Top 10 strategies for turbulent times

Stay the course and put plans in place to bust the recession
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Jan 01, 2009

Stories of layoffs, plant closings, foreclosures, bankruptcies and declining demand dominate the news, and it seems there's no end in sight. What are veterinary practitioners and managers to do in times like these? This column is the first in a series to give you ideas and strategies to help you stay the course.

If you are in your mid-50s or older, you have lived through extreme economic upheavals, from the runaway inflation of the 1970s through the 1990s' dot-com bust. Having survived that, your worries now are mainly about having enough money to retire.

If you are younger, your main worries swirl around how to earn a living in your chosen profession.

In both instances, these are serious worries — the kind that feed fear and keep you up at night.

Fear is debilitating. It creates its own problems. Fear causes people to over-react or robs them of hope and energy when they need to be steady and strong. Fight the fear. Start by putting things in perspective, remembering the words of the Rev. Robert Schuller, who said, "Tough times never last, but tough people do."

You can get through this, and things will get better. Toughen up. Choose to focus on the things you have control over, and decide what you can do to improve your odds of success.

Veterinarians traditionally have fared better than most in recessions, but survival is neither a guarantee nor an entitlement. You will need to ensure that your practice is strong enough to make it through and poised to grow when business picks up again. Listed below are the first of 32 ideas and strategies to help you navigate the storm. Think of them as your toolbox for turbulent times.

1 Know your numbers

If ever there was a time to pay attention to your practice's numbers, it is now. One of your most important tasks is to learn to manage cash flow. A cash-flow forecast will help you look ahead and prepare for lean months. Some practices may find they are asset-rich but lack sufficient liquidity to meet their financial obligations. They will be caught short if they don't cut expenses or increase their cash on hand for payroll and bills. Any good accountant can help you project cash flow. Once you have it, review it monthly so you always know your cash position.

2 Be a leader — don't hide

It is unnerving to navigate these times when you have fears and insecurities. Don't isolate yourself, but keep talking with your team. They're afraid, too, and need you to share information with them and to help them refocus their energy on what they can do to help the practice. Staying future-focused can help. Discuss how much stronger and better the practice will be when the economy comes back. Work with your staff to make the needed changes for a better tomorrow.

3 Be more productive

The idea is not to work more, but to work smarter by matching your practice hours to your clients' hours. For instance, could you be more productive if you stayed open later on Mondays and closed earlier on Wednesdays? Would the practice be busier on Monday nights than on Wednesday afternoons, making each hour you are open more productive and profitable?

4 Try different days

If you are not open on Saturdays, could you open for half-days on Saturdays and close at noon on Fridays? Many practices discover that their revenue from Saturdays equals or exceeds that of a full day during the week. Saturday hours usually are popular with clients, too, because that is when they are home and can bring in their pets, creating a fuller schedule for you.