Whether you are a solo practitioner or the owner of a multi-doctor equine practice, bringing a new partner into your business can be a strategy for reducing your management responsibilities, increasing your sense of well-being, and providing a more comfortable retirement. Being a business owner can add stress to the already stressful life of a veterinarian, even as it opens opportunities for increased financial success, decision making and creativity in shaping the practice. Meeting payroll in the slow months of the year, dealing with hiring and firing staff members, worrying about keeping clients happy, struggling to attend to the demand for services and/or having enough work are all worries that can keep practice owners up at night. Having a partner can blunt some of these worries because they are shared.
Sharing the responsibilities of business ownership with a partner is not unlike a marriage. It is really important to share the same values, have the same vision for the practice and be able to communicate openly. Otherwise you both could end up pulling the wagon in opposite directions. A good partnership shares the burdens and increases the joy in the journey. You have someone to depend on when times get tough, whether that is a medical issue with yourself or your family, a difficult clinical case, or a client that you are struggling to satisfy. Simply having someone else who has the practice’s best interests at heart can be helpful in relieving your stress.
If you are a solo practitioner, it can be difficult to build your practice to the point of having sufficient revenue to support another doctor, as it could exhaust you in the process. The solo doctor who wishes to hire an associate with the idea of adding them as a partner in the future often needs to have enough revenue for one and a half veterinarians before he or she can finance the salary and benefits for an associate. This could end up using up much of the practice’s profit for a year or two as the associate grows his or her client base, so it’s important that the solo practitioner have the room in their personal finances to make that investment. However, investing profits to hire an associate as a potential future partner if your practice area has room for substantial growth can be a very successful strategy. Alternatively, a solo practitioner could consider a merger with another local solo practice.
Adding a partner in a multi-doctor practice is simpler because typically that practice already has revenue production within the practice. After several years of being an associate it is also likely that the owner of the practice has had a chance to understand the associate’s values and how he or she aligns with others in the practice. The practice owners also have a good sense of the individual’s work style, ethics and skill set. They are able to judge whether this doctor would be a compatible person with which to share control and ownership of the practice.
While it is tempting to hold onto ownership and control of a practice until you are ready to retire, this often results in associates moving on if they desire ownership in order to have a chance to have decision-making and creativity in shaping a practice. Owning a small percentage to gain profit sharing is often not sufficiently attractive.
In choosing a partner, think about whether your ages are compatible, as it is often best if one partner is 5 to 10 years older than the other so both partners don’t want to retire at the same time. Despite this challenge, many successful partnerships have developed between veterinarians of the same vintage. As the practice grows, they have been able to add younger associates to provide them with an eventual exit strategy.
Partnership is not for everyone, but it is very successful in many veterinary businesses.
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