Week 1 – British decent
Vets are great at being vets (lucky that), but what vet school doesn’t teach you is how to run a successful business. That’s what your accountant is for right? You wouldn’t expect your accountant to spay a cat, so why expect a vet to run a business? Well, unfortunately, Veterinary is a business; those who leave vet school to work in private practice or have aspirations to one day run their own practice (that would be me) need basic business skills to be able to survive and prosper in a competitive market. Nottingham Vet students are very lucky in that our course involves some basic business training in the hope that we go out into practice with at least more than an inkling as to how a business is run. During our teaching, we’re given a failing practice and a week to look over the books, make what seem like agonisingly real decisions and re-brand the practice, before pitching our plans to the ‘Dragons Den’ of potential investors. The experience is intense, at times baffling, but overall the most enjoyable week and a half of vet school. Onswitch are crucial in delivering teaching and engaging students in various aspects of market analysis and marketing.
So here I am, a year on, with 2 weeks spare time between rotations, and Onswitch BEMS catches my eye. As someone who’d one day like to be a partner in a practice or god forbid, own my own, I thought this would be a useful 2 weeks, and if nothing else, something a bit different and enjoyable! So here’s what I’ve been up to in my first week!
Monday morning I braved the A52 and it’s questionable lorry drivers to make it to Grantham. My mission (if I chose to accept it) was to audit a real practice and write a report making recommendations as to how they can improve and grow. Where do you start with that? Well I did what any student would do when faced with what seemed an impossibly large task, sacked it off and went to the pub. No, of course, I turned to Google, which is exactly what most people would do when looking for vets. True fact: There are some practices that currently have no online presence, nothing, zero, nada, like they don’t even exist. I’m at that point in final year where I’m looking for jobs, and the first thing you do after seeing a job ad is plug the name into Google (other online search engines are available) and it’s incredible that in this day and age, there are still some vets that have no website or online presence at all, not even reviews! All that says to me is here’s a backwards practice not centred on clients. That may be a huge overstatement, but either way, it’s not a practice that I’d be interested in working for, nor is it one that a potential new client would want to come to!
So a quick Internet search gave me a good place to start, I now had a list of competitors, their locations and proximities to the practice I was auditing, and a whole heap of websites and social media pages to trawl through. I was shocked at the huge variations in quality of some of the websites – my favourite bad example had a hand drawn map scanned into the computer showing the practice location, surely that took more time than doing one online? Some other favourites included spelling errors, and a wacky website with a different font for every page. Weird stuff.
All that internet-ting was thirsty work, and I was overjoyed to find that hidden away in the kitchen were Yorkshire Tea bags, as a born and bred Yorkshire lass this was certainly good news.
I was now able to ring up the competitors I had identified, and Mystery Shop them, this is something Onswitch does every day and I also got the chance to take part in some TownTrack calls and some Onswitch Index calls. I made 50 calls in a morning, only one person asked what my pets name was, one call lasted a total of 14 seconds, what is going wrong? I couldn’t believe how bad some of the calls were! Due to a computer glitch, I accidentally made a call to the same vets in a row, in my panic I put on a strange accent, probably closest likened to Norwegian-Scottish. I’m sorry if you answered that call.
I also looked at the demographics of the area, so I could get an idea of the potential clients, e.g. how old were they? Are there families or singles/couples? What types of advertising do they respond to? Are they homeowners? Annual income etc… Demographics can be very useful in tailoring marketing, there’s no point advertising in local papers if all the people in your area use the internet for their news. One of my tasks separate from the practice audit was to compare 2 sites in a city; a practice was looking to expand by purchasing a vet practice for sale down the road. I used demographic mapping, and saw that the new location wouldn’t be a good choice. It was in the report that I made the spell check error of changing British Descent to British Decent. I’m not sure I’ll live that one down.
As part of my review I also looked at some pre-collected ‘Vox Pop’ data. This was gathered from a location close to the practice and asked 50 people a series of questions. This data allowed me to see which vets in the area where the most popular, and identify possible reasons why my practice was/wasn’t being used.
So that was my week in a nutshell; I already have quite a sizeable word document reviewing the veterinary delivery in the area I’m studying, and already a list of things I think could improve what is already a fabulous practice. When starting out I thought, ‘this practice seems great, I’m not sure I can help…’ but nowhere is perfect, and there are always improvements to be made even when you’re at the top of your game. It’s constant development that keeps you there.
What is good about this placement is that you’re dealing with a real practice, in a real situation. I can’t stress the importance enough of the fact it was REAL. The Business Game we do at vet school is real enough, but the location has been changed, the names have been changed, competitors have to be made up. While this still gives you the chance to understand what you’re doing and review the practice current situation, it makes it so much more applicable when you’re doing it for real. This could easily be a practice that a new graduate goes to work for, and I’ll like to think that with the skills I’m learning both at vet school and on BEMS that I’ll be able to take these skills to my first job and contribute to the growth of the business and the promotion of client care, and actually make a difference.
Next week I’ll be drinking more Yorkshire Tea, visiting the practice to undergo a site audit, getting to grip with numbers looking at finance, and researching key opinion leaders in the area. I’m looking forward to visiting the practice I’ve been researching all week!
Ps. I didn’t mention we got Subway sandwiches on Friday, a personal highlight.