4 Principles I Have Learned Owning a Business

by Rebecca on July 8, 2013

fourprinciplesbusinessownerIt is really impossible to believe that I started Tarheel Veterinary Surgical Specialists almost 11 years ago.  My intention was to create a part-time business for myself, and that was about it.  Where we are now, I never would have dreamed would have been possible back in 2002.

Instead of being a part-time business, we are a busy full-time business serving 50 animal hospitals in the Raleigh and surrounding areas.   We hope to grow beyond this in a few more years, but we are taking things slowly, and we will see where we end up.

There have been so many lessons I have learned over the last 11 years but there are   four of them I want to share with you today.

#1 Having no debt gives you margin in your business.

I was so fortunate to have learned about Dave Ramsey back when I was starting my business.  Because of Dave Ramsey’s influence and because of my business model, TVSS has been debt free for about 7 years.  That does not mean I never worry about money but our business does have the margin to survive tough times.

I actually had to fire my biggest customer two years ago, and honestly if I had a bunch of debt payments, it would have been a lot tougher decision to make. I may have been stuck not believing I had a choice.  The irony of that decision now is we are having our most profitable year just 2 years removed from firing that customer.

I know those of you who own traditional animal hospitals, probably think I am ridiculous to suggest that you can be debt free, but with a game plan and some time, it is possible.

It will not happen overnight or even in one year, but when that is written down as a goal for your business, watch and see what happens.

#2 Continually improving your leadership capacity is essential.

John Maxwell has a principle called the Leadership Lid.  What he says is you will never hire people in your business who are at a higher level of leadership than you are. For example, if you are a level 6 leader you will only bring in people who are level 5 and below.  What that means is you as the owner/leader are the rate-limiting step in your hospital.  Your business will never reach its greatest potential if you are not working on reaching your greatest potential as a leader.

If you are the practice owner, this is not optional.  You owe it to yourself and your team to invest some time and money into developing your leadership skills.  Even if you are not the practice owner, investing in growing your leadership skills will make you a better veterinarian, parent, friend, and colleague.  It really is a win-win proposition.

#3 Surround yourself with the best people you can.

Your team will make or break your business.  As your business grows, you cannot possibly be everything to everyone, and that means you MUST find the best people you can.

What I mean by the best people is people who share your hospital’s core values and purpose (certainly you have those by now!), who have good work acumen, and have emotional intelligence.  You need to have a full complement of people who have all of these.  This is not easy, but if this is your goal, over time it is possible.

It goes without saying when you find these people, treat them as well as you possibly can, because they are worth their weight in gold!

#4 Find trusted advisors.

This probably should have been at the top of the list.  Early on, I did not have any trusted advisors, and I made mistakes because of it.  One of those was investing $10,000 in a local MRI center.  I actually did ask my accountant about that, and he said it sounded like a good idea.  For that and a bunch of other reasons, he is not longer my accountant.

A few years ago, I joined a presidents/CEO’s group that met once a month.  There I found a group of people who I could trust with helping me make the challenging decisions that any business owner has to make, and it made all the difference.  I have since moved on to having a Business Coach who I talk to twice a month and can’t imagine making the big decisions that have to be made without input from those I trust have my best interests in mind.

Owning a business is more rewarding and more challenging than I ever thought possible.  I am so glad I made that leap 11 years ago to start TVSS, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

For those of you who are practice owners, what lessons have you learned about owning an animal hospital?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marie July 8, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Where do I begin. All eyes are on you to set tone of the work environment. Learning to listen, to really hear what someone is trying to say to you. The importance of finding the strengths in your employees and trying to build up those strengths. I think I have never had a tougher job than trying to be a fair, respectful leader at our hospital. It makes getting into and through vet school look like a piece of cake. I am so thankful to Rebecca and Catalyst Vet to help in the process. You are correct in the statement of having a good support group, there is no way to lead a veterinary hospital well without them.


Rebecca July 9, 2013 at 6:19 am

It is a tough job no doubt- way harder than I expected BUT you are having a great impact on people and I know that is what keeps me going. I know about the group of trusted people- I could have avoided a lot of stupid- that is one of the many things I hope CatslytVETS can provide for its tribe.


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