The rise of the digital veterinary entrepreneur

Do you consider yourself a veterinary entrepreneur? Explore ways to reach beyond private practice and diversify your income digitally.

We are experiencing unprecedented times. No one could have planned for a global pandemic (it’s not something that happens in most people’s lifetimes), and it is forcing us to do a lot of re-evaluation – including a re-evaluation of our income sources.

For many veterinarians, although they have had to implement new rules and restrictions, work has carried on as usual. For others, the circumstances of COVID-19 have precipitated a sudden drying up of income. Whether practice hours have been significantly reduced or completely eliminated, the question facing many veterinary professionals has become: “How can I use my professional medical expertise to generate income that doesn’t involve practicing? “

Thinking entrepreneurially is not something most of us have much training in. I recall a single lecture at my university called “Vets in Industry”, and to be honest, I didn’t concentrate very much during that class! I mean, when you are studying to be a vet, who wants to think about anything other than being a vet?

In truth, however, our veterinary degrees open many doors for us that we have not learned to recognize and exploit. In addition to academia, public health, and industry settings where we can work – including pharmaceutical and nutrition companies, and diagnostic services — we are now also seeing the rise of the veterinary entrepreneur.

I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset, and I believe this sense of being both a vet and an innovator has contributed to the enjoyment, excitement, and passion I derive from my career. Diversifying has also brought financial rewards. From the time I qualified as a veterinarian, I have always been thinking of other avenues I could explore, in addition to direct patient care.

Limitations of consulting

We all love what we do, but we have to acknowledge some limitations in the way we do it. Face-to-face consulting is time bound. We can only see a certain number of clients in a certain length of time, and for that reason, there is a ceiling to our daily earning potential. Even if we throw teleconsulting into the mix, we are still limited by our time.

In my first years of running my vet rehab clinic, Holisticvet, this limitation became very apparent. I was nearly fully booked but not really making much money. So I started to think about ways I could serve my clients that were not restricted by time.

I did what many of us do – I opened a shop in my practice  and started selling products that my clients and patients needed, such as Sticky Paws, harnesses, life jackets, joint supplements, and holistic dog food. Soon, almost every client coming in for their pet’s acupuncture or underwater treadmill therapy was walking out with something they’d bought. The added income to my practice was noticeable, and I opened a profit account for the first time. Yay! I was finally making a profit.

But I didn’t stop there. A lot of these products were unavailable at veterinary practices and through local distributors, so I had to import many of the hard-to-obtain items directly from manufacturers into South Africa where I live, which presented a steep learning curve. Since I was the only person importing these goods regularly, I began ordering more and distributing them to vets and other vet rehabilitation therapists. I created an online shop and sold the products there as well, posting or couriering items to buyers. This became a business within a business, and brought an immediate boost to my income. That was just the beginning of becoming a veterinary entrepreneur.

Solving a problem

Every good business solves a problem. If you can think of a group of people who have a problem, and you can find a way to solve it, chances are you have the seeds of a business idea. Consumers will pay for a product or service that solves their problem.

I am a problem-solving kind of person, and got into product manufacturing through a specific problem I wanted to solve. When a patient needed a product that we didn’t have and I couldn’t source, I made it myself. The product was a brace for a dog with an angular limb deformity. Nothing existed that would fit, so I spent many hours with a needle and thread, thermoplastic, Velcro, and neoprene trying to get this product right. Eventually, I created what today is known as a thermomould – a brace that, when immersed in warm water, becomes malleable, and then cools and hardens around the dog’s leg.

Other products followed, and I was soon into full-scale product manufacturing and distributing. I loved everything about it – except that the perfectionist and control freak in me was a little obsessed with quality control. A good thing, I suppose, because quality is always a challenge in manufacturing.

I continued thinking of ways to diversity. Part of the impetus was my desire to do more to help more animals. Owners in far-flung places would phone, desperately seeking rehabilitative help for their pets. I knew exactly what exercises the animal needed, but could not get to the patient. I hated the fact that I could not get to a dog in a small town ten hours away, when I knew just what the dog needed! At first I’d try to find a therapist close by, but in those days veterinary rehabilitation was still new in South Africa, and very few were available. So I started helping owners by explaining exercises via Skype and emailing PDFs of exercises to the owners. Sending videos was not yet a readily available tool.

The increasing number of faraway people seeking help opened my eyes to a business opportunity; clients needed easy-to-follow demonstrations of rehabilitative and preventative exercises for their dogs, packaged in an inexpensive way. I needed to create something online that would help all pet owners. I started with e-books and eventually developed three online courses. I developed three popular courses: a 12-week strengthening program, a massage course, and my  “7-minute doggie workout”. These were all programs I had used successfully in my clinic.

Each one of these projects became an additional source of income.

Gradually I added pet owner workshops, lecturing, TV presenting, and brand consulting to the pie. And so when pregnant with my second child in 2014, I was able to take a sabbatical from practice, relying on all the additional sources of income I had created.

The digital vet

During this period at home, I started a new project called Onlinepethealth.com. It is a subscription-based, online learning platform for veterinary rehabilitation therapists. Everything I do now is online and from my home office. I have a hand in helping animals all over the world through serving the vet rehab therapists in the online community I’ve created.

I’m often asked if I miss practicing. And yes, while there are certain aspects I do miss, I get the same emotional reward from helping the people who help animals. I know I am positively affecting many young vet rehab therapists and far more animals this way. The one thing I love about working online is that geographics are never a limitation. I have members in 52 different countries; we even have a rehab therapist in Iceland.

I may well go back to practicing when my children are older. For now, though, I am bursting with ideas on using the digital space to generate income (see below for 11 ideas you can implement yourself).

Having and loving pets is never going to go out of fashion, and veterinary professionals will always have a role to play, as long as we read the signs of the times, think creatively. and use our entrepreneurial muscles. You might just have the next big idea to further help animals, pet owners, and other veterinary professionals worldwide. 

11 ideas to inspire your own entrepreneurial spirit

Here are some basic ways to use the technology at our disposal to create something new, exciting, and helpful – and generate more income!

1. Create an online course

Courses can be delivered in short videos using sites such as udemy.com, or you can host your own using software such as teachable.com. Alternatively, you can hire a developer to build a site for you. Most of us have so much we can teach others, but we just don’t realize it. Snoutschool, founded by Danielle Lambert, is a group of female pet professionals doing just that. The #snoutsquad, as they are called, work together, empowering one another to generate incomes online. They offer a social media course for veterinary practices. Visit  https://snoutschool.com/about/ to learn more.

2. Create a membership-only platform

Membership sites are subscription-based learning platforms where you continually develop content for an audience. This content is accessible on a website which only your members can access with a specific login and password. You could create a membership site for a specific audience of pet owners — for example, “Managing your arthritic pet”. See my own subscription service as an example: https://onlinepethealth-info.com/.

3. Write a book

Publishing a book used to be difficult. You needed an approved publisher, and it could take years before someone accepted your manuscript. Nowadays, anyone can self-publish through Amazon on Kindle, and you can even have a paperback version published as well. I believe we all have unique knowledge and insight, and there is a book inside each of us. Share your genius! Once in book form, your knowledge can benefit generations to come.

Veterinarian Dr. Dave Nicol wrote a book to help new veterinary graduates by sharing the lessons he learned over the years that he was not taught in vet school. His book is called You’re a vet … …..now what? (https://www.drdavenicol.com/product-page).

4. Write e-books

Veterinary rehab therapist Carolyn Mcintyre created her own e-book, entitled Warm up and Cool down of the Canine Athlete. She sells it on her website shop for $28

5. Create an app

Guavavet is a recruitment app that uses artificial intelligence to link employees with the right veterinary practice. It was developed by veterinarian Dr. Aubrey Kumm.

6. Create software

Veterinarians (and clients) involved in software development are usually pushed into the field by frustration with the software that they are currently using. They get to the point where they say, “I am just going to make my own!” Some examples include VetBadger, Teletails, and Televet.

7. Invent and manufacture a product

Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby invented Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips, small rubber rings that slide onto the nails of dogs to increase their grip zone and help prevent slipping.

8. Start a podcast

Veterinarians Hubert Hiemstra and Gerardo Poli started “The Vet Vault”, a podcast dedicated to helping vets find a work-life balance. Once a podcast develops a following with enough downloads, it can usually be monetized through sponsors.

9. Create a blog with affiliate links

Create links to products on your blog that allow your readers to purchase recommended products. Amazon has an affiliate system that tracks the origin of referrals, and you can receive a commission of up to 10% for every sale you refer. If customers purchase other products at the same time, you earn a commission on those products, too. Consider establishing this affiliate referral system with other companies, especially if there are certain products you recommend regularly.

10. Start a YouTube channel

Dr. Evan Antin created a channel for pet owners and has nearly 40,000 subscribers. With enough views, your channel can be monetized. Advertisers pay Dr. Antin every time someone watches one of his videos, with their advert preceding each of his.

11. Become Instafamous

With over 1.3 million followers on Instagram, Dr. Antin used this popular platform to launch his own brand of wellness products called Happy Pet.

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