Like many recent graduates, I began my career in veterinary medicine with a year-long internship in small animal medicine and surgery. I followed with 3 years as an Associate Veterinarian in a corporate practice. I realized early on that for me, building lasting relationships with customers and their pets was the best way to provide quality, personalized veterinary care.
While working for a corporate practice had some benefits, I often felt hampered by the many things that were beyond my control. I decided to take a jump and go alone.
In May 2019, just 4 years after graduating from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts, I opened my own independent veterinary practice, the Neabore Veterinary Clinic, in Haddonfield, New Jersey. It wasn’t easy, but as we approached the 2-year mark with around 1,800 customers, I couldn’t be more certain that I had made the right choice – both personally and professionally.
So I started my own practice from scratch.
I found my “why”
Your “why” is your goal – what drives you. My reason for starting a veterinary clinic was so that I could practice medicine and business on my own terms. I also wanted to work as a small business owner in the community I lived in. Knowing my why helped me develop a mission statement. This determines everything we do as a company, from the design of our exam rooms to what we post on social media and how employees interact with customers.
I made sure that I was in a good position financially
There are many things to emphasize when opening a veterinary clinic. Your personal finances shouldn’t be one of them. Before I even thought about taking the plunge into practice, I paid out nearly $ 200,000 in student loans. To avoid accruing interest on my business loan, I did not borrow for as long as possible during the design and construction process. To do this, I invested about $ 30,000 of my own money in the business and deposited another $ 40,000 to live on for the first few months of being self-employed. As a startup, I have prepared myself to spend several months without a salary. I made my first paycheck in the 5th month.
I created a space that matched my vision
After initially considering a location in a mall next to a big box store that would have had good visibility and plenty of room to grow, I settled for a smaller, more intimate store. It is located on the old main street that connects the walkable, vibrant business districts of 3 neighboring cities. I felt that this room better suited my why.
I designed the clinic to be clean, welcoming, and bright, with features like a large picture window in the main examination room. There are also lots of personal details throughout the hospital, such as portraits of staff’s pets in the lobby created by a local artist.
I’ve put together my team
The salary and performance of employees are a major expense. That’s why I started small – just me and two experienced technicians. I’ve since hired a third technician. We don’t have a receptionist. We handle this with mobile tills in the room. All 4 of us book appointments and answer the phone. Customers are pleasantly surprised when the doctor picks them up.
I have developed a (simple) marketing strategy
My marketing strategy is simple. Be good to people and they will be good to you – and tell all of their friends. Satisfied customers share their recommendations verbally and via social media with other local families. They give us 5 star reviews that have helped improve our visibility online. I share educational and entertaining social media posts on Facebook and Instagram several times a week. We promote other local businesses and they promote us. Our paid advertising includes print and online ads in two local newspapers.
The final result
I’m proud of the business I started outside of school in just a few years. Practice ownership may have become rarer among recent graduates than it used to be, but for me the experience has proven extremely rewarding. I hope my story inspires other aspiring business owners. After all, it doesn’t have to be a given in veterinary medicine to spend your career with someone else.
Scott Neabore, DVM, owns the Neabore Veterinary Clinic in Haddonfield, New Jersey. He is also a board member of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association.