Dr. Marlow Ball, a veterinarian from Little Rock, spent a decade working in a variety of emergency clinics and private practices before she decided to strike out on her own. Three years ago, Marlow began making veterinarian house calls while still supplementing her income by picking up emergency relief work shifts.
“I knew I wanted to be a business owner, and I knew I wanted to do things differently than what I was seeing at other practices,” she said. “We provide in-home euthanasia and wellness visits. I also am a fear-free veterinarian, so I have taken additional training and certification to be a fear-free practice.”
Fear-free veterinarians work to create an environment that helps reduce the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress in patients. Marlow’s techniques create a calming environment for the animals and their owners.
“We do everything we can to keep owners present with their pets during visits,” she said. “It keeps our patients calmer. We also have a separate cat room, so the smells of other animals don’t trigger them. We are also big fans of giving anxiety medication for fearful pets.”
When she began considering opening a veterinary clinic, she received assistance from the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
“Little Rock is a very saturated market,” Marlow said. “I was able to do a demographic study with the ASBTDC, and that really helped with my loan application. It made me feel really good moving forward with my own practice. They helped me with a marketing plan and with financials. They helped me understand my market. It made it clear to my loan application officers that I put a lot of thought and work into what I was doing.”
Ball’s ASBTDC business consultant, Eileen Dailey, said that Ball was a hard-working client who was passionate about becoming a business owner.
“Dr. Marlow Ball has always known what she wants to achieve. As her business consultant,
I only needed to back up her vision and experience with factual, current data on her industry and local target market,” Dailey said. “We provide this type of market research and financial analysis, not only to complete a business plan, but to help our clients confirm the feasibility and profitability of their businesses and communicate that to their lenders.
‘I also happen to have witnessed first-hand the quality work that Dr. Marlow provides. She not only is a superb professional, but she deeply cares about how she performs her work and for all of the parties involved. Such heart, talent, and expertise might not be reflected in a business plan, which makes us as business consultants work harder to make sure we provide information, marketing, and financial guidance so our clients like Dr. Marlow achieve their goals. At ASBTDC, we assist many clients who don’t have a business background. It is very rewarding to share our expertise to help them pursue their passions and create strong businesses.”
Marlow had only owned her business, SoMa Animal Clinic & House Calls, which has three full-time employees, for less than a year when the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed how she does business.
“We have followed the American Veterinary Medical Association’s guidelines to stop elective surgeries during the start of the pandemic so that resources could be used in human medicine. We use a lot of the same equipment as human doctors like masks and anesthesia. As a new business, it was hard to stop surgeries for almost a month.”
Like many small business owners, Marlow has also found ways to be innovative and adapt so that she can continue to provide services during a pandemic. Since she no longer provides home wellness visits at this time, Marlow’s embraced telemedicine visits. To keep up with safe social distancing practices, Marlow and her staff offer curbside delivery and pick up of animals being treated at her veterinary clinic.
“We have started seeing our clients curbside, rather than having a lot of people in our building,” Marlow said. “People wait in their cars. We bring their pets inside, provide services, and then bring them back out to the car. I’m glad we are able to stay open and provide services, but it can be exhausting to run back and forth between so many cars!”
During the pandemic, Marlow found the ASTBDC’s expertise invaluable while applying for the Paycheck Protection Program and looking at her cash flow.
“There’s been a lot of conflicting information and information overload, so it’s been very helpful to have one place where I can get reliable information,” she said. “The ASBTDC has shared weekly webinars about the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. As a small business owner, I don’t have time to spend hours reading. The ASBTDC has a lot of one-hour webinars where I can get weeks of information all in one place.”
The ASBTDC is committed to providing the latest available information and resources for small businesses to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
“It has been an overwhelming time, where things change on a daily basis, and we have been working hard to keep up with the information that business owners need to know,” Dailey said. “Now our focus is moving towards how to do business in this new reality, where clients like Dr. Marlow have had to change the way they operate, manage their money, and continue to survive during a pandemic.”
Since starting her business, Marlow has continued to meet with her ASBTDC consultant every three months and recommends the center for any Arkansan who is considering starting a business.
“Not only have they helped me set up my business, but the ASBTDC continues to help me run my business as well as I can,” Marlow said. “Anyone who has ever even thought of opening a business should go to the ASBTDC. I hope that more people will continue to use its resources. It’s a great tool for business owners in central Arkansas.”