1. Starting & Building a Veterinary Practice
Why did you want to start your own business?
I have worked in the Alnwick area for a number of years now, like my business partner, Stuart Morris. We both used to work for a large vet practice, where I had previously been a director, but in 2016, my former partners sold the practice to one of the national corporates. Stuart and I decided we didn’t want to work for them. We wanted to be our own bosses so set out on our own.
What were the most important factors for you to consider when setting up?
We had to manage a number of things simultaneously so it’s hard to rank them in any particular order. These were:
- The type of work we wanted to do (first opinion small animal and farm work)
- Professional help – accountants/solicitors
- Finding suitable premises and making them into a vet surgery
- Staffing levels at start up and recruitment
- Practice management system
How important do you feel the practice management software used is for a new clinic (or even an established clinic)?
The practice management system is vital and can have a significant impact on the way the business develops. It is integrally involved with everything that you do. Both Stuart and I were experienced vets, who had worked with a number of different PMS’s over the years, so we had a reasonable idea of what they can and can’t do.
What initially attracted you towards ezyVet, and ultimately why did you decide to join us?
Funnily enough, our introduction to ezyVet came from our accountant, who had suggested we look at the system because of its integration with the Xero accounting package. We had a clear idea that we wanted a cloud-based system, so it ticked that box straight away. Our experience of the “traditional” UK systems was that they were very much linked to the purchase of expensive hardware (including servers).
Has ezyVet delivered on what you expected?
Yes, certainly with respect to the financial functionality. With the recent changes in the UK to a digitally based VAT system, our choice of ezyVet has clearly paid dividends. Being cloud based, the system is regularly updated and improved, without lengthy periods of downtime while servers update. Certainly, in the start up phase, the flexibility with respect to hardware required saved us a large amount of capital outlay (and continues to do so).
If you could give one key piece of advice to someone looking to start up their own veterinary practice, what would it be?
Apart from the obvious ‘know your market’, my advice would be to cut your cloth according to your means. It can be incredibly expensive to set up a vet business and there are loads of areas where you can save money. ezyVet is a good example; you don’t have to buy expensive hardware and the monthly subscription is easily manageable for a start up company. Similarly, us using Xero as our accounting package meant we didn’t need an inhouse bookkeeper, again helping cash flow by reducing wages.
Also, don’t underestimate how hard you have to work – it is all worth it in the end, but it can be very hard work.
That’s three pieces of advice, isn't it!
As an independent business, how important was it to find an independent software provider?
We had an ethos that, where possible, we would look to build partnerships with other independent businesses. When faced with the choice between two options that were broadly similar, we would always choose the independent one.
Particularly with respect to software provider, it was important to us that everything beyond the software remained in our control. For instance, we didn’t want a system that committed us to use a particular wholesaler or in-house laboratory system.
With the widespread corporatisation of the UK veterinary industry, I guess there is always that nagging concern that corporate businesses will look after their own first.
Overall, what was has been the biggest challenge in starting up your own business?
Looking back now, the truth is that we have been very lucky.
One of the biggest challenges was to commit to setting up a new business in the first place. Both of us had reasonably well-paid, secure jobs so there was a significant element of risk involved.
Having decided to go for it – our next challenge – something that may be very peculiar to us – was finding a suitable location for our clinic (Alnwick is quite an odd town in that respect!). It took us nearly 10 months to identify a potential site and another10 months to buy the property and convert it into a functional vet clinic.
We managed to scrape together enough capital to get us going without having to start our business with a large debt burden, and because we knew our market (and our market knew us), we were able to hit the ground running.