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Snowy River Vet Clinic
Education is good for business
Dr Sara Bailey’s unique method of treating animals is gaining traction thanks in part to help from the Small Business Mentoring Service.
A vet at the Snowy River Vet Clinic in Orbost, Sara is qualified in and practices veterinary acupuncture. She is passionate about its benefits and keen to educate the community about them.
As a busy regional practice, the clinic serves small and large animals in town and surrounding farms, including sheep, cattle and horses.
Snowy River Vet Clinic clinicians see clients within the hospital facility and on farms. Its vets are also often called to treat sick and injured wildlife.
The well-run business has a great reputation and in 2014 won East Gippsland District Business of the Year. It has three full-time veterinarians, one full-time veterinary nurse, and four part-time veterinary nurses.
Sara offers veterinary acupuncture in addition to traditional treatments for animals. It is suitable for a wide range of conditions in animals of all shapes and sizes, such asarthritis, spinal problems, behavioural problems, eye problems, skin problems and much more.
Treatment can be stand-alone or provided with more conventional veterinary treatments.
Keen to promote and create awareness of the benefits of acupuncture to other clinics and the community, Sara attended a ‘How do they do it?’ workshop series arranged by Business and Tourism East Gippsland with East Gippsland Shire Council.
The workshop was delivered by the Small Business Institute the training arm of the Small Business Mentoring Service.
The program ran across four workshops that covered:
- Where are you going? (Business planning, setting a vision, goal setting etc).
- Decide your income (Finance, creating a budget, pricing).
- Customer focused marketing (Offline and online marketing).
- Managing for success. (Business management, systems, personal productivity).
Each workshop was followed by a 90-120-minute session with a mentor. Sara was matched with SBMS mentor Bruce Hall, whom she saw six times.
Bruce is a workshop facilitator who has been a mentor for 9 years, specialising in personal development, marketing and e-marketing.
SBMS is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it.
While the Snowy River Vet Clinic was doing well, introducing something new and different was still a risk. Owner Dave Mitchell, who Bruce had also previously mentored, gave the project his blessing as long as Sara did her homework.
As a result, Bruce guided her through all aspects of introducing what was a new product. As well as teaching the group sessions and the one-on-one mentoring, he was available by email and phone.
“For any business, introducing a new, non-conventional product/service/treatment can be both a risk and a challenge,” Bruce says. “Whilst acupuncture has become almost ‘mainstream’ in people, awareness around the benefits it can also offer animals is less well known.”
Bruce says Sara had to step out of her comfort zone and commit to a long process requiring persistence and patience while she educated her market.
Initially Sara met with other local vets to educate and create awareness of her acupuncture service. She explained how it could help patients and where it was appropriate.
Sara also began offering it as a treatment option to existing clients.
Bruce explained that given the size of the catchment area, the business website would be vital in spreading the word. The existing site was outdated, so had to be upgraded.
Dave supported this as long as Sara managed the project, which was a major undertaking. Bruce guided her through the various tasks, which involved:
- learning about e-marketing and search engine optimisation
- planning the website layout and content
- sourcing a developer
- rewriting and optimising copy for all pages on the side, which was a huge job
- sourcing appropriate images
- learning how to use the content management system (Developer Anthony Hubbard of East Gippsland Design helped by providing videos specific to their site)
- loading the content and optimising each page for search.
Sara also applied marketing, social media and customer service knowledge she gained in the course. This involved rebranding, creating flyers and brochures, using Facebook to engage with and educate clients, planning and organisation.
“Sara had little knowledge or experience re web marketing and working with websites, however to her credit she was prepared to invest the time to learn,” Bruce says.
“The fact she was able to complete this work on top of what is a demanding role is a credit to her persistence and drive!”
Bruce says Sara’s efforts to introduce and promote this new service throughout the district were “first class”. “It is a great example to all business owners of what can be achieved if you are prepared to learn and step outside your comfort zone,” he says.
Sara says it is still early days, but the uptake of acupuncture increased over the course of working with Bruce. “A large part of this is due to working out how to explain and introduce veterinary acupuncture to clients, both from myself and also from the other vets in the clinic,” she says.
Working with Bruce was of great benefit to her, Sara says. “I very much appreciated that he worked holistically with me,” she says. “He took into account my entire work-life balance and gave me perspective on pacing myself.
“He shared a wealth of knowledge with me, especially around customer focused marketing. He improved my ability to write for pet owners and to relate to their experience at a vet clinic. Bruce put in an incredible amount of time to the program.”
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