In the interest of total transparency, I want to tell you that the next Ms New Brunswick, Katie Bell, is my sister. Don’t hold that against her, she has one of the most inventive and unique businesses I’ve ever encountered. Katie Bell is a veterinarian, and she owns the only exclusively house call veterinary practice in the province, Seaside Home Veterinary Care.
I take the features on this series very seriously, and I do a lot of research on the hundreds of nominees I’ve received. There are many women that I want to interview, but when this project started Katie was at the top of my list, and not because she is my sister. If anything, that actually worked against her as I tried to establish the series and myself as its author. Her business is so cool and innovative and as soon as you get to the end of this interview, you will agree and understand why I would want to talk to someone like her.
Fun fact: Katie recently had her second baby, and so is often up in the night nursing her newborn. I send her a link when I'm finished writing these posts, usually around midnight, and somewhere around 3 AM I get a reply with some suggestions for improvements and comma help. She has edited every single post for me in the Ms New Brunswick series in the middle of the night.
Meet Dr. Katie Bell, today's Ms New Brunswick.
Tell me about Seaside Home Veterinary Care
Seaside is my veterinary practice that is exclusively a house call service. Essentially, I go to see your pets in the comfort of your own home instead of in a clinic setting. House calls are nothing new, but as far as I know I am the only person in the province that does house calls exclusively. My service tends to appeal to those who, for whatever reason, are unable to leave home, or their pets have difficulty leaving their home. A lot of pets have phobias of clinics, or experience stress there, and some have mobility issues that make it difficult to leave the house. Some people have difficulty making an appointment in the middle of the day, or have kids they don’t want to bundle up to bring to a clinic. Some people don’t have a car, or just simply prefer the convenience of having me come to them. We can do anything that you would routinely get done in the clinic outside of surgery or emergency medicine or x-rays. We can even deliver food and medications to your house!
What area do you service?
Saint John & surrounding area – we’ve been as far as Sussex, and we do monthly visits to Grand Manan. We really will go wherever we can get to, if that is what our clients need.
How did you get started?
What I realized when I was working as a veterinarian in St. Stephen was that I really enjoyed the days where I was working house calls. When we moved HOME to Saint John, I wanted to see if I could make my favourite way of practicing vet medicine into the way that I did it every day.
I reached out to the local veterinary community and got a positive response to the idea. Kannon Animal Hospital has been a great support and mentor to me and my business, but I couldn't have done this without the wonderful support from the entire veterinary community in Saint John..
Do you have any employees?
Yes. I have an assistant, Megan, that works with me. She’s wonderful and I love her, we have a great working relationship.
How is having an employee?
Having an employee is one of the coolest and hardest things you can do as a business owner. Of course you want to have a good relationship with your employees, but at the end of the day you still are the boss. I strive to be a good boss – I want to be able to give and receive constructive criticism in a way that doesn’t poison the working relationship – and so I work on that everyday. I think one of the biggest things about being a good business owner is learning to trust people. It is so hard, because no one will love your business the way you do, or make every decision the way you would, but I have found that people do better when you trust them. They feel it when you have confidence in them, and that gives them confidence. Giving Megan responsibilities is important, for her and for me.
I am dealing with the trust issue in a major way right now. I just had my second baby and am actually on maternity leave. It requires so much relinquishing of control, of course, but I have surrounded myself with the right people and I trust them, and that makes it possible for me to just enjoy my baby right now. I’m in a unique situation where my husband is also a veterinarian so he is actually the vet that replaced me during my leave, and I sort of feel that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have been able to make a maternity leave work. Even though I am not collecting a salary from the business right now, that doesn't mean the work stops. The business requires a lot of work outside of the job of being the vet, but I am doing my best to focus on the time with my newest baby girl, while also keeping an eye on things to the best of my ability
Were you worried about taking a maternity leave from your small business?
Yes of course I was worried for a while. I wasn’t sure how we were going to make it work, but the government has made it possible for small business owners to take maternity leave and that is amazing. It’s all done through the Special Benefits program, which you have to enroll in ahead of time to be able to utilize.
Has the community been supportive?
Yes, very supportive. I find that I am still trying to find creative ways to get the word out about my service, but word of mouth has been amazing for me, and its also a great indicator of community support. As I mentioned earlier, the veterinary community in the area was very welcoming to me, and I am grateful for that support as well.
How can we support you better?
I think it would be great if there was a platform that highlighted local businesses. Somewhere we could all register and you could go and look to see what services and products were offered in your community. Social media is a great tool, but it's also a lot of work.
What is the biggest difficulty in your business?
Well, just running the business, even though we are quite small, is a fulltime job. On top of that I also am the veterinarian. I don’t have the resources to hire out aspects of the business that I could probably get someone to do. I basically have two fulltime jobs. Finding the time to put the efforts into growing your business while also keeping it running day to day is my biggest challenge. I’m providing the service plus running the business behind the scenes, and it’s a lot of work.
So how do you balance work and personal life?
That is a work in progress all the time. Probably the most important thing is establishing boundaries and actually not allowing yourself to check messages when you say your business is closed. Having plans and systems and automated messages in place so that you can put your phone away when you’re closed is key. There is no such thing as finishing all the work and then focusing on my family. There is always more work that I need to do for the business, so just being consistent and mindful of my time is important. I don’t want to miss time with my family, so when I’m closed, I’m closed.
What piece of advice would you offer other women starting their own business?
Ask people questions. Talk to anybody who will listen. You can learn so much from others’ experiences. Even though I am happy where I am now, and I am so glad I started the business, I woudn’t want to relive those initial growing pains. I don’t regret any of it, but it would have been great to skip those obstacles I encountered in the beginning.
The number one thing you can do is find your people. I am the only person in my area who is doing this kind of service, so I found other people who worked in my industry elsewhere and I reached out to them. I reached out to total strangers and simply asked for help and advice. Now we chat all the time. Find people who may have been through some of the struggles you have ahead of you already and maybe you can save yourself some headaches.
How can we get in touch with you?
Katie talked about how her unique situation made it possible for her to take a maternity leave. I agree that it's not usual to have two working veterinarians in the same family, but I hear women credit their circumstances all the time for their success or good fortune.
What I have come to learn is that women are much more capable than they realize. Everybody attributes so much of their success to luck or their specific circumstances, but the truth is that they don’t give themselves enough credit. The women I have talked to are almost reluctant to accept praise for their achievements when they believe that their circumstances are what makes them successful. You are the engineer of your circumstances - if they are responsible for your success, then you are too.
I think that we invalidate our achievements a little bit when we refuse to acknowledge the role we all play in our own lives. You are the captain of your ship, so when you avoid an iceberg, don't thank the waves. I am guilty of this also. In fact, I really dislike acknowledging my achievements.
The Ms New Brunswick project is about taking a title back for all the women who really embody the heart and soul of our province through creative endeavours and entrepreneurship. The makers and doers who are sharing with us their time, energy and talents, and carrying us forward. Full-time or side hustle. Big or small. At home or in an office. Products or service. Crafters, moms, entrepreneurs, shop owners, consultants. Whatever. If there is a woman in our province giving life to an idea or product, I want to know about it.
If you or someone you know would be right for the Ms New Brunswick series please fill out the Nomination Form!