I’m back with Part 2 of ideas of just a few things you can work on to keep your business both afloat during this Coronavirus crisis, as well as aiming to turn it into a well-oiled machine for when we get back to “normal” life – I use quotation marks, as I suspect things will never be quite the same after this.
I think our field is already learning some interesting lessons: for instance, many small animal clients seem to be liking this drive-through service (I’d source this, but it’s in closed groups).
If you missed Part 1 click here. Otherwise, let’s move on:
6. Customer Survey
Did you just get a pit of dread in your stomach as soon as you read that? If you did, you’re not alone. Customer surveys (aka marketing research) are one of the best sources of information for you to improve your services, as your customers will literally tell you exactly what you need to do to make them happy.
Then why aren't more of us doing them? Well, the downside is that they can be rather ego-bruising.
However, if you truly open yourself up to the experience, customer surveys are an amazing source of growth for your practice, and I would advise looking at them only as that (not an opportunity for your clients to rip you apart).
If you still have a hard time with the idea, outsourcing them will allow the results to be presented to you in a more blunted, but still useful form….you know, with kid gloves. No shame in that if it still gets your practice to where it needs to go.
Want to conquer it on your own? Wonderful! Be aware though, it’s not just sending out a questionnaire of topics that are of interest to you. The phrase “garbage in garbage out” means if you don’t plan well, you’re going to get confusing or potentially useless results back.
Just like medicine, there are rules to marketing research: if you want to learn more to be effective in surveying your clients, check out this book (it’s a textbook, but not a hard read).
Marketing research is really, really, really, really awesome. Please consider doing it, especially if you’ve never pursued it before! I’ve found that the results tend to confirm some of what you know, but mostly give you new knowledge you were not expecting.
If you’d like to talk about surveying your clients, schedule a free consult here.
7. Fix your inventory
Why bother to work on your inventory when you’re not selling much? Because very likely you're losing money on it, and it's hiding other problems.
There’s a commonly used iceberg comparison for inventory, where high inventory levels (the water) are inadvertently used to hide problems (the iceberg). The problems you see going on are only the “tip of the iceberg.” Imagine draining the water around the iceberg – in other words forcefully decreasing your inventory levels, and suddenly a huge amount of issues are staring you straight in the face. These issues need to be addressed, and if they are, routine inventory levels can permanently be decreased and money saved!
I would not advise starting to address your inventory based on the categories in this picture, which is from a lab publication. On the contrary, if your goal is to work on inventory, make reducing/controlling your inventory your primary project. If you uncover underlying problems while doing so, DO address them, but unless they are critical, finish your inventory project first, then move on to the next project.
Keep working on all the problems you unearth. You will never make things perfect or “be done,” because that’s not how life works, but your inventory and your business will be in a far better state than when you started!
Now, how do you address your inventory? Besides simply cleaning up, organizing, and eliminating items you don’t use, one of the most popular methods of inventory management is the ABC Method, which I talk about in more detail in this blog (scroll about half-way down).
8. Job Descriptions
You’re clearly not hiring right now, and you can barely even keep on your employees, so why would you be working on job descriptions?
First of all, because they are something that no one ever bothers to properly work on until the employee you need to replace is fired (let’s be honest), and secondly, because now’s a good time to fix any confusion about what the heck everyone’s supposed to do because their job descriptions either didn’t exist or were terribly vague.
What do you need to do then? A job analysis, which results in a job description and job specifications.
Lists Tasks, Duties, and Responsibilities
These are all observable items
**Always list “and other duties as requested”
Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Other (KSAO)
Not directly observable; Characteristics
These are used to help differentiate between candidates
Good job descriptions are not just for hiring: they can be used to redesign jobs, plan hiring, train candidates, evaluate employees, career planning, and to cover legal bases.
Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, I know are everyone’s FAVORITES, but they are the key to consistency in medicine, collecting money from clients, and general smooth business practices. If you want your patients to be healthy, your clinic to be clean and safe, and your profit margins to be higher without charging your clients more, they are the way to do it.
Properly-executed SOPs do not mean every vet has to practice the same version of medicine on every patient. I personally don't see that as well-executed SOPs.
What SOPs should mean is that based on group consensus, perhaps you do not need to buy four different types of bandage material when – let’s be honest – one or two will likely do. They mean that facilities get properly cleaned every day instead of every two weeks. They mean that all digital records get backed up…….ever?
Then when you hire that new person: You’ve got a binder of training manuals for them to work from! How exciting!!! Okay. Maybe that's just me.
If it’s slow, it’s a great time to start working on these, one at a time. Putting a catheter in? Videotape it, then when you’re done, someone can go through and write the SOP. Videotaping procedures is more amenable to slow times than when you’ve got no time to spare.
10. I just can’t afford to keep going like this. What do I do?
Let’s be honest. This is going to be a pretty difficult time financially for everyone, especially if it lasts more than a couple of months. So what are some of your options?
Clearly, you can reach out to your own bank or credit union to see what they have available, but don’t forget that the Small Business Association has a variety of options to help owners: they have not only regular loans, but Economic Injury Disaster Loans, as well as lender matching.
As I mentioned above, I think it’s useful for the whole team to stay intact and working together to some degree and as long as possible, even if that's at home and just talking via Skype or Zoom every day. With that said, it’s possible that it's not going to be full-time for many of you.
Can you keep all of your employees on, but reduced hours? Can you afford to stop paying yourself, but pay your employees?
Note: Please be open with your employees about the state of the practice. Don’t be defeatist, but if the practice is on the verge of disaster, do give them some warning. They could even have the answers that you're searching for if you give them the chance to contribute. Also, it is probably better to get everyone pitching in before you get to the edge of that cliff. I’m just a fan of general transparency.
These are strange times, and one of the ideas that I’ve seen thrown around that I think is worth mentioning for two reasons is unemployment (please keep in mind that I live in the US, so I can only speak to US laws).
Unemployment certainly is a valid option when there is no work, and you just cannot afford to pay some or all of your employees. The numbers and rules vary from state to state, but it tends to replace about 60% of one’s income, and it does have a maximum amount. It is certainly better than zero though.
Some clinics have considered the possibility of temporarily laying off their employees so they can collect unemployment. It sounds like a win/win superficially, but this is not a furlough. Employees are not guaranteed that a job will be waiting for them, as none of us know how soon this is going to turn around. These are “good-faith” layoffs that if the position is available again, it would be theirs. Maybe. This is probably a slightly better deal for the employer than the employee, but I definitely understand the intentions behind it.
Overall, this option still remains a difficult decision but is likely best made after a thorough discussion between employer and employee.
Reach out to your creditors
Right now, there is far more flexibility than under normal circumstances: some is just a result of the situation, while some has been legally mandated (you may have missed it – I mean, these decrees are coming out on a daily basis right now).
If you are struggling with your fixed expenses right now, call your creditors and see what they can do. You are far from alone, and I suspect there is likely wiggle room in a lot more situations than there would be in the normal world. Just make that call. All they can say is no.
If you are at the last straw, depending on your unique circumstances and how your business is set up, this could be an option for you that could keep your clinic standing.
There are two versions of bankruptcy filings in the US – Chapters 7 and 11. If a judge will agree to Chapter 11, your debt can be cleared and your business can stay open.
Very obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but I didn’t want to leave this option off the list for those of you that are really struggling.
Here we are. Perhaps you have run out of options, and there are no choices left.
There’s no way around it – it’s going to feel excruciating like you’re a failure. Just couldn’t make it work.
But let’s be honest. This is a WORLD PANDEMIC. This situation is unprecedented in our lifetimes. None of us saw this coming, planned for it, could have planned for our businesses to handle this. I hope each and every one of you makes it through, but if you do not:
It was not you that was a failure.
You will go on to be successful in this career or outside of this career.
You will go on, period.
This failure will hurt, but that hurt will lessen over time, then you will learn lessons from it, then you will become better because of it.
Finally, if I can help in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Please, if you have any questions about anything I wrote in this article, and how you can make this work for you, please reach out below in the comments, or your can contact me via:
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