June’s small business profile is Parkside Animal Health Center, which is an animal hospital located in SE Aurora. Parkside has been open for roughly four years and the owner, Dr. Brenda Eisenhauer, has gone through all the ups and downs of a normal small business and learned quite a few lessons along the way. We sat down with her (which was no easy task with her schedule) and here we’ve boiled down the conversation into three main points that she’s learned over the years:
Before we tell the story of Parkside we should give a little background on Dr. E. Dr. E has an extensive and varied history working with animals- both pets and wildlife. She has traveled throughout the US and spent some time in the Galapagos as part of her undergrad work. In 2004, everything came together when she received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Tufts University. Dr. E made her way to Denver as quickly as possible where she also earned a Certificate in Public Health from Colorado University making her even more well rounded. Throughout her time in Colorado, and before opening the doors of Parkside, Dr. E spent a great deal of time working in area shelters. She still works at shelter 2 days a week and balances her passion for caring for homeless pets with the unending demands of a small business owner. And we aren’t the only ones who think Brenda is doing pretty well! Dr. E and her animal clinic won the Aurora chamber’s small business person of the year in 2016! So we sat down with Brenda for a few hours and summarized the biggest points she’s learned to balance her crazy schedule!
#1 Be Specific!
Notice any irony with our header? Pretty unspecific right? We did that to make a point! If you’ve ever managed people, you quickly learn how unclear you can actually be. Even when you think you’re being clear as…well, mud. But more than that, Dr. E urges small business owners to be specific with themselves! If you don’t have a specific vision then you can’t possible communicate anything specific to your associates. Dr. E says, “I’ve talked to a lot of other veterinarians through various networking opportunities and over and over again I hear very similar comments about starting their own practice. They may have a lot of things worked out but one question that often can’t answer is- when?” Deadlines work and they just have to be externally created. And if you can’t create your own deadlines help others do it for you. Announce that date of your new practice on social media or to your close friends and family. Let social pressure create a deadline for you.
Dr. E shared a story that you may have heard before but that bears repeating. The story, though it is likey not true, is about the Spanish conquistador Cortez and how to push his men further he burned the boats that were their only way home. Now, there is only one way forward and that’s the jungle. Here’s a great retelling of the story:
Depending on responsive you are to social pressure, simply sharing your goals on social media can really change things and be an effective way of “burning your boats”.
You also have to be specific about so much more than dates. Dr. E comments, “You have to know what you’re going to do and what makes you different. You have to find something to be the best at. This is why going for a specific niche can be easier for some newer owners.” She elaborates by pointing out that veterinarians need to look at their particular region and see what they can do differently. You might not be able to beat the high-end technology used at a Banfield or other highly corporate practice but can you offer a high standard of veterinary medicine with a better client relationship? What about a feline-only veterinary clinic? Right away, by becoming more specific in your scope of practice you remove some competition. The simplest way to start practicing specificity is to create a business plan- and share it. But share with who?
#2 Build a Network!
Find other people with similar goals. Sounds simple right? Well, like many tips from small business owners, they are simple. But the hard part is starting! Drumbeat and Dr. E recommend you do whatever you can but that you just start! You can social media to find like-minded business owners and veterinarians or you can tap into a community that is specific to veterinarians like VIN (Veterinary Information Network) to start networking. While most people find working off of social media easier, Dr. E highly recommends working with your local Chamber of Commerce. Even if you only attend a Chamber meeting once or a twice a year, the opportunity to meet people face to face is always better.
Obviously making connections can allow you to tap into resources and information that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to but it can also help you stay accountable. Attending a Chamber meeting full of people trying to accomplish that same task, or rather mission as you can’t be substituted for any online meeting. Not only that, but a local meet up in Aurora shows you other people who are doing what you want to do too! It lets you get face to face with people are successfully running a business in Aurora! It also lets you meet more people who may be a great fit for your company. You know, some potential hires?
Delegate! Business owners are terrible at this and it shows in the 60 hour work weeks. Dr. E says she was there in the beginning, “I’m a veterinarian and a business owner. I’m not an accountant, a marketing expert or a web designer. When you’re first starting out it seems like you have to be expert at everything! Not true! There are a variety of affordable experts in the Aurora area. Not to mention all the resources online. And using an expert allows you to save hours of your own time!” To summarize Dr. E’s point in our words, you need to find out what is a “you” task and stick with those. You don’t have to be an accountant, but you do have to a veterinarian. Or the face of your business. Or any number of tasks depending on your business.
You can also utilize resources who are already in your network. Ask around, you may surprise at how many people already know something about web design, marketing, graphic design or accounting. Dr E. notes, “I was lucky enough to have a friend already in the field who also did web design work. I was able to utilize her for a cheaper price (in exchange for discounted veterinary services from us) and I personally believe we have the best Aurora animal clinic website. But I may be a little biased.”
What’s important is to find a professional who is also willing to teach. While you don’t need to know the details of everything you accountant is doing, you do need to understand the basic concepts and you accountant should be able to explain everything to you with clarity and simplicity. The mark of a true expert is someone who can explain complicated concepts and tasks in simple terms- accept nothing less from your experts.