post on Twitter, the URL would be
http://www.keepers.info/blog/bid/69890/why-measurement-is-key-to-your-business-s-success-failure?utm_campaign=twttr-wmitktybsf

I would then shorten this link, possibly with bit.ly and share it on Twitter. Then in my website analytics, I can see exactly how many people came to the website through that specific avenue. I can then also see exactly how that person behaved; where they went, what they downloaded etc.

If I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t know which was better for driving traffic to the website – Facebook or Twitter?

But I do, and I concentrate most of my efforts on the medium that works best for me, which is exactly what you need to do! Put it this way; why would you want to be working on, just for arguments sake, Facebook, when for the same amount of effort, you could be generating more traffic and leads through Twitter?

And that’s why you need to measure – so that you can focus your time on the marketing avenues that are bringing in the most money.

So, if you’re going to take one thing away from this article, start measuring your marketing!

You can click here to visit the original article in the Go Articles website

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Doing more with what you have

from an article by Thomas E Catanzaro DVM MHA FACHE published on the RxWorks.com website

Leadership and learning are indispensible to each other.

Coaxing better performance out of your existing staff is tough. Even then most motivated staff members cannot deliver more if they believe they don’t have what they need to get the job done. These frustrated staff members are both a threat and an opportunity. If you ignore their problems, these staff members will likely give up trying, or they will leave the practice for perceived greener pastures. But if you take an enabling view, their engagement will translate into results.

Amid competitive pressures and a challenging global economy, not to mention the carbon tax, doing more with what you already have has become somewhat of a battle cry for today’s veterinary practices. But far from rallying recession-weary committed people, it often evokes skepticism. How, most staff will ask, can we be expected to deliver more with limited resources?

The reaction is understandable. In many practices, doing more with limited resources is ‘shorthand’ for continually seeking tougher goals and higher expectations while spending less money. For a practice staff, it is perceived that management wants them to work harder or accomplish more in the same amount of time. And because these mangers are focused on costs, they are unlikely to give staff members what they need to get any new job(s) done well.

It is frustrating, especially for loyal staff who have found their calling as patient advocates, who want to deliver quality results for the clients. These staff members commonly respond by hunkering down and turning the operational crank as fast as they think possible, despite feeling overworked and overburdened. Perhaps they can take comfort in knowing they are not alone. Healthcare research and experience suggest that at least 20 percent of any healthcare delivery team feels frustrated. These are not unmotivated people, but those who are in step with the goals and objectives of the organization, and are enthusiastic about making a difference in the life of the animal(s). The issue, however, is that they get held back by tasks that don’t suit them well, or by work environments that get in their way, or by practice cultures which do not have a client-centered patient advocacy feeling.

Below are six ways to get more productivity out of the limited human resources within most any general veterinary practice:

  • Start with the what and why Share the WHAT of each program in terms of expected outcome benefits for the patient and client, and then add the WHY of good medicine and quality care. Keep client-centered patient advocacy central to the human-animal bond scenario of 85% of your clients who consider the pet as a best mate or family member.
  • Specify must-win outcomes When staff members have too much to do and/or too little time to do it, clarify key priorities to assist them to focus on essential, value-added tasks.
  • Solicit volunteers to develop specific interest areas After the WHAT and WHY introduction, start soliciting the WHO and HOW from the staff members, and be attuned to individual(s) who appear to have a special interest. Ask them if they want to lead the development of that program for your patients; share accountability and responsibility with them.
  • Avoid the trap of routines Since efficiency is only helpful if it is directed at the right targets, evaluate work processes for efficacy at regular intervals to ensure they are aligned with the HAB thesis and changing practice demands.
  • Treat training as a process, not an event Revisit outcome expectations frequently in dynamic environments; praise in public, and establish mistakes as a ‘lessons learned’ event lending to further practice process or staff development. Otherwise, skills and abilities that were once strong staff attributes can quickly become organizational behavior barriers and/or obsolete paradigms.
  • Provide specific freedom to act Clarify the scope of a program manager’s authority so that fear of overstepping boundaries does not become a disincentive to taking risks or making even simple operational decisions. While Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) are watchwords of healthcare delivery, Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) is the watchword of an involved staff.

You can click here to visit the RxWorks website

You can click here to visit Tom Catanzaro’s website

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Follow that Trend!

from an article by Christine Q Shupe CAE, Veterinary Hospital Managers Association and published in the My Exceptional Veterinary Team website

Understanding consumer trends can inspire practice management professional to introduce profitable changes in their practices.

Veterinary practice management is a business, and like any other business, practices must provide clients and patients with what they want in order for the practice to remain viable and relevant. In today’s fast-changing, high-competition marketplace, learning how to effectively focus on customer needs and desires is important. Veterinary practices should be tuned in to the latest trends to ensure they are providing patients and clients with the services and products they want.

What Is a Trend?

Trend analysis is a technique used to understand how and why individuals are spending their income. Consumer trend information can contribute to a better understanding of the health of a country’s economy. Businesses use this information to gauge the health of consumer spending and to decide upon additional considerations that can be implemented to ensure consumer spending increases. Reading consumer trends is critical for the success of any business because consumers want products and services that are consistent with the way they choose to purchase products, and they want brands that mirror changes in consumer preferences and tastes and are responsive to economic realities.

Current Trends in Veterinary Medicine

As the economy limps along, practice management professionals are noting several promising trends on the consumer side. Discretionary retail sales dollars seem to be on the increase. In addition, after a decline in patient visits, veterinary clients appear to be returning to veterinary offices again. More visits translate to greater opportunities to market specific products and services to pet parents.

Identifying consumer trends is both an art and a science. Business schools devote many classroom hours to studying “herd mentality” to spot trends and forecast future trends. But according to those in the know, one of the inherent pitfalls of identifying a trend is that by the time it makes the “Top Trend” list, its popularity may already be waning. For practice management professionals, it is possible to remain alert and focused on emerging trends by learning to spot them.

Four manageable tips for spotting trends include:

  • Listen! Pay attention to what those around you are saying. Listen to the concerns of your clients. Are they bemoaning the dearth of natural pet food, cat-friendly clinics or early morning appointment hours? Don’t just pay lip service to these comments. Pay attention and keep records. Based on this information, you may be able to introduce a product line or service that will satisfy the needs of your clients and increase revenues. Attending conferences and CE programs is another way to gain further insights into indicators of
    future trends.
  • A Nose for News Newspaper, radio and television can be very revealing when it comes to what local concerns and issues are. Spend time reading the editorial page and get the scoop on what’s trending in your community. This information can be employed to take a creative and fresh approach to how the practice operates and the products and services it
    offers.
  • Take to the Internet Using Google and Yahoo, enter searches such as “trends in veterinary medicine” to find the concerns that are topical. Google Trends lists hot trends for the day. Twitter provides resources to follow and watch trends.
  • Think Outside the Box Look to other industries to determine how trends are identified. Use best practices from these industries and apply them to your practice. Ask for advice and feedback from leaders in these industries.

Chase vs. Spot

Spotting trends is one of the best ways to take the lead in the industry. Waiting for trends to land at your doorstep will mean the practice is always playing catch-up. Just as you are prepared to address one trend, another one will come along. With evidence that consumers are beginning to open their wallets again, now is the time for practices to be prepared to offer sought-after goods and services when clients are prepared to spend, spend, spend. Be sure to include the entire staff in these discussions and encourage staffers to offer their perspective on how the identification of trends coincides with behavior and comments they’ve observed and heard.

You can click here to visit the MyEVT website

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