Building the dream: part two – five tips for sustainable growth - Vet Dynamics

Building the dream: part two – five tips for sustainable growth

Building the dream: part two – five tips for sustainable growth

Setting up a veterinary practice can seem like the easy part when compared to developing a successful strategy for growth. Alan Robinson explains how to take the pain out of the process by following five golden rules…

ALL BUSINESSES GO through five stages of growth – from start-up to a successful, sustainable business. At each stage, the business needs to invest in very specific strategies – and the owner needs to adopt a change in mindset to progress to the next stage to achieve sustained growth. Failure to do so means failure to progress or falling back to a lower stage.

The important thing to remember with these five stages is the thinking and strategies that got you to the current stage are not the strategies and mindset you need to move on to the next stage. Changes in strategy, systems and psychology are required at each stage. I like a metaphor – so, like a rainbow of light, these levels work at different frequencies and energies of activity.

Stage one
The lowest energy, or infrared, level. Most practices naturally go through this stage at start-up, or can end up here through internal or external factors of bad luck, bad management or a system breakdown from a level above.

We find the business owners who are stuck here are often in victim or orphan mode of thinking – in terms of blame, denial and excuses for their predicament – and are generally chaotic and reactive in their responses. They often complain of no time, no money, no plan and no discipline.

Typically, these practices are highly distracted and uncertain about the future, with too many things to focus on – and descending into stress, anxiety and confusion. Hope is either optimistically high or desperately low. These practices are out of control. Therefore, you need to make some positive intentional decisions and take control.

At this stage, the owner needs a personal victory. To progress, you need some discipline, often from an outside coach or consultant; some personal flow, by which I mean a self-awareness of your own strengths and, more importantly, your weaknesses. This awareness needs some focused action committed to:

  • a clear plan and commitment to change, even if you are not sure what that is yet
  • managing your personal time and energy, to protect your personal asset
  • measuring and controlling your finances with some simple current – and accurate – accounting and benchmarking systems

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Stage two
The red level of survival. Here, the survivor is in sufficient control to have enough money to have nothing at the end of the month and no time because he or she is doing it all.

This is all action – no time to plan, and living in hope, blame, denial, fear and anxiety. This represents the martyr phase: “I’m okay, but powerless – hard work is the only way out …”

A lot of vets get stuck here. What you want now is stability and autonomy. To move on, you need to change your focus from your personal needs to the needs of the business.

You need to be personally accountable, and give up blaming external people and events for your predicament; make rational decisions from good predictive data so you can build your cash flow, pay the bills and pay yourself. This is all part of building your self-esteem and worth.

You still need to take action. Firstly, establish your business planning process – from a three-year vision to one-year outcomes, to 90-day projects, to a 13-week implementation plan. Within this, you need to set your standards of value, care and business systems that reflect the practice you always thought you would own. This means planning, pricing and protocols.

All this, though difficult, will help you understand and follow the flow of business, and starts to engage the rest of the team. Consider some business CPD and networking at veterinary business events for inspiration.

Stage three
The orange level of stability. Here you have the safety of a decent wage, a level of autonomy and choice, and enough money to be able to pay yourself and the bills each month. Essentially, you have built yourself a reasonably well-paid job and are your own boss – a worker with autonomy earning a wage.

The business is generating cash, but not a lot of excess profit. You are exchanging your time for money – if you need time off, you pay a locum or lose the income. One person (you) is still controlling, if not doing, everything. You are now the optimistic hopeful; you have freedom of (limited) choice. This is the fur-lined “busy trap” – hard work is a virtue and you are in the comfort zone of stability.

We call this the warrior phase of business growth – hard work and aggressive management. However, to move on you need to leverage your management systems and establish yourself clearly in the market.

To progress to market victory, you need to let go of the control that got you here and the freedom you enjoy so much. This is the hardest of all the stages to move out of – and where many practice owners get stuck. You now need to focus on, and create, attraction in the market – and understand and build your market flow to grow your business based on the systems and standards you chose in the last phase.

As you can see, all these stages build on each other – and unless you have fully established the previous stages, it is easy to slip back.

You need to create a clear market identity and strategy. To do this, you need to know your customers specifically – your market avatars, who they are and how you can best serve them. In this process, it is as important to decide who you don’t serve.

This, then, allows the business to create and grow profit through specific promotions and campaigns, rather than just opening the doors and hoping for the best.

Stage four
This is the yellow level of success. Here, you are leveraging complex management systems and have moved from dependence to independence; the business is now earning a decent profit and a good return on investment.

However, you find yourself in the “busy trap 2.0” and have become the octopus manager – not just managing yourself, but needing to be responsible for everyone else in the organisation.

Your tentacles are managing resources, controlling, organising and planning, fixing people problems and everyone doing a bit of everything. This is driven by a strict central command and control hierarchy, protocols and systems, because simply not enough trust and flow exists in the team to delegate effectively. People become very frustrating…

At this point, you begin to wonder: Is it really worth it? Is there a better way? Should I just sell up and get out?

Some start the inner journey of the wanderer – a quest for personal and professional development and interdependence – that is often a confusing and frightening developmental stage, and one of the most difficult.

To move to the next stage, you need to move your team from employment to engagement. To progress to this team victory, you need to let go of the freedom you have so strongly fought for, so you can learn the necessary skills to create a team in flow that can start to create your business as a productive asset for all, rather than a time and energy-sucking liability.

At this stage, you need to establish your business as something separate from you, by establishing business systems and processes run by the team, but also support and synchronise your team to run the systems.

You change from everyone doing everything, to everyone doing one thing very well. As a result, you get back your time and energy, and a profitable, growing business.

Stage five
The green level of scalability. You have now become a leader working with an engaged team, having moved from independence to interdependence. Your job is to provide vision, inspiration and momentum for the team so they can get on with running the business.

In this way, you are building assets and bring in people who are as good as – if not better than – you for their chosen tasks. In this way, you are creating flow and attraction to high-quality leaders, managers, team members and clients. You are now leading teams that are managing the systems and processes, and others are measuring and monitoring performance.

At this stage, you have regained your time by investing in your team. This is the realm of the magician – having learned all the previous lessons, you can apply your wisdom as appropriate to the changing world you now live and work in. Now, you create influence instead of control. You become a source of contribution and hope in your profession and the wider society.

This still requires action. You need to grow from your hierarchical team structure to multiple autonomous networks. As the leader, you can start to assert your influence in your community, the profession and wider society, which will build your physical, intellectual and financial assets.

Leadership and culture are the two sides of the same coin. When these are established, many of the challenges of management – and the lower
stages – seem to disappear as if by magic. With these new rules of engagement:

  • busyness turns to flow
  • need for profit turns to a desire for legacy (purpose)
  • need for control turns to allowance of autonomy
  • performance management turns to mastery and progress
  • employment turns to engagement


In summary, we find leadership responsibilities of the top practices are:

  • developing shared vision and goals with the team
  • managing yearly and quarterly planning processes
  • implementing protocols and continuous improvement processes
  • accessing accurate and timely data to make wise decisions
  • creating clear management structures
  • creating – and using – clear and frequent communication structures
  • using robust decision and delegation structures


So, the question remains: What stage are you at in your business? Even if you are doing well, are you sure all the underlying structures are in place and working? If not, your business may be at risk. If so, what next?

That’s the only decision you need to make.

Where are you on the spectrum? For your free report, practic eowners and managers can visit the Veterinary Business Spectrum at

By Alan Robinson

 Special thanks to VBJ – pages 11-13 in their May 2019 edition. 

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