How the ‘gig economy’ affects the future of veterinary industry

Freelancers can offer veterinary practice owners a chance to fill in the gaps of their business without the same costs

In 2001, author Daniel H. Pink published Free Agent Nation: How Americans New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live.  The term ‘Free Agent Nation,’ was one he coined back in 1997 to predict the trend in the workforce toward freelancing, temporary work, self-employment and the rise of independent contractors. Pink predicted that a combination of changes in the workplace, including the emergence of the Internet and other technology, the increase of project work, shortened job cycles and the acceptance of a new lifestyle, would lead to the rise of the ‘Free Agent Nation.’

Taking into consideration more recent economic pressures facing businesses, this trend in the workforce has greatly benefited employers. Small- to medium-sized businesses that can’t afford a full-time marketing department or the high costs typically associated with marketing agencies, turned to marketing freelancers for project­based work. In adopting this lean model, these businesses could reap the benefits of high­-end consultants, who were previously ‘reserved’ for large organizations, without the associated price tag.

Pink’s Free Agent Nation is well and truly here. You may know it as the “Gig Economy,” “E­lancing” or the “On-Demand” economy. It’s part of a wider cultural and business environment that also includes the sharing economy — think Uber and Airbnb.Uber and Airbnb.

Online marketplaces that connect the buyer to the seller and facilitate the transaction facilitate the exchange of goods and services. For professional business services, one can turn to platforms like HourlyNerd, SpareHire, Expert360 and even Upwork, where business owners post ‘projects’ and freelancers submit proposals. Freelancers can bid on projects around the world, giving employers the option to select from a wider talent pool than that available in any given area.

It is estimated that by 2020, as much as 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing, as a study by Intuit shows. Next time you walk into a coffee shop, have a look around: That millennial sitting in front of a laptop, wearing headphones and sipping a Chai soy latte is probably a member of the Free Agent Nation.

The Free Agent Nation Meets the Veterinary Industry

How will these changes in the workforce affect the veterinary industry and the wider healthcare industry? For practice owners, managers and administrators the implications are huge and the prospects exciting. There are a number of characteristics that make this industry unique and highly suitable to the gig economy:

  • Practice owners are typically medical practitioners: veterinarians, dentists and doctors. At their core, practice owners are also scientists, patient advocates and surgeons. Who studies medicine for years because they want to be a business manager? Not them. Therefore, they need help running their businesses.
  • Most practices can’t afford a full­-time practice manager. Many owners simply don’t see the value of employing a full-time practice manager. That’s not to say that there isn’t a tremendous amount of value that a practice manager brings to a hospital; unfortunately, many owners believe they can do it on their own. It’s a cycle that is difficult to break — an underperforming practice cannot afford a practice manager who will be able to improve the financial performance of the business.
  • Running a healthcare practice is not the same as operating any other business. Whether this is true or not is a point of contention, but the bottom line is that the majority of practice owners believe that a healthcare practice is ‘special’ and unlike any other business. This greatly impacts how they find management and administration assistance — they prefer to work with people who have significant experience in the healthcare industry.
  • As a result of the third point above: most practice managers are nurses. If people don’t study medicine to become business managers, do they study nursing because they want to improve the quality of life of their patients, or because they want to manage a practice? This means that if a practice owner requires a high level of expertise in a particular area, say financial management, they probably have to look outside their practice for a manager. I have had the pleasure of working with some practice managers who are fantastic at their jobs, and the business would not survive without them. But if you think a veterinary nurse/tech has to be one hundred different things (from grief counselor to anesthesiologist), try adding practice management into the mix.

The combination of the above industry characteristics, increased competitive pressures, increased client awareness and trends in the pet care industry, all point to the move towards a gig economy in veterinary practice management.

How the Gig Economy Can Work in a Vet Practice

Picture a practice owner who has to deal with an underperforming team member; their receptionist, for this example. She has received complaints from clients and other team members about the receptionist because he has a negative attitude. The practice owner is preparing to have a conversation with him, but she isn’t quite sure how to approach it and if she is within her rights to terminate his employment. She goes online to a marketplace for veterinary practice management, and types in “terminating employment.” She is presented with a shortlist of independent contractors who specialize in employee relations. She needs someone who is familiar with her state and federal legislation, so she narrows down the search to her city. She sorts the experts by their hourly rate, and selects one who has been in the industry for 25 years, has a 5-star rating from previous users, and is online right now.

Through the platform, she contacts the ER expert immediately and speaks to him for 30 minutes. Her credit card is automatically charged for the duration of the phone call, at the expert’s hourly rate. The practice owner goes straight into the meeting with the receptionist, confident that she is within her rights to terminate the employment agreement and knows exactly what to say.

A week later, the practice owner considers that it may be time to put together an employee handbook for the hospital. It may help avoid situations like this in the future. Without a practice manager, she knows she doesn’t have the time to do this in-house. She is back at the online marketplace, this time searching for a practice manager who has experience in writing employee handbooks. She finds a PM who has written manuals for a number of hospitals. The PM is located in a different city, but she decides that’s not a problem. The owner schedules an appointment via the platform and engages the PM for a short-term project, who estimates it will take three weeks for the manual to be completed.

At the end of the first week, she receives the first 10 pages of the manual and a timesheet for 15 hours, which she approves. Her credit card is automatically billed for 15 hours at the PM’s hourly rate, and she looks forward to seeing the next few pages shortly.

The Free Agent Nation, or the gig economy, will provide practice owners an easier, more affordable and more flexible approach to getting the expertise they need to run a successful business. Lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, IT professionals, customer service training specialists, wellness coaches, management consultants — these are just some of the existing suppliers to the veterinary management industry who will benefit from the rise of the gig economy.

What’s even more exciting is that the gig economy opens up new career paths for veterinary nurses and practice managers. Those with a specialist interest in, say social media marketing, running team meetings, training or practice protocols, could showcase their skills and experience, choose their own hourly rate and have the opportunity to work remotely.

Consultmates is a global marketplace for practice management. We connect veterinary practice owners with practice management experts, without the cost and hassle of annual contracts. Browse top consulting talent on demand, with transparent, Pay-As-You-Go hourly fees.

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