Ellie Lee BVSc MRCVS

Director, Manchester Cat CLinic

Posted: 25/09/2023


We're not currently paying ourselves a full salary but once the finances are more stable we'll be on £50k each, increasing that as the practice grows




Going the extra mile for clients & patients Being an empathetic employer


Manchester but you can open your own practice anywhere!

Essential Skills

Confidence in the clinical side of the job Good interpersonal skills

Ellie Lee BVSc MRCVS

Check out our Career Q & A questions below to take a deep dive into this career path.  If you’re interested in this type of career but unsure how to take the next step, click below to learn more about our services designed to support you.

My first job was at Vale Vets in Kidderminster, an independent small animal only practice in the West Midlands. I worked there for two years and feel very lucky to have started my career in such a lovely, supportive practice. I learned so much from some amazing vets and nurses and at the time we did our own out-of-hours which, although I didn’t love it at the time, taught me a lot and really helped my confidence. I then locumed in the UK for a few months before moving to Wellington, New Zealand to work at the SPCA for a few months, followed by some travelling, then returning to the UK as a locum based in Manchester.

My husband and I had been locuming in the Manchester area for a couple of years and felt that we would never really be ready to settle down into a permanent job again unless someone opened a cat-only practice in Manchester. We’d sort of joked about doing it ourselves but had never really been serious about it until November 2021 when I was in a pub in Gloucester with some other BSAVA volunteers and the subject of opening a practice came up. I chair BSAVA North West Regional Committee and sit on Council, so I’d travelled down to BSAVA HQ after work ahead of a Council meeting the next day. The vets I was speaking to were so encouraging and supportive of the concept of me opening a practice that it went from being a bit of a joke to a serious idea and I went home the next day wanting to seriously look into it. We booked onto Onswitch’s Open Your Own Practice course and one thing led to another and now we’re practice owners!

We had to make a business plan to get loans for equipment and premises renovations (we used a company called Vector Finance who were fantastic). We were very lucky that there was a veterinary surgery which had closed in 2020 very close to where we live – it had been a vets since 1948, sold to a corporate in 2018 but the previous practice owner retired and the practice closed due to staffing issues and Covid. The corporate had been paying rent on an empty building for a few years by the time we came along and were very keen to break their lease. Our landlord is a retired vet who was very happy for us to take over.

I love the feedback from staff and clients about how nice the practice is. Multiple times a day clients will tell me that they’ve never been to a vets like ours and that both them and their cats are so much more comfortable here. We really do our best to go the extra mile and I think the way we’ve renovated the practice and made it much less clinical and more friendly really makes a big difference. We’ve also been very lucky to have recruited an absolutely brilliant group of people who are a pleasure to work with

I’d say my day is pretty typical for a small animal vet except I only see cats, which is such a treat. I get a lot less scratches and bruises than I used to and the practice is much quieter and calmer than anywhere I’ve ever worked.

The management side has been a big learning curve and the admin burden has been absolutely huge but we’re getting into the swing of things now and have been able to delegate a lot of things to the rest of the team. We’ve just recruited for another vet and RVN as we’ve been so busy that we’ve needed to grow really quickly. My husband and I have been working 50-60 hours a week since we opened but we should actually be able to have a day off once the new vet starts which we’re very excited about.

Someone who doesn’t mind a big admin burden and is very organised – there is just so much to think about and do on top of all the clinical work. We expected to start off fairly quiet but we were pretty much fully booked from the get go, and by all accounts that’s not unusual, a lot of other startups have also been doing really well.

It also really helps to be a people person, not only for managing the team but also clients really like to see a vet at the face of an independent practice and really appreciate getting to know you. We get a lot of comments about how much they want to get to know a regular vet and see a familiar face, and our social media posts get a lot more engagement if they have our faces on it. It can feel a bit weird to put yourself out there (especially after we’d been fairly anonymous locums for a few years) but clients really appreciate it.

We didn’t have any money! We’d got married the year before and bought our first house the year before that so we had no cash at all. Thankfully vets are seen as very safe businesses to lend to and we were able to borrow £240k for cash and renovations based on our business plan alone. We continued to locum through the same limited company that we were using to open the practice so some of what we were earning went towards the costs of setting up the practice too. It was a bit of a scary leap and even though we’d done the maths and had good accountants we still felt a bit like we were winging it and it was a big relief to get all of the bills paid without running out of money.
  1. Onswitch’s “Open Your Own Practice” course
  2. Onswitch’s “Managing & Coaching Teams” course
  3. Speak to people who own their own practice
Do the “Open Your Own Practice” course from Onswitch – I can’t express enough how hugely helpful not only the course was but also the massive amount of help we’ve had from Alison Lambert and Ruth Gray since then. We could not have done this without them and they still give us so much advice and support. It also introduced us to a network of people in the same boat as us who we get a lot of support from. It makes a huge difference being able to speak to people who are going through the same thing and get answers to the millions of questions we had.

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