19 Mar We are headed for a slowdown: Time to focus
These are overwhelming times for a lot of us. This overwhelm can add to the stress, burnout, and anxiety that are already at a global high, locking many of us out of clear thinking, productivity and flow.
This makes maintaining your strategic view and an eye on clear goals a little trickier, but all the more important. But as our good old friend Nietzsche once said: “The discipline of suffering, of great suffering — do you not know that it is this discipline alone that has produced all the elevations of humanity so far?”
Time for a bit of discipline then?
The majority of businesses are either closing, or working from home – both sensible options but difficult to implement if you’re running a veterinary practice.
I’ve deliberately called it Physical Distancing, not to be different but because I’m not a fan of the phrase Social Distancing which holds very different connotations.
This has become a hot topic and a bone of contention for many but is a simple thing that we can do – and one that works.
If you go back to the Wuhan graph, you will remember that as soon as there was a lockdown, cases went down. That’s because people didn’t interact with each other, and the virus didn’t spread.
This virus can be spread within 2 meters (6 feet) if somebody coughs. Otherwise, the droplets fall to the ground and don’t infect you.
The worst infection then becomes through surfaces: The virus survives for up to 9 days on different surfaces such as metal, ceramics and plastics. That means things like doorknobs, tables, or elevator buttons can be terrible infection vectors.
The only way to truly reduce that is with continued physical distancing: Keeping people home as much as possible, for as long as possible until this recedes.
It’s not going away soon…
The point is…
It seems likely that COVID-19 and the surrounding consequences are going to be tough for business.
Yes, there is well meaning Government advice about washing your hands and not sneezing all over people, but your mother should have taught you that… what’s the practical advice for vets in business? To be honest, it’s the same old things we have been talking about for years at Vet Dynamics but it has taken COVID-19 to really sharpen our focus (not dis-similar to the 2009 Crash).
Yet, if we all dig deep and approach this with the wisdom we have acquired, then we can find immense growth. Up to now it’s just been the lessons, now it’s time for the exam….
Here at Vet Dynamics, we’ve been thinking hard about how to best support you during this time.
To remind us of what we should be doing, here are three Rules, three Principles to work to and twelve Tactics to consider…
- Rule Number 1 – DON’T PANIC (Mr Mannering……)
- Rule Number 2 – Don’t forget Rule Number 1
- Rule Number 3 – Do not isolate yourself from help – we are here to help you
- Maintain a clear-eyed view of reality, no matter how unpleasantly it may differ from what you expected. It is amazing how many practice owners jump to marketing and promotional gimmicks that are often expensive and ineffective, without any real strategy or goals in mind except ‘to do better!’. Use performance analytics to get a view of your reality, plan a strategy, get some help from a business Coach if you need to, and set some achievable goals.
- This is non-negotiable – focus on the quality of your people. In the clients’ limited perception, all veterinary practices are much the same. There is very little to differentiate them except the quality of the people they interact with. Your team are your ONLY source of competitive advantage. Yet when times get tough practices stop recruiting and cut back on training as a way to raise profits quickly. The best practices keep the best people and make them better.
- Continual, day-by-day insistence on improving productivity. Reduced productivity in a slowdown is not an inevitable fact of life. In veterinary practice productivity comes from good systems and protocols that improve efficiency of work, good pricing and profitability structure, commitment to a vision and improved communication. There are practices proving this fact on a daily basis. Then all you need are the customers to work with. Without customers even the most efficient practice cannot make money.
Speed is the key. Most practices will eventually be making changes, when they’re forced to. Your challenge is to make them first.
- Lower your break-even point.
Get your cash-flow under control, cut unnecessary costs, loss making resources, branches, equipment, drug inventory and staff and watch capital spend.
- Overhaul your budget process.
Be quick, pro-active and frequent. Produce monthly (or weekly) management reports of the key indices. Review budgets monthly, track and plan.
- Evaluate your team structure & people.
Appraise performance and development. Categorise your team as A, B & C players; encourage the A’s, develop the B’s and take action with C’s.
- Get out of the Bunker.
Face outwards, get out there and promote and differentiate yourself to customers, suppliers and your own staff – get creative, get visible!
- Expand the pond.
Seek new sources of revenue that are profitable and capital-efficient. Cutting prices only cuts profits. Review the total needs of your existing and potential customers.
- Be a hero to your clients.
Build relationships and cement the bond with your customers. Teach your customers how to manage their pet’s health properly and cost-effectively. They’ll be grateful.
- Get right with the bank.
Don’t postpone the inevitable – talk to your bank about your problems, your plan and the results you honestly expect. Consider a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.
- Get even closer to your suppliers.
The connection between you and your suppliers has social elements as well as economic ones and needs careful management during a slowdown. They will help practices showing initiative, flair and creativity – so show them!
- Innovate – focus on nurturing new ideas.
Innovation requires the right people, the right resources and a system of meetings, assessments and communication.
- Keep investing in technology.
Particularly communication database management and social media as well as clinical-based information technology. Figure out and use remote working where possible. Training is an essential part of any new technology. Clinically, invest to keep up with the best in quality medicine and surgery.
- Keep track of early warning signals.
Use monthly financials to track budget vs. actual. Get to know the important indices to track and watch them carefully.
- Keep communicating.
Customers, suppliers and employees need to know your view of the world. Develop a clear view and keep telling them what it is.
The global trends are changing rapidly. It may get worse before it gets better but it will be a real test of leadership and management for many practices. Effective leaders will follow this advice: Be Bold. Act Soon. Move Fast. Do that and whatever the outcome for others you will come out stronger.
That’s your goal.
Alan, Vicky and the Vet Dynamics Team