Start a veterinary practice by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your veterinary practice. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a veterinary practice?
Every veterinary clinic owner will tell you that location is paramount to your business’ success. Choosing an area that isn’t saturated with clinics and with lots of pets (and/or farm animals) will help ensure regular business. It can prove beneficial to hire a veterinary consultant, who can help analyze your area regarding average salaries and demographics.
Below is a list of the additional supplies you’ll need, along with approximations of how much to budget for:
- Medical/Surgical equipment - $40,000
- Lab equipment - $30,000
- Kennel equipment - $5,000
- Waiting room/Examination rooms setup - $10,000
- Clerical/Bookkeeping setup - $2,000
- Practice management software - $3,500
- Insurance - $2,000
- Marketing materials - $2,300 - $8,000
If you have the capital to start with, many veterinarians have found success through purchasing a book of clients from an established vet upon opening their doors.
Opening this kind of business can be expensive--consider speaking with a loaning agency to determine whether a loan is available for starting a veterinary clinic.
What are the ongoing expenses for a veterinary practice?
Veterinary clinics must keep a steady supply of prescription medicine on hand at all times - their patient’s lives often depend upon it. Your inventory of medicine and specialty food will prove to be one of the greatest ongoing expenses. Until your business grows, you’ll also need to dedicate a portion of your monthly budget for a marketing strategy.
Your largest and most important expense, however, will be payroll. Your staff is both on the frontline and behind the scenes making sure the business runs like a well-oiled machine. Customers will come in contact with them more than anyone else. Treat your employees as the valuable asset they are and the business will be rewarded accordingly.
Who is the target market?
If you’ve decided to enter into a more specialized veterinary field, such as equine, surgical, or emergency care, the bulk of your clients will fall under that category. Standard veterinary clinics treat lizards, birds, and everything in between, for both routine and “sick” visits.
How does a veterinary practice make money?
Veterinary clinics charge a flat office visit fee. Services for testing, X-rays, and prescribed medicine are added to the bill individually, depending upon the needs of the patient.
How much can you charge customers?
Clinic visit fees range anywhere from $35 to $150, depending upon the demographics of your area. To help you create competitive pricing, obtain a price list from others in your general area. Traditional prescription medications are typically marked up 2.5 times cost, while preventives and chronic-use medications are set at approximately 1.5-2 times cost. Vaccine prices can be set based on historical pricing and food should be set at MSRP.
How much profit can a veterinary practice make?
The veterinary field was projected to realize a 9% growth from 2014 to 2024, higher than the average for most occupations. In May of 2015, the lowest 10% averaged less than $54,000 annually, while the highest 10% averaged more than $158,000. The median wage for veterinarians was $88,490 annually.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Veterinary offices have reported higher earnings by offering the following additional goods and services:
- Become certified through The American College of Veterinary Surgeons, which will allow you to open a hospital that specializes in emergency situations and more serious illnesses.
- Become a provider for pet insurance companies that offer benefits correlating with the services you offer.
- Accept multiple forms of payment, including credit cards, cash, pet insurance, and CareCredit.
- Specialize in large animals such as horses, cows, and other farm animals.
- Maintain an inventory of products you believe in, such as food, skincare products, and toys.
- Offer mobile services. Many clinics have partnered with grocery stores and pharmacies, scheduling a mobile staff to be on site several weekends a month. This attracts a group of customers you might otherwise not have come in contact with.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your veterinary practice is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, and it's easy enough to form by yourself, or check out the top business formation services.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
When practicing veterinary science in most states it is necessary to obtain a veterinary license from a board certification. Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a veterinarian business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply.
For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Labor safety requirements
It is important to comply with all Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements.
Relevant regulations include:
- Appropriate hazard identification
- Proper safety precautions when operating potentially dangerous equipment
Certificate of Occupancy
A veterinary clinic is generally run out of an office building. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a veterinary business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
How to promote & market a veterinary practice
There are a number of ways to let the pet-owning community know you’ve opened your doors. Every modern business owner should have a website and social media pages. These are great tools for educating and attracting those within the community. You could also advertise on the radio and in the neighborhood newsletters.
Some clinics have realized great success through partnering with other local businesses. Connect with a local groomer in the area and offer discounts for each referral. It’s also a great idea to host an open house when your business is ready to open. This gives both parties an opportunity to meet each other and determine if it’s a good fit.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Pet owners often feel as protective of their animals as they do their children. Thus, word of mouth will be your greatest form of advertisement. If you hire a friendly and knowledgeable staff, deliver excellent customer service, and high-quality medicine, word will spread quickly.
To ensure your clients remain repeat customers, it’s also a great idea to develop an outreach program in which previous clients are reminded to bring their pets in for regular checkups.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Start A Veterinary Practice In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
People who are properly certified and passionate about animals are best suited to open a veterinary clinic. In this line of work, however, you’ll often treat very sick and dying animals, many of which you and your staff will have toput to rest. Therefore, running this type of business requires emotional stability and compassion for the families left behind.
What happens during a typical day at a veterinary practice?
The veterinarian’s typical day depends upon the scope of their practice. Most clinics offer standard services such as annual check-ups, lab work, and spay and neuter procedures. You’ll also take appointments for animals with more serious health concerns and prescribe a treatment plan based on your findings.
Part of your day will also be spent conducting research, setting broken bones, and providing a long-term treatment plan for geriatric and terminal pets. Veterinarians in more rural areas often go on house calls, treating larger animals like horses, pigs, and sheep.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful veterinary practice?
To practice veterinary science in the United States, one must receive a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, in addition to a Bachelor’s degree. Unlike most careers, you’ll come in contact with humans and animals throughout the day. Thus, it’s critical that you possess strong interpersonal skills and a great bedside manner.
Animals are unable to tell us what’s wrong verbally, so vets rely on behavioral signs to help determine where the animal is sick. Strong observation skills are also important for identifying an animal’s pain level or when they’re about to become aggressive. Due to the nature of the business, manual dexterity is also a positive skill to possess.
Pet owners are entrusting you with their beloved pets. The knowledge you gain through experience and education will help you determine a treatment plan. Trust in your wisdom to make good decisions and be able to back these decisions up when speaking with pet owners.
Many clinic owners begin their career working alongside an established veterinarian, often assisting in a vet’s office as they work their way through school. This offers invaluable information regarding how such a business is run, while establishing connections within the industry. The American Veterinary Medical Association and World Veterinary Association have both been instrumental in assisting vets with professional development, continuing education, and educating on the latest in veterinary medicine.
What is the growth potential for a veterinary practice?
After having made a name for themselves in the animal community, many clinics choose to open multiple locations across the city. There are also several franchise opportunities, such as Pet Depot, who offer independent business owners the support necessary to turn their vision of an 8,000 square foot business into a reality.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
How and when to build a team
During the initial stages, you’ll probably want to keep a lean staff. Studies indicate that most clinics employ approximately 3.8 staff members per doctor. Staff members include receptionists, licensed technicians, veterinary assistants, and kennel attendents. To ensure success, it’s critical that your staff be compassionate and driven to help animals in need.