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The SWOT Analysis Beginner's Guide for Veterinary Clinics

Opening a veterinary practice is never easy; there are unique challenges in the industry, in the market, and even in your region that need to be accounted for, planned around, or otherwise circumvented if you want to succeed.

Unfortunately, success as a vet involves a lot more than just love and passion for the health of animals.

Opening a veterinary practice or growing an existing practice is a significant endeavor. It requires a lot of planning, and part of that planning is going to be the business side of the practice. That's where the SWOT Analysis comes in.

Whether you've heard of the term before – or even studied enough business to know in broad terms what it is – or you're seeing it for the first time, let's go through what it means for a veterinary clinic and how it can help you open, grow, and succeed in business.

What is a SWOT Analysis?

A SWOT Analysis is a kind of analytic examination of a business prospect. It's a framework and a way of weighing any given situation to understand the unique situation and challenges that a business might face.

SWOT is an acronym for:

  • Strengths

  • Weaknesses

  • Opportunities

  • Threats

Taken together, these four categories can give you a robust impression of the current market and area surrounding your business or project. The SWOT Analysis is a useful tool for pretty much any project, from small to large, and it's something routinely performed by large organizations before embarking on something that could be very risky, prone to failure, or very costly if something goes wrong unexpectedly.

How to Perform a SWOT Analysis

The actual act of performing a SWOT Analysis isn't very formalized. Since the framework itself is very broad and open-ended, the process is personalized and informal.

What this means is, to do it, you need to gather the people critical to your project in a meeting and discuss it. Even something as simple as a Zoom meeting with a shared Google Doc page can be enough; you just need to be able to talk, think critically about the situation, and discuss various points.

One key is that if someone brings up a point to make, your purpose is not to refute that point. Write it down, and address it later. The goal is to gain a comprehensive picture of the market and the challenges you may face. Once you have that, then you can switch to problem-solving mode and address the challenges you may face preemptively.

An important aspect of a SWOT analysis is that it's essentially a four-quadrant grid of factors. You have the positives and the negatives, and you have the internal and the external. Positive internal is strengths, and positive external is opportunities. Negative internal is challenges, while negative external is threats. Thinking in this framework is important for categorizing each element of the business atmosphere.

SWOT for Vets: Breaking it Down

It's one thing to put all the definitions in vague terms, and it's quite another to see it in action. So, let's invent a hypothetical veterinary practice, Cityname Veterinary Services, and examine their situation in Cityname.

Examining the Strengths of the Clinic

First up, you want to list out the various strengths you may have as a practice in your area. Whether you're opening a new clinic, opening a new branch of an existing clinic, or just trying to grow your existing clinic, you're going to have particular strengths. The strengths are things that are, if not entirely unique to you, at least better than average. For example, you don't want to list "provides care for cats and dogs" as a strength because every vet is going to offer those services.

Some examples of possible strengths include:

  • Comprehensive services. Your clinic can provide end-to-end services and support, from emergency and critical care to diagnosis, to treatment of urgent issues and ongoing chronic problems, to preventative care. If you offer services the average vet doesn't, like on-site surgery, specialized oncology care, a lab to perform more precise diagnostics, or you have a standing relationship with specialized consultants, it can be a good selling point.

  • Emphasis on expert staff. One potential strength could be a focus on hiring exclusively highly-skilled veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and vets-in-training rather than using untrained or less animal-focused individuals for some of your staff.

  • Investment in new technologies. Many veterinary practices end up stagnating because the investment necessary to adopt new technologies, new treatments, and new diagnostic tools can be high. Whether it's continuing education, new and expensive machines, or just keeping on top of treatment options, if you promote a cutting-edge investment, you can count it as a strength.

  • Offering specialized or unique services. Above, we mentioned that every vet is likely to be treating cats and dogs; do you have something to set you apart? Maybe you have a vet on staff who specializes in lizards and amphibians. Maybe you have a bird expert. Maybe you have someone with a passion for pet insects. Maybe you have the equipment and training to treat livestock like horses and cows. Alternatively, maybe you provide specialty services, like dentistry, a grooming room, nutrition services, or oncology.

  • Promoting employee health. Mental health for vets is a significant challenge, so by promoting a positive work environment for everything from your receptionists to your vets, you may be able to set yourself apart.

As you go, you can also list why some of these are strengths. For example, offering comprehensive services can be attractive to pet owners who don't want to have to bounce from location to location for their appointments. Investing in specialized services, meanwhile, can offer additional revenue streams by treating animals that normally wouldn't be able to find treatment locally. It can be a niche that is otherwise locally untapped.

Examining the Weaknesses of the Clinic

At some point, you will need to admit that you aren't perfect and you can't cover every base. Every clinic is going to have weaknesses, whether they're a result of just starting out, branching off from another practice, or even just trying to enter a market where there are already several competitors. Unlike strengths, weaknesses don't need to be unique; they can be challenges that every practice in the area faces but that nevertheless need to be addressed.

Examples of weaknesses for a veterinary clinic include:

  • The high initial investment. Opening a new veterinary clinic has a lot of expenses attached to it, including finding or building an office, buying all of the machines, furniture, and tools you need, locating vendors, finding relationships for outsourced testing or services, hiring staff, building a website, marketing, and more. Without enough money, you may struggle; trying to take on more than you can afford is a sure way to fail.

  • Lack of strengths. If you've examined the area and the industry, and you find that there's very little to set you apart, it may be hard to compete. If you don't have the training for unique treatments or the finances for cutting-edge diagnostics, how do you stand out from the other practices that can offer those options? There's always some way, but it can be very difficult to find that way sometimes.

  • Seasonality. Seasonal challenges can be significant in veterinary care. Certain kinds of ailments and injuries can be very seasonal, and there are also seasonal swings in demand, particularly amongst things like livestock, where breeding seasons can be tightly controlled. Seasonal challenges mean you may find yourself struggling financially for certain parts of the year.

  • Compliance issues. As a vet and a medical provider, you need to follow local, state, and even federal regulations and many of those regulations can be obtuse, difficult to understand, or go against what seems to be common sense. When violations can ruin a practice, it's a strict requirement, but you may need legal counsel to help navigate it.

One note here that you may have noticed is that local competition is not listed as a weakness. Weaknesses are things inherent to your practice, your location, your skills, and the atmosphere surrounding you. Things like the competition fall under the Threats category and will be discussed later.

Examining the Opportunities of the Clinic

External positive aspects of the SWOT analysis are the opportunities that may be available to you. These can include opportunities you can use to grow or take advantage of niches, as well as ways you can find a unique role within your area.

In the case of Cityname Veterinary Services, it might include things like:

  • Need for services. Cityname only has two existing veterinary clinics, neither of which provides specialized oncology or dermatology services; by providing those services, you can tap a market that is otherwise untapped.

  • Existing support. Cityname has a robust network of animal rescues and small-scale clinics that offer adoptions, catch-spay-release for strays, educational programs, and even sources for specialized pet food. By partnering with local organizations, you can tap resources that can help you grow faster than if you had to establish all of those connections from scratch.

  • Marketing opportunities. Your competition in Cityname is old and established; they've been the only game in town for so long that they don't really invest in marketing or customer relations. By hitting the scene with a robust digital marketing plan, a good content marketing setup, a well-made website and app for appointment management, and a focus on customer relations, you can position yourself as uniquely attentive.

  • Local Opportunities. Cityname happens to have a convention center, and that convention center happens to host an annual veterinary convention and seminar. By helping to sponsor and organize this event, you can build connections and leverage them for growth in the area.

Depending on your location and the existing environment, some of the opportunities may already be tapped by the competition. Sometimes, you can undercut them and sneak in; other times, those opportunities may not actually be available. The only way to know for sure is to try.

Examining the Threats to the Clinic

The external challenges you'll face, the threats, are generally those coming from the competition in the area. However, there are some external factors that can be larger or harder to predict.

Threats can include:

  • The competition. This is always the number one threat in an area: the other veterinary clinics offering similar services. This can be especially difficult to handle if some of the competition includes corporate vet networks with near-infinite resources to spend against you if they choose to do so. Sometimes, though, especially if there are other independent clinics, you may even be able to form partnerships and synergistic services instead of competition.

  • General economic issues. In times when recessions hit, unemployment is high, and income is tight, spending on veterinary services can drop. This is especially relevant if some of your strengths and unique opportunities include optional services like grooming that pet owners might not be willing to spend on in hard times.

  • Resistance to the new. Sometimes, an area has a lot of people invested in alternative care, and they may be suspicious of anyone promoting new scientific and medical options. Sometimes, people are just skeptical of experimental or new treatments. Sometimes, the fact that new treatments are often more expensive than existing options just means there won't be much interest. It's all part of the same broad challenge you face opening a new clinic.

Unfortunately, external threats are some of the hardest to predict unless you've been part of the local area and vet scene for some time and have already experienced them from another angle. Others, like economic downturns, aren't predictable at all. The best you can do is prepare for the worst.

Ways to Find Strengths and Opportunities

Finding ways to set your veterinary clinic apart from the competition is a key element to establishing yourself and growing a new practice. However, it's also not uncommon that you're going to struggle to find a way to set yourself apart. It's not like veterinary care is new, and most locations have at least two or three practices that have been in this struggle for years or decades.

One option available to you is contracting outside services for help. That's where we come in. At Hope Vet, we offer specialty consulting services for complex care, internal medicine, dermatology, oncology, neurology, and more. All of these can be unique ways to tap a market you otherwise wouldn't be able to. If that interests you, please reach out, and we can discuss your needs.

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