Six years ago my husband, who is also a vet, and I were having a conversation about CPD and how expensive it seemed. To cut a very long story short, we decided set up our own small company providing low cost lecture days and embarked on a journey with ups and downs, stressful days and rewarding experiences.
It is only a small business that we run alongside our regular jobs, but I am happy to pass on the lessons we learned.
Firstly, it is vital to have a recognisable brand and image and my advice would be to employ a graphic designer to bring your visions to life. With vCPD ours created a unique colour palate, logo and tag line that helped us to stand out as unique in the veterinary market.
You will also need a really good website. Any business without a strong internet presence is likely to be viewed with suspicion and seem hopelessly out of date to any potential clients.
Our website – www.vcpd.co.uk – was created by a professional web design company but there are DIY options out there. These are cheaper but can take a great deal time and may not be as slick. MrSite is a DIY platform I can recommend, as is wordpress.com.
It is vital, if you do use an outside company, to be able to have complete editorial control of the contents of the site. This allows you to make updates and changes yourself rather than going though a third party, which will incur costs and take much longer.
You also need to have a presence on social media and maintain it with regular posts and interaction with your customers. Facebook and Twitter allowed us to build up a solid fan base to whom we could advertise our courses and offers at no cost other than our time.
We didn’t have a large advertising budget so social media was vital for us to get our message out. We did spend a small amount on advertising on Facebook and Google and it definitely increased our website hit rate and "likes". The advantage of this type of advert is they can be highly targeted to your geographical area, or many other parameters, meaning you are likely to reach the right people quickly and efficiently.
As we stayed within the industry we already worked in with our new business, we were able to call on contacts we already had to find speakers and delegates. Ours is a small profession and everyone knows someone. Friends and colleagues were incredibly supportive of our venture, so if you have this ability, do use it.
A good accountant is vital for any new business start-up. Ours is already heavily involved in the veterinary industry and although mainly works for vet practices, their knowledge was invaluable. They helped us register for VAT and set up the company in the most tax efficient way possible.
One thing I hadn’t been prepared for is, when you are running your own business – even if it is just a small, part time operation like ours – you can never switch off. There is always the nagging feeling you should be doing something to keep it up and running and the pressure to constantly innovate and move forward was remarkable – or that could be just me!
Also, you are where the buck stops. I ended up running a course just two weeks after having had my second baby, there was simply no-one else who could do it; my business, my responsibility.
I would also advise anyone running their own company to develop a thick skin. Thankfully complaints and criticism are rare for us, but when they do come it can be demoralising. It is vital to learn to take it on board, act on it if appropriate and then move on – dwelling is easy to do but very damaging for one’s mental health.
The great thing about running your own business is you can do it on your terms. In our case I only ran courses on days that were convenient for me and chose a venue that was within easy reach. I am also able to do all the correspondence and planning around my regular job and home life.
At the moment I have put the company on hold after the birth of our second child, but the solid foundations I have laid means it should be reasonably easy to start up again once I feel up to it.
Running our company, small though it was, has given us a huge insight into the business world and a new found respect for anyone who decides to go it alone. The lessons we have learned, the stress we have been under and the rewards we have reaped have been remarkable.
If you are considering starting something up my advice would be, if you believe in it, go for it but be prepared to work hard.