It is nearly impossible for one person to be an expert in all facets of a veterinary practice. Just as you wouldn't want your accountant to spay your dog, your attorney doesn't want you to draft your own contracts. In this world, what you don't know can get you in serious trouble if you stumble into unfamiliar territory. Good news! Many consultants and advisors specialize in helping veterinarians and veterinary practices. The following is a list of some of the advisors you will use throughout your career.
- Although advancements in bookkeeping and tax software have enabled individuals to prepare their own tax returns, unless you have time to keep up on all the changes to the tax code, you can't use them to your benefit. With the increased complexity of new tax laws, hiring a CPA to do this for you makes sense. Look for a CPA with experience working with veterinary practices and other small professional practices (e.g. dentists, optometrists). Small businesses have unique issues and do not gain much benefit from many of the opportunities meant for individuals or large corporations. Even if you believe your tax situation is straightforward, hiring a professional will save you the time and stress of doing your own taxes. In addition, a CPA will know the latest tax rules and how to use them to your advantage.
Your accountant should be willing to work with you throughout the year, not just at tax time. Be sure your accountant agrees to use a veterinary-specific chart of accounts. We hear from many doctors that their CPAs want them to use the chart of accounts that the accountant likes, usually something alphabetized that works easily with the accountants' tax software. However, unless you spend most of your money in categories from A to C, like amortization, business gifts and charitable contributions, this arrangement does not benefit you.
If you are starting a new practice, consult with an accountant to help you select the best form of business entity, create a QuickBooks company file using the AAHA Chart of Accounts, and train someone in your practice to use it. The accountant will make sure payroll is set up correctly, payroll and sales taxes are paid, and otherwise start you on the right track with spending. Always consult your CPA before you add a partner, sell your practice, or buy large pieces of equipment. Each of these events affects your tax situation.
- Too often, we look to attorneys after the fact, when there is a dispute with a former employee regarding the reason for dismissal, when a response from a letter written to a client is taken as a hostile attack or when business partners have serious disagreements regarding how a situation should be handled. If only we contacted attorneys before firing an employee, before reacting to a dissatisfied client, or while the relationship with business partners was strong. A proactive approach to utilizing legal counsel can not only prevent the above situations from arising but, by having legal documents such as employment contracts and partnership agreements in place, there is a structure to use to resolve such disputes.
While a local attorney can help you with issues such as zoning and estate planning, it is important to consult a veterinary-specific attorney for matters related to employment contracts, purchase/sale documents, and non-compete agreements. Veterinary practices and the professionals who work for them face unique situations related to controlled substances, non-compete issues and professional goodwill. Working with an attorney who understands those issues will give you the advantage of their knowledge and experience.
- Often, the only experience a veterinarian has with borrowing is from student and car loans and possibly a mortgage, so talking with lenders about practice loans and payback terms can be intimidating. When you have a good relationship with a local banker, it is easy to turn to them for everything from car loans to college funds for the kids. But when you are ready to buy a practice or tackle a practice remodeling project, it's time to talk with a veterinary lender about options available for practice acquisition, equipment financing, or real estate loans. Because they work on a national scale, these lenders have a broad view of the industry and a perspective that exceeds what a local banker, who supports many types of businesses, will have. In addition, because they are so familiar with the veterinary profession, veterinary lenders may approve loans more quickly with fewer required forms.
- A business consultant can fill in the gaps between your accountant and your attorney.
Hire a consultant to undertake short-term projects when you need additional assistance or a specialized set of skills. A consultant brings an independent, objective perspective and experience. Consultants will work with you on specific projects, such as creating a website, or they may act as a qualified resource with whom to confer as needed.
Veterinary practices hire consultants to get something done, to act as change agents or to evaluate and improve practice culture. If you want something to happen and don't have the time or interest in doing it yourself, a consultant can get the project off the ground.
Again, hire someone with in-depth knowledge of veterinary practices. Using consultants who are not industry specific can almost guarantee you will spend extra time educating them about what makes veterinary medicine unique. That can complicate the process and lengthen the time before you get the results you need. Remember too that consultants in the industry work with many practices and accumulate ideas about what works well from all of them. On the other hand, you likely are familiar with only a handful of practices at best, and a consultant from outside the industry may know none.
In some cases, you may wish to have your advisors speak directly to each other, either with or without you being present. This is usually done to expedite the sharing of information and to ensure that nothing is "lost in translation" due to the complexity of the information to be shared. It can be frustrating to be the middle man when you are not comfortable with the jargon and playing this role can take a great deal of your time.
Many small business owners believe that they cannot afford to hire experts. In reality, in many situations, they can't afford
to! Consider the time it will take you to research the necessary information, read enough about it to handle the job yourself, and then actually do it. Now multiply the total by your fee for an office visit times the number of visits you normally see in the span of an hour. This will give you an estimate of what it may cost you to do the work yourself. Help is out there, you just need to ask for it.