Striking a balance... - Veterinary Practice
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Striking a balance…

hears how two busy vets cope with the demands of running a practice whilst still maintaining a hands-on clinical role

WHEN choosing a business partner
to help develop an existing one-man
mixed practice in Ipswich, Bristol
graduate Charles Bagnall looked
very close to home and in 1996 he
was joined by his brother and fellow
vet, James.

Together, the brothers have built up
the small animal side of the Orwell
Veterinary Group practice and in 2005
opened a purpose-built veterinary Tier 3
hospital. In 2008, the practice was
named Pet Plan Practice of the Year.

Combining a full-time veterinary
role with the challenges of running an
expanding practice is one faced by many
vets but so far Charles and James have
managed to strike a balance between the

“It has been a huge
advantage working so
closely with my brother
who is a similar age and
whose career path and
life goals have been
essentially the same. As we’ve both
wanted the same things at the same
time, we’ve been able to spend time and
energy on driving the practice forward
without worrying about other partners
or directors wanting to move in a
different direction at a different stage in
their career or life.

“Good working relationships with
our clients are key to our success and
we both still have a full-time role in the
day-to-day clinical work of the practice,
though I tend to spend more time consulting and James tends to be more
involved with the surgical caseload.
However, our schedule is tailored to
allow time for an ever-increasing
amount of management work.”

Charles and James divide
responsibility and management roles
within the practice, which they say is
vital for their sanity!

“We have allocated roles according
to our strengths and interests, but of
course we cannot do everything
ourselves. Where necessary, tasks are
delegated either within the practice or
outsourced. I am responsible for public
relations and marketing, accounts and
debt chasing as well as front-of-house
management, property maintenance,buildings, contents and vehicle
insurance and I am also fire and health
and safety officer.

“We believe that offering our clients
additional services is vital as we expand
and provide an importance means of
cash flow, thus supporting the rest of
the business. It’s therefore also my job
to oversee our Pet Care Plan in
conjunction with Premier Vet Alliance
(PVA) which keeps our customers
happy and our costs down and so
increases profitability.”

As the practice has
grown, involving everyone
in the business has also been
important. Key members of
staff have been given
specific areas of
responsibility such as
practice manager and
administrator and a recently
appointed customer care

Clinical director James’
areas of responsibility
include business planning
and strategy, payroll and
banking, human resources,
website and e-commerce,
pharmacy, pricing and

“The demands of
managing a busy small
animal practice are high and
at times stressful. In our
practice it has been
achievable by sharing the
work,” adds James. “Alone it
would have been a very
daunting and overwhelming
task and by supporting one
another, we’ve managed to
maintain our focus and enthusiasm.”

Social media and the internet
also have their
place at Orwell and
Charles’ marketing
and PR role has
involved, especially
with the frequent
use of the
practice’s interactive website,, and social media.

The practice’s most recent marketing
initiative is the introduction of a client
discount/loyalty scheme: “This has been
a very successful scheme that was
planned and implemented with full staff
involvement from the start. We’re always
looking for ways to attract and retain
more clients and by working with
Premier Vet Alliance, we’ve achieved
one of the highest sign-up rates to date.

“This scheme forms a vital part of
our business strategy helping us to
maintain and enhance our bonded client
base and make full use of an
increasingly internet-based sales arena.”

Other services offered by the
practice include a pet crematorium
and an online VMD accredited
dispensary, which are
regarded as “add-ons” but
which add further time
pressures outside normal
practice working hours.

“Time management is a
constant battle and is a
picture, I am sure, that is
mirrored in many vet
practices across the country,
particularly at a time when
practice incomes are being
squeezed and there is
increasing pressure on
practice expenditure, not
least on staffing levels and
wages. During busy periods
we struggle to achieve our
management roles as
effectively as we would like,”
adds Charles.

The Bagnall brothers
have considered the
possibility of one of them
stepping back from a
clinical role to focus on
managing the business but
they both still enjoy being
vets and are reluctant to
make that choice just yet.

“There is inevitably a
knock-on effect with
work-life balance as work
tends to tip the balance,
particularly during the
current economic
downturn,” says Charles.

“However while we still both enjoy
what we do, gaining satisfaction from
our veterinary work, and pride in our
practice and staff, it is worth all the

“Our employees help us achieve
our goals and we must also
acknowledge the usefulness of
companies such as PVA in easing the
non-clinical workload, by providing a
range of advisory services to us as and
when we need them in areas as diverse
as accountancy, business planning,
marketing and human resources.

“The hard work and long hours
are made possible by having
supportive and understanding wives
and working with a great team of like-
minded, caring and committed staff.”

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