The hidden art of knowing when to quit : How do you know when it is time to go?

15 Jun 2023 - Simon Palmer - Vet Practice Sales

We are often told that the secret to a successful career is hard work, determination, persistence and resilience. What we aren’t told is that another crucial skill in determining the success of your overall career is the exact opposite…knowing when and how to quit. 

There are many reasons to celebrate grit. The things that we value most will often require us to persist through challenging times. Despite its many virtues, though, it is possible to overvalue grittiness. Just as important as the discipline of grit, is the self-awareness to know when to quit. 

For a vet practice owner, there are two crucial and very separate “quits” that they will need to time and sequence correctly in their career: 

  1. When to quit practice ownership and 
  2. When to quit clinical veterinary work

There is an epidemic in the vet industry of poorly-timed quitters. Vets who hold onto their status as owners and clinicians far too long, past the point at which their financial capital, health and/or clinical reputation have been eroded and compromised.

When to quit practice ownership 

It is important to make clear the that selling your practice is not the same thing as quitting clinical work. Most vet practice owners will work for some time post sale, even if it is just to ensure a smooth transition of goodwill. 

Selling your practice is simply the divestment of an asset and the release of capital. The right time to do this is the same as with any asset. We should aim to sell any asset when its value (usually reflected in its turnover, profit and likely prospects) is at its peak. 

When to quit clinical work

The right time to quit clinical veterinary work is more complex. Many vets think of quitting clinical work as the day when they put down their tools for the last time. In reality, vets usually quit clinical work slowly, by increments, over their last decade of practicing.

Either due to age, fatigue, health concerns or the desire to spend their time elsewhere, they start slowly quitting. They quit:

  • The number of hours per day that they work
  • The number of weeks that they work
  • The number clients per day
  • Clinical range 
  • Innovation in their practice

Quitting slowly like this is often necessary. Physical and mental health, and relationships with loved ones, cannot be maintained if an owner needs to keep up the long hours and intense pace that they worked in their youth. Quitting clinical work slowly is often necessary for clinical longevity.

Sequencing the two “Quits”

Sequencing your two “Quits” needs to be done carefully, such that the timing of the second quit doesn’t compromise the first. 

That is to say, that a vet practice owner who is considering slowing down towards the end of their career should consider selling their practice before their reduction of their time/clinical range/speed in the practice compromises the practice’s value (reflected in turnover, profit and likely prospects). 

Vet practice owners should also realise that a purchaser will usually pay more for a practice where the vendor stays on clinically post sale (even if it is part time, with long holidays each year) to give the new owner an implied endorsement and ensure a smooth transition. From a practice value perspective, it would be ideal for a vet practice owner to plan on working for the buyer of their practice in some capacity for at least a year.