Hi everyone! Welcome back.
How about a little house-purchasing update before we dive into today’s post?
My offer was accepted! I don’t know if you remember from this post, but I found the cutest little house and put in an offer in September. Everything’s been unfolding since then, and we’re just a few weeks away from closing.
Closing keeps getting delayed, of course. This seems like a normal occurrence? Thoughts on this, anyone? But hopefully soon I’ll be moving into my new house! I cannot wait to fill it with stuff. I have a LOT of bookcases and books… no kitchen chairs… no lamps… no desk… no problem! I don’t even care. I’ll sit on the floor. I’m ready to move in ASAP 🙂
Okay. But #houseexcitement aside, let’s get back to the point of today’s post. One of the most popular articles on Modern Acupuncture Marketing is this one:
This is another way of saying, “16 things I did wrong or could have done better when I first started my acupuncture practice.”
I made a lot of mistakes, you guys.
That’s honestly the best way for me to learn. Want me to learn something permanently? Let me do it wrong a bunch of times first. Like, really, really wrong. After that, I’ve got it.
Here’s a good example: When driving to a new city to recruit students for NYCC/FLSAOM, I don’t really know my way around until I’ve gotten lost. Once I get lost in the worst part of town, and figure out how to navigate my way out of the predicament, then and only then do I actually feel confident that I know the area.
For example, that one time when I had to stop at a gas station that had bars on the windows to ask for directions? Yeah. I’ll never get lost in that area again 😉
The same is true for running my acupuncture practice.
Let me do it wrong, so I can do it right.
So today’s post is an extension of the original one. I asked myself, what else did I do wrong when I started out? What else could I have done better? What do I wish I had known from the beginning?
Maybe you also learn best from making your own mistakes. I know this trait isn’t unique to me. It’s possible that reading this won’t be as helpful as going out there and making the mistakes yourself…
BUT. I hope that having these things on your radar ahead of time will make the whole journey easier for you.
Maybe as you’re starting or moving along with your practice, you’ll recognize some of these things as they’re unfolding, so you can resolve them that much sooner.
12 More Things I Wish I’d Known Before Opening My Acupuncture Practice:
1. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or to fail. Trying and failing is better than not trying at all.
This is probably my favorite marketing advice. I’ve tried a lot of marketing efforts that didn’t work out. And the only way that I knew they didn’t work for my practice was that I tried them.
For instance, direct mailings of postcards. Seemed like a great idea to introduce myself to my community when I started my practice, but not a single person came in as a result of those postcards. And I tried multiple mailings, so it wasn’t for lack of effort or consistency.
But I never considered this a failure or waste of money. First off all, I made sure the postcards and stamps were all within my budget. So while the loss was not ideal, it didn’t break the bank. And it made me certain in the future that I would not be spending any more money on direct mailings. So it acted as a powerful lesson that was specific to my practice.
And along the same lines of trial and error, eventually I did discover what marketing efforts worked best for my practice. For me, that was Google Ads. But if I hadn’t been willing to try new things (with the distinct possibility of failure), I would never have figured that out.
2. Don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good.
In other words, imperfect action is better than no action at all.
I have a tendency to want things to be perfect before I put them into motion or release them to the world. Or at least, I used to get very caught up in this. But I had to let it go eventually, because I realized it was holding me back in my business.
If you have something in your practice that you really want to do but feel like you can’t start until you feel “like a real expert” or until you have it “just right,” I would counsel you to try it anyway. Do your best and let it out in it’s imperfect form.
I’m not saying to purposefully release things with typos or to do anything rash. Let’s take an example.
What if you wanted to do a Tai Chi night at the Community Center, but you felt like you needed to wait until you knew the Yang-34 form flawlessly? Or you wrote an article about your new Tai Chi class for the local newspaper, but were obsessing about explaining everything just right before letting it go to publication?
You’re only postponing a good thing, and preventing people in your community from experiencing it because you’re striving for perfection. Your patients aren’t looking for perfection. You can help them that much sooner, if you’re willing to be vulnerable and a tiny bit imperfect.
So release the article. Give the presentation. Teach the class.
3. I’m allowed to tell patients what to do; in fact, I should.
In the beginning, I was reluctant to tell people what to do. I can be shy, and as an introvert, it can be hard to hear myself giving other people orders. When I say orders, I simply mean, telling patients what lifestyle changes to make, how often and when to come back for more treatments, etc. Just regular things that any acupuncturist needs to share with patients.
I did share the information, but not with the confidence that was necessary to make people take me seriously. I got better at this over time. But finally one day I learned (I forget from whom), that patients WANT to be told what to do. As far as they are concerned, I’m the expert. They want to hear my advice as it applies to their life. They want me to tell them how to get better, and to do so with confidence.
If you have a hard time with this concept (as many introverts do), try to think about it from this perspective:
Patients want you to tell them what to do, so they can feel better, and they want it delivered with confidence, so they actually believe what you say. Do it for the patients’ benefit, if not for your own.
4. Tell patients to plan for 6 treatments minimum, then reassess.
This goes along with the point above. I used to tell patients that they should expect to come in at least four to six times, but I was not firm about it. If people felt like acupuncture wasn’t helping them and wanted to stop before six treatments, I wasn’t good at letting them know that they really hadn’t given acupuncture a fair try.
Now I tell everyone to come for at least six treatments minimum (Jeffrey Grossman recommends 8 minimum) and that we’ll reassess after that. It helps (again) to be very firm about it and to make it crystal clear that anything less is not giving acupuncture a fair chance. And patients like the 6-week assessment. It keeps them informed and helps them recognize their progress.
Again, Jeffrey Grossman, founder of the Acupuncture Online Marketing Summit, is also a HUGE proponent of this (the patient assessment discussion after 8 weeks), and I wish I’d started doing it much sooner in my practice.
5. Brand your business from the beginning, and get help.
For the first year or so of my practice, my business was simply, Michelle Grasek, Licensed Acupuncturist. Read this post to see how I really feel about using “Your Name, Licensed Acupuncturist” as your business name. In brief, it just doesn’t sound as professional as Ageless Acupuncture, which I eventually chose after about year in practice.
During that first year, as Michelle Grasek, Licensed Acupuncturist, I had no consistent branding. I had no color scheme or logo. I changed business card designs whenever the spirit moved me. The result was that A) my brand was unrecognizable and B) it looked very unprofessional.
Once I chose the name Ageless Acupuncture for my practice, I designed my own logo and chose two colors to stick with (green and light purple). I committed to keeping my branding consistent across my website, brochure, cards, and social media platforms.
However: a homemade logo (since most of us aren’t professional graphic designers) simply looks like… a homemade logo. Which is again, unprofessional, and doesn’t help generate trust in potential patients.
My point is this: Pick a practice name in the beginning and hire a professional graphic designer to create a logo so your practice looks legitimate, professional, and established right out of the gate.
If you feel like you can’t afford it, consider these low-cost options:
- Fiverr.com, which has graphic designers from all over the world who create super cheap (as low as $5) logos and other professional designs.
- Contact graphic design courses or departments at local universities and ask them if any students need a project. You’d be surprised at how excited students are to create a logo for a real business. It’s the beginning of their professional portfolio! You can offer to pay them a reduced amount or you can ask if they might do it for free.
- Trade acupuncture for logo creation with a local graphic designer.
With so many options for low cost, professional branding, there’s no reason not to have it in place as soon as you open your practice.
6. Don’t use your personal cell phone as a business line.
For real, guys. Did anyone else do this, and regret it? It’s six years later, I haven’t used this number for my business in five years, and I’m still getting sales calls on my personal cell phone.
No, thank you, I don’t want to hear options about new sliding glass doors, or political recordings during election season, or options for refinancing my boathouse (that I probably don’t need to tell you I don’t have).
If you use your personal cell as a business line, all the solicitors will eventually get a hold of it. And these are the kinds of calls you’ll receive, long after you’re no longer using it as your business number.
So don’t do it. It’s worth the extra $15 or $30 a month to get a second line and phone to be used only for your business, from the very beginning.
7. Ask for referrals.
I used to be very shy about asking for referrals, and I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying about what exactly to say and whether it would feel awkward. I think the secret is just to go for it, and ask. As with anything, it begins to feel natural the more you practice.
Read this interview with acupuncturist and business strategist Michelle McGlade for tips on asking patients for referrals.
And I like this eBook from The Evidence-Based Chiropractor about how to approach MDs to ask for referrals.
8. Get out in the community where your practice is located right away.
In the beginning, I commuted an hour to one of my practice locations, and I didn’t make much of an effort to “dig in” to the community for about a year. I saw my patients, then drove home every day.
I felt isolated in my office, like I didn’t really know anyone (because I didn’t!) and like no one knew I was there (also, probably, because they didn’t!).
Once I moved to that area and started attending more networking events and becoming a familiar face in the area (at the library, the grocery store, etc.), things really started to pick up speed.
I could have saved myself time and seen many more patients by simply getting out into my community and immediately making an effort to become a familiar face.
If you’re an introvert who has a hard time networking and talking about yourself, my new eCourse can help.
9. Send text or email reminders to patients the day before.
As you probably remember from this post on preventing no-shows at your office, patients who no-show make me a little nuts! After about a year in practice, I started using Genbooks, an online schedule that sent email reminders the day before each patient’s appointment. No-shows were cut down tremendously, which not only increased my income but also reduced my stress levels. Yay!
10. Don’t expect the universe to send you patients.
Let’s be honest. I’m too impatient to have believed in this for long.
But for a brief time at the start of my practice, I was unaware of how much effort I would have to make to bring in patients. My professors tried to tell me, time and time again, but I was too busy learning needling techniques and TCM diagnosis, and I sort of wasn’t listening. I had the attitude of, “How hard could it be?” (Hah.) Once I put out the sign for my new acupuncture practice, people would start flocking inside, right?
Well. We know that’s not how it works. After even a month of feeling frustrated (and so bored!) by only having a few patients each week, I decided to get my butt in gear and started marketing. Once I discovered how much I enjoyed it (with the help of a mentor, see #12 below), I was off and running. I now believe firmly in the mantra that, “The universe helps those who help themselves.”
11. Use press releases for every dang reason you can think of.
Around my second year in practice, I submitted a press release about a fundraiser held at my office. I was shocked when it landed us the first page of the paper.
Attendance was huge! So many people who came to the fundraiser admitted they had no idea the clinic existed until the article on the front page. That was the day I became a huge advocate of press releases, and I wish I’d started submitting them much sooner.
Every time you have news to share about your practice, you should submit a press release to your local paper. Every time. It’s free advertising!
What can you write a press release about? “News” includes things like:
- Events in your office (open houses, fundraisers, networking groups)
- Welcoming new employees or new pratcitioners sharing your space
- Announcing achievements like new certificates, advanced continuing education or degrees completed, etc.
- Opening new practice locations / moving locations
- Expanding or remodeling your current location
- New therapies or techniques offered at your office
- Really anything new, educational or useful for the public to know
It’s free to submit a press release. Increase your chances of getting your story published by following these guides:
- A Complete Guide to Writing an Effective Press Release – Marketing Donut
- How to Write a Great Press Release with Examples – CBS News
- 8 Tips for Writing a Great Press Release – Huffington Post
12. Find a marketing mentor ASAP
I can’t emphasize this one enough. If you feel reluctant to market your practice because you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, ask for help.
Find a mentor. Either a marketing expert, or a seasoned and successful acupuncturist in your community. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to be your mentor. It’s quite a flattering request!
Why is a mentor so essential? You can bounce ideas of your mentor, ask them to proofread things before publication, and let them keep you accountable for your marketing efforts.
My mentor is a brilliant marketing professional and artist named Deb, and she taught me almost everything I know about marketing. Deb is the reason I was consistent with my marketing at first, because I knew she would be checking in on me. No chance to be lazy or avoid doing my marketing activities when I knew Deb would be asking about my progress!
Deb and I did a trade: her marketing advice and planning for cosmetic acupuncture. It worked beautifully for us while I lived near her in Rochester.
I wish I’d known how dramatically Deb would help my practice. If I had, I would have started hunting for a mentor much sooner. So I encourage everyone to start looking for one sooner rather than later.
There you have it: 12 more things I wish I’d done differently when I started my acupuncture practice. I hope this is helpful for you as you grow your business!
Have you ever made mistakes in your practice and learned something valuable from them?
Please feel free to add them in the comments section below. Creating dialogue is an important goal of Modern Acupuncture Marketing, to help us realize that we are not alone when we struggle or succeed 🙂