S1E6: Behind the Scenes of a Holistic Veterinary Care Business

In this episode of the Candid Conversations small business podcast, your co-hosts Dan and Sagan interview Dr. Linda Hamilton of Natural Healing Veterinary Care. Dr. Linda shares why she quit her job and started her own business, tips for other people thinking about starting a bricks-and-mortar business, how she created her brand, and what it’s been like to have friends and family members as employees.

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Show Notes

0:00 Introduction to the podcast Thinking about starting your own bricks-and-mortar business? Get the inside scoop on what you need to think about when setting up your business, how quickly one business owner was able to get her small business up and running, branding tips for your small business, and more in this podcast episode!

00:45 Update on our business

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2:40 Managing relationships with starting a business

“One of the things I’ve found important with starting a business is finding the time to equally prioritize other things in your life.” – Dan

“It’s tricky to navigate that and have the balance… It’s interesting for both of us coming into this with a different way of managing business.” – Sagan

“Ask yourself, ‘how are relationships going to apply in your business?’ ” – Dan

“Regardless of the type of business you have, you need to figure out the relationships in your business and try to navigate that in your personal life and your working relationships. There’s a lot to take into consideration and it’s extremely important to pay attention to that and to prioritize figuring that out — because it would be so easy to neglect communicating with all of that, and everything would go downhill very quickly! It’s important everyone’s on the same page and that all voices are heard for everyone who happens to be involved.” – Sagan

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6:15 Introduction to Dr. Linda Hamilton of Natural Healing Veterinary Care

6:55 About Dr. Linda’s background as a veterinarian

8:10 On shifting her perspective about Traditional Chinese Medicine

“I went from being very closed-minded to leaning forward and going, ‘wow, there’s something to this,’ because they actually talked about the science of acupuncture and chiropractic.” – Linda

10:00 Why quit your job and start your own practice?

“From the time I graduated from vet college, I never wanted to be a businesswoman! I thought, ‘there’s no way I want to worry about a building and staff and ordering medications and worrying about whether machinery works… I said, right from the get-go, I would never ever ever own my own business, I would never be the boss, I wanted to be the employee and focus on veterinary medicine. And I did that for 20-some-odd years.” – Dr. Linda

“But it’s interesting because as you go along in your job, and this pertains to any industry, you spend the first part of your career so focused on learning. And after a while, you get better at it and more comfortable at it, and it gets easier because it’s more familiar. I started having ideas for the business I worked at as an employee: ‘gee, if we did this, it might help with business or it might help educate people or it might help with the animals.’ Over time, I became more and more involved with seeing how the business was running and having ideas for how it could be better. Unfortunately my boss at the time didn’t really encourage that or embrace that. It came to a point where I thought, ‘I could probably do this better.’ It wasn’t until I started doing acupuncture that I realized I wanted to leave regular veterinary medicine behind and go down this really cool and weird and wonderful path of alternative medicine. It came down to a difference of opinions between my old boss and me. That’s when I decided to quit my job and open my own business.” – Dr Linda

13:45 What were some of the issues you had seen your previous boss making?

“I started thinking, ‘we could make the appointments better if we did it this way, or we could manage the staff better if we did this differently, or if we mastered this technique or spent more time with people to explain medical conditions, it would also be better for business.” – Dr. Linda

“Veterinary medicine was becoming very compartmentalized. You can think of this for any business that’s changing: 12 years ago, veterinary medicine was changing so that the vet would only be in the room for maybe 5 minutes. The technician would go in and do all the work with talking to the client. My boss wanted to progress down that path and I didn’t want to go that way. I knew people wanted to spend time and talk about things. My appointments now, in alternative medicine, are at least a half an hour long. People want that. We need to spend that much time. I could see that people wanted to talk.” – Dr. Linda

“Business is all about relationships, so that’s important.” – Sagan

16:45 How long did it take you to quit your job and create your own bricks-and-mortar business?

“From the time I went to my husband and said, ‘I want to start my own business,’ to the time that I left my old job, was around 7 months.” – Dr. Linda

“If you’re thinking about starting a business, approach other people you know! Use your connections. The vast majority of people who own their own businesses love talking about it; they love to share all the difficulties and about what works and what doesn’t work in business.” – Dr. Linda

“Everything happens all at once. I knew I wanted to live in Winnipeg, so on the weekends while I was still working at my old job, I literally started driving up and down streets to look for possible buildings to lease.” – Dr. Linda

21:55 Donated ad: shoutout to Women’s Health Clinic Get the inside scoop on how this holistic veterinarian switched from Western medicine to Traditional Chinese Medicine, what she learned about being a small business owner and branding her business, and why she decided to create a bricks-and-mortar business for her veterinary care services. Click on over to get the goods!

“Women’s Health Clinic is truly a fantastic organization and a real cornerstone of the Winnipeg community.” – Sagan

Donate to support women through health services, education, and advocacy at WomensHealthClinic.org/donate

22:50 Tips for people who are looking to set up their bricks-and-mortar business

“You have to know what you want to do. I knew I wanted to accommodate the entire city rather than a particular neighbourhood because I was the only person doing this. I wanted to be in the centre of the city so I could be accessible and visible. I had to decide if I wanted to be a bricks-and-mortar business or do house calls (which would be way cheaper!), or if I wanted to rent a room from a vet clinic and do acupuncture that way. But because I was doing acupuncture at my old job already, I had an idea of what I wanted: a calm, quiet place, that wasn’t like a regular vet clinic. I started having my patients come to see me at the end of the day when the building was cleared out and it worked really well. If I did acupuncture on my lunch hour at my old job, the animals weren’t as calm because the phones were ringing, there were dogs barking, there were people around; the energy was different. Going to people’s homes would be cheaper, but I like to go in and touch and see things; I like going into buildings and stores rather than buying online. I was basing my bricks-and-mortar building based on what I liked. I wanted people to walk in my door and say, ‘what is this place? What do you do?’ and that’s why I went the more expensive route of going for a bricks-and-mortar business.” – Dr. Linda

“That’s interesting too, that you made your choice of having a bricks-and-mortar business essentially because you wanted that as part of your band.” – Sagan

26:20 Did you realize that you were setting up your brand and niche and backup plan in place?

“You also chose a very specific type of niche that no one else was doing, which can certainly propel a business toward success, and you had a backup plan in place, which is great — knowing that you could always go back and work for a veterinarian at a regular clinic.” – Sagan

“It was very organic, how I chose my brand and set up my business. At the time, I didn’t set out and say, ‘I’m going to have a niche practice and particular brand;’ I just knew that that was working for me. I had a vision, and then when you step back you can look at it and see how it all comes into play. If I’d done things wrong, for example if I’d rented a room in a vet clinic, I think I would have found out really quickly that it wasn’t working: I’d have had to play by their rules and their time.” – Dr. Linda

“When you’re going into business, can you work either part time at it, or can you kind of see how things will work, and get it in your mind if you want it this way or that way. Was I registering this in my brain at the time? I don’t think so. But in hindsight, I knew what I wanted.” – Dr. Linda

29:40 Managing full-time employees: what that’s like

“In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we talk about putting something out to the universe and it will come back.” – Dr. Linda

“The evolution of working with employees, what you say on the phone and everything, we worked on that. We had scripts. This was a slow evolution of how we got to be to where we are now. Initially I coached them through everything.” – Dr. Linda

33:45 On working with friends and family

“There needs to be strong, healthy relationships in place prior to going into business. You need to have a good idea of how do we move forward with having your children or your friends as employees; what does all of that look like for everyone involved?” – Sagan

“You have to have the right person as your employee. Business and life are all about communication.” – Dr. Linda

“It’s important to choose an employee who is a good fit for your personality and for your brand.” – Sagan

36:40 On branding

“Brand, culture, these are business buzzwords. I didn’t know about any of that when I started. But I did realize that because I was already doing this in a regular practice, I knew I needed a quiet place. I also understood that color and furniture were important for a relaxed atmosphere.” – Dr. Linda

“I didn’t think about what my brand was going to be, I don’t have a mission statement, but I just knew what I needed and that I wanted a place where people could be comfortable. I needed everything to look good but also be easy to clean, too.” – Dr. Linda

“My brand, my culture, was calm, relaxed, quiet, smells good, clean.” – Dr. Linda

42:10 What tips or advice would you provide to anyone who wants to start their own business?

“You have to have passion with whatever it is. You’re not going to be a success unless you’re focused 110% on your business.” – Dr. Linda

“No one cares about your business more than you: your spouse doesn’t, your kids don’t, your employees don’t; if you’re a sole business owner, you’re the one who cares the most. As a business person, you also have to know about all facets of your business. What your business is, for me as a veterinarian, is a full-time job. Then, a whole other full-time job is running that business! They are two different things, and if you’re open 8 or 10 hours a day doing veterinary acupuncture like I was when I first started, then you still have to have 4 or 5 or 6 hours for business management — maybe first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and certainly on weekends. When you first open, it might be 6 days a week. You have to know that you’re going to be devoted to your business all day. You can work the first 18 hours of the day or the last 18 hours of the day. When you sleep, you dream about your business. You are consumed by your business. You have to learn so much and be open-minded. You have to know how your business is set up, even if you hire a bookkeeper.” – Dr. Linda If you've ever wondered about what it's like start a bricks-and-mortar business and how to brand your business, NOW'S your chance to learn all about it in this small business podcast episode! You'll get branding tips and find out how one small business owner identified the type of culture and feel she wanted for her business, plus suggestions on how to navigate having friends and family for employees.

“You have to have your hands on all aspects of your business in order to be a successful business owner. If you’re not willing to do that and you don’t have a partner that’s willing to do that, I don’t think you can be a success in your business, whatever it is.” – Dr. Linda

46:15 Thanks for listening!

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46:50 Outtake 🙂

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Find out what Linda’s up to now in our book, A Year in the Life of Candid Conversations: Behind the Scenes of Creating a Podcast From Scratch.

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