Small Business Spotlight #4 Don’t worry pet owners, Scratch Pay is still here through the pandemic to provide financial help with your veterinary bills.

When the pandemic first started the big financial institutions got nervous just like everyone else. But what about the small lenders? Neil Stanga is the director of sales and marketing at Scratch financial incorporated, or Scratch Pay.  He was the first employee the company hired in early 2016 and now they have grown to about 150 employees.  Scratch Pay offers payment plans and loans to pet owners who are in need of financial assistance with their veterinary bills. The company started with the two co-founders, John Keatley, Caleb Morse, and an idea.  “It’s been a wild ride says Stanga, I was in UCLA grad school when I started, and I then dropped out.” “I felt like I was learning more working on Scratch Pay than in business school, it was definitely the right decision.”

Scratch Pay started with the John, Caleb, and Neil “cold calling” local Southern California Veterinary Hospitals and selling them the idea behind their financial product.  Since no one had heard of them, it was difficult.  But they knew that they had a great product and they would be able to help a lot of pet owners if they could just get their financing into veterinary hospitals.  The veterinary hospital I used to work for AVSG after hours, was one of the early adopters of Scratch Pay and we were able to help many pet owners with their emergency veterinary bills by offering them a financial alternative.  “Scratchpay’s mission is to help more pets get access to the care they need to live happy lives

When I asked him about his previous experience, he said that he worked in commercial real estate for a little while, and then he worked on Wall Street at JP Morgan for about five years. “I just had general business experience and some sales experience, a lot of sales experience.” “I think that is what I initially brought to the table.” “But working at a startup was a totally new experience for me, there’s really no qualifications or anything, just an endless amount of work,” laughs Stanga.  

Why did he pick Scratch Pay over his graduate education?  “My whole first year of business school, I was really interested alternative lending.” “Going beyond just a FICO score or credit score to assess credit risk, and ability to repay, using a new area of financial technology.” He met with John and Caleb the co-founders, where they laid out the basic idea of what they were doing, being less restrictive in terms of lending to people.  “I think probably what sold me the most from that interview was the two of them.” “They’re just very, very smart, very accomplished.” “And I just had a lot of faith in both of them, as well as the idea” says Stanga.

How is Scratch Pay/ different from other financial lenders? “Other companies are more selective, we approve more people,” says Stanga.  “And our products are totally different, we don’t offer any deferred interest products, which is a big difference.” Even though they don’t have the same deferred payment options, Scratch Pay offers lower interest rates than their competitors.  Instead of having one high interest rate for every customer, they base the interest rate on the customer’s individual credit, so people with better credit can benefit with a lower interest rate.  They are also typically cheaper for the veterinary hospital as well, which encourages more hospitals to offer their financing. It is also very easy to apply, clients can do it from their smart phones and approval takes just minutes. The approval information is also emailed to the veterinary hospital so they know that the client has been approved. The pet owner can then decide if they want to pay with Scratch Pay or not.

When I asked if they had any big challenges in the beginning, he said that they had pretty consistent growth.  “When I hear about other startups and people’s experiences there, we’ve had a fairly straightforward path.” “Personally, I’ve been challenged to learn a tremendous amount and take on a lot of responsibility, but in terms of the business, it’s been relatively smooth sailing.” The biggest challenge for us so far, has been the Coronavirus

What has been their biggest impact with coronavirus? Growth and the loss of veterinary tradeshows and conferences. “Our biggest challenge is just maintaining our continued growth, because we don’t want it to slow down.”  Also, a lot of their marketing efforts were focused on veterinary conferences, and their interactions with the veterinarians and the managers.  “We have had a lot of success at industry trade shows and those are shut down now indefinitely,” says Stanga, “so that has been a challenge.” Surprisingly, they have not seen as many defaults as they initially expected, “I think it has something to do with people not going out and saving money as well.” “Or maybe the stimulus checks had some impact on that.” 

Stanga said they had some lofty goals for 2020, “we had goals of how many practices we were going to sign up this year.” Over the past 4 years they have helped over 70,000 pets receive veterinary care and have partnered with over 5000 veterinary hospitals in all 50 states, and they wanted to help more. They had a really good start at the beginning of the year, and then they “hit a wall.” They also just doubled their space at their headquarters in Pasadena, CA relatively recently and with the original shelter in place restrictions, it is sitting empty right now. “That’s just another thing with the coronavirus, we invested in office space and then now we can’t use it.” Thankfully, their whole company has transitioned relatively well to working from home. “We have a lot of people overseas, either in our technology department or customer service, and so we’re a fairly remote workforce already” “We’re not planning on going back to the office anytime soon,” says Stanga. 

We talked about the loss of the trade shows.  “At the beginning of the year, we were just pouring resources into the trade shows and really tripling down on that channel, and so we’re just redistributing across different channels at this point.” “Instead of focusing just on that one channel, we’re moving to direct mail and trade journal advertisements and things like that,” Stanga stated.  They are figuring out different ways to get the word out to veterinary hospitals and their clients.

What are his biggest concerns?  “I think generally my concerns are, can we keep growing, number one, number two, are people going to pay us back?” Being a financial lender, the state of the global economy is a big concern to them.   Not only do they have to worry about people defaulting on their loans, they also are also concerned with how they are able to raise the capital needed to provide money for future loans. “I feel pretty confident with our CEO’s ability to raise money, and so the biggest concern is the growth and just finding ways to grow as quickly as possible, because you can always grow faster, it’s a lot of pressure,” says Stanga.  “That’s what I think about all the time, is how we’re going to sign up more practices and how we’re going to do it more quickly.” Signing up more hospitals with their financing helps more pet owners, and ultimately helps more pets. 

I asked him if he would do it over again, would he give up grad school and join a startup company with no guarantee of success? “Yeah, 100%, definitely,” he replied.  “There’s this quote by the cyclist, Greg LeMond, he’s a famous US cyclist, and I think a reporter was asking him about training, does it get easier? Does the training get easier? Does do competitions get easier, and his response was, “It never gets easier. You just go faster.” “And I really feel like that sums up my experience at Scratchpay and probably any startup.” “I’m just amazed at how much I’ve learned in the past four years and it’s been draining and definitely, well, I guess would I go to another startup as a first employee or try to start a company?” “I don’t know, I’m not sure to be honest, because it is a lot, but I never want to go back to a really big company,” says Stanga. 

I asked him what advice he would give to someone who is thinking about starting a business. “I think in general I’d say working at a startup or starting a company is not historically a good way to get rich, because the majority of them fail.” “Like 95% of businesses or startups fail.” “So that is what I would keep in mind, that failure is a possibility, even Scratch Pay could still fold and I’d have no idea how I would feel at that point.” “But if you’re comfortable with just learning a lot and ultimately having the business fail, then yeah, definitely, startups are great,” he says with a smile. “I would change nothing about this experience.” “I feel like I really lucked out to find Scratch when I did, and I feel very lucky.”

I asked him if that 95% was a legit statistic? “Made that up off the top of my head” he says laughing. 

August 28, 2020, Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP

About the author,

Melissa is a small business owner in Southern California, owning South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions.  She works as a veterinary management consultant focusing on helping veterinary hospitals, practice owners, and their team members be successful with their business.

Small Business Spotlight #3, what happens when the pandemic causes the business to stop? Answer, owner has to get creative.

What happens when your business model relies on people being able to get together in larger groups to be successful or to even exist?  What happens when the places that host the events like county fairs, shows, and even Disneyland are closed? The answer? You change your business model, or you fail.

Brian Bon is the owner of Bon Family and California All Star Cloggers and Powerhouse Dance located in Anaheim, CA. What does he do?  He is a professional “clogger.” “I know that sounds weird because there are not a lot of us, but it’s really a multifaceted business,” says Bon.  His corporation is a diverse service company. “We provide entertainment, we provide arts education, we provide virtual content online, but basically, the core of what we do is the American folk dance of clogging.”

I met Brian in 2016 when I became one of his students in his clog dancing class.  It was a lot of fun and while I danced with his group, I performed at Disney’s California Adventure, Calico Ghost Town, as well as We Give Thanks the annual food drive at the Honda Center.

Brian has been clogging for over 37 years.  “I love what I do, I really truly love it.” “It changed my life.” Bon started clogging when he was young because his mom made him, “I was very insecure, I didn’t have hardly any friends, and felt very bad about myself.” When his mom originally made him start clogging, he hated it.  “I hated it, but within a year, a light came on in my head and I started to love it.” “I started to love the music and love the dancing.” “I became one of the best in the country.” “It just changed my life,” says Bon. One of the things he loves about teaching clog dancing, is that he is able give that same opportunity and feelings to both kids and adults that he felt when he was young.

Brian became a professional clog dancer on the TV show Hee Haw back when he was a teenager. After doing that for about 5 years, he got his degree in theater and English, moved to California to be a performer, but he kept finding success with clogging.  He eventually started his clog dancing business back in 2000 to pass on his love for clog dancing to others. He has taught over 40,000 people how to dance. “People wanted me to teach them to dance, and I think that comes down to because I love it,” says Bon.  The Bon Family and California All Star Cloggers have performed at The Stage Coach Festival, Knotts Berry Farm , Disneyland, and countless other places over the years. It is a family business and many of the dancers are either siblings or even mother and son/daughter. 

When I asked him if it was hard to start his business, he said that sometimes it’s hard to talk to the “corporate” people.  “When I talk to my accountant, I feel like I’m speaking French, or they are, and I’m speaking English, because I’m a creative type.” “I’m not good with a lot of technical jargon or accounting dynamics and legal aspects, so, I have to trust them with those things.” He has to trust his people and when they tell him there’s a hoop to jump through, “I do it and I just trust them,” says Bon. 

But overall, Bon does not feel like it is difficult, “I think it’s not as difficult is because I have a good product.” “So, for me to keep the business going, even during quarantine right now, it has been going, and it’s been different and not quite as financially lucrative, but it’s still good because I have a quality product.” “The clogging I do is exciting and fun,” “the classes are exciting and fun.” “There are a lot of aspects to it,” says Bon.

I asked him what type of struggles he has had to deal with in the past.  “You know, I think the biggest struggles are all the legal red tape that people, especially in California, that we have to jump through.” “I mean, I pay so many fees just to be in business.” “I paid over $7,000 in federal taxes last year, I paid $800 just for the pleasure of being in business in California before I even made a dollar.” “Then there’s insurance and there’s business license and all of that kind of stuff.”  Bon teaches classes in multiple locations and performs all over the country, this means every location has its own insurance.  “Everywhere I go has to have a different insurance certificate or a different type of insurance, so it is that kind of paperwork stuff and costs, that’s the most difficult part for me.” But even with the challenges, he has made a successful business for himself and brought clog dancing to thousands of kids over the years.

And he was doing well for himself and the clog dancing community, until March 2020.

What happened to your business when COVD hit and California went into a lockdown? “I lost about $100,000 worth of work,” says Bon. Just like many Californians, overnight he had no work. All his classes had to be cancelled, and every show that he had planned for the next few months was either cancelled or postponed.

“I feel like I don’t want to get political, but I just feel like every time I have friends who have their small business that are barbers and stuff and they just get ready to open and then it gets shut down again, get ready to open, and shut down.” “My personal feeling is essential business is any business that provides your lifeblood money, right?” “It’s what pays your bills.”

Bon had to get creative and restructure, do private lessons, and do virtual classes. “The hardest part is not just losing all of that work, I had to emotionally mourn the loss of that money, because one day would be up, I’d be like, that’s still happening,” “and the next day, one would cancel.” “Then one went up, and then one would cancel, and then cancel, cancel, cancel.” “By the end, I just kind of assumed everything was gone.”

The first 30 days of the lockdown were scary, but because the people that were in his classes were so supportive of him, he felt confidence. “I’ve had people drop me off anonymous donations on my front porch.” “I’ve had people sign up for classes that aren’t taking the classes, and they have kept the food on my table,” says Bon.

Trying to make his business virtual was a challenge for Brian.  “I’m not social media savvy, I’m not on Snapchat, or other things, so, I had to make myself a little more social media savvy to succeed.” “I had to figure out how to do YouTube live classes.”  Eventually, he was able to figure it out and switch his students to YouTube live every Tuesday night. If you want to know more about his classes message him at powerhousedance.net

Next he had to figure out ways to use social media to let more people know he is still here.  He found ways he can make himself a little more of a social media influencer in the American folk-dance community, researching old TV shows, posting those, doing interviews, documenting the history of clogging. Instead of it just being performance and classes, and getting more information out about his business, he wanted to educate people about the history of clogging. He has been trying to get out the message that clog dancing is a “dance of the people.” “It’s not an elitist trained dance, it’s not like you go to ballet intensive camp at the Bolshevik Ballet or whatever it is.” “Right?” “Clogging is the dance of the real people.” “Most of us are self-taught, there is not a specific one technique training.” “Every region is different, and it really is an American cultural phenomenon unlike any other folk dance we produce,” shares Bon.

Bon has been part of the industry for a long time, he has been on Hee Haw, America’s Got Talent, Fast Track to Fame, Destination Stardom, Let Me Entertain You, FX channel’s Justified, ABC’s Culture Click., The Gong Show, and many more. He has been on more TV shows than any other person in the country that clog dances.

He is very concerned about the future of the entertainment industry. “Live entertainment won’t be back for a year-and-a-half at least. I just think that number one, even if they’ve suddenly decided tomorrow that COVID is gone, people are still very tentative about going out, Right?” “Even if I started my classes up next Tuesday in person, I bet only half would come back, because they’re scared. People are scared.”

“Entertainment is hit hard, hit hard, whether you’re big or little.” “Luckily, the people that are big, they have millions of dollars of cushion.” “But those of us, most entertainers live at my level where they’re a functioning entertainer, but they don’t have $20 million in the bank because their last movie was The Avengers. Right?” says Bon.

When I asked him if he was going to continue to do virtual training after we are able to get together in person again, he said yes. “I’m just going to move my virtual classes to Thursday, having an in-person class on Tuesday and see if I can do both.” One thing he realized, is that he can reach people all over the country doing it virtually and not just in Orange County. “I have students from Texas, Wisconsin, and several other states, taking my classes, which is exciting,” shares Bon.

Another thing that Bon has been building is his YouTube following. His channel BriCLOGGER is growing and growing. There are lots of great clogging videos, interviews, and lessons. “Just in the last six weeks, I’ve gone from 170 subscribers to almost 600,” says Bon. “My goal is to hit a thousand by October and then keep going.” “I’m having fun sharing the way clogging has… what I’ve seen it, how it’s changed and influenced our culture, sharing that with people, whether they’re cloggers or other people.” “I’m going to keep that going too. I’m really enjoying that.”

When asked if he would do it all over again, he said, “that’s such a hard question. I mean, yes, there’s easier routes that I could have taken to make money, but I love what I do.”

What advice would he give to someone else who is thinking about opening their own business, “do your research.” “Make sure that you’re going to make enough money so that it’s worth all the hassle and fees, you need to make enough money so that is worth the difficulty.” Bon says you also need to remember that it takes all your time. “I work from home. I work away from home, but whenever I’m here, my work is with me.” “It’s one of those jobs that I don’t leave it at work and then come home, so as a business owner, you have to love it and you have to educate yourself.”

But overall, he wants to encourage people “I think a lot of people feel kind of hopeless right now, but I’m seeing businesses in my neighborhood that just opened this week, like a pizza place that just opened, and it’s horrible timing, but they had already committed to open, and, man, they’re going for it.” “I’ve seen another place, this deli, they keep getting closed down because of this rule and that rule, and what do they do?” “They keep reinventing themselves.” “Creativity, no matter how technical you think your job is, is key to keeping it going. “You have to go with the flow, you have to adjust to the times, especially these days,” says Bon.

“Creativity is the key to keeping it going”

 August 16, 2020, Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP

About the author,

Melissa is a small business owner in Southern California, she owns South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions.  She works as a veterinary management consultant focusing on helping veterinary hospitals, practice owners, and their team members be successful.  

Small Business Spotlight #2, What is it Like to Own an Event Planning Business During a Pandemic? Answer, difficult.

This pandemic has caused devastation to millions of people around the world, either medically, emotionally, or financially (and sometimes all the above).  For small business owners, the financial impact has been significant, and many will never recover.

In my 2nd blog in the “Small Business Spotlight” series I interviewed Courtney Lutkus, owner of Simply Radiant Events.  Courtney opened her event planning & design company six years ago.sr_logo Courtney does everything from the coordination of events, to designing the designing the events.  Whatever theme they want, color scheme, or whatever they want to do for their event, she can do.

Courtney has had some crazy requests in her time “we had a DNA company that wanted centerpieces that look like DNA strands.” “The hard part was that they also wanted lamps on the tables, but with 300 tables, how do you plug in 300 lamps?” Courtney was able to find a compromise and ended up creating something with led lights that were battery operated.

When I asked Courtney about what type of qualifications, she needed to have to run an event planning company she told me about different certifications programs like FIDM in LA for example, or to go through design school. “But for me, I went to Cal State Fullerton and I got my degree in public relations, because they didn’t have a degree in event planning.” She was still able to take a lot of event planning courses in school so she got her formal education that way.

When I asked Courtney why she picked event planning, she told me that she had wanted to do it since she was young.  “Growing up, everyone kept saying, “oh, you’re going to change your mind.” “Even when I was in college, most people change their majors a few times.” “You’re going to change your mind.” And I never did.” Courtney started off her career working for non-profit organizations and doing events that way but eventually she wanted to expand a little bit. “I decided to start my own company, so that I could have different types of events that I do versus the same ones every year for the same non-profit.”

However, starting an event planning business was harder than Courtney expected, “I think when I broke away from the non-profit sector and I was opening my company, I thought, “I’ve been doing this for years. I have this, this is no big deal.” “But I learned that they are actually two different worlds” Starting her business in Orange County turned out to be very difficult, not only were there a lot of other event planners but she struggled on finding the right vendors and getting clients.  “Getting started was actually really hard for me and I almost stopped so many times before I even got going, just because I just kept thinking there’s so much competition, there’s no way this is going to work.” She worked hard to let go of her insecurities and persevere and eventually start her business.

Early on, she realized that as a small business owner that she had to do a lot of things herself.  “When you are first starting out and if you don’t have a lot of finances backing you up, you do everything yourself, you create your website, you create your logo, you are your own accountant yourself, whatever, you name it.”  She figured out there was a lot of learning curves besides all the components of the business, other things she never thought about that she would have to deal with.

Courtney eventually figured out how to have a successful business and client after client Simply Radiant Events flourished.  Not only did she help design weddings and other events, but she also catered to large companies and their big corporate events. Many large corporations used her company for their annual holiday parties, conferences, and other big company events.  That was until March 2020, when everything stopped.

When I asked her how COVID-19 has affected her business she said, “as of right now, it’s pretty much stopped everything that we had or were going to have.” Unfortunately, in an event planning business, you need events to succeed.  With California on a continual lockdown this is exceedingly difficult. “With social distancing you can’t really have parties and events.” “And especially with us, a lot of our focus being companies that hire us for their corporate functions, a lot of those companies are either not open right now or they’ve had to pull back on things” “That’s really pumped the brakes on a lot of events for us.”

I asked her how she is coping with such a devastating loss and she said she is rebranding & rebuilding the website, “just kind of do some inner works that we don’t always necessarily have time to do.” She wants people to know that she is still there and when people are ready to have events, “she can show that she persevered through all of this and Simply Radiant Events is still around”

We discussed if there were any alternative strategies that she could do for her business, “we’ve tossed around a lot of ideas like virtual events, but a lot of virtual events, people aren’t really looking for support or for help with.” One thing that she has started to see lately is “pop up” parties, where people are decorating front lawns, or decorating different areas and people drive by in their cars to celebrate.  “People have this really neat and elaborate background, which she is happy to do, but because most of our clientele has seen us as a different way, they don’t necessarily look for us for that right now.” So she will have to rebrand and “pivot” as she likes to call it.  But, that is something she could potentially do.

Another thing she has noticed is people are doing “timed” events.  Courtney said, “they will let maybe 10 people in at a time come in and do it, so then everyone comes in shifts.” This is something that could be potentially an option where she could plan an all-day event that only a few people attend at a time.  Another thing she has considered is style shoots.  “People need photos for either themselves or for their products and they need florals or balloons or a backdrop or different things like that.” And it is something they might need a creative mind to help with.  She is considering offering these alternatives to help keep her business afloat.  Courtney is resilient, and she will do what she can to keep her business active.

I asked what she likes the most about her business and she enjoys the creative side to it.  “I love when someone come up with a theme and then I am able to create it and execute it.” Sometimes she still gets anxious though when she says to a client “oh, we could do this huge, great thing, and they say yes,” “because then I know I have to figure it out!” Which she always does, every time.  She loves coming up with ideas and creating things and see them come through.  “It’s fun, you never know, things always turn out slightly different, but usually in a good way, so I love seeing how things are created.”

When I asked her what advice she would give to someone considering opening up their own small business she said “go with something you’re passionate about because it’s something that you really going to be spending a lot of time on.” “For me, it is something I’ve been really, really passionate about, so I enjoy spending the time on it and really just go for it.” “I mean, there is going to be naysayers and there is going to be your cheerleaders, but just go for it no matter what and make sure you have that support system that’s there to support you at the same time.” “If you’re passionate about it, you will make sure it works.”

I asked her “if you had to do it all over again, would you?” Courtney said, “that’s a good question, I think I would.” “It’s funny because we all have our moments with being an entrepreneur, but I love it so much and I’m so passionate about it that I feel like a part of me would always be missing if I didn’t do it.”

“Is there anything else you’d like to share with the audience that you’re thinking about that is important regarding your business in current times?”

Courtney said, “I’m excited to see what’s going to happen when this all is over with.” “And we go back to, I guess you can say our new normal because things are probably going to be different in life.” “But I know people are going to want to get together and share their time with everyone.” “I saw someone post the other day who just said, “I miss people.” “I’m excited for when I can create those moments and people could be just people again and hang out and have fun.” “That’s what I’m looking forward to again.”

I realized in that moment I had an image of a party with a bunch of cardboard cutouts of people with their families faces on it.  I can’t decide if that is funny or not.

August 4, 2020, Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP

About the author,

Melissa is a small business owner working as a veterinary management consultant in Southern California.  Her company South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions focuses on helping veterinary hospitals, practice owners, and their team members. 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Business Spotlight #1, Owning & Operating a Small Business During a Pandemic

July 28th, 2020

Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP

COVID-19 has changed how we do things.  The phrase “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” did not exist before March 2020.  Our world is vastly different, and the change has affected everyone.  From hospital workers, to teachers, to flight attendants, to restaurant servers, everyone has been impacted.  No one knows this more than small business owners, the impact on them has been significant. Thousands of business have closed down, people worked their entire lives for their dream, and it is now gone.

I created a “small business spotlight” to talk about the effects of the pandemic on a personal level.  I am interviewing a business owner or leader in a small company, to hear the stories of how they got started and how they are “surviving” the COVID-19 crisis

This week, I spoke with Rhonda Bell, CVPM, CCFP, Master Life Coach and owner of Dog Days Consulting a social media consulting company. cropped-DDC-LOGO-LRG-CROP

Rhonda opened her company in January 2017 but did not actively start operating it in until 2018.  When I asked her why she had a delay she told me something very personal.  In 2017, Rhonda was diagnosed with Scleroderma which is an incurable autoimmune disease.  It is a disease that can cause hardening of the skin and other forms of connective tissue.  Unfortunately, one of the parts of the body that can be affected is the lungs, which is scary today.  Rhonda told me right when she had “the great idea to start a business, she got sick and it took some time to recover.”  She also had to adjust to the medications, what the testing would be like, what her life would be like, and realize that she could still open a business and make it successful.  So, she had a little bit of a lag, but she got through it and was able to officially start her business.

When we discussed her qualifications, she talked about being a veterinary practice manager and using those skills to help her build her business.  “Technically there’s nothing required.” “I mean, like a lot of business owners, you can start a business any day of the week and you don’t have any requirements.” Since she is a CVPM (Certified Veterinary Practice Manager), has been in the veterinary industry for about 15 years, she put all those things together and started a business.  She knew that she could not manage a veterinary hospital with her disease, but she was not done working.  “I wanted to still serve in the veterinary world and find a way to make a living at it.”

In a nutshell, Rhonda became a social media manager.  She works with small businesses, primarily veterinary, but not always.  She manages their social media presence.  She is the one that is posting the Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and Instagram pictures for businesses as though the business was doing it themselves.  She works closely with the businesses, so they know what she is doing.  Together they plan out a marketing  strategy, an agenda and work to accomplish the goals that they have set.  The focus is generally  on good communication with their client base.

When I asked her if it was hard to be a small business owner she said “yes and no.”  “My husband and I were talking about planning a vacation and that’s when it really hit me, that it’s like even if you go on vacation, you don’t really ever get to go on vacation because it’s always your business.” She feels that the one of the biggest challenges is turning it off and “finding that balance, the work-life balance.” For most people if they have a regular job, they can tell their boss, “no, I’m not going to work on weekends,” or “I want to be off this weekend.” “Well, when you’re a business owner, you don’t get to do that.”

I asked her what her biggest concern for her business was, and before COVID it was growing and maintaining her clients.  She thought “oh crud, if I get more clients, how am I going to support more clients?” “It is maintaining that growth to sustainability ratio, just making sure that I never want to take on something I can’t do and that I can’t do 110%.” She must make sure she can commit fully to any client she is referred and make sure they are a good fit for each other.

But then COVID-19, happened and everything changed.   In late March when many veterinary hospitals saw a huge drop in business, she became concerned.  What if all her clients called and said “hey, we can’t afford you because we’re not seeing our clients, that’s it.” It was scary for her to think about how long it would take to regain or rebuild those clients.  “In the end, I was extremely blessed that I didn’t lose any.”  “In fact, I gained some clients through COVID-19.”

Rhonda saw an opportunity and maybe even “a blessing in disguise” because her clients began to see how valuable social media could be in communicating with pet owners.  She knew that when she opened her business that social media was important.  However, many veterinary hospitals were not utilizing appropriately, or at all.  She realized that if she had not opened her business in 2017, she would not be in the position to help hospitals in 2020 deal with this new crisis.  She is able to help veterinary hospitals use social media better.  “It’s been very humbling, but also stressful, a lot of work.”

While Rhonda’s business got busier during the early weeks of the pandemic in the US, she noticed with most of her veterinary clients immediately took a revenue hit.  Many pet owners were concerned about money and not bringing their pets into the hospital.  Rhonda chose to significantly reduce her client’s bills for one month during that timeframe to help them.  She knew they had to pick and choose the bills they were going to pay, and she wanted to make that easier for them.  She basically just covered her costs and kept on going.  In many cases when she spoke with the practice owner, she was one of the one of the expenses they elected to keep.  “That was extremely humbling for me,” Rhonda said.  She made sure that her clients did not have any lapse in communication with their pet owners.  “Their clients still knew what was happening, they knew that hospitals were open, active and things were normal.  Despite the fact that things were not actually normal.”

Rhonda had to come up with a new strategy as a result of COVID-19.  In January 2020, preparing for her company’s growth, she had brought people on her team to help her.  By mid-March, “COVID was full blown, and we had to re-evaluate our strategies.” Rhonda had to help her hospitals determine what information to give their clients and how frequently.   “How often are we going do this?” “Because everyone wanted to know everything and everyone wanted to be an authority, but there can also be that COVID whiplash or that COVID fatigue where it’s too much.” “Now you don’t hear it anymore, you are kind of nose blind to it.” “You don’t see or smell it anymore because it’s just too much.” She had to readjust some of their branding strategies, their education strategies, and creating the balance between the types of posts she was going to put out for her clients. Now there are lot less posts about COVID-19, clients are used to the hospitals protocols and Rhonda can focus on the more “normal” part of social media.

Rhonda loves her job.  “I like helping small businesses.” “I like seeing that when we create communication, when we have clients on the other side of that, or our audience is actually responding to the stuff that we’re doing, I get a real charge out of that.” When she sees that they have created something that is meaningful or sweet and it gets shared, it means that it was impactful for that person.  The veterinary hospital gets to directly benefit from that communication.  “I just like being in a position to help small businesses do a little bit better.” “I think these big guys, the big companies and the corporations, they get a lot more help.” “They have a lot of marketing dollars back there and us little guys don’t.”   She believes that small businesses need to support one another.  “I try to buy from small business.” “I try to put my money where my mouth is.”

Rhonda wishes that small business owners would have better resources that were easier to access.  When the lockdowns started, many small business were shut down with no immediate help.  When congress authorized the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration to provide assistance, the information was convoluted and unclear.  “What money is available, what’s not available?” “How are we affected?” “How are we not affected?” Rhonda expressed the frustration that a lot of small businesses were feeling trying to figure this out.  “I don’t have a bank of lawyers.” “I don’t have a bank of accountants to guide me every step I take, It’s me.”  We need better resources that are easier to navigate, read, and understand.”

Rhonda also wishes the were more resources and explanations provided by the law makers themselves, so that businesses could have an idea of what any of the potential pitfalls might be. Many of the laws were being created and passed so quickly without any clear explanation of the intent of the law. “That’s scary stuff.” “You get a lifeline, it’s a desperate scary time, you fear for your business and your employees and their families, but this lifeline may cost you BIG TIME in the end.” Small businesses may not be able to recover from those types of consequences.

When I asked Rhonda if she would do it all over again.  She said, “I would.” “I would definitely do it all over again.” She is not sure if she would do it differently, “I had a plan for my business, but I didn’t really know what it would turn into” “Did I think I would be here three years ago?” “No.” Now, she not only has veterinary clients, but other local organizations in Floresville, TX where she resides, also use her business to run their social media.  She is helping candidates who are running for office with their campaigns.  She also has a therapy organization who wants her help to get the word out about their therapy work. “It really has blossomed into bigger and more than I thought it would.” “You just never know where the direction is going to go with your business and just putting yourself in the right place at the right time and being open to the right opportunities.”

She has servant heart and wants to help small businesses succeed. “I think that’s how we’re going to turn our economy around.” “I think that’s how we’re going to survive as a society is the Mom-and-Pop little guy.” “We have to stay in there.”

When asked what advice she would give for anyone starting their own business she responded “if you think, if you’ve even gotten to the point where you’re considering it, it’s probably a good idea and you should give it a shot.” “Go with your gut, follow your gut, work hard, and see what happens.”

I responded with “don’t fail before you even start”

About the author,

 Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP is a small business owner working as a veterinary management consultant in Southern California.  Her company South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions focuses on helping veterinary hospitals, practice owners, and their team members. 

 

 

 

 

Help, my veterinary hospital might need to close due to COVID-19 exposure. How should I prepare?

The best thing you can do is have a plan.  Have a plan for how you will communicate to the team, how you will communicate to your clients, how will you sanitize the hospital, and a long list of other things your hospital needs to do now.

But most importantly, don’t give up!  You can have a plan to help minimize the chaos that you and your employees are feeling and that will help you survive this crazy time.  

Things you should do now

  1. Get remote access to your hospital, not just for you but anyone who is going to be working from home.
    1. Will you provide those employees with work computers or will they use their own?
  2. If you will have team members working from home, will they be able to answer the phones?
    1. Contact your phone provider and see if calls can be rerouted to cell phones and what you will need to do to make this happen.
  3.  Determine, who will handle client questions or problems while you are closed.  I recommend having more than one person in case that person is sick.
  4. Talk to other clinics in the area and create a plan with them so they can help your clients & patients. Do not worry about competition because right now your clients & patients need you.
  5. Talk to your alarm company about what you will need to do for prolonged absence from your building.
  6. If appropriate, contact your local police department and notify them you building might be vacant for a period of time.
  7. Determine what you will do with the cash & controlled drugs in your hospital while you are closed.
  8. If you have hospital pets, who will take care of them? (include your fish/reptiles/small mammals)

Things you need to think about for the immediate future

  1. Think about what you will no longer have access to if you are not in the hospital
    1. Important documents
    2. Records
    3. Important information saved in “one” computer
    4. Other things that are important to you 
    5. How will you do payroll?
      1. What type of pay will your employees receive while you are closed?
        1. FFCRA leave, PTO, SICK, VACA, etc.
  1. Employee communication
    1. Who will the staff be communicating with during this time? And how they will be doing this?
      1. Do you need to set up a text chain, use email, or a simple phone call?
        1. Some resources for instant team communication
          1. Slack
          2. Group Me
          3. Whats App
      2. How often will they be notified of the updates?
        1. Daily, weekly, etc.
        2. Will you require your team members to check in with you weekly?
      3. Do you have all of your employees contact information easily accessible? Do they have each others contact information?
      4. Do you have emergency contact info for your employees? Meaning do you have a friend or relative that you will be able to reach in case you can’t reach the employee.
      5. If you have to close, should your employees take their belonging with them (including any food in the fridge)?
  1. Client communication
    1. How will you notify your clients of the closure and any other communication needed?
      1. Social media
      2. Website
      3. Email
    2. What will you do with the client pets that are in the hospital?
      1. What if they are boarding and you can’t reach the client?
    3. What will happen with the future appointments?
      1. Will you call them?
      2. Send an email?
      3. Text?
        1. And who be doing this?  Assign multiple people this job in case one of them gets sick in the future.
    4. How will your clients get their food/prescription refills? Will you have a doctor able to check those things?
      1. What happens if clients request refills through your online pharmacy? Will they get approved or do you have to do that each time?
    5. Who will be checking the clinic email/fax?
      1. Make sure you have enough paper in the fax machine if you have to close.
    6. Will you be able process payments from clients while you are closed?
    7. How will clients get their records?
    8. How will clients get the pending lab results? Who will review & call them?
    9. How will you check the hospital v/m?
  1. Vendor Communication
    1. Notify any regular lab pick-up/cremation company, post office that you are closed.
    2. How will you handle deliveries that are being shipped to you?
      1. Food
      2. Inventory
      3. Office supplies
      4. UPS/FEDEX, etc.
    3. Do you have your reps and vendors contact information? They might be able to help during this time.
    4. What the deceased pets that are in your freezer? What will happen with the ashes/paw prints that are being delivered?
    5. Do you have any equipment that was borrowed or getting shipped back that you will need to communicate to the company about?
  1. Hospital Stuff
    1. How will your bills get paid?
    2. Will you need to turn off any equipment or computers?
      1. Does any of it need to be cleaned before closing?
    3. Who is going to make sure that hospital is safe while you are gone?
    4. If YOU, the manager, owner, leader gets sick, who is supposed to make the decisions?
    5. Practice owners, do you have your clinic protected in case you are hospitalized and unable to make decisions for the business?

How will you disinfect your hospital while you are closed, or to help prevent closing?  Have a professional company do this, DO NOT try to do this yourself.

Some companies that do clean up and disinfect for COVID-19

  1. ServePro
    1. Phones open 24 hours, service most of SOCAL
    2. 800-737-8776 (headquarters direct #)
    3. You will need to know the square footage of the building
  2. servicemaster
    1. Phones open 24 hours, service most of SOCAL
    2. 800-737-7663
  3. Janiking
    1. Service SOCAL
    2. 972-991-0900
  4. Stratus Building Solutions (not sure of areas of service)
    1. 818-981-1700
  5. Actionduct (not sure of areas of service)
    1. 800-371-2284
  6. Central Valley Corp (not sure of areas of service)
    1. 855-912-6787

CDC INFORMATION

What should I do if an employee is suspect or confirmed to have a case of COVID-19?

 Guidance for confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace

The following information is combined from different pages from the CDC website link above.

In most cases, you do not need to shut down your facility. But do close off any areas used for prolonged periods of time by the sick person:

  • Wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible GET A PROFESSIONAL CLEANER.
  • During this waiting period, open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in these areas.

Timing and location of cleaning and disinfection of surfaces

  • At a school, daycare center, office, or other facility that does not house people overnight:
    • Close off areas visited by the ill persons. Open outside doors and windows and use ventilating fans to increase air circulation in the area.
    • Wait 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
    • Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment (like tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATM machines) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces. – I recommend contacting a professional COVID–19 cleaning service, listed at the end of the document. 
    • If you are cleaning it yourself, clean dirty surfaces with soap and water before disinfecting them.
    • To disinfect surfaces, use products that meet EPA criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2external iconexternal icon, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
    • Always wear gloves and gowns appropriate for the chemicals being used when you are cleaning and disinfecting.
    • You may need to wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE) depending on the setting and disinfectant product you are using.

In addition to cleaning and disinfecting, employers should determine which employees may have been exposed to the virus and need to take additional precautions:

Most work places will follow these basic CDC guidelines https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/public-health-recommendations.html

Critical infostructure guidelines https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/critical-workers/implementing-safety-practices.html

Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html

Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider and state or local health department.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What should I do if I find out several days later, after an employee worked, that they were diagnosed with COVID-19?

  • If it has been less than 7 days since the sick employee used the facility, clean and disinfect all areas used by the sick employee following the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
  • If it has been 7 days or more since the sick employee used the facility, additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary. Continue routinely cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces in the facility.
  • Other employees may have been exposed to the virus if they were in “close contact” (within approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) of the sick employee for a prolonged period of time.
  • Employees not considered exposed should self-monitor for symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. If they develop symptoms, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

Here is another really good resource from the CDC for business guidance

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

Written by,

Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP