Jessie Sanders was frustrated with her job search for a “normal” veterinary job. She had always wanted to work in aquatic medicine. “So I went ahead and started my own specialty practice,” Sanders says.

Instead of settling on a job she wasn't excited about, Jessie Sanders designed her own perfect career: Aquatic veterinary medicine.

While Sanders was excited about her chosen specialty, she soon realized that many potential clients had no idea her practice area existed. But the popularity of her ambulatory care services quickly became successful enough to warrant the development of a clinic, Aquatic Veterinary Services of Northern California, which Sanders calls the fish hospital.

“I needed help designing a business plan to take my ambulatory veterinary practice to an in-house practice and retail store,” she recalls. Mentor Barbara Humphries walked Sanders through a six-month planning phase before referring her to mentor Michael Sarka for marketing plan assistance.

Why the business planning process is so important

Sanders says the planning process, while lengthy, “was completely necessary for me to implement the correct steps to get to where I am now.”

“When I was first getting started, there were so many things I had to learn really quickly,” she says. “Thankfully, my father started his own extremely successful company, so he was there to guide me through the startup steps. Over the years, we have continued to grow.” 

The construction of Sanders’ first office space took a year. “Waiting for that to move forward was an incredible test of patience,” she admits.

Marketing a specialty niche

“My main struggle has always been marketing,” Sanders says. “Since we are a specialty veterinary practice, getting the word out to the right people has always been a struggle. Especially since there are so few veterinarians who work with fish, like I do, most people are not aware our specialty even exists!” 

As she moved Aquatic Veterinary Services of Northern California into its new clinic space, Sanders opened a second business to complement her veterinary practice. Sanders’ retail shop, Santa Cruz Koi, offers koi pond supplies, equipment, treatments and koi food. “It has added physical products to my veterinary service and a whole new batch of challenges.” Those challenges include managing the employees who keep the clinic and shop running smoothly.

“My business transitioned from a one-person, on-the-road business to a two-business veterinary hospital and retail store with six employees,” Sanders reports. “This would not have been possible without the assistance of my mentors.”

“Think it through to completion,” Sanders advises other aspiring entrepreneurs. “Starting your own business is the dream of many individuals, but you need planning and forethought to see it from beginning to end. Problems will not fix themselves mid-project. You have to plan for all the bumps ahead and know how to go over them.”

Meet with a SCORE mentor to take your specialty business to the next level.

About the Author(s)

 Bridget  Weston

Bridget Weston is the CEO of the SCORE Association, where she provides executive leadership and works directly and collaboratively with the Board of Directors to establish the vision and direction of SCORE.


Key Topics

Aquatic Veterinary Services: Building a Specialty Around Two Businesses