Find Shit. Fix Shit. Make People Happy!

November 14th, 2014

Find Shit. Fix Shit. Make People Happy! Seven massively powerful words. In fact, my entire business strategy boiled down into its very essence. My mission statement if you like.

I’m a big picture kind of guy, so this type of thinking is what I do best, but in order for any strategy to work, you need to be able to work out the steps involved and translate them into the little things that everyone needs to do each day so your business hums along.

Behind each of the three sections of this headline lies a cascade of linked activities that when put together make for an effective, profitable veterinary hospital. Let me put some flesh on the bones of this strategy for you.

Big picture activity # 1: Find shit.

Finding shit starts with getting shit to walk through your door. Aka – having a marketing system that reliably drives people and pets to your practice. Think of the client journey into and through your practice. Think Google, think Facebook, think blogging, think dog park, think word of mouth. My entire marketing mantra is to create content, connect with potential and existing clients and develop relationships. Become the local pet celebrity. And when the time comes – convert that relationship capital into billable work in your practice.  Want to know more about how to do this? No worries. I wrote a book on how to do this which you can check out here.

The next step involves having a team members with some basic functionality. Eyes, ears and hands are a great start. But hiring people on the basis of having a degree and a pulse does not correlate well with success.

Recruitment and retention of the right team members is without doubt the biggest influencer on your clinical and financial outcomes.  It is also the most horribly neglected area I have seen.

There is so much to talk about here – lot’s of it I’ve said before. But if you’re new or want a refresher then I recorded a free webinar on this subject called the top five recruitment mistakes most vets make (& how to avoid them).

Big picture activity # 2: Fix shit.

You don’t get to fix shit (not enough shit to make for a profitable practice) unless people trust you to fix shit. This is an outrageously common reason practices fail to perform at the level required.

Failure, or worse still absolute refusal, to develop some rudimentary sales skills (listening, empathising, rapport building and not being afraid to fight in the corner of your patient when required.) is the number one reason animals with clinical need leave the practice without that need being addressed.

Secondary to this is the clinical ability of your team. When I bought my first practice everything (I mean everything – even ACTH stim testing) was being referred to a specialist. I’m not joking. If you don’t have the required talent in your practice to fix problems then you’re either going to screw things up and hurt animals, make clients unhappy, do no work, or live with some serious guilt of doing things badly.

If you’re going to be successful then you’re going to have to skill up. That means putting your hand in your pocket and investing in your own education, or paying someone else to come in and do things for you.

Which leads us nicely to…

Big picture activity # 3: Make people happy.

Our industry is littered with technically competent people who get their task done, but leave a trail of emotional devastation around them. We call them doctors.

The emotional vibe of a practice is discernable the second your walk in. Is there a spring in the step and a smile on the face of the receptionist? Is there evidence of a team working well, a tidy, well maintained facility? Laughter and camaraderie amongst the staff?

Or is there tension and conflict?

If it’s the later then you can bet this is rubbing off on your clients, your team, you and your family. Toxic culture will infect your life and is sure to lead to bad business and personal outcomes.

So who do you have to keep happy and how do you do it?

Your clients

Clients pay the bills, so making them happy comes first right? This is relatively easy – fix the problems they perceive and the ones you find. Manage their expectations, communicate clearly and don’t pull any nasty surprises. Job done.

Your colleagues

OK, now things get a little more tricky. We spend more time at work with our colleagues than we do with our families at home. So it really does pay to have good relationships.

Before we go on, you need to understand something about money and happiness. I’ll explain why in a second.

Above a certain threshold more money doesn’t make people any happier. The actual amount is the subject of some debate but the accepted value sits between US$50-$75,000. The unavoidable conclusion we can draw from this is that an awful lot of employees in veterinary practices are earning a level of income that is likely to mean they have significant financial stress in their life.

So imagine the level of job satisfaction in having to come to work and put up with the often poor behaviour of colleagues (I mean doctors) who do are paid above this level.

Us doctors and owners are frequently highly driven, task focussed types that struggle with alien things like emotions. This manifests itself in all manner of relationship wreaking behaviours – tantrums, sarcastic comments, snidey put-downs, dismissal of the feelings of others…

Add into this that we are on the other side of the financial fence, so do not always have the same pressures on our personal finances. I hope you can see the potential for an emotional disconnect.

The best cure for unhappiness in a practice is therefore to hire and develop a team who can form and maintain relationships with others. The name of the skillset required is emotional intelligence.

Though it is an elusive skill to master and often viewed as “airy-fairy”. It is highly rewarding to have the ability to manage your emotions such that everyone can have a good day clinically and emotionally.

The journey you go on in learning how to master your emotions is not an easy one. You will have to face down some demons. It’s hard work, it’s draining work. But even the most thick-skinned rhino can learn to manage their emotions and develop healthy relationships with those around them. I’m proof of that!

If you want to learn more about this, then look no further than Shawn McVey. I can personally attest to the value of his training.

Your boss

How do you make your boss happy? Easy. Find shit. Fix shit. Make people happy. And one more thing. Bill your shit properly. Done.

Your family

Often forgotten in business writing, but of most importance. Your family come first.

Happily, if you focus on the other three areas then I guarantee you that your family life will improve also. You see the skills of emotional intelligence come in just as handy at home as at work. Plus a successful business allows you more freedom.

Earning more money and being less stressed. Having more time away from the business because you are confident it runs well even when you are not there. Having time to see your kids grow up. These are the things we should work for.

We work to live, even those workaholic types like me…that’s the way it should be. Work to live, not the other way around. You’ll never look back and wish you’d worked another hour that week. You may well look back and wish you’d spent more time with your family and friends.

So there you go. My not-so-secret sauce that makes a veterinary business tick.

Now over to you. What do you think?

How to get exactly what you deserve

August 27th, 2014

Ever feel like you don’t get the returns that you think you are worth?

There are many opportunities in life where the energy we put in doesn’t seem to deliver the results we think it should.

Perhaps you put in 15 hrs a day on the front line of your business, yet make no profit and the business stagnates.

If you are in this situation then think about this.

You will get what you deserve. End of.

Put another way, if your day is spent doing $10/hour tasks, like email or photocopying – you’re really only worth paying $10/hour.

If you never get a second to attend to your own really important strategic things because you allow others to add their “urgent,” but trivial, things to your list then the impact you have on your business will itself be trivial.

Chances are, therefore, you are already getting precisely what you are worth.

To change your situation, my advice is to spend a lot of time each day thinking about and deciding what is important to get done, not being hijacked by what is urgently screaming to get done.

Only when you accomplish the important things will your circumstances begin to improve.

So what’s the most important thing you can do today, this week or this month?

What’s the biggest, ugliest and (perhaps hardest) thing that if it gets done will have an exponentially awesome effect on your business or life?

Once you work that out, get on it.

The leaks that are slowly draining your bucket

August 7th, 2014

We all focus very hard on getting new clients. Harder and faster with the emails, the mail shots and the adverts. (Always with the adverts.) We’ve become insanely focused on the new client sign ups, because we can measure these and if we are getting lots of new meat into our grinder then we’re all OK right?

Frequently though, we are doing nothing better with this approach than sinking very, very (almost imperceptibly) slowly. But make no mistake. A marketing strategy focused solely on turning the new client tap to ‘full gush’, will be guilty of making the error of letting those valuable existing clients, simply leak out the bottom. (And into your competitor’s bucket.)

Of course the hard part is spotting the leaks. No sorry, that’s not true. The hard part is being brave enough to look for the leaks. Here’s why.

If your active client numbers are stable, but you are registering 100 new clients each month, then take a wild guess at how many are leaking out from your bucket?

Think this might be an over exaggeration? Try it out. But only if you dare.

An Update from Recruitment Bootcamp, Gold Coast

March 25th, 2014
Nancy & Dave at Recruitment Bootcamp Gold Coast

Nancy & Dave at Recruitment Bootcamp Gold Coast

We had an awesome day here at Broadbeach, Gold Coast. There was excellent interaction with our delegates and good feedback on the material. Looked like a lot of light bulbs went off today. But OMG there were some really crazy recruitment and HR real life horror stories today. I’m so glad people came as help is definitely at hand. ;-)

Here’s what two of our attendees had to say…

Recruitment Bootcamp: Delegate Feedback from David Nicol on Vimeo.

If you want to come along there are two dates left.

Melbourne on Thursday 27th March and Sydney on Tuesday 1st April.

Click here to book a place today.

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March 14th, 2014

Recruitment Hot Tip: Softball questions get you nowhere

February 26th, 2014

Recruitment Bootcamp: Softball questions get you nowhere from David Nicol on Vimeo.

Nancy is now almost resigned to the seemingly endless mistakes Dave makes as he tries desperately to hire in a new vet. In this edition Dave's interview technique has let him down badly.

How to hire veterinary staff efficiently

February 17th, 2014

I have a mantra that flies in the face of everything you ever learned about recruitment. It’s simple.

“One Job. One Applicant. One Interview. Done.”

Sounds weird right? But when you stop and think about it, this approach makes a lot of sense.

Traditional veterinary recruitment (is broken)

Traditionally businesses divide the recruitment process into two stages.

Recruitment – where we cast our net far and wide when promoting our vacancy so we get lots of potential applicants. And then selection – the process of whittling down the applicants to our desired individual.

But based on the general level of staff engagement (which is low) and turnover (which is horrifically high in veterinary practice) I’d say there is compelling evidence that this approach is not yielding good results. In fact, I’d go further and say that this approach is largely responsible for a lot of the issues we have each day with our staff management.

A different way of recruiting (that works)

Last month a new client came on board with my recruitment business (Recruit Right for Vets) with a challenging brief – to hire a team member with experience who would take on the mantle of developing the team of nurses and driving standards forward in the practice.

Now here’s where we did things differently. Once upon a time my client would have sent out the same old job advert, and guess what. The advert would have looked a lot like everyone else’s – a generic snooze-fest that doesn’t accurately reflect the practice or the role.

Instead, I interviewed our client in depth – worked up a very detailed person specification and wrote an advert with language that ‘spoke’ only to someone who fit this profile. In the advert I included accurate descriptions of what the practice and job are like.

My client was keen, but understandably apprehensive, about doing things differently. He was also worried because the response was low, something he was not used to. I asked him to hold firm and not panic. And sure enough after two weeks a CV appeared – a very exciting CV indeed.

Fast forward through the various next steps of the unique recruitment process and I have just sent this applicant for her first and final interview. The role isn’t in the bag yet, but a better matching candidate I have yet to find. So barring any interview disasters, this ought to be a match made in heaven.

Was the process a little weird for my client?

Was my client nervous to receive so few CVs compared to previous campaigns?

Was my client able however to get more profitable work done, rather than sifting through multiple CVs and worse still, interviewing several hopeless candidates?

And ultimately because I used a scientifically rigorous process to check off skills and behaviours, does my client stand a better chance of hiring a 10/10 super star?
Categorically YES.

That is what the Recruit Right for Vets process brings to the veterinary world – a time effective, efficient and guaranteed* way of improving your greatest asset – your human resource.

So if you have the smarts, like my client in this blog, to understand that who you hire is the single biggest factor in determining your level of happiness and success then I’d like to invite you to come along to one of our recruitment intensive workshops to be held in March and April across Australia.

During the workshop – called Recruitment Bootcamp – yours truly, alongside my longtime mentor Nancy Slessenger, will teach you every step in our process so you can start to write great adverts, use time effective ways to rule out poor candidates and learn the secrets of how to perform an in practice interview that works.

The process was developed and honed in my own veterinary hospitals and has helped forward thinking practices across Australia, the UK and America to find great people for their clinics.

If that sounds like time well spent then head over to our registration page to find out more about the class (which is fully guaranteed – if you attend and don’t feel like it was worth it – we’ll give you your attendance fee back).

To your ongoing success in practice,

Dr Dave Nicol.

*Each of the services offered by Recruit Right for Vets comes with a guarantee, full details are available at

The top ten ways to screw up a recruitment interview

February 3rd, 2014

Do you make any of these mistakes? I bet you have made about five of these…

So what are your most common errors when recruiting?

Do you want to do things differently? If so then come along to Recruitment Bootcamp and find out how a different approach to recruitment can make your life in practice (a lot)  easier and net you about $100,000 per vet in additional revenue. Sound too good to be true, think again. Come to one of my bootcamps on recruitment and i’ll teach you the exact system I’m using to build my veterinary business.

I bought a hospital that was on it’s knees for pennies 2 years ago, now I’ve just opened my second hospital.

If you’re in Australia then click here to go to the bootcamp info page.

If you’re in the US then I’m exclusively presenting my bootcamp at all of the CVC conferences this year.

If you’re in the UK or else where and you’d like us to bring bootcamp to your region then let me know and if there’s enough support we can make this happen.


Dr D.

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Is your vet voice sabotaging performance?

December 7th, 2013

I’ve coached a lot of vets to help improve their outcomes from the consult room over the last five years. My latest client was an experienced doctor who had worked in some good jobs and clearly knew a lot about being a vet. But her boss was getting frustrated that her outcomes weren’t matching her pay grade.

After observing a few consultations it was apparent what the problem was and how we could fix it.

Preaching to the unconverted

the preacher

The Preacher

The vet’s consult structure wasn’t too bad – I could just about identify the seven key stages to delivering a great consult. But the thing that really jumped out at me was just how different her “Doctor persona” was from her “real persona”.

In person this vet was cheery and personable. The sort of individual you’d have no qualms about drinking a beer or two with after work.

So I was surprised when her style changed so dramatically when faced with a client. Instead of the happy, cheery person of a few moments previously, my student became what I would describe as The Preacher.

Her voice changed from a friendly and disarming tone, to a highly inflected delivery with the pace and pitch that a preacher might use while delivering a stern sermon about morality. Not condescending, but not far off.

This was combined with a bad habit of cutting a client off in mid-sentence about their pet’s problem, with an unnecessary and lofty mini-lecture that only served to distract away from the real issues.

The impact on the clients was obvious to see.

Killing rapport

In the face of the sermon clients simply shut down and though the vet seemed to be heading towards the right diagnoses and was making all the right recommendations, the clients were no longer listening.

The result was a poor conversion of pet problems into problems solved and a higher than normal dissatisfaction rate. (You can also bet that there was an impact on how many new client referrals this vet was preventing from happening).

After about ten consults it was time for feedback and we listening in to the consult recordings I had made.

My client was genuinely surprised how she came across – she had no idea just how she sounded to the client. I asked her how she would feel if her doctor spoke to her like this. She said her doctor did speak to her like this! So I asked her how it made her feel – she answered, “Frustrated as hell because I feel like my doctor isn’t listening”.  Bingo – I thought.

Creating distance is bad for relationships

The problem with being a preacher is that you are metaphorically placing yourself in the pulpit – distant from your audience. It’s a ‘one to many’ style of communicating. If you use this type of approach in the consult room ‘one to one’ then you are guaranteed to be creating an unhelpful distance between you and your client.

The oft-quoted truism that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is something that all members of a vet practice team would do very well to remember.

The ideal communication style you should be using is that of The Partner, not The Preacher. So let’s take our cues from other relationships in our life that are partnerships as to how we should communicate.

Table for one?

Would we, for example, come home to dinner, sit down on the opposite side of the table from our loved ones and begin a sermon-style dissection of the day’s events? Of course not! If you did then it wouldn’t take long before you found yourself quite lonely at that table.

When we sit with friends or family we are more likely to listen, we chat, we laugh, and we relax.  If it’s a healthy relationship then we are likely to be engaging as equals. All things that would help us to form better relationships with our clients in the consult room too.

Authenticity wins the day

The advice I gave my client was simply this. Don’t be afraid to use your own voice. When you use someone else’s voice (unless you’re a very good actor) then you risk coming across as inauthentic or ‘phony’. Nothing kills rapport and trust faster than phony.

Add in The Preacher style on top of this and you have almost no chance of creating the rapport needed to build trust in what you are saying. And in most cases, if you want someone to follow your advice, then they first have to trust you.

We role-played a few consults and then tried out the more relaxed style with the clients. At first it was clearly a struggle and my client had a hard time not slipping back into character, but before long we had warm handshakes and smiles to greet the clients, some jokes creeping in and crucially, the pet owners were allowed to finish their stories before my client began to speak.

The right small changes often yield big results

I’ll be keeping tabs on how thing progress over the coming months but the objectives were to reduce client complaints and increase uptake of services for this talented vet.

If she can keep on being ‘real’ in the consult room, then there is every reason to think that she’ll achieve both things in short order. I’ll let you know how things go.

In the meantime, here’s an interesting exercise for you to try out. Record yourself having a normal conversation and then record yourself having a conversation with a client. Most of us have a different voice. The question is how different?

Don’t be afraid to use your real voice

We all have a vet voice when we go into the consult room or call up a client. To a certain extent we need it for the same reason we don’t feel comfy with having our clients as our friends on Facebook – work and play are different things and there are areas that it just doesn’t pay to completely overlap.

I know that my consult room style is a mix up of me plus all the great things I’ve seen and learned from my Veterinary Heroes – the superstars I learned from over the years.

Those of you that know me personally will laugh when I tell you how I know I also have a vet voice.

My consults are largely full of the same mischief and fun as every other part of my life. The different is they have a clear structure and the one other dead give away that I’m in character – I don’t swear. Ever!

So tell me what things you do and say in the consult room that you’d never do elsewhere. The best story in the comment box below wins a free copy of my ebook.

Dr D.

CVC San Diego -will you be there? Let’s meet up for a drink.

October 29th, 2013

Hi Hamster Wheelers, one of the reasons I set up this blog and linkedin group over three years and a thousand members ago, was to encourage dialogue and networking on the tough issues we face. If we all take a bite then big problems can be consumed pretty fast.

So in that spirit, who is heading to CVC San Diego this week end?

I’ll be there delivering my Lifting the Hood: modern vet management lectures on Sunday. But on Saturday night myself and the good Dr Andy Roark will be hosting a rather more informal “beer summit”. Unbelievably you can actually pick up CE credits for this 2 hour session. (No we didn’t bribe anyone and no, that’s not a nice thing to suggest).

So come along on Saturday night (2nd November) to our session which does have a bar parked in the back of the room and we’ll be kicking around the topical management issues that matter to you guys. And of course well be delivering the show in our usual stuffy and formal style.

Also, I think, well the CVC told me, it was going to be on a beach…..

Also check out some feedback from previous delegates in last year’s promo (remember the date has changed for this year!)

So we’ll see you there right? right??? guys…where’d you go…guys?