The art of veterinary practice management is constantly evolving—especially for those of us in the veterinary field. By attending veterinary conferences, industry professionals can stay up to date on the latest trends while also building a network for the future. That said, when was the last time you actually attended a conference? Even before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on everyone's schedules, finding time to get away and attend veterinary conferences was challenging.
Still, it's in your practice's best interests to reap the benefits conferences offer without impeding practice operations. Here are some ways to make that happen.
Reduce Scope of Your Duties at Home
A veterinary practice manager's roles and responsibilities vary. Depending on your background and the size of the veterinary clinic, your role may cover everything from receptionist and technician to business developer and financial manager. To make sure nothing gets missed while you're away, it helps to make a list of what you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Then, break down the tasks into three buckets:
- Duties and tasks that only you can do
- Duties and tasks that can be handed off to someone else
- Duties and tasks that can wait until your return
The smallest bucket should contain the tasks you'll have to do while away, so move as many as you can into the other two buckets.
- Am I the only person who can do this? Often when I look at a task, I realize I'm not the only person who can do it; I'm just the person who normally does it. Perhaps your practice owner doesn't want to deal with client complaints on a regular basis, but that doesn't mean they can't for a few days while you're out.
- Why am I the only person who can do this? It's never a good thing when only one person at a business can perform an essential task. Solving this issue may simply be a question of training. If a lack of training is all that's preventing certain tasks and duties from being handed over, that can be easily addressed if you start well before you need to travel.
- Can tasks be split up? If a task really has to be done personally, see if it can be broken into smaller bits where you don't have to do all of them. For example, you may still need to enter time for payroll; however, you could hand off the tasks of reviewing and correcting hours to someone else and then have an owner sign the actual checks.
- Can the task be automated or batched? Many things we get directly involved in can be done for us. You probably don't need to write a check or call in a credit card for most of your vendors. Instead, you can set up auto pay and make a day in your schedule where you review bills, before the automatic payments happen. Even if you still want to pay directly, having a single bill-processing day is much more efficient than dealing with each invoice as it comes in.
Plan Your Time at the Veterinary Conference
Even if you have to take some work with you, settings rules for yourself and your team will really help to keep you focused on the event and encourage your team to tackle their extra responsibilities.
- Limit contacts to email: In most people's minds, email is an asynchronous form of communication—unlike texts and phone calls—and doesn't require an immediate response. Make sure your team understands that email is the only way they can contact you unless there's a real emergency that no one at the practice can deal with.
- Set work time limits: Plan blocks of time into your day when you'll check emails or work on other tasks. For example, you may choose to work before the conference starts or between the end of lectures and evening events.
- Test remote access: If you're planning to work remotely at the conference, test your system access before you go. This can be as simple as trying to connect from home or even your local coffee shop with the equipment you intend to use.
- Dry run new processes: If someone else is going to reconcile the end-of-day procedures while you're out, have them do it a few times when you're still there to guide them. Not only will this help them to be comfortable doing it on their own, but it gives you a chance to identify any issues and address them before you go.
- Create an emergency contacts list: If your phones stopped working or a pipe burst while you were away, would your team know who to call? Make sure you have a list of vendors and approved contractors that support your clinics and a designated individual who can sign off on the work.
In my experience, things usually run smoothly while I'm out, and team members are excited to step up and take on more responsibility. In the long run, streamlining what you do and sharing tasks can help you maintain a healthy work-life balance even when you're not away from the office. If nothing else, it will provide you with some time to implement the many great ideas you picked up at the conference.